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1965 TriCor T120C TT


Well, over the course of research into the US-only Competition Triumphs, I've acquired three very nice examples:

  • A very rare genuine 1965 T120C East Coast T120C Competition Sports scrambler

  • A 1965 East Coast T120C TT Special

  • A 1966 West Coast T120C TT Special

These have been meticulously restored by Terry Macdonald (maintaining and rebuilding the marque since 1963), as detailed on this site. The engine of the 1965 TT Special was rebuilt by John Woodward, who was one of the Triumph Experimental team who developed the Daytona and IOM winners in the late '60s.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of bringing these machines back from the States, researching them and seeing them come back to life. I'm not a collector though and just knowing that I have these fine motorcycles sitting in my garage doesn't really do anything for me. Motorcycles - and particularly Triumphs - have played an important part in my life for over 35 years. While I enjoy tinkering with old bikes as well as researching their history, what gives me the greatest pleasure is actually getting out and riding them. To this end, my favourite motorcycle is my 1982 Triumph Tiger Trail which I use as my main transportation in all weathers and is perfectly suited to the roads and trails of the English Peak District, where I live.

                         Sheffield City Hall, in town on the TT

TT Specials, with no lighting or speedometers and outrageously loud exhaust systems, lovely as they are, aren't really cut out for daily riding, nor do they make ideal commuters (I have ridden my '65 TT to work on the odd occasion, but it didn't feel particularly comfortable riding through rush-hour city traffic, with no speedo, lights or mirrors!) It's also difficult to find time to ride the T120s - alongside my various other bikes, all of which need regular exercising. So after careful consideration, I decided to limit myself to just one US Competition Triumph, namely my 1966 JoMo TT Special, formerly used as a desert racer. The restoration of this bike has been described in the blog part of this site, as well as its provenance. Over the last year I've replaced the underslung open TT pipes with high level ones with matching T120C/TR6C silencers (out of consideration for my neighbours!) It has lighting, horn and speedo for road use and it's representative of the kind of TT adapted for the road and ridden by many young Americans back in the late '60s. It's been fully restored from the bottom-up by Terry Macdonald and of the three it seemed the most sensible to keep, predominantly because of its practicality.

                The 1965 T120C Competition Sports - now SOLD - a lovely bike and sad to see her go...

The tough decision was taken to sell the two '65 T120Cs, the TT Special and the East Coast scrambler, via the Bike Specialists in Sheffield - who can provide finance and part-exchange facilities. The Competition Sports scrambler was quickly sold to a delighted new owner in July, and the TT Special is up for grabs, generating a lot of interest in the showroom. The TT is realistically priced  at £18,480, which I believe makes it something of a bargain compared to other restored TT Specials I've seen advertised in the UK, which start at around £17k and I have seen for anything up to £35,000 (for a professionally restored 1967 model). Last year, a London Triumph specialist was advertising a 1967 TT, restored by an amateur some years ago, with an obviously re-stamped engine, for £20k - it's no longer for sale, and I can't imagine it sold for significantly less than the asking price. And that couldn't really be considered a genuine TT with the re-stamped engine of unknown provenance!

As I've said elsewhere, the TT Special isn't a particularly rare bike - particularly the 1966 (over 1,300 built) and 1967 models (over 1,100 built). At any one time you can almost guarantee there will be at least one 1966 or 1967 model TT Special advertised on an auction site somewhere - usually with a lot of misinformation and hyperbole. I've been keeping records of these over the past years when they crop up, and often they appear a few months or a year or two later, with a different seller, having increased in price by a few thousand pounds. To test my thesis whilst writing this I Googled "t120c tt for sale". Sure enough, in "Car & Classic", one quickly appeared: in the Aubergine and Gold livery of an early 1967 model (factory data reveals it is a TriCor bike, shipped Stateside on 27th September 1966, from the first batch of the 1967 model year), with a nice sparkly paint job, advertised incorrectly as a "1966 Triumph T120TT - concours" by an Italian dealer (the same ones who tried in June 2016 to sell me what they claimed was a "genuine" 1981 Tiger Trail 650 - of which just 6 were built, and this wasn't one). The bike is located in Stowmarket, I understand (not sure why the Italian outfit is advertising it).

