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1965 T120C TT Special Restoration

1965 East Coast T120C TT Special - day of purchase from UK vendor. Ancient Trials Universal tyres, rolled stainless front mudguard. Coils visible. Pattern pipes more angular than originals, making it difficult to route the rev counter cable outside the LH pipe as it should - which is why it's incorrectly forced inside the pipe, reducing its longevity.

1965 TT Special - day of purchase LH side. Silver lines under knee pads visible - should be underneath the tank. Cheap pattern stainless rear guard (Wassell?)

1965 TT following restoration - not quite finished (decals, styling strips on tank, remove logo from seat). Rear shocks from Supreme, very accurate reproductions. Front mudguard alloy - correct for the first batch of TriCor TTs produced for the '65 model year - which includes this one. Rear mudguard stainless (keep it quiet!) not 'correct' but since I'll be using this bike I prefer the durability of stainless - and I'll obtain an alloy rear for originality.

This was my first TT, bought June 2014 from a chap in Lincolnshire who'd just imported it from Ohio. I saw it on eBay and immediately fell for it - particularly when I read it was "One of 141 manufactured" and a "West Coast Factory Desert Racer". Wow! I visited the library of the Vintage Motor Cycle Club at Burton on Trent to check out it's numbers against the factory records for authenticity before buying. The first thing I noticed was that there were far, far more than 141 TT Specials built in 1965. 775 is my final figure, Also, the bike was a TriCor (East Coast) bike and would have been very unlikely to have seen a desert in its life. TT Specials were not "Factory desert racers" - their siblings, the rarer single-carb Trophy Specials, introduced alongside the TT in 1963, fulfilled this role.

Armed with this info, I visited the vendor and eventually agreed on a realistic deal of nearly half the asking price (these bikes are frequently advertised at very silly prices, largely on the basis of their supposed rarity). I was a bit disappointed it wasn't a desert racer, or a West Coast bike (it did sound rather romantic) but still liked the bike.

According to the factory records, engine was assembled 24 August 1964, motorcycle built 26 August 1964, and despatched to "T Corp USA" on 2 September 1964, one of a first batch of 150 TTs built at the end of August 1964 (the start of the '65 model year). 55 of these went to TriCor, the rest to Johnson Motors (including one to "Johnson Motors Honolulu" ).

A cursory inspection revealed that the bike had apparently been slung together by the US vendor to fetch a premium price. On the plus side, engine and frame stamps compared favourably with others from the same batch and looked genuine. Most of the original parts were correct and had not been butchered - frame, subframe, tanks, wheel hubs and rims. It had had 8.5:1 pistons fitted at some point with Boyer electronic igntion, started easily and ran well.

Original Cycle thread spindle cap retaining bolts had been repalced with UNF ones, stripping the threads

Stripped threads in sliders - riding this bike over a bump (or pulling a wheelie) would have resulted in loss of the front wheel and serious injury or death!

In its as-sold state it was however not only unrideable but positively dangerous. Fork spindle end caps were (literally) held on by a thread and a front wheel could have easily been lost with possibly fatal consequences. Rear brake shoes were badly worn and the brake was ineffective. The vendor (who sold it to me the day after he collected it from the docks) had somehow managed to get a daytime MOT certificate, with a bulb horn fitted.

Super-expensive cast iron sidestand bracket from Baxters Cycle in Iowa, USA. It cost me around £250 to have this fitted, including shipping and welding. Not fantastic, but it looks like the original.

The cast iron side stand bracket had been snapped off from the frame during shipping. Replacement cast one sourced from Baxter Cycles in the US (very expensive plus shipping and I'm not sure I'd buy one again, though it is very like the original).

The frame had been sprayed badly at some point with red oxide and black top coat - it was badly worn and looked poor. Tank had been painted in some kind of metallic blue and silver and the design was incorrect - silver lines showing on the sides of the bottom of the tank when they should lead back under the tank to the petrol taps and not be seen from side-on (please note, there is a diagram in circulation online which shows the lines on the side of the tank - this is incorrect when compared with original paint tanks, the lower lines beneath the rubber knee pads should not be visible).

Most of the original cadmium plated BSF and Cycle fasteners had been replaced by UNF ones - the Americans nearly always do this, Whitworth "wrenches" apparently being unavailable in the colonies! I purchased many stainless Cycle/BSF nuts and bolts from Dave Middleton at great expense to replace them. I've been buying stainless nuts and bolts from Dave since 1982 and find them to be the best quality on the market. However, the Cycle thread ones are very expensive and many of the bolts have a semi-domed head which I'm not keen on. My preference would be for cadmium but cad plating just isn't available in the UK unless for aviation use. Zinc is an alternative but it's shinier and and less corrosion resistant. Stainless is frowned upon in "concours" circles, but it's practical, long-lasting and (to my eyes) looks a lot better than zinc.

