Real Classic

TRIUMPH TR5 32

- Photos by Ace Tester Miles / RC Rchive

Talk about living with legends: the film stars associated with Triumph twins could fill any hall of fame. Steve Mcqueen, James Dean, Clint Eastwood and, erm, The Fonz have taken turns in the sprung saddle of Turner’s twin. Paul Miles joins them (could get crowded)

Talk about living with legends: the film stars associated with Triumph twins could fill any hall of fame. Steve Mcqueen, James Dean, Clint Eastwood and, erm, The Fonz have taken turns in the sprung saddle of Turner’s twin. Paul Miles joins them (could get crowded)

What did the legendary Hollywood actor James Dean and the even more famous character of Arthur ‘The Fonz’ Fonzarelli from Happy Days have in common? Answer: they both rode a Triumph Trophy. Why? Because, like the Hollywood legend himself and the actor that rode one in the TV series was often heard to say on the show, the Trophy was cool. Ayyy…

At this point it would be perfectly acceptable to ignore the rest of this article and just spend a moment admiring the pictures of this 500cc twin; without doubt it has to be one of the prettiest post-war motorcycle­s ever made. For all his welldocume­nted personal failings Edward Turner absolutely knew how to design an eye-catching motorcycle, and even a jaded old hack like this writer, hitherto immune to the charms of Meriden’s finest in a purely mechanical sense, will reluctantl­y concede the Trophy to be a gorgeous machine.

The origins of this beauty can be traced back to the 1937 Speed Twin, with Turner penning the engine that would change the world and come to dominate British motorcycle design right up to today, with the modern Hinckley twins still

shamelessl­y aping his designs. A parallel twin, with both pistons rising and falling together, offered greater power than the singles it was destined to replace, yet was scarcely any wider and could still use the ignition equipment from the earlier bikes.

Thoughts immediatel­y turned to competitio­n using the new engine, because we’re motorcycli­sts and that’s what we do, but WW2 put a halt on proceeding­s for the time being. Although wartime production was mainly with single cylinder bikes, the new twin engine found its uses in a slightly different guise, as a portable generator. Using specially cast aluminium barrels and head, the compact and shrouded engine was fan-cooled and used to power equipment inside the Lancaster bomber, as well as being parachuted in to troops on the ground.

Factory workers at the time were known to have commented on the future suitabilit­y of an all-aluminium engine for racing once the hostilitie­s had ended, being both lighter and better able to dissipate heat. And so it proved, when Ernie Lyons won the first postwar Manx GP in 1946, the ‘Square Barrel’ racer had been born. About 150 Triumph GP racers were made in total, presumably using up remaining stocks of the generator parts, and are rightly prized by collectors today.

Of course, Triumph motorcycle­s didn’t just get thrashed around on the roads, the mud-pluggers used them, too, and in 1948 the new 498cc TR5 Trophy Twin was unveiled at the motor show. Using the same, slightly odd-looking wide fin generator motor, the Trophy was in a different state of tune; lower compressio­n and with a single carburetto­r, altogether more suited to off-road riding. History records that Triumph won that year’s Internatio­nal Six Day’s Trial in Italy, the Triumph team accruing no penalties and with Alan Jefferies riding, in effect, the prototype. They repeated the feat the following year and the 1950 and 51 team prizes went the same way; the new Trophy was utterly dominant in the most fearsome of examinatio­ns.

By 1950, the supply of these generator parts had been exhausted and in response to the clamour from competitio­n riders, especially desert racers in the USA, Triumph developed a production version for 1951, with closer finning, splayed ports and a less angular profile. Available in various guises throughout its life, ranging from tele / rigid, with sprung rear hub and finally swinging arm with rear shock absorbers, the TR5 was often the go-to machine for off-road competitio­n.

This handsome (I hope you’ll agree) example is one of the production models made using the newer-style head and barrels. Unrestored, rather remarkably, this machine has been subjected to little more than routine maintenanc­e and the occasional repair, although the front mudguard and headlamp shell gleam with a lustre only modern twopack paint can provide. The rest of the bike wears its seven decades remarkably well and the powertrain remains in steadfastl­y original specificat­ion.

If you’ve ever worked on a pre-unit Triumph twin, and I’m prepared to wager that’s most of us, then you may well have already seen this bike, at least in print. You see, PTV 160 is actually the cover girl for the Haynes manual on pre-unit Triumphs! A Yeovil machine, it was borrowed by Jeff Clew for the photograph­y at Haynes in Somerset. Any prospectiv­e future owner may be relieved to learn that a different bike was stripped and rebuilt for the book, this one was just used for the glamour shots.

Pulling the bike forward off the rear stand (there’s also a side stand) the proportion­s look, if anything, even better. The first thing to notice might be the ample ground clearance yet a pleasingly low saddle height – BMW GS designers take note. The entire front lighting assembly is quickly detachable for competitio­n and even the dynamo may be quickly removed without disturbing the Lucas competitio­n magneto, further reducing the mass of an already featherwei­ght machine weighing in at under 300lbs. A well tucked-in 2:1 exhaust exits on the left and it was impossible to overlook… the optional sprung hub!

Now, I’ve read lots about the legendary sprung rear wheel, a lot of it bad, but this would be the first motorcycle I’ve ever ridden so equipped. Developed by Turner as a bridge between the rigid rear frames of the past and the yet to be realised swinging arm machines of the future, the weighty device (about 17lbs) promised nearly 2” of suspension travel within the hub itself, comparable with existing plunger rear suspension­s of the time. The axle, running through a block, slid vertically about an inch in either direction, with large, highly compressed springs controllin­g the movement.

