Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Triumph T120 TT Special

TT SPECIAL BUILT FOR US MARKETThe Triumph Bonneville T120C TT Special was really the brainchild of US West Coast distributors, Johnson Motors, also known as "JoMo". The factory had taken way too long to introduce pure competition versions of their popular Bonneville line. Edward Turner was opposed to the idea, but burgeoning demand for such machines in the US was impossible to ignore.

Introduced in 1963, the TT Special was essentially a stripped-down Triumph Bonneville with high pipes & special tuning. They dominated American TT Scrambles & Desert Racing for years. Nothing could touch them.

And no wonder. With wild cams, big carbs & a 11.2:1 compression ratio, the TT Special pumped out 52hp! For the 1965 TT Special, compression was dropped slightly to 11:1, still very high (which often lead to overheating problems). But, the big news for 1965 was the introduction of those gorgeous "TT Pipes", larger diameter downpipes that angled inward then met under the front of the engine, where they followed the centerline of the bike, under the engine. They were straight pipes & they shot their hot blast directly against the back tire. They were, and still are the coolest-looking pipes that ever graced a Triumph (in my humble opinion). This firmly established the "TT Special-look". And it provided the needed side clearance for sliding through corners in TT Scrambles events. The use of TT Pipes makes using a centerstand impossible.

Folding footpegs were a welcome addition. But strangely, the parcel rack on the top of the tank remained. New Roadster forks were fitted for much improved ride & handling.

East Coast distribution was handled by the Triumph factory & they always seemed to lag behind JoMo when it came innovation. Despite this, a batch of East Coast TT Specials (from Engine #DU18838 to DU18880) were fitted with cams that had been treated by a hardening process knows as Tuftriding. Some East Coast bikes came with alloy front fenders & ribbed steel rear fenders (painted), while most TTs came with polished alloy fenders front & rear.


The black 1963 TT Triumph Bonneville pictured above is a bike I owned when I lived in Albuquerque, N.M.  I don't remember who I bought it from, it was just advertised as an old desert racer.  I have to admit that I didn't really know what I had at that point. 

It was very difficult to start as it had really high compression and wouldn't idle very well either.  My house sat right at the edge of the desert so all I had to do was ride about two blocks and you could ride as far as the eye could see.  I used to ride all kinds of bikes out there, it was especially cool in the evening.  The Triumph was another cup of tea all together.  I would take it out there and ride it around at the speeds I was doing on the little Honda I had at the time, BUT the real fun came when I opened it up and that bike "got on the cam".  I am fortunate that I didn't break my silly neck.  I don't know how fast I was going as it didn't run a speedo but I am very sure I was going 70 mph + way too many times.  All it would have taken is a soft spot in the sand and things would have gotten real interesting.

I kept if for about 6 months and traded it for a restored 1968 Triumph TR-6 that was pretty but had no where near the fun factor of the TT Special. 


Evel Knievel rode Triumph TT bikes for a lot of his jumps and stunts over the years.
Between 1967 and 1968, Knievel jumped using the Triumph Bonneville T120 (with a 650cc engine). Knievel used the Triumph at the Caesars Palace crash on New Year's Eve 1967. When Knievel returned to jumping after the crash, he used Triumph for the remainder of 1968. 

If memory serves me right he had a falling out with the West Coast Triumph dealership which shall remain unnamed because they wouldn't give him the financial support he needed.  If you want an example of a self made man, Evel was it.  He came up with his own stunts and financed them to get started.  It was a tough road but he built himself into the legend he still personifies today.