Dear Mr. Gardiner,
Regarding your comments in the “Off the Record” segment of December’s Thruxton vs. Sportster article, I wanted to offer a couple of thoughts.
I share your interest in the Bonnevilles of the sixties. I have a ’64 T120R and a ’65 T120C. Both were complete restorations. You are correct that a reasonably complete T120R can be found for $2000-$3000. You are also correct that at that price it will require the attentions of a competent mechanic to make it roadworthy. While not complicated machines vintage Triumphs, like all vintage bikes, are from a different time and require a knowledgeable hand to set them right. A mechanic capable (and willing) to breathe life into your new prize can be more difficult to find than the bike itself. I was lucky. I met and became friends with arguably the best Triumph man in the country, Keith Martin of RPM Cycle here in Dallas. I spent a lot of time looking over Keith’s shoulder and asking dumb questions. Vintage bikes expect their owners to know more than merely where the gas goes in. If ridden regularly, older bikes require their riders to be more involved in day-to-day operations and maintenance than their modern counterparts. Old Triumphs will tolerate neglect for a long time; ignored long enough they will ultimately leave you stranded on the side of the road.
But I digress. Most Triumph parts are easy to find and relatively inexpensive. Needless to say, a complete bare frame restoration is not necessary to bring the bike to roadworthy status. That said, the thought that putting a couple grand into it will make it as capable as a modern Thruxton is very optimistic. Although cutting edge at the time, fresh out of the crate these bikes could not compare to most modern motorcycles. Of course, suspension and brakes are the most significant shortcomings. Even after a complete rebuild, you’re still working with drums and damping rods. Regarding the engine, you may be able to avoid a bottom end overhaul but ignoring the top end is not an option. You may also need to spend some time repairing the previous owner’s wiring modifications. I submit that 90% of all Lucas horror stories can be traced to inept owners. Note I haven’t even mentioned new tires, rebuilding the clocks, cosmetics, etc. The costs add up rapidly. When Keith and I disassembled my first Bonneville for restoration I asked him not to let me get in over my head financially. “You were in over your head as soon as you tore it into a million pieces,” was his reply. Truer words have never been spoken.
Bringing your 40-year-old Triumph back from retirement is a labor of love well worth the cost, but don’t kid yourself about the price tag. To have a reliable vintage Bonneville you can be proud of you can easily exceed the MSRP of a Thruxton (and a host of other bikes as well) and still have a motorcycle with ‘60s era performance. However, as any serious enthusiast of vintage machines will tell you, the pride of ownership goes beyond the bike’s capabilities. Regarding cash value, it may continue to appreciate as the years go by but the monetary return on investment is secondary. I have no idea if my bikes could sell for what I have in them. It doesn’t matter. They have already repaid me many times over.
My advice? Buy ‘em both.
Dean A. Baker
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Revised: January 29, 2008 .