Consistent chain tension was maintained, more or less, but the setup was undamped and supposedly subject to horrendous wear if unmaintain­ed. Nonetheles­s, Ernie Lyons won the Manx GP using precisely this device on the works racer, so it can’t have been all bad. It also cost the proud new owner a smidge over £20 extra if they wanted this new and improved smoother ride, or about 10% of the total cost of a new bike! Graham Ham of this parish has used one and hated it, not least for the additional weight manhandlin­g it following a puncture. Stories abound about people suffering serious injuries (or worse!) from flying springs when trying to disassembl­e one, let alone crashes ‘caused’ by the terrible handling imposed by the wretched things. Me? I’m slightly more open minded, even if it is a Triumph, and let’s not forget Mr Lyons and his historic Manx victory.

Straddling the TR5 it feels… perfect. Not too big, or small, neither too tall or short, Goldilocks would have ridden a Trophy. The all-aluminium twin bursts into life at the merest provocatio­n and settles into a near silent idle. None of the histrionic­s one might expect from a high compressio­n, lumpy camshafts racer, this twin was made for lower revs and high levels of control in slippery conditions.

Performanc­e is sprightly, especially the initial surge off the line, with the very widely spaced gear ratios perfectly pitched for endurance events – first for mud, second for loose, third for trails and top for tarmac. The gearbox, along with the deliberate­ly softly-tuned engine making

around 25bhp, make for a jolly ride indeed. Fun, rather than exciting like its bigger brothers, the super-comfortabl­e Triumph may only top out at around 70mph, but is in its element at sensible B-road speeds. Furthermor­e, should you wish to explore a green lane or hidden path, then what better classic than a four-times Internatio­nal champion machine to do it on?

The brakes are sufficient for such a lightweigh­t bike, but the overwhelmi­ng feeling I’m left with is one of balance, or synergy perhaps. The 20” front wheel (try getting tyres for that!) and yes, even the sprung hub, help provide a most exquisite riding experience. The power is sufficient and the transmissi­on perfect. Starting is just a dab, hot or cold and all-day riding is a pleasure, not a chore.

Sadly, being a Triumph and a legendary one at that, there’s a high price to pay for enjoying such a delight, literally. A rigid frame TR5 like this now commands solid five figures at auction and fakes abound, often using the similar military TRW sidevalve twin frame and a suitable donor motor (all Triumph twin engines look the same, etc). In fact, it would be straightfo­rward enough to build an homage to the Trophy, but using a later and much more powerful 650 engine, but that would fail to capture the perfect essence of the real thing. Should you be lucky enough to stumble across a genuine generator-engined model, unloved and leaning against a shed wall, expect to be parted of well in excess of £25K in order to own it; they’re important motorcycle­s.

I mentioned at the start that I’ve a reputation for being a bit anti-triumph. Meriden products seem to command extraordin­ary devotion and price premiums over most of their contempora­ries, for reasons I’ve never managed to fathom. Their engines are no better than the offerings from, say, BSA or Norton, while at the limit, the failings of the frames are well-documented; people didn’t build Tritons without good reason. Even the build quality never quite matched the very best from AMC, Norton or Velocette. But, they look fantastic, the kind of bike that makes you linger in the garage after the ride.

The TR5 has almost converted me to the Triumph fan club, or at least, a specialist subset. With the Trophy, the overall quality and attention to detail seem to surpass the usual somewhat shonky Meriden quality control, but perhaps that’s the competitio­n shop effect; there’s a more typical example of the production twin waiting in the wings for testing, so we’ll see. And Triumphs are cool, just ask The Fonz. Ayyy…

 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? No gardening implement, this! Triumph’s twin; at home off the road
No gardening implement, this! Triumph’s twin; at home off the road
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? This is it. Motivation is supplied by the seriously handsome all-alloy competitio­n engine. The leak is from the oil pressure indicator. They all do that, sir
This is it. Motivation is supplied by the seriously handsome all-alloy competitio­n engine. The leak is from the oil pressure indicator. They all do that, sir
 ??  ?? Even the drive side of the engine is handsome. Neatness abounds, from the tucked-away magneto, decently oil-tight primary chaincase, and a truly tidy exhaust system
Even the drive side of the engine is handsome. Neatness abounds, from the tucked-away magneto, decently oil-tight primary chaincase, and a truly tidy exhaust system
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Probably the only controvers­ial feature of this remarkable machine is its Sprung Hub. Mr Miles claims to be open-minded about it
Probably the only controvers­ial feature of this remarkable machine is its Sprung Hub. Mr Miles claims to be open-minded about it
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Earlier versions boasted an engine top end based on that used in an airborne generator set built by Triumph during WW2
Just a touch of nostalgia…
The very machine!
Earlier versions boasted an engine top end based on that used in an airborne generator set built by Triumph during WW2 Just a touch of nostalgia… The very machine!
 ??  ?? fork and the brake Triumph’s early telescopic of not have the highest which came with it did work well enough if reputation­s. In fact, they unworn and set up properly
fork and the brake Triumph’s early telescopic of not have the highest which came with it did work well enough if reputation­s. In fact, they unworn and set up properly
 ??  ?? Single silencer sounds exactly as it should, both rear and side stands work as they should, and there’s even a tyre pump, should the rider feel a need for upper-body exercise
Single silencer sounds exactly as it should, both rear and side stands work as they should, and there’s even a tyre pump, should the rider feel a need for upper-body exercise
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? We think he likes it!
We think he likes it!
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom