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Bike Profile - Posted 2nd November 2009

1959 Triumph Speed Twin
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When Tony Clements discovered this 5TA, which had been standing for some three decades, it was in a 'very sorry state'. But the vital bathtub bodywork was complete...

The Speed Twin of 1959 is a radically different kettle of carp to the original model which was launched to much huzzah at the 1937 National Motorcycle Show. Turner's triumph of style over strength pretty much dictated the path of postwar motorcycle development, such was the success of his 500cc OHV vertical twin.

I'm not convinced about the Bathtub bit... 1959 Triumph Speed Twin

The configuration wasn't exactly a new concept, but it was lighter than many contemporary singles with significantly more power and torque. It also pandered to British conservatism by looking a lot like a twin-port single -- which wasn't that difficult, given that the majority of cycle parts were pillaged from the single range… and that also goes a long way towards explaining the early twins' 'unique' handling characteristics. Importantly, the Speed Twin looked fast and built itself a firm following which lasts to this day. Roy Bacon reckons that 'the early 500 was one of the nicest machines of all time'.

As each year brought in newer and more sporty models, so the Speed Twin evolved into a touring motorcycle. Its girder forks were upgraded to teles in 1946, with an optional sprung rear hub from 1947. A new fuel tank and cosmetic makeover took place in 1950. From '52 the generator and magneto were replaced with a Lucas alternator and battery/coil ignition system, much to the horror of the traditionalist. The Tiger 110 was the first model to experiment with a swinging arm frame in 1954, and the Speed Twin benefitted from that advance a year later. Full width aluminium brake hubs arrived in 1957 and then came the big step to unit construction with a one-piece forged crankshaft, which for the 500 twins arrived in 1959 - the year that Tony's machine was built.

I mean, if you'd wanted a scooter, you'd have bought a scooter, surely?... 1959 Triumph Speed Twin

With its full enclosure, the 5TA appears to be extremely similar to the 3TA which preceded it into production by a couple of years. However, the 350 and 500 are radically different in the engine room and running gear dept, so beware of 'upgraded' 350s if you're thinking of buying.

By now the Speed Twin had left behind all sports pretensions; 'handling was not a strong point' says Bacon with masterful understatement, but Triumph had introduced the Bonneville to take the sporting strain. The touring Speed Twin sparkled in its splendidly smooth Amaranth Red livery, although getting at the mechanicals under the bathtub could be a chore. The sleek lines of the bodywork were interrupted in 1960 with visible bolts which proved more practical, if slightly less sightly.

That splayed-pipe head is a classic, though... 1959 Triumph Speed Twin

The location of the distributor caused some ignition problems, being sited behind the cylinder, and this was cured by its removal in 1964 when the points were relocated to the timing chest. The bathtub became a mini-skirt at the same time, and then subsequently shrunk in the wash as the years wore on. When the Speed Twin was finally discontinued in 1967 the famous nacelle, which had been a marque feature for nearly two decades, went with it.

While the price for some Triumph twins has gone sky high in recent years, the fully-dressed Speed Twins are among those which still carry 'reasonable' price tags. One sold at auction earlier in 2009 for £2300, in need of re-commissioning. At the time of writing, Andy Tiernan (www.andybuysbikes.com) has one for sale which is MoT'd and ready to ride for £3000. Owner Tony Clements found this one in 2001 and paid a grand for it initially; all the work to bring it back to life reduced his bank balance by another £3000 or so.

While I'm on the subject, the jury is still out on nacelles, too... 1959 Triumph Speed Twin
Spped Twin bits on :

The result of Tony's time, effort and expense was a concours champ, however: a superb renovation which retains much of the bike's original equipment. 'It still has the original toolkit under the seat' says Tony 'which never fails to impress the public and judges alike.' It certainly swayed our judges at this summer's Walsall Classic Transport Show where the Speed Twin was awarded the 'Best Motorcycle' prize. Congratulations, Tony!

Tony's bike was complete down to the original tool kit when he bought it... 1959 Triumph Speed Twin - Before

After riding it for several seasons to various events, Tony reports minor teething troubles: 'the SRM clutch mod is good but it is made from alloy which expands as the unit warms up. I see that SRM have now modified the part with holes in the plate to overcome this. Also, the Speed Twin has the coil under the seat where it gets little cooling air. They have a tendency as a result to break down, which mine did. That took some spotting! I would like to fit electronic ignition but as the bike has a distributor this isn't entirely straightforward. I believe that Boyer are looking into it.'

...And hasn't he done a great job? 1959 Triumph Speed Twin - And After

Tony recommends Central Wheels for classic-type tyres as well as wheel rebuilding; his local Willenhall Engine Centre who did the engine machining, R S Motorbike paint for correct paint type and colour, and Howells of Walsall for chrome and nickel plating. Tony also suggests that if you're looking for a similar motorcycle then you should 'try to find a complete machine with its original steel bathtubs. Replacements are virtually impossible to find although there are some fibreglass ones around.'

So keep on searching, and once you locate the right machine then you should enjoy the experience. 'The Speed Twin is such a pretty bike,' says Tony, 'with a low seating position. It's not very fast but certainly is a joy to ride, especially up to 50mph - which is plenty for an OAP!'


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