A Triumph of design and it's effect on my life

A Triumph of design and it's effect on my life

For nigh on fifty years the Triumph motorcycle has been a major factor in my life. My grandfather, Allan Moore, bought a 1948 Speed Twin after his 1928 Henderson 4 had worn out. He never rode a solo so he had to get my father George to ride it back to Fairfield. The Speed Twin had a Dusting sidecar fitted and the body was removed so he could fit a box to carry his materials and paints ladders during the work week and on weekends the sidecar body was fitted to carry my mother or grandmother in it.

This machine did good service until 1962 when it was wiped out by a tin top that did a right hand turn in front of it. In the fifties I vaguely remember the Triumph sitting in my parents driveway when the grandparents came to visit us. Unfortunately when it was crashed in the sixties it eventually sat forlornly in our backyard under a tarp for a few years against the fence until it was bought by my future boss, Dave Cottrell, to be turned into a speedway outfit. 

But I digress. In the late forties my father bought a pre-war Tiger 100 painted  khaki as it was a "civvy" bike impounded for the war effort as all new machines were until proper military machines were made. This Tiger had been "breathed upon" by a Triumph tuner Billy Dobson and apparently went like the clappers. After the old man dropped it a couple of times, including sliding it under a semi trailer in Royal Parade Clifton Hill, he sold it. /////but after I was born in the fifties he would beguile me with stories of this machine and in my eyes as a 6-8 year old it was a "super bike "it still is. Dad never rode after that time but set me on a path I have followed since I was a 14yo 

At 16 I started a 5 year apprenticeship a Cottrell's Garage as a car mechanic, the son Dave Cottrell was a road racer/ scramble rider/ and Speedway rider all outfits, by the time I started working there the scramble and road racer outfits were out of favour and the speedway part of his hobby was where he concentrated and of course initially it was a 650 Triumph unbeknown to me at this time the "bones" of my  grandfathers machine, each day I was indoctrinated with the word Triumph and I had to own one come hell or high water. I had been trying to win my parents over and eventually they "cracked"my father said I could buy a 250 Triumph! This was a problem as Tiger 70's hadn't been made since 1939 and were impossible to find, so he reluctantly said ok to a 350 Triumph twin which he found in South Melbourne at about $250 and then promptly signed me up with a personal loan with Custom Credit to teach me about loans, and man that worked, the next and only loan I ever had was a mortgage. Now the 1959 3TA Twenty-One model was not a rocket ship under any stretch of the imagination except to me in my imagination it was Percy Taits I.O.M works Bonneville with a bathtub to boot, and as I didn't have a licence I rode it for over a year around my backyard (where I now work) to clock-up 650 miles, the distance to Sydney I said to myself & without ever getting into top gear! I wore a figure 8 around my backyard which thinking back must have annoyed the shit out of my neighbours, meanwhile after paying the loan, doing repairs on the Triumph,saving for a AGV helmet and studying for my Learners Permit (about 18 months away) and reading Two Wheels magazine I was lusting over the Triumph adverts reading “Are you man enough for Triumph “ or “Triumph for the big ride” or “Triumph a mans motorcycle” I had by then decided I really wanted a Bonneville, my mate Albey Cowan had a 1964 Bonneville and used to fuel it up at the garage where I worked and stories of him being chased by the cops down Seperation Street Northcote at over "the Ton" were legendary, especially with them shooting at him out the side window of the police "Divey Wagon" the man was hero worshipped, the Bonnie was pulling away from them until he dropped it hanging a "U" turn. Albey also took his Triumph road-racing outfit for a ride down High street Northcote at 1-00 am to buy fish and chips the guy fired a shotgun down High street at 2am and hit nothing for a dare as no one  went out after 10pm, he was also the guy that drove his FJ Holden with vice grips after damaging the steering column trying to remove the steering wheel, seriously a hero to a youth like myself

After that I seriously wanted a Triumph as the period adverts said "Are you Man enough for Triumph" and the brochures also stated "Triumph a Mans machine" and "For the Men of the world" seriously my testosterone was boiling, Malcolm Uphill had lapped the I.O.M at 100 MPH and Len Atlee had won the Castrol 6 Hour and beat Craig Brown on his Honda 750 Craig who had electric started first away and Len kicked the reluctant Bonnie to life (Le Mans start) and eventually started nearly last, working through the field over the folIowing 6 hours he won with plenty to spare the legendary handling had won the day with a capable rider. I decided to work on my father and again to buy a Bonneville reluctantly he conceded, so off to shop for a Bonneville. When the first unit Bonnevilles came out in 1963 six were in the workshop at Musset's in the first week crashed, as people couldn't handle the power, my mate Albey said to a friend after he heard I was going to buy a Bonnie "He will kill himself as well as he won't handle all the power"such was the legend of the beast