My original intention had been just to have the sidestand bracket welded on - which involved removing the engine from the frame - fit new tyres, helicoil the slider end cap fittings and then just ride the bike a bit over the summer (2014) before sending the engine off for tuning and a rebuild over the winter. I had been put in contact with John Woodward, who worked in Triumph Experimental from 1967 - 73 and had a wealth of experience in tuning Triumphs, so had discussed with John my requirements and proposed bringing the engine over in October.

I had planned on having the engine tuned as it might have been in the '60s by American tuners, obtaining Sifton 390 cams (a variant of the JoMo #15 grind pioneered in the T120 streamliner in which Bill Johnson took 3 world records in 1962), steel pushrods and Carillo con rods. However, John Woodward wasn't impressed by my suggestions and recommended tuning it for fast road use using a tried and tested combination of Spitfire cams, 9:1 pistons (to cope with modern petrol), standard con rods and pushrods. I decided to let John do what he does best and build it to his specs (the final results vindicated this decision - very quick, reliable and tractable, the bike is a pleasure to ride).

Rocker box thread insert (UNF, of course!) It works.

The valves in the 1965 T120C TT head were the same as those fitted to the roadgoing T120R, an E4603 inlet (1-19/32") and E2904 exhaust (1-7/16"). These larger valves were introduced in 1964, when the TT Specials were fitted with a new cylinder head (E5727) and tapered carb adaptors (E5351/E5352) to mount the larger 1-3/16" Monoblocs (I am still puzzled as to how these were mounted on the 1963 TT Specials, which had smaller 1-1/16" inlet tracts, compared to the 1-1/8" ones introduced for the T120R in 1964. Perhaps the E5727 head and E5351/E5352 carb adaptors were in fact introduced in the 1963 model year, although I haven't seen them listed in parts manuals). John considered them fine for the tuning work proposed. Part of the TT Special myth, commonly cited in adverts, is that they had bigger valves than the standard Bonnie. This was not the case. Larger valves than the 1-19/32" inlet and 1-7/16" exhaust were available but were never specified as standard in parts manuals for the TT (or any other model).

New barrels were sourced (probably not as good as the originals which seem to have better air flow, but still), LF Harris con rods and 9:1 pistons fitted. On the whole, engine and gearbox were in good shape, having clearly been rebuilt fairly recently. New BSA Spitfire profile cams were fitted. The exterior of cylinder head and crankcases was clean and good and I decided it wasn't worth vapour blasting them for a concours finish. I'm not into the obsession with restoring these bikes to a condition better than that which they often left the factory in - after all competition bikes would never have looked like some of the gleaming examples you see in shows, many of which have never been fired up.

The immediate repairs required to make the bike roadworthy were completed by August last year, registration with DVLA had been completed and I had the TT up and running again - with a sidestand! I wasn't happy with it, though - it didn't run badly but I couldn't help wonder what else wasn't right with it (after the issue with the fork end caps) and whether it might suddenly explode or fall to pieces. I took the engine over to John slightly earlier than planned and took the tank to Andy from the Paint Studio at Ilkeston, who had done a great job of the candy red tank on my 1977 Tiger 750. When I removed the tank, some petrol seeped from underneath and somewhat alarmingly stripped the paint from the underside! The bare metal showed no evidence of surface preparation, clearly the cause. John had quite a lot of other work on and I was in no particular hurry with winter coming on so agreed for him to complete the work over the next few months with a view to getting the bike back on the road in March 2015. Frame, subframe, swinging arm, yokes, chain guard, sliders, mudguard stays etc. were taken to Grahame Rhodes (one of the few people who still practice the arcane work of stove enamelling) to work his magic on.

Tank was repainted in Pacific Blue and Silver with gold coachlines by Andy from The Paint Studio using John Critchlow paint (reputed to be the closest available to original Triumph paint). This is what Triumph called a "flamboyant" finish - a "candy" with the blue being painted over the silver to give a subtle metallic effect. It looks stunning in the sunlight! Badges rechromed by Derby Platers, new tank rubbers from Ace Classics (they really are "ace"!). Note the way that the silver scallop leads under the tank and is not visible from the side - this is correct for the 1964 and 1965 US Bonnie tanks. Contrast it with the paintwork on the tank as it was when I bought the bike - this is incorrect: wrong design, wrong colour, non-candy finish.

