1973 Triumph 750 Tiger
Fester’s bike was typical of many old motorcycles – so worn out, neglected and abused that no one wanted to fix it.
Sometimes it’s hard to see that with the right mechanic and a little faith, even the worst clunker can be resurrected into a beautiful bike of great sentimental value, not to mention becoming a sound investment that could turn a handsome profit in the future.
The 1973 Triumph 750 Tiger – a single-carb version of the Bonneville – was in a sad state when I first laid eyes on it early last year. It had been the bike Fester had plastered L-plates onto as a teenager. It had been with him through several divorces, crashes, sabotages and thefts by irate women and debt collectors. It had been left out in the weather for years and neglected almost to the point of no return. Even so, it meant a hell of a lot to him, being perhaps the only material thing to have been with him through all the ups and downs of his adult life. And though he’d tried having it seen to several times over the years, the repairs just hadn’t panned out.
After the local bike shop decided they didn’t want to touch it, they turned to me in desperation. Not that I’m qualified, exactly. It’s just that after riding old Triumphs for nearly 40 years and a million miles, I know a bit about how to keep them going.
In 2011, I put together a DVD on the engine rebuild of my 1986 Triumph Bonneville (available from www.GreenGrassPub.com.au or check out ‘kogresto’ on Facebook). Fester happened to see some of the footage, cracked up laughing, and decided I was the man to rebuild his Triumph. I met him, saw the bike, heard his story and said I’d have a go.
“It’s going to take me 12 months,” I told him. “You pay for all the repairs and spare parts as we go along and, when it’s finished, I’ll charge you $1000 for my work.”
I realised even then that I was selling my labour for around ten cents an hour but a handshake later and I had the bike on my trailer, heading out of town to my shed.
What a phreakin’ mess of a Triumph! It didn’t go, of course. Covered in corrosion, it was a motley heap of mismatched nuts and bolts, botched up wiring, and skewed mudguards. The sidestand had broken off and, because of the longer-than-stock forks, it was barely resting on its centrestand. It was downright ugly and I could see why nobody wanted to touch it. At least all I had to worry about was the running gear and cosmetic stuff. Somebody had allegedly rebuilt the engine about five years before.
FIRE IN THE HOLE
The first thing was to see if it would go, which didn’t take too long. Spark, fuel, compression and, hey presto, life.
Next, I did what I’ve learned to do with all my old Triumphs over the years when they need fixing: put it in the middle of my shed and sit back and look at it – gaze at it, bring my wandering mind to a halt and tune into the spirit of the machine. You can get to know the whole history of a bike that way. It’ll tell you what needs fixing and how to go about it.
I spent a whole week just looking at the bike, especially at the end of the day when I had a few home brews. What a tale of woe it told. The longer front forks, the dents in the down tubes, the broken sidestand and twisted centrestand, the bent footpegs, the ding in the primary cover, the way the back mudguard sat, the beat-up headlight and brackets. All this told a story, and each of them was corroborated by Fester.
So it was time to start pulling things apart. It all proceeded quickly and easily. Any hold up or problems in the disassembly were met with a brief lie down. Afterwards, the problem would be easily resolved.
With the motor out of the frame, but before the front end was removed, I took it in to J’s Paint and Panel shop in Kyogle, NSW, (Ph: 02 6632 1115) where my son, Phillip, works, and had them weld on a new sidestand lug so the bike sat at the right angle. In the meantime, I wrote down a list of the jobs that needed to be done, and the bits and pieces I needed for them.
Soon after, I set out on the first of several trips up to Brisbane to get spare parts from BJ’s Bikes and Bits (Ph: 07 3391 7322). Preston at BJ’s, with a catalogue of Triumph part numbers in his head, was a wealth of information and a great help throughout the rebuild. I was amazed that you could still get all the little rubber bits and odd little things – even ones unique to a particular year (’73 Triumphs had different headlight mounting brackets, for example) – and that all the parts were relatively cheap.
THE WHOLE HOG
Once I explained to Fester how cheap it was going to be to fix everything, we decided to go the whole hog and turn the bike into something special with a nice paint job and chrome plating – essentially, turn the bike in to a brand-new machine; something he could keep for the rest of his life and pass on to his son.
The bike had to be functional, roadworthy, and nice to look at. So we settled on a budget of $5000, in addition to my fee, and I set to work.
J’s Paint and Panel did the paint work, adding Spies Hecker solid black to the frame before getting in Mat Gooley (MG Airbrushing) to do the grey on the tank/side covers and mudguards, and the raven and skull graphic on the tank.
Everything progressed nicely through the year. The 2.0-inch over forks were hard chromed, the wheels respoked, and new K81 Dunlop tyres from BJ’s fitted.
Other parts, like the handlebars, were chrome plated in Lismore along with the cad plating of lots of nuts and bolts.
During reassembly, I kept Fester informed of progress and it all came together very nicely and easily, within budget and the 12-month time frame.
And the end result speaks for itself. What a beautiful 750 Triumph. In the process I learnt heaps about how to rebuild a complete motorcycle to a nice standard. It’s a bike I’d be proud to own and ride. Fester assures me he’ll never sell it but Preston at BJ’s said if ever does, don’t take anything less than $20,000. Long live Triumphs.