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1966 T120C TT Desert Racer Restoration - Week 1

Week 1 (26 June - 3 July)

TT Special component parts being delivered to LA shippers

Steve delivered the TT Special parts to LA for shipping on a pallet on 21st April, which arrived at Terry Macdonald’s on Thursday 25th June, following arrival and customs clearance at the Port of Tilbury in Essex - used as a location in several popular films (and far more interestingly, to me at least, the waterway here was in all probability the inspiration for the setting for Joseph Conrad’s brilliantly portentous opening chapter of his classic, “Heart of Darkness”). The journey from San Bernardino, California to Lincolnshire had been trouble-free with the only damage a cracked spark plug.

On arrival at Terry's (note partly restored '65 TT Special lurking in background with borrowed tank).

Terry soon had the parts unpacked and confirmed everything was there and I travelled over to see the bike and discuss restoration plans with Terry the next day. There were a few issues:

  • Front wheel was not the one in the photo of the bike when Steve bought it - looks like a BSA or Triumph 500 one with a 7” front brake

  • Right hand fork slider was cracked

  • Both rims were bashed out of true and beyond repair

  • Small dent in the oil tank

  • Tank mounting bracket on frame was cracked and needs brazing

  • Handlebars bent

  • Handlebar levers bent

  • Shocks shot - will need replacing

Damaged RH slider. This was most probably caused by water inside the fork freezing (it does get below freezing in the Mojave!)

Non-original wheel and hub - poss. BSA/Triumph 500? To be replaced - anyone want it?

Externally, the engine and gearbox looked good, other than a dent in the primary cover, possibly caused by hitting a rock (remembering that this bike was never used on the road but as a Mojave desert racer, where such damage is commonplace).

On the positive side, the parts also included the following:

  • Original tank (as fitted when Steve bought it) which had been well-painted in Alaskan White with Grenadier Red stripes

  • New polished alloy guards

  • New TT pipes

  • Complete set (plus extras) of original nuts and bolts, all in very good condition

  • Well recovered original seat

Terry had already started to put together a long list of parts requirements, which have now been ordered from Supreme in Leicester. I brought over a T120 slimline tank with a broken rear tab, but otherwise in good shape along with a good Triumph TLS 1968 front brake, both of which will be used on the bike. Terry has a suitable hub for the front wheel.

[Photo: Dan Mahony]

Bud and Dave Ekins outside JoMo c.1960. Bud's Triumph pre-unit desert sled has braced bars which I'd like to fit to my TT Special. Pipes are similar to the ones previously fitted to the TT. Front wheel rim condition is similar to the ones provided with my bike too! Note central oil tank (another possibility)

My plan with this bike, as stated previously, is to rebuild it in desert racer guise, along the lines as it was when it was owned and raced back in the ‘60s by Jed of The Shamrocks: high pipes, custom painted tank, etc. I also want it to be useable both on and off road, so I’ll be fitting lighting and a horn. QD mounted Bates up front (very popular at the time) and ’68 Triumph rear light, probably substituting a stainless rear guard for durability and so the alloy one is left intact. Smiths magnetic speedo too. All original parts will be retained so that it can be readily converted back to the out-of-the-factory-crate condition beloved of the purists and collectors who like to pay top whack for these bikes should I ever decide to sell it (which I don’t intend to). Ideally I’d like to find some of the braced scrambles handlebars JoMo used to supply and fit (see photo of Bud and Dave Ekins). I might fit trials tyres and even a Bates style racing seat - if I can find one - but I’m pretty much happy with the original.

Dry build completed

Over the last week, Terry has completed a dry build of the bike, which revealed some of the issues mentioned above, and stripped it down again. Frame, side panel, oil and gas tank will be taken off to Terry’s welding/brazing/paintwork wizard, John, next week. Once the frame has been repaired, I’ll take it plus yokes, mudguard stays etc. off to my stove enamelling man, Grahame, for his expert attention.

I’d like to get all nuts and bolts cadmium plated. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is going to be possible in the UK as, due to the toxic waste produced, platers can only use it for aviation parts. I’m looking into shipping them to a buddy in the States to get it done as an alternative, but I’m not really sure it’s going to be worth it and I don’t want to risk losing all the original fasteners. I might just have to settle for zinc plating, but I’m not keen on it.

Engine and gearbox prior to and after stripping

Terry has also stripped engine and gearbox down to their component parts. It appears these were rebuilt and have done very few miles. The sump still had a lot of old oil in it, which was clean. Valves, piston heads, cylinder head and ports were all clean - silver not black. It has 11:1 +40 pistons with good bores, no wear. Crank has never been reground. Terry reports the rebuild had been well done on the whole - although whoever did it omitted to clean the sludge trap and there were some nuts and bolts inside which hadn’t been properly tightened. Con rods and crank all good. Valve seats deeply recessed, all valve components virtually unused. Cams standard E3134 inlet (‘Racing’ profile), E exhaust (’Sports’ profile), as fitted to the T120 TTs and the T120Rs alike, showing some wear. Gearbox all good. Crankcases clean, no need to bead blast them but cylinder head would benefit from bead blasting.

Engine cases split - all good. Sludge trap in bottom pic - not cleaned when engine was rebuilt previously.

Engine/gearbox restoration

  • New hardened cams, as standard

  • 9:1 LF Harris pistons

  • Cylinder head - new seats and Black Diamond valves (supplier TBC), vapour blasted

  • Carbs resleeved/rebuilt

  • Morgo plunger oil pump

Pipes will be high level, either the slash-cut ones exiting on the left as fitted to the 1966 TR6SC Trophy Special, or custom made Bud Ekins style ones as in the original photos, longer and not slash cut.

Wheel rims will probably be sourced from Devon Rims, who did a great job fitting the stainless ones to my TR7 hubs. I’ll probably just stick with chrome ones, but flanged alloy ones are under consideration.

The hunt is on for a RH slider - several options, both in the UK and Stateside. Smiths speedo sourced and will be sent off for reconditioning togethe with tacho.

Still not sure on the colour scheme for the tank.

So that’s the plan!

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