We are always on the lookout for original Triumphs, but they are getting very hard to find and we’ve learned that validating their originality without actually seeing them in person is near impossible.
This weekend someone asked us to evaluate the worth of an original east coast mid-60s Bonneville that has been in storage for 40 years. We asked for good pictures but we know that even if the pictures show it as an original machine, seeing it in person is the only way to make certain.
We’ve learned much about validating originality over the years. As an example, last year we were offered the opportunity to purchase an “original” 1970 Bonneville in California.
At that time, we wrote an article about our experience with that 1970 T120R but never published it as we had several other projects that we were reporting on at the time.
It looks like the timing is right to dust off what we wrote back in May of 2014, so here it is ….
I found myself driving through the California desert the other day. I still had 5 hours until I arrived home and so had lots of time to think about what I was doing out there in “the middle of nowhere” that day.
I had arisen early that day with the plan to drive to California and back to Apache Junction, Arizona the same day. The purpose of my trip was to pick up an “original” 1970 Bonneville that we hoped was worthy of adding to our collection. But I was coming home with an empty trailer this time.
When the owner had contacted me several weeks ago, he told me that, in his opinion, his bike was as nice an original as the 1969 T120R Bonneville or the 1970 TR6R Tiger 650 in our collection. His had less than 4000 miles on the clock.
I asked the owner to send me lots of pictures and he did. In those pictures, the bike looked very original and in great condition. So I forwarded the pictures on to Leroy Turner and Dave Wedlake to get their opinions. They noticed the same small issues I had: the spark plug caps and wires weren’t original and the carburetors had extensions on the ticklers, both of which were not big deals. Otherwise everything looked original, except for the electronic ignition the owner reported the bike had.
As I looked the pictures over, two items caught my attention …the bike had the “diamond pattern” weave on the seat cover (instead of the square weave pattern available on reproductions) and still had its phillips head engine cover hardware (in lieu of the hex bolts used often in later years).
Had either of those two items not been correct, it would have disqualified this bike in my estimation as a bona fide original.
The history of the machine the owner provided me was a bit sketchy. The current owner had purchased the ‘70 about 4 years ago in the Midwest. The person who sold it to him provided a receipt from 2004 showing it was a Baxter Cycle motorcycle. The previous 35 years were unknown however as there were no other receipts or documentation.
I called Randy Baxter to see if he had records showing his dealership sold an original 1970 T120R back in 2004. Unfortunately, Randy sells so many vintage bikes through his dealership and this transaction was so long ago, Randy really couldn’t tell me if it was legitimate or not.
The only way to tell was to see it for myself …
Assuming I confirmed the bike’s originality when I picked it up, the owner and I negotiated an acceptable price and set a time for me to meet him after I drove the 320 miles one way.
I started out early and arrived at the owner’s home a little after noon. I was excited to see the bike in person.
As I walked in the garage, from 10 feet away, the bike looked terrific … just as nice as it had in the pictures I received. But it needed a closer look to be sure it was original.
After checking the engine and frame numbers, I turned to the rubber and rims. The rubber throughout the bike was in the condition you’d expect for being 45 years old. It still had original Dunlop K70s with the “Made in Great Britain” on their sidewalls. They were heavily checked and weren’t ones I would even drive around the block on. But as to originality, that was a good sign. The gaiters were shot and rubber on the foot pegs, passenger pegs, tank mount, kicker and other parts were all within the condition expected for the age of the bike.
The rims were in good shape showing minimal issues with the chrome. The rear was the correct Dunlop and the front was a Jones. Years ago, I used to believe that if the rims weren’t both Dunlops there was an issue but I was straightened out by John Healy who correctly informed me that Triumph occasionally had supply problems from Dunlop, especially during heavy production years like 1970. At time, Jones rims were used on the front. So, this all this all checked out regarding originality.
The electrical all looked okay. The front headlamp was the correct Lucas as were the rear lens and reflectors. The wiring harness was a bit tattered in some areas, but that is what one could expect on an original 45 year old machine.
Then, some issues as to originality started surfacing ….
I noticed the gauges were not original but had been restored. This was difficult to tell in the pictures but in person, easy to see. So 3900+ miles on the engine was probably not correct, unless the gauge restorer was told to set the odometer to the existing mileage on the bike, which was unlikely.
The Astral Red paint was in great condition but had the slightly wrong amount of metal flake. Again, this was something hard to distinguish in pictures but easier to see in person. The gold pin striping on the tank and fenders had looked good in the pictures but in person, I saw several inconsistencies that would never have been there when the bike left the factory.
The top of the seat, with the diamond shaped weave looked completely original, just as it had in the pictures. But when I lifted the seat and checked the barbs holding the cover in place, I found some were not even extended through the cover. It was not as the factory would have done it. Obviously someone had replaced the original seat cover, albeit with an NOS “diamond pattern” replacement. It had to have happened some time ago, as the Triumph logo on the rear showed the expected amount of wear for a sub-4000 mile bike.
I didn’t need to look any further … I had reached my conclusion. This machine was not original and wouldn’t be going into our collection.
At best, this was a mostly original bike which had its fenders and tank repainted and had its seat recovered. For me the biggest unknown was the engine and gearbox … the bolts on the cases had some marks so they were off and on at some point. What work had been performed and when was the question. Without records of any type, there was no telling the true mechanical condition without getting inside them.
I decided to pass on this one even as a rider. The owner told me he really loved the bike and was going to keep it even though he now knew that the bike was not close to being original.
On the way home, I asked myself what else I could have done to validate this bike’s originality before making the long drive to California. My conclusion was I could have done nothing different. Sometimes you take a chance and it doesn’t work out. In this case, it only cost me one day driving in the desert and some fuel money. Seeing it in person rather than trusting pictures or the assessment of others proved to be the right decision …