By Nicholas Ryan
Part 2 – The Renaissance
On returning to the UK in 1998 from the Far East my Triumph continued to reside in my mums shed until in 2017 I finally got my own shed. I used to check every now and then that I could still see the exhaust pipes poking out from underneath the old carpets and told her that if anybody asked to buy it to firmly say ‘NO’.
This is its first daylight in 39 years. As you can see it would have been a nice machine for a 20 year old back then.
Finally my bike came to its new home (my shed) and I started the renovation.
Though I had not greased up the bike before leaving for overseas the copious oil leaks (a built in self-preservation feature of British bikes) had conserved it somewhat.
As a bonus I found an old cardboard box with the original nacelle and legs and Smiths chronometer in it – gold dust!
I joined my local TOMCC (Berkshire branch). I remember sheepishly shuffling in as a new kid on the block to meet the old hands. Like holes in jeans – the only real way to get respect from these seasoned hands (who each seem to own multiple pristine bikes and have renovated many) is through earning it. But they were very helpful – I borrowed club loan special tools and they gave me useful contacts, moral support and hard earned advice. The first things they said when I told them I was renovating my old bike was ‘it’ll cost a lot more than you think’, ‘it’ll take a lot longer than you think’ and ‘even when you think you have finished you have not’. This all turned out to be true. When I went in whinging about something being stuck or not fitting they simply said ‘carry on – what else are you going to do?’
The renovation: Anybody who has renovated old bikes will tell you of the experience. You will meet true ‘old school’ engineers from the days when factories had rows of lathes and people hand made parts. Now being a little wiser and wealthier I decided to do the job properly. During the renovation I discovered parts were missing that I never knew existed and bodge jobs that were downright dangerous such as brake parts being wired on. Luckily being an old Triumph and with the resources of the ‘net it was relatively easy to source parts, albeit at a price. You can tell when talking to suppliers that they have a love of these old machines and they always have time to chat (free advice J). They are also very knowledgeable – “a 1960 Duplex 650 Triumph you say then this is the part you need”. But you can see part of the reason the industry went bust – new part numbers every year and sometimes the same part number comes in different variations! I was introduced to local retired mechanics with rare skills such as Colin who at 75 years young is still fabricating panels and other parts. In my case he repaired the nacelle which I had hacked up to fit cow horns. He also did welding and re jigging of new parts that did not quite fit, and bent the footrests back to their original shape. The magneto was renovated by Priory magnetos. Back in the day I remember peering intently to see a small orange spark at the plugs. Now after renovation my magneto can make a 4mm spark when twisting it quickly. I never knew they could do that!
After finding the pistons could be twisted sideways as well as moved up and down on the rods I realised there are things I cannot do myself. Plus throwing a rod these days would be a very expensive business. This is the condition of the pistons (which the seasoned hands said were not bad) and the bodge job crank case weld that was hitherto OK.
The engine was renovated by T&L Engineering in Bedford who specialise in old engines. Visiting T&L was like visiting a haphazard museum with old Rudge, Ariel and Matchless engines, vintage Porche engines and even a vintage aeroplane engine lying around. The proprietor, Barry, really knows his stuff – ‘an old pre unit Triumph then probably these threads are stripped and this aluminium part will be broken’ and he was right.
Engine work was done – re-bore, new rods & pistons (7:1 for modern fuel with ethanol), replace all worn bushes and ream out, metal spray and re-grind the crank, dynamic balancing (balance factor 0.65 for want of a better number), repair the dodgy crank case weld which others said was unfixable etc. Most parts were from LF Harris. I have a spare Bonneville head and Monobloc carb from one of the bikes manifestations but decided the original T110 single carb would be easier to manage. The cylinder head was worked over with Colisbro guides, new valves etc.
The front wheel was rebuilt by local mechanics in their 70’s and 80’s that have been doing lacing for 50 plus years (so they have a little experience then?). I used TT100 tyres for old times’ sake (though now made in Spain and Indonesia). New modern electrics were fitted while keeping to the old Lucas wiring colour coding. The previous bodge electrical system was made of old appliance cable and running on AC by running 1 wire from the alternator to the frame the other to the lights – no wonder the old stator was fried. Good job the sparks were from the magneto. In the interests of safety, indicators were fitted and mounted at the back on the old bathtub mountings using spare wires in the loom released by switching to a single phase alternator.
Following opinion from the local TOMCC that in the long run paint is better than powder coating (a much debated subject) the frame was sand blasted and painted to give more definition to the cast iron parts. New swing arm bushes and tapered head bearings were fitted. Painting the frame, tank and mudguards was done by a local car sprayer who did a great job on my wife’s car after she failed to notice a tree stump in a turning circle. The paint job took a long time after being pushed to the back of the queue several times but the results are good and adding the gold pin striping was not easy. The log book had the bike colour as blue so I adopted a 1959 Triumph T120 scheme with a nacelle that had blue on the tank but too late I realised that it would have been more original to have black and cream which were 1960 T110 colours (or orange and white for a Bonnie with nacelle) and just inform the DVLA of the new colours. The tank has had Caswell coating to resist ethanol in the fuel. The rest I did in my shed with an oil heater to keep me warm and what my kids call ‘Dad’s music’ to keep me going. Proudly all threads, nuts and bolts are Imperial.