First glance and it looked eye-catching (all TTs do!). But looking closer, anomalies started to jump out. It certainly was not "concours", by any stretch of the imagination! Missing air filters, ugly pattern seat with chrome trim, incorrect rocker caps, wrong rear dampers, engine plate bolts on the wrong way round - and a whole host more. Indicating that the "restorer", like so many amateur classic bike enthusiasts, didn't really know what he was doing. I looked it up in my records and found it had been advertised on eBay back in December 2015 for £17,000. The sellers advised it had been "professionally restored in the US" but could provide no evidence and they now wanted £20k but would take "£18.5k if I can turn it around in 7 days".  The eBay advert in 2015 showed photos of it with the missing air filters, alongside a handful of receipts from UK spares suppliers dated 2013, suggesting it was rebuilt by a UK-based enthusiast. If it had been professionally restored in the US since the eBay advert as claimed, clearly the US professional had forgotten the air filters too! It all seems a little suspect to me.

And another! A 1964 with high pipes, from a dealer in Derbyshire presented in "outstanding condition after detailed restoration" for £18,495. A quick once-over reveals the usual errors: paintwork design wrong - white line at the bottom of the tank (should go under the tank and not be visible - despite inaccurate and misleading information to the contrary available on the internet); missing unipiece air-filter (again!); "Triumph" logo on rear of seat (not introduced till December 1965) which is fitted with a big gap between it and the tank; no transfers on oil tank/side-panel; wrong handlebars; unpainted tank badge - the list goes on! It's almost as though whoever rebuilt it got so far and then decided not to finish it off! Many buyers wouldn't notice such details but to me they clearly indicate a lack of expertise and knowledge - or maybe just care - on behalf of whoever put it together.

The TTs on "Car & Classic" are representative of the TT Specials generally  found for sale in the UK: shabby amateur rebuilds, often with eye-catching paint jobs but with all the hallmarks of someone not particularly familiar with the Triumph marque, or particularly competent, advertised at a high price. The visible evidence suggests a poor restoration - but what about the invisible, what can't be seen? What kind of state will the engine and gearbox of these 50 year old bikes be in? I dread to think, and I wouldn't contemplate riding one of these cobbled together bitsas without having someone who knows what they're doing strip it down and check it out first. Budget up to £3.5k (that's what it cost me in spares and labour to rectify a 1965 TR6SC engine I shipped from the US, which was supposedly "rebuilt" by a couple of amateur enthusiasts - it was the worst engine Terry Macdonald had seen in over 250 rebuilds, and would have most likely blown up or seized were it ever used). It really is caveat emptor when buying a TT Special.

I have only ever seen one professionally rebuilt TT Special for sale in the UK before, and that was the '67 one advertised at a mind-blowing £35k. All the rest have had been amateur builds - and there's absolutely no way of knowing for sure how well the work has been carried out and whether the bike's safe to ride. The TT Special has become a cash-cow for many. There's a chap in Aberdeen who has a contact in the US and ships in complete wrecks by the container-load to flogon eBay for £10 - 12k. I know one chap who bought one - it's now an immaculate genuinely concours bike, restored to perfection by Terry Macdonald. In the end it cost the buyer well over £20k and many months of waiting whilst it was repaired/restored.

1965 T120C TT Special East Coast - out in the Peak District (mirror added temporarily for road use) - SOLD

The 1965 TTs don't appear that often, being considerably rarer (775 built in total) than the 1966 and 1967 ones. To many aficionados the 1965 TT represents the pinnacle of TT Special perfection: as US author David Gaylin put it, "First year for the TT pipes and lovely blue/silver color combination make it perhaps the most desirable year." To me, 1965 was really the first year of the "proper" TT Special. The 1963 model is of interest purely because they were the first (and because they're the rarest) of what was to become an icon. Cobbled together from the parts bin hastily (and reluctantly) by Triumph to appease Johnson Motors, who'd been badgering them for a stripped-down race-bike for years, it was little more than a T120R fitted with the high scrambles-type pipes off a Trophy with extension tubes clamped on the end, no lighting, high comp pistons and bigger carbs (which would unlikely have provided a performance improvement using the standard cylinder head), ET ignition and a small gearbox sprocket to make it feel faster! I should imagine it was a little disappointing (regardless of the gushing "Cycle World" road test). Despite the "TT Special" name, it didn't even really look like a TT steeplechase race bike - TT racers had been making their own downswept "TT pipes" which curved down underneath the frame since the Fifties, using them almost without exception for TT steeplechases - but Triumph delayed supplying them until 1965.













