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New Project - 1967 T120TT Restoration (Aborted!)

1967 Triumph T120TT for sale - first glance, looks nice (don't they all!) BUT....

Well, I've been keeping an eye out for a suitable Aubergine/Gold first batch 1967 T120TT TT Special for restoration for a while now. As in my blog post on buying a TT Special, I really don't like the idea of buying something that has been restored by an unknown amateur, especially when it displays signs of incompetence or bodgery, as these specimens will nearly always end up costing more to put right than starting from scratch with an unrestored machine or a basketcase of parts. A couple of not very good amateur restorations recently sold for £15k in the UK - which seemed to me a lot of money for what they were to me, but there are people out there willing to pay this kind of money for mediocrity (at best) - but who balk at paying a little more for excellence! However, basketcases and unrestored TT Specials don't appear on the market often these days in the UK, as vendors know that hastily assembling one on the cheap and selling it as a supposedly working machine will always reap much bigger rewards. Any unrestored examples and basketcases that are advertised therefore need to be checked very thoroughly and their engine and frame stamps authenticated.

A UK classic bike dealer recently advertised a 1967 TT Special in bits, with all major parts, for £6k on an auction site - which actually seemed remarkably good value, especially from a dealer. Photos of frame and engine stamps were not provided so I was unable to verify them. The key question should always be, "Why is this person selling this bike when with minimal effort/cost they could sling it together and double their profit?"

Recently a 1967 T120TT in Aubergine/Gold appeared on a UK auction site, described as an "Absolute stunner", at a penny under £15k (see photo above). At first glance it didn't look too terrible in the photos - though "Absolute stunner!" was stretching it a bit! It had clearly been put together as a rider, with a taillight and Bates replica headlamp and a 1969 twin leading shoe brake - all things that could be easily undone to return it to factory standard if required, and not bad in themselves (though I'd always expect the standard parts to return it to original to be included for this price). I certainly did not think it looked anywhere near a £15k bike but thought I'd find out a little more in case the vendor would be prepared to negotiate a more realistic figure, so I phoned the dealers who had it advertised. They were very helpful and advised that old Triumphs weren't really their forté but they sold old bikes on consignment for a guy who shipped them in from the US from time to time, and this belonged to him. It had been "restored" by somebody unknown in the US, they'd been told. They'd run the bike and it sounded OK.

Over the course of several phone calls I learned that the bike had a powder-coated frame, non-original rims and new Amal Monoblocs. From the photos I could tell it had a 1968 subframe and bolt on side-panel, a 1968 sidestand and lug, a poor quality pattern seat, pattern pipes, an alloy front mudguard of unknown origin, an inaccurate tank paint job and a unified air filter housing (discontinued for 1967). I checked out photos of engine and frame stamps, the serial number being recorded as a JoMo first batch 1967 T120TT in the factory records - the engine stamp looked good but I wasn't too sure about the frame stamp, which wasn't very clear in the photo. Though it had clearly been put together to sell, I thought it might be worth checking out on the off chance and as it wasn't too far away I arranged to view it a couple of days later.

Stainless rims (yellow!), 1965 hub cover, never seen a fender like that!

Chrome where it shouldn't be, no paint where it should be...

I was hoping that the bike might look better in the flesh than it did in the photos, and that at least it would run nicely. Sadly, I was disappointed - on both fronts. On a positive note, there was no powder coat present, which saved a lot of work in removing the stuff. And the frame number, more visible under the paint to the naked eye, appeared genuine. Other than that, it was all negative. The thing was a mess - the worst amateur restored TT Special I've seen (and I've seen some bad ones!) It was clear that whoever had cobbled it together had no idea what he was doing and no knowledge of the model. The grille off the TLS brake was missing; a look under the seat revealed a mess of electrics; the clutch lever was sticking so far out at an angle that you couldn't fully pull it in; cylinder head fins were damaged/poorly repaired; no breather tube from the oil tank; the aubergine colour was even worse than it appeared in the photo - totally flat without any of the sparkle this "flamboyant" finish should have; T140 type rocker oil feed; washers under barrel nuts; pattern shocks, wrong type; unpainted tank badge - and more.

No grille - stones in here will soon chew up your brakes!

Unified air filter housing, last used in 1966; messy electrics...

The very helpful guy at the dealership started it up for me - once the hidden ignition switch had been correctly turned on it started after a couple of kicks, amid a cloud of black smoke. It wouldn't tick over even after a couple of minutes of revving and still smoked badly. The engine was quite rattly and the exhaust note just didn't have that "bark" that you usually get with open TT pipes. The bike had been run within the last day I'd been told, so the rough running wasn't anything to do with it having been sitting around for a while. It may not have been anything serious (he said, with all the optimism of a Johnson), but I for one would not ride this bike without a full strip and check of the engine and gearbox, particularly given the lack of care and expertise obvious elsewhere in the bike's assembly. It sounded like one sick puppy...

Big hands required!

Fin damage

Engine bolts fitted the wrong way round (someone hadn't a clue!)

I went away and thought about it. To get the bike back to original specification, to a standard which I would find acceptable, it would need to be stripped down fully and the restoration (work to be undertaken by Terry Macdonald) started afresh. A new lug would need to be welded onto the frame to accept a 1967 sidestand and the frame, swinging arm and yokes would have to be sent off for stove enamelling. Engine and gearbox would need fully stripping and machining carried out/replacement parts obtained as necessary. I was also concerned that, as the bike was clearly a bitsa, the cylinder head might not be original and could be an earlier T120R one for smaller carbs - no way of telling till it had been stripped, and it would be almost impossible to source a correct head if that was the case (which it might not have been, but who knows?) All the electrics would need replacing with a battery-less system, lighting would need removing, unified air filter and TLS front brake would need replacing, seat replacing/recovering. A correct subframe and sidepanel for 1967 would need sourcing. New mudguards. Cheap stainless rims replacing (I was advised that the owner had the original Dunlop ones and they would be included - whether or not they would be salvageable I can't say as I never saw them). And much more.