In the meantime, I imported the 1965 T120C Scrambler and the 1966 T120C TT Special desert racer described elsewhere on this site. Work commitments left me little time to work on bikes however, and I handed over the T120C Scrambler to Terry Macdonald for some "light refurbishment" (which turned out to involve a little more than originally envisaged!) along with my 1977 TR7RV, to finish off the work I'd completed on it over the previous year. By March 2015 when John had finished the engine, it was clear that I wasn't going to be able to get the 1965 TT completed in the near future with my current commitments, so this was handed to Terry too to reassemble and finish off.

Terry has rebuilt around 250 Triumphs since he bought his first Bonneville back in the Sixties - it's no exagerration to say he is the foremost Triumph restorer in the UK, if not, the world. Supreme Motorcycles in Leicester were used to supply spares - a large amount were required!

One of the first things Terry noticed was that the front bracket on the frame to which the tank mounts (can be seen in photo above) was positioned incorrectly - about 1/4" too far to the rear. This made it extremely difficult to fit with the correct shouldered bolt and rubbers. The threads in the tank to which shouldered bolts were attached had been drilled out and converted to UNF in US fashion with oversized standard bolts attached. Terry warned that over-tightening could result in the tank being punctured from beneath - a common issue. An improved arrangement was introduced in 1969 (though Terry has seen late 1968 model bikes with them fitted) when studs were fitted to the tank mounts with nuts screwed on from beneath - this avoided the risk of puncturing the tank. I decided to opt for this. Terry's contact John (master welder/brazer/painter) made up suitable studs and fitted them, and relocated the mounting bracket. All without any damage to tank paintwork, and minimal damage to stove enamelling on the frame which was touched up with standard enamel black.

Terry also spotted that rear wheel alignment was out by a whopping 1/4"! At some point the wheel had been relaced to the hub with the wrong offset - to quote Terry, "It must have been like riding a crab!" Wheels and rims (original Dunlops with good chrome) were sent to Bob Wylde to be fitted with new stainless spokes and offset correctly. Having a rear wheel with the wrong offset is another American quirk - the T120C Scrambler also had a rear wheel which was 1/8" out.

Handlebar levers were all incorrect and in poor shape - replaced with new items from Supreme.

Throttle assembly a bit rough - replaced with one of the excellent items available from Burlen/Amal (identical to the original, superbly made and at a good price). I can't speak to highly of the Burlen products - they are superb.

Battered fork top nuts, "Competition" top yoke (as also fitted to the Tiger 90!)

Fork top nuts had been bashed about and were replaced with polished stainless ones from Andy Molnar.

Tyres were ancient Trials Universals, cracked and unusable, but the correct size. It would have left the factory with Dunlop K70 Gold Seals (3.50 x 19 front, 4.00 x 18 rear) but Trials Universals were a common replacement. They were not usable though, so I replaced them.

Clutch was replaced with a 7-plate item from Supreme. Unfortunately, this was not good and the plates stuck together after being left for a few days so the original was refitted (it was perfectly serviceable). In time I'll fit a Norman Hyde 7 plate one - these have been fitted to my TR7RV and T120C Scrambler and are excellent (though more expensive). I also expect to fit an SRM pressure plate, as fitted to my 1965 T120C Scrambler and 1966 T120C TT - initial trials suggest these are as good as they say, making clutch action lighter and smoother.

Oil pump was replaced with a higher capacity Morgo plunger pump. Shortly after the engine was started, the oil seal in the timing cover blew causing the engine to wet sump and oil to be pumped out of the breather. It has not been possible to obtain the steel rimmed oil seals Triumph used and the ones currently available, of rubber, are not as good (though the LF Harris ones are the best of the bunch). No further problems since the seal has been replaced.

Had I converted the timed breather to the later improved breather from the primary case (involves drilling 3 x 1/16" holes in the drive side inner crankcase, as detailed in "Triumph Tuning" by Stan Shenton) as John Woodward had encouraged me to, this might not have been an issue! However, this does involve adding a large bore breather as seen on the Thruxton Bonnevilles, which would offend the purist, so I was inclined not to, in case I sell the bike. I have, however, modified my 1966 TT this way, and fitted a Morgo pump.

New brake shoes all round.