After 6 months and a lot of money it was finally time to start the engine after being dormant for 40 years. After swapping the plug leads around (a senior moment), it started first kick on drip feed with my wife standing by with a fire extinguisher just in case.
The cost of renovation: Once you decide not to bodge it then you will need new parts. Fortunately for an old Triumph they are available but the costs soon add up. It’s like ‘death by a thousand cuts’. However you are getting parts bespoke to a 60 year old bike and as a bonus for the most part (pun) they fitted perfectly. As an example of cost take the front wheel that had the old tyre, rusty rims and spokes and silver paint instead of chrome: A new TT100 and tube £85 (nobody recommended riding on 40 year old tyres, even with lots of tread), then the stainless spokes £85, then a Devon WM-2 rim £130, then the lacing £45, then the bearings £18 plus the hub sand blasting and painting £35. Total £398 for just the front wheel – you get the picture. Then the nice nacelle and tank flashes, new exhausts and silencers all of which you need. Then the engine reconditioning so it won’t throw rods anymore etc.…
Against advice I kept a spreadsheet record of costs and quickly realised that I would have made more talking it up as a barn find and selling it. But hey this is my bike from my youth (and as my Dad said “you cannot buy memories”) plus I have had the experience of doing a nut and bolts renovation.
The future: The bike is on the road and I have done 1200 miles so far. I rode it to my local TOMCC and the guys, true to fashion, said ‘well when are you going to start the renovation then’ but secretly I think I got a little respect. I have had several ‘ride outs’ with the club. It’s like mother duck and her ducklings – the guys on modern Triumphs in front leading the way, the classic bikes in the middle and one or two modern bikes following up to alert the others if/when the classic bikes break down or to pick up bits that have fallen off (which has happened, but not to me so far). Nobody gets left behind.
I have only had one breakdown which was self-induced – I let a small piece of rubber get into the oil pump. The guys rescued me with the van used to take kit to events (and to recover bikes). I have also had a damp magneto with no sparks – the TOMCC cavalry arrived and after some discussion the application of my wife’s hair dryer was recommended which got it working again. Who says hair dryers are for girls.
With the wisdom of age I go carefully with the lights on and assume cars haven’t seen me even though I know they have. Having old drum brakes is certainly an incentive and I look intently for leaves and gravel on country roads, manhole covers, diesel etc. I have decided to give way to boy racers and white van men on missions (you don’t want your engine to seize or throw a rod when they are 10ft from your tail).
However, as we all do, I sometimes wrench the throttle just to feel the bike accelerate and hear the classic British twin sound. There has been some fettling but for the most part the bike is oil tight. The top end certainly is (fingers crossed) with the benefit of new silicon ‘O’ rings and correct crush on the pushrod tubes. Riding the bike is quite agricultural after the GS750 and even with dynamic balancing it vibrates.
One problem I have is that I now know what can go wrong – I’m always checking the mushroom oil pressure indicator (just as well when the oil pump stopped pumping) and listening for sounds which are stranger than normal. In the old days I just rode it and did not worry but spare parts such as crank cases were just a few quid back then and being young I did not worry about much anyway. I remind myself it is 59 years old, it’s a Triumph twin, and that’s probably as good as its going to get. It is a good conversation piece at pubs with people of a certain age remembering the glory days when such bikes were both superbikes and the family car.
There is probably more to do to make it more original, and shinier, but towards the end I got fed up with spending money and realised that often the original parts are higher quality than new parts and that people like a little ‘patina’. It’s never going to be a show bike as it has no bathtub to be a 1960 T110, and it would cost a lot to convert to a Bonneville with new oil tank and air box. Plus for a 1960 Bonnie I would have to ditch the nacelle which I quite like.
This winter I have started on the gear train to keep up my mechanical skills – oil is leaking out of worn bushes, the gearbox has an ovalised mounting and the clutch wobbles on its splines.
As the guys at the TOMCC said – ‘even when you think you have finished you have not’.
This is me and my bike now:
And this is from a recent ride out with friends (from the club). Just like when my story started but without the police chases.
Will I get another bike to restore? Well let’s get this one fully fettled first. It is certainly a bike you can be proud of from an era when we ruled the waves instead of waiving the rules.
I hope you enjoyed my T110 story.
This article first appeared in Nacelle, the Triumph Owners Motorcycle Club magazine, in 2019, as the second of two parts.