First stop to stop was Frank Musset & Co in Sydney rd Brunswick they were Victorian distributors for Triumph and at that time everybody rode Triumph including the by-laws officers that rode Twenty-One"s like my old one, the Vic and NSW and Military police rode 650"s as did every outlaw motorcycle club, this was the place to go on Saturday what with 120 Triumphs on the showroom floor, and four wide and ten deep in the spares shop with eight on the counter the punters would wait up to hour and a half to get served, old Frank Musset financed the bikes with over 180 on time payment at anytime. Meanwhile yours truly had a 1965 Bonneville to view Norm Proudfoot was the salesman and this Bonnie had been steam cleaned and would not start! It was owned by a Merchant Seaman at it had been pinstriped by the "Master" Vic Bognor, I was disappointed and after leaving my future employers shop I went to Charlie Letch in Lygon St (a place I eventually owned and worked in for 26 years as Union Jack Motorcycles) Charley bought ex Police Triumph Saints at 40 a time, not a Bonnie but they were low mileage, well maintained and at $650 a steal fitted with saddle bags and windscreen, crashbars, I picked out one paid my shekels after selling my 3TA Triumph and increasing my loan with Custom Credit, I brought it home and sat on it for 8 months till I eventually turned 17 and 9 months to get my permit. In the meantime I had been doing odd motorcycle repairs at Cottrell's and Davie had fitted a supercharger to the 650 Speedway outfit so it went blisteringly fast, one of the guys working part time had bought a 1969 TR6 and another mate a Saint like mine so I attended the grass track at Romsey to see more Triumphs winning, at Calder Raceway I could see Alby Cowan racing a Bonneville outfit so I was in the Triumph world

After about 18 months a customer kept pestering me to buy the Saint and after a particularly wet winter in 1969 I decided a car would be good so foolishly I sold it and bought a Valiant V8 (another Custom Credit re-finance) and to make matters worse I had taken a Vespa as a partial trade on my Saint for $150, this Vespa had it in it's mind to kill me so we never got on well and eventually it was sold before it carried out its dirty deed. 

A Triumph Bonneville was high on the list after I realised a Trident would take 6 years to pay off on finance and work out double the initial price, The Age on Saturday was a good place to look and  a Dunstall Triumph 650 in damaged condition was for sale at Athol Patterson motorcycles in Springvale for $725 it had a crashed front end a broken fairing, I bought it and repaired it over the next few months and man this was the Triumph that stopped traffic when I parked it, rows of people would stare at it, one even wanted to take blotting paper copy of its oil drips on the road it left! This 1968 Bonnevile was the quickest thing on two wheels after I fitted a ARE 750 big-bore kit and Spitfire profile cams it ate Honda 750's for breakfast only the H1 Kawasaki would out accelerate it off the line, and I rode it with a passion to suit it's looks the record of 10 mins to Musset's from Cottrell's garage at lunch time in peak traffic at 130-140 klms between traffic lights was my best effort so was 160 klms on Plenty road Preston at 8-00pm, a few close calls made me rethink and I sold it and as I was then working at Vic Wreckers I decided a 1948 Speed Twin built from spares would do, to kill the go faster craving that I had


This 5T was sublime compared to the Bonneville especially after a Dusting sidecar was fitted, so I built a 650 engine to TR6 Trophy spec and rode it to my next job at Frank Musset's old Frank was impressed and hired me immediately, that's when I entered the Triumph world pre-delivering, servicing,and repairing as well as occasionally sales, I had made it. John Vendette  came in one day and I helped him keep his Triumph outfit roadracing on weekends, many places like Mount Gambier, Calder Raceway, Winton were visited and it went very well against the 650 Yamaha's. I wanted a T140V but at $120 a week $1850 was unaffordable any way by that time I had bought a Vincent, then I bought a crashed repairable T150V Trident promptly fixed and hated it, then advertising it for sale and a T140V was bought soon after a much superior motorcycle and I was promoted to workshop forman so things were looking up, Ted Simon the famous world traveller and author of Jupiters Travels mentioned me in his book after doggedly repairing his Tiger 100 during lunchtimes and after hours, it paid off as Ted repeated the adventure 30 years later and I repaired his BMW. Many famous faces and characters passed through at this time until I finally left in 1979 for a 12 month trip to Europe on a yuk Norton 850 Interstate. While I was in UK I booked a tour of the Meridan Works, but just missed the tour, fortunately I was shown through privately and took a number of photos which contrasted dramatically to when I went through the Hinkley factory in 1991 just before John Bloor started re-manufacture, I was invited through after seeing the launch earlier in the month at Cologne. I had a interview with John Bloor a fascinating person and even at that time I knew that the new range would be successful 


In 1981 I had started Union Jack motorcycles and the next step eventually in 1987 buying my old boss Frank Musset's stock to become the Triumph agent for Victoria and Sth Aust, LF Harris made the Bonneville under licence and I am proud to say I eventually sold the last "real Triumph" in Australia engine number  0001137 , personally I still own a 1950 Thunderbird although I have sold my 1969 T120R Bonneville, T20SM Cub and a restored 1975 T140V a few years ago. In between I bought the first Hinkley 1200 Trophy in 1992 and although a beautiful well made machine I sold it after 3,000 klm's I really bought it on a whim after riding a 1000 Daytona 4 which very few were made. 


Union Jack Motorcycles has been repairing, selling and servicing Triumphs since 1981 and is still a LF Harris agent and I'm selling Triumph spares so basically all my life now up to 66 yo has been spent with Triumph in the Triumph way and guess what the forth generation my son Heath has a 1974 750 Bonneville and my daughter is named Bonnie it's in the genes!


Phil Pilgrim 2018