Original 1966 TT Special
Tom Tyson from North Carolina very kindly shared these photos with me of his 1966 TT Special, taken within a few weeks of his purchase of it from Hamby Motor Company in Greensboro, NC, an authorised Triumph dealership.
"I observed the mechanics assemble and test this bike at the shop after its shipment from Maryland, and I feel that it was fairly "typical" of east-coast TTs from 1966. Since I was going to ride this bike on the street, I had them attach the small headlight and taillight assembly to operate through the energy-transfer system, and of course, the light bulbs would burn out nearly everytime the bike was revved above a certain rpm. Even with the best grade of high-test gasoline, this engine would detonate slightly under full acceleration!" (Interesting note about the pre-detonation - with today's low grade petrol I can only imagine how badly a TT engine fitted with standard 11:1 pistons would run!)
So why did Tom specifically opt for a TT Special?
"I wanted a "TT" from the moment I received a letter around 1963 from Johnson Motor Company, shortly after Bill Johnson died, while I was still in the Air Force out in El Paso, Texas. The letter was in answer to my questions about the "fastest-possible" Triumph motorcycle, and it described in great detail the powerful TT-Special Triumph, and how this would be the ideal bike for all-out performance. I received a lot of literature and specifications as well. While in the service, I had owned a 1958 TR6 and later a nicer 1960 Bonneville, and when I got home to High Point, all I could think about was the TT Special!"
The TT Special clearly appealed to a certain breed of American rider (I made this point in my article on the bikes published in the October 2015 issue of "Classic Bike"): young men (maybe women too, though I've not heard of any female TT owners from the '60s) with a thirst for all-out performance who wanted the fastest bike money could buy. The TT Special was marketed as an off-road only race machine - but one which could be readily converted to road legal (ish) spec. Says Tom:
"I brought it home on a trailer, as I was frightened of it at the beginning! I saw John Hamby, my selling dealer, take it out and "demonstrate" it to me, and he flew up and down the street at his dealership, even doing a huge block-long wheelie! I didn't particularly like that on my new bike, but Hamby was a local scrambles racer as well as dealer, and I guess he wanted to show off a bit! The sound (and blue fire) from the exhaust was intimidating, so I decided to trailer it home and ride it carefully at home at first. You can see by the exhaust pipes that there is relatively little carbon. I kept the bike for about two years and kept it garaged about 90% of the time. I got pulled by a police officer one Saturday night with my girlfriend on the back, and well, you can imagine what happened after that!"
"At the very beginning, I rode the TT with the tucked-in TT pipes only, but after the "scare" by the police, I did add some small "shortie" mufflers to deaden the very loud exhaust (with the original very high compression, the sound level was much higher than many of today's rebuilds with more-normal, lower compression). Also, I had read the Cycle World road test in which the editors put reverse-cone megaphone mufflers and the standard-diameter header pipes on the '63 TT and tested that bike to greater than 120 mph and some spectacular acceleration times! I was impressed with that, so later that summer of 1966 I tried the reverse-cone megaphones (see picture below) for awhile, but it didn't make the bike any faster except at low rpms! I never added a speedometer; in fact, the bike was scarcely even legal at all except for headlights, brake/tag lights and license tag. No mufflers was definitely illegal!"
Tom's reference to the "Cycle World" road test (available under the "Brochures" tab) is interesting. I have it on good authority that the engine wasn't quite as stock as claimed in the review and had in fact been extensively breathed upon by the JoMo service department - which would explain why the bike did manage the performance claimed!
From an owner's/restorer's perspective, these photos are a goldmine! Thank you, Tom, for sharing them with us!
Note the alloy mudguards with what appear to be rolled ends. The rolled ends are commonly believed to have been introduced in 1968 - it seems at least that some TTs had rolled alloy ones
Seat embossed with "Triumph" logo. Tom doesn't have the serial number for this bike unfortunately but recalls buying it in May or June 1966. In all likelihood it would have been built in the December 1965, though it might just have been from the April 1966 one. Photos of earlier West Coast T120Rs on this site show them without the logo. I believe it was introduced in the December 1965. The logo looks from the photo - although difficult to be 100% - like the older style logo described in Gaylin's Restoration Guide, without the li ning around the edge.
Note the position of the mudguard stays and length of the front mudguard. The shape of the TT pipes is also shown to good effect. The pattern ones available today are more angular (and foul the rev counter cable on pre-'66 bikes without the geared drive - I had to have a longer one made up for my '65 TT).
Note the rough texture of the original seats - pattern covers are invariably smooth vinyl. Only RK Leighton in Birmingham produce them like the originals (it helps that they made the original ones in the first place!) Pancake air filters fitted - according to the parts catalogue, these were standard on the East Coast 1966 T120R and TT, but the West Coast versions retained the black unified (and awkward to fit/remove) ones. However, it may be that some early '66 TriCor TTs left the factory with the unified filter (see under the parent tab, with reference to the original paint TT owned by a friend of Lindsay Brooke).