New parts fitted prior to purchase included:

  • Handlebars - OK

  • Boyer electonic ignition and powerpack - OK

  • Side stand - OK

  • Airfilter assembly - OK (Trident air filter a tight fit and replaced with genuine paper element)

  • 12v coils - better using 6v coils, so replaced accordingly. Also, coils were mounted under tank and clearly visible. I really don't like this arrangement - 1965 TTs had small ET coils fitted under the tank which were less visible and it always looks wrong to my eyes when you see a big pair of standard coils sticking out under a TT tank. Replacement dual coil set up fitted with custom-made bracket inder headstock to hide the standard coils. Ideally, if I had a spare set of ET coils, I'd mount a pair under the tank just for the look.

  • Exhausts - not great but all that's available - the original TT pipes were much more rounded at the front where they exit the cylinder head compared to pattern ones. I'm currently progressing some built to order from an original set.

  • 389/95 1-3/16" Monoblocs (from Burlen) - good. My experience with having original carbs re-sleeved has not been positive.

  • Seat - unacceptable. The "Triumph" script logo on the back is incorrect and was not introduced till 1966. Most competition seats - particularly East Coast ones - were all black. Logo was initially removed with nail polish remover but I wasn't satisfied with the smooth vinyl finish of the seat. The originals had a rough textured finish, so I had a new cover custom made without the logo by RK Leighton (who made the originals) with the correct texture.

  • Stainless "rolled" front mudguard - "rolled" mudguards weren't introduced until 1968 and it's unlikely stainless ones were fitted to TTs before 1967 (though it's possible they could have been, on occasion, if lack of availability necessitated this). According to David Gaylin, the first 50 East Coast 1965 TTs had alloy guards and the rest had a painted alloy front, painted steel rear. David and colleague Lindsay Brooke have carried out extensive research into the US Triumphs and are without doubt the most reliable of any of the authors out there - leagues ahead of any of the British ones, including the ex-Meriden workers whose writings on the US Competition bikes I have found largely unreliable. I don't know where David obtained the information that the first 50 TriCor '65 TTs had alloy mudguards, but it's quite likely to be true. I suspect that rather than being the first 50, it was however the first batch of 1965 TTs sent to TriCor which had the alloy guards, like their JoMo counterparts - 55 in all, including my example. I have obtained an alloy front razor edge guard which has been fitted. Rear gear mudguard was a cheap stainless razor edge item - probably Wassell supplied. It was like a piece of tin foil and I've replaced it with a better quality stainless razor edge item sourced from Andy Gregory. Alloy would be more "correct" but I decided to go with stainless for durability so I could fit a number plate to it and possibly a stop light (I'll obtain an alloy one so it can be reverted to original for the purists).

  • Tacho NOS - good

The bike is now up and running nicely and sounding great - if extremely noisy! I've sourced some baffles which Terry has fitted and quieten it a bit. [Postscript: removed them as it just didn't sound right, but handy for MOTs!]

Rebuilt engine fitted. Correctly routed rev counter cable - heat shield is non-standard, but a good idea if you don't want burnt cable rubber all over the pipe! Float bowls on carbs safety wired, as they should be for the year. Air filter with NOS paper element fitted (the Trident wire mesh filter commonly supplied with pattern versions of these air boxes is not a good fit and can expand the box assembly making it difficult to fit). Plug caps non-original but period correct. Folding footrests.

Isn't she beautiful? (But will look even better with styling strips fitted to the tank and decals!)

The finished product (below) in May 2016!

500 miles or so on the engine and gearbox, rebuilt and tweaked by John Woodward (ex-Meriden Experimental) to give it the spark of the original TT without the very high compression which would make it unusable on modern fuels. Starts easily, smooth-running due to the dynamically balanced crank and is very quick indeed - the fastest T120 I've ridden!

Not highly polished to concours standard but clean and retaining some of its original patina. Built by highly experienced and knowledgeable experts John Woodward (engine and gearbox) and Terry Macdonald (final assembly and setup) - and it shows. So many old Triumphs out there for sale on eBay and elsewhere at high prices (particularly rarer models like the TT Special) which have been put together by amateur enthusiasts, many of whom simply do not know what they're doing. I've seen first hand the havoc these guys can wreak on an engine and gearbox when I purchased for good money a 1965 TR6SC engine which had supposedly been "rebuilt" by a couple of Illinois, US based restorers, George Z and Garry D L. The engine would probably have blown up or seized if used and cost me a fortune to put right.

One of the main problems now is that the supply of quality NOS spares is drying up and pattern ones are often just not fit for purpose. Your average amateur will not have the experience to tell whether a part is correct or not and the result is motorcycles built with poor parts which simply will not last. My original intention was to rebuild my bikes myself, but time constraints meant that I entrusted most of the work to professionals. Although this was an expensive business, I'm glad I did so.

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