                        Ascot TT, 1960, Dick Dorresteyn (76) leads Al Gunter (3). Note TT pipes.

                        [Photo Dan Mahoney]

The 1964 TT received an uninspiring (to my eyes) gold paint job - and continued to be fitted with Trophy pipes. With neither the prestige value of being the first nor the glamorous looks of its successors, the '64 TTs are to many the least desirable of the bunch. While the '64 still looked more  look like a scrambler with the pipes, several improvements were made to the engine and frame: beefier forks with hydraulic dampers, a cylinder head ported to match the bigger carbs, a top yoke with pull-back handlebar mounts. Alloy mudguards were included to save a few ounces. (But Triumph weren't prepared to go so far as to fit alloy rims, as seen on the great Dick  D's bike above. It took them until November 1966 to agree to this during the US Sales Conference when drawing up the spec for 1968 JoMo-only TT Specials - which sadly never saw the light of day.)

In 1965 the TT Special finally started to look like the bikes Americans were racing in TT Steeplechase events, with the introduction of the sculpted, downswept "TT pipes", as well as the performance improvements added in 1964. Folding footpegs were also added to meet AMA racing regulations.The sparkling pearlescent Pacific Blue and Silver paintwork caught the eye and the imagination. Demand for the TT Special in the States shot up - so much so that production of the race-bike almost doubled for the following year, when production figures leapt from 775 to 1,310. The icon was born!

But from then on, it was really only downhill for the TT - or a slide sideways - at best. In 1966 a new frame was introduced across the 650 range with increased rake to provide high-speed stability, great for road and (tarmac) track alike. But US TT racers loathed it, and many replaced it with the earlier frame. During the 1966 US Sales conference Triumph agreed to provide JoMo with 300 TTs with the earlier frame for the 1967 model year (which evidence suggests they did), and to provide it on the 1968 model. The big carbs and ported head were fitted as standard across the 650 range from 1966, together with the high-performance exhaust cam introduced on the TT Special earlier in the build year. So by the end of 1966, there really wasn't much difference between the T120 TT from the R road models engine-wise, except for high-compression pistons.


I don't claim mine is "concours" (though it could be made so with minimal time or expenditure, if that's your bag). I had it built so that it could be ridden (on sunny days) and enjoyed, but to conform fairly strictly (without being too anal about it) to factory spec. It has batteryless Pazon electronic ignition, for example. The rear mudguard is stainless for durability, and it should be alloy (it's one of the first batch of Easter-build TT Specials that year which Gaylin states had alloy mudguards). But it is largely faithful to original spec - no logo on the textured seat-cover; original Dunlop rims; NOS unipiece air filter; stove-enamelled (not powder-coated) frame, as it would have had when it left the factory. I've never polished the alloy, but it could be made all sparkly and shiny very easily. It's restoration is detailed in my blog.

Engine-wise, TTs tend to be restored either to factory original state with 11:1 high comp pistons and ET ignition  

or they're just fitted with standard or even low compression (7:1) pistons. In the first case you end up with a bike that's all but unusable (certainly using pump fuel); in the latter you have a detuned TT, in effect a sheep in wolf's clothing. I didn't fancy either option, which is why I commissioned John Woodward to build an engine with as much (or more) power as the original TT engine, but without the high comp pistons and the difficulties associated with running them on modern fuel. The result was the fastest 650 or 750 Triumph I've ever ridden, yet tractable, reliable, easy to start and with a good tickover - truly in the spirit of the TT Special! The dynamically balanced crankshaft also makes it considerably smoother and more pleasant to ride at speeds above 55 mph. It's completely oil-tight, no need to add. I must have covered 500 pleasant miles on it, during which I've changed the engine oil twice (Castrol Classic 20/50) and gearbox once (Castrol Hypoy 90). It's loosening up nicely, sounds glorious with the TT pipes and is great fun to ride! There is no comparison between this TT and ones like those on "Car & Classic" (and other auction sites) I've seen advertised, generally at a far higher price.

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