The components that could be used in bringing this bike to standard spec were as follows:

Engine (unknown work required)

Forks (did not work smoothly and needed stripping and possible work)

Main frame (but not subframe)

Swinging arm


Front and rear hubs

Oil tank

Petrol tank (needs painting)

Tank badges (need painting)

Rev counter



Total parts value in the UK: £5,500 - £6,900. Advertised price of bike: £14,999.

Last Saturday 19th October at the Stafford Autumn Show 2019 a 1966 TT Special restoration project (T120TT DU31350 - engine built 14/12/1965, shipped to Johnson Motors 16/12/65) consisting of similar usable parts as this bike was snapped up at Bonhams auction for £6,900 by an eBay dealer/importer, just to put it into perspective. Provided stampings are genuine, the Bonhams bike would be a much better restoration project than the 1967 T120TT, at under half the asking price! (Or so I thought...)

Sadly, it's now readvertised on eBay at £9,999 - which isn't such a good deal. I've taken a closer look at it now and it's really not a good basis for a project. Bonhams pre-sale estimate was £3 - 4k, which was about right. According to the vendor, the restoration work completed on it to date was carried out by Bill Crosby, a well-respected Meriden restorer. I couldn't find any information to support this claim on the Bonhams advert so I'm not sure what its source is. I have been advised the machine was in Crosby's shop for a while but it's not believed he carried out any work on it. The work that has been carried out is very amateurish and isn't to the standard of a skilled Triumph mechanic (tell-tale signs include washers under the barrel nuts!)

Firstly, the crankcases are not matching - the timing side crankcase is from a 1968 model; the gearbox and primary covers are also 1968 or later, as are the mudguards. Seat is a poor repro and shocks are later models. The side panel is missing. Rear hub is off a later model.Front mudguard stays, fork sliders and rear brake plate (off a later model) have been chromed. There are other discrepancies too. Like the '67, once you've subtracted all the incorrect parts, you're not left with much motorcycle for your money.

Anyone considering the '66 should ensure they check out the numbers thoroughly (no photo of frame number isn't a good sign) and be aware that the vendor's estimate that it would need £1,000 to finish it is wildly optimistic (to put it politely - see below for a recent order of largely miscellaneous parts totalling well over £1000 from LF Harris and Wassell for my TR6SC restoration for an example of what (somewhat more than) a grand will get you). It could easily cost you ten times that in parts, paintwork, chroming, any machining required and other work such as wheel building to return it to factory original, doing the assembly work yourself. I'd also recommend stripping and checking the gearbox as I very much doubt it was rebuilt by Bill Crosby.

[UPDATE 3/11/19 I see the '66 is now reduced to £6,999 on eBay. Still too much wrong with it to make it a worthwhile proposition in my view, even if the stamps are legit.]

I advised the dealer of all the issues with the '67. He asked me what I would be prepared to offer and I made a foolishly high offer (which I instantly regretted - thankfully the vendor didn't accept it!)

In the end I've decided to save myself the best part of £15k and build up the 1965 West Coast TR6SC engine from an old desert racer which I had rectified following an amateur rebuild (at considerable expense!) a couple of years ago. I have a frame and other bits and have taken it all over to Terry Macdonald's for full restoration to 1966 East Coast TR6SC spec (it's going to be more a bike to ride, and I prefer this model to the '65 version, but have parts to return to standard if desired) - I'll be posting regular updates! So unfortunately, the 1967 TT restoration is on hold now till I can find a suitable project bike at a more realistic price than some of those doing the rounds in the UK now. I'm keeping an eye out in the US as the junk on offer at inflated prices in the UK is just not worth it.

Parts order for TR6SC- well over £1,000:

Speedo drive, speedo drive drive dog, 6v small coils, Coil brackets, battery strap clip, rear mudguard U bracket, rear mudguard lower bracket, front mudguard lower stay, SS front mudguard, for slider brackets, front hub circle + dust cover, rear hub lock rings, rear wheel spindle, rear wheel distance piece, rear wheel nuts, fork top chrome caps, speedo bracket & bushes, rev counter drive box, chain guard stepped bolt, speedo spacer, speedo bracket bolts, rear brake shoes, rear wheel adjusters, brake drum, swing arm spindle & nut, swing arm shims, swing arm bobbins & lock washer, oil tank mounting pegs & rubbers, oil tank lower mount & bolt, engine plate studs, rear suspension bolts, frame to subframe lower bolts, brake/clutch lever sliding adj ball end rear mudguard support rail, petrol tank badge ds, petrol tank badge ts, switch panel, seat hinge coat hook, rubber chaser batt strap mounting, rocket oiler adapt joint washer, rocker spindle home nut, oil tank filter assembly, tank mounting grommet, front wheel spindle, front wheel spindle nut, brake shoe, front hub backing ring, brake shoe return spring, Rear wheel bolt up sprocket, rear chain wheel bolt, rear brake cam, torque stay bolt, horn & dip switch with cable, handlebar, gearbox clamp nut, distance piece eng plate to crankcase, silencer bolt, footrest stud, rear frame fixing bolt, footrest to frame bolt, steering stop, swivel pin for prop stand, lock tab washer, exhaust finned clip, rear wheel washer, socket head cap crew for lockring, seal housing for swing arm, swinging arm bobbin O ring, Lucas ignition switch body, regina 136SR, f/tank cap c/w vent, f/tank cap flat top, r/lamp ignition lock and keys, wiring harness, light switch, bulb holder, h/;lamp beam unit, h/lamp shell & rim

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