1952 Triumph Thunderbird frame and engine
I started my motorcycling life on big bikes riding my step dad’s Triumph Thunderbird. I even crashed it once, right in front of him…you can imagine how things were in our house for the next few days, weeks, months…But, it was that motorcycle that infected me with the British bike disease. I have had many Brit bikes since that time and still ride one. I am a sick person.
That Triumph T-Bird taught me more about motorcycling and motorcycle maintenence than just about motorcycle I have ever had. I learned how to rebuild a sprung hub, cut my own cork clutch plates and how to troubleshoot and fix the electrical system (there are a lot of jokes about Lucas electrics that could fit in here but you have already heard them all).
While about as far from home as I was going to get one day, my trusty (?) Triumph 500 decided that it had had enough fun for one day. Over to the side of the road I went and started started staring at the electrical system with a truly blank stare. Now, remember this in the day before cell phones…way before, (as a matter of fact, most houses still had rotary phones?!) and I didn’t bring my carrier pigeon along for the ride that day. I won’t make that mistake again…While sitting there pondering the world of English electrics I heard the rumble of a thundering herd of motorcycles. It was a group of Hells Angels members out for a Sunday ride. When they pulled over near me you can imagine what I was thinking. As it turned out, I was helped by a couple of Hells Angels members that happened to know a lot about my little Triumph. These two guys stayed with me while the others continued on and got my bike running better than it had for quite a while. It was a bit scary at the beginning but these guys were so helpful, we ended up riding the rest of the day together and I bought them lunch to say thanks.
But, I digress. Lets gets back to what I found on ebay…the starting point for a truly rare Vintage Triumph. This is really more than a winter project, probably two or three winters. If you’re lucky. It is really only the engine, trans and frame. But….there is so much you can do with this start. Bring it back to stock (that’s going to be a LOT of work), make it a true old school chopper (a lot of it easier to do than go stock), or a vintage racer (flat track or roadracer), or it’s just another motorcycle project that your wife looks at as ‘another piece of junk taking up space in the garage’ and looks at you with that look of “my mother was right, I should have married Irving Shcnickelfritz, the accountant”.
Now, most importantly, you’re going to need the sprung hub. The hub had what was politely known as a suspension built inside, a couple of springs that gave the rear axle about an inch of travel? It worked after a fashion. But it is correct for this motorcycle to have no matter what route you take to finish it. And I would certainly want the way cool headlight nacelle. That headlight had all the instruments but it was actually made to house the bigger 7″ headlight. And you’re hoping that it stays on when you need it (back to the Lucas jokes). The more I look at it, I would do all I can to make a stock T-Bird again. But…and this is a big but, it would take a lot more than one or even two winters to do that. Ah, what else have you got to do on those cold Minnesota nights?
A couple more little interesting things about the Thunderbird. The T-Bird was born out of the 500cc Speed Twin, it was bumped up 150cc that gave it 8 more horsepower. At that time, post WW2, here in America big twins ruled the roads and to compete the brits had to make their lighter, better handling motorcycles more powerful. Enter the Thunderbird. The bike went from the twin carbs of the 500 to a single SU carb for better fuel economy. One way to tell if you have a genuine Thunderbird is if it has a hole in the downtube behind the engine that connects the carb to the air box. Most of the parts of the bike that we would normally expect to be chomed are painted because metal treatments like that were being saved and used for the Korean war effort machinery.
There are a number of good resources for old Triumph parts here in the US and England. I found four right here in California and two in Australia, my guess is that England is a treasure trove of parts to bring this skeleton back to life.
To get started on your next life long, exasperate the hell out of your wife and friends click on the pics below for more info (not much really…how much can you really say about a frame and engine? But you might want to ask the seller if the dog comes with it?