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1968 Triumph T120R
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25 years ago, AndyC owned a 650cc Triumph Bonneville and rode it regularly. What was it like to live with, Andy?...

When Andy bought the T120R for just £750 it was 'very rough. It leaked like a sieve and had a Captain America paint job on the tank!' This was back in 1979 when the 650 Bonneville was just 11 years old. At the time, British twins didn't have a great reputation and this particular machine needed a good deal of attention to bring it up to scratch.

Check out the helmet and gloves. It could only be 1979.

'I spent quite a considerable amount of time money and effort on it' says Andy 'bringing it up to my specification. That meant rebuilding it to a non-standard spec. I had to give it a rebore and new pistons, and if my memory serves me right the cost of rebore and pistons was £60 - try getting it done for that these days! I stripped and rebuilt the motor completely myself. I also stripped it of the Captain America paint job and treated the tank and sidepanels to a nice deep black gloss paint job with gold pinstriping. I used to be lucky enough to live just a few miles away from a guy that my Dad knew who resprayed cars, so the entire paint job only cost me around £20.

'Before the sidepanels were painted I made up some decals out of brass sheet. The decals read "T120" and the characters were about 1½" high and were quite distinctive, and when the brass was polished it stood out really well against the gloss black background of the sidepanels. Other things like a new 2:1 exhaust were fitted, along with one of the old "chopper pot" silencers. (But I would never again fit a 2:1 exhaust system to one of these bikes, because it saps power and produces a horrible exhaust note. I eventually reverted back to the standard 2:2 set-up without a balance pipe and this made a huge performance difference. Never again would I fit the "Chopper Pot" style silencer - too noisy and it looks naff!

Definitely an improvement.

'Fitting genuine Amal bell-mouths greatly improved carburation. The old clapped out wiring loom was also replaced with a custom made one, and the mechanical points and advance / retard system was replaced with a Boyer. I would definitely recommend fitting GENUINE Amal bell-mouths because these make a huge improvement to throttle response. Likewise I would always fit a Boyer electronic ignition as opposed to a points setup.

'Except the wiring and the rebore, I did everything myself including stripping the paint off the cycle parts. I also made the new wiring loom since I was lucky enough to be working for a company at the time that manufactured a lot of wiring looms and cabling so all the raw materials were readily to hand!

'For engine parts and advice I thoroughly recommend Stuart Motorcycles of Highbridge in Somerset (on 01278 793252). He's a very knowledgeable guy who offers excellent advice, and service, and he can get hold of virtually anything British.'

Once the Bonnie was back on the road, it didn't get a chance to be unreliable at all 'simply because when I wasn't riding it I would be fettling it - I had plenty of leisure time back in the early 80s.' Ahh. Thems were the days…

OK then Andy, what was it like to ride? What would you say were its best features?

'The handling, performance and reliability, and of course the sound when fitted with the correct exhaust system. I must also make special mention of the twin leading shoe front brake. Once I had set it up correctly it was like hitting a brick wall if you really squeezed the lever. To this day I have never come across a better front brake on any bike that I have owned. In my opinion, Triumph discs are not in the same league.'

Captain America paintjob looking... cool, kickstart rubber working loose.
Random James stuff on

And what about the other side of the coin. What wasn't so great about the Bonnie?

'Vibration was always a problem. It was bearable but tiring. Tingling hands were the norm on a long run. Having owned T120s and T160s and T140s, and more recently a T100R, I would say that the T120 was the worse for vibration - probably because it is a bike that likes to be ridden at the upper end of its performance range. If the vibes could be reduced it would make it a more enjoyable bike to ride. Then there was one time the throttle cable snapped, and I rode it home tugging on the broken end of the cable with my right hand…

'I also had very many pleasurable rides on this bike, but two stick in my mind as being particularly memorable. The first was not long after I had bought it so I had not had much time to sort it. A mate of mine who lives in Malvern came down to visit me in Somerset. While he was here his bike at that time (a Jawa 2-stroke twin) blew its bottom end out. So I offered to give him a lift back to Malvern.

'Off we set, taking the A38 up over the Mendips and on to Bristol to pick up the motorway. The T120 kept up a very respectable 70 / 80ish along the motorway, and was quite happy until we left the motorway at Strensham services. After a short time back on the A-roads, it felt like it was going to seize, so I backed off, only for the engine to give a little cough after which it seemed to be happy again...

'What had actually happened was that part of the piston crown had broken off on the right hand pot. The result of this was that the bike left a very heavy blue smoke trail behind it, yet it still went OK. It went so well that I rode it around Malvern for the entire weekend, before riding it back to Somerset, albeit at a steady 45 to 50mph - foolhardy I guess, but I was only in my 20s at the time. It used about half a gallon of oil riding back to Somerset - only 100 miles or so! To this day I have kept the broken piece of piston in the shed as a reminder.

Is this bit supposed to be in there?

'The second memorable ride was when on one really hot summer afternoon, I decided to take a run from Somerset, up to see my mate in Malvern (same mate), and return the same day. I showed the Bonnie no mercy, really thrashing it all the way there and back. It never missed a beat, nothing fell off, and there was no sign of oil leakage, just a slight misting around the gaskets. It was always at its happiest when it was being given a sound thrashing. It never liked being ridden gently!'

Andy sold the T120 five years after he bought it in the early 1980s, and he's keen to know what happened to it thereafter.

'If LRF 57F is still out there I would love to know.'

If you know what happened to this particular T120, then post a message and tell everyone…


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