Clean And Bonny: 1971 Triumph Bonneville

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The 1971 Triumph T120 was a completely new design for its venerable manufacturer. Only the 650 cc engine was carried over from the previous year’s model.

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Bonnevilles were great looking, speedy and handled well. I was riding motorcycles in that era and I remember lusting after this bike, though I could never afford one. Also, Triumph’s reputation for mechanical quality in those years was not so good. Japanese bikes were more affordable, more reliable and easier to maintain, so for those of us on a budget, were often the bikes we ended up buying.

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Today, these beautiful machines are highly collectible and many are restored and ridden regularly.

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This very nice and apparently quite original example is for sale on craigslist in Waterbury, Connecticut. The seller is not loquacious, but gives quite a bit of information about his motorcycle with very few words. He says this Bonneville “was sitting for a few years. I put fresh gas in it started right up. # match bike .Tires are good.”

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He adds that “if you spend a day cleaning this bike it will look great.” When I read statements like that in CL ads, I can’t help wondering why the seller doesn’t spend that time, if it’s so easy, to make what he is selling all it could be.

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In any case, this bike does look like it is ready for a new owner to give it some love and put it back on the road, where it belongs. Depending on how long it sat, rubber parts, gaskets and tires all may need replacing, but that would be expected for an older bike.

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If you’re a fan of British motorcycles, you should visit the Classic British Motorcycles website, which has a ton of information and pictures.

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The asking price is $5,500. Based on my own experience and some online research, this price seems considerably high to me. In fact there is a similar and very nice example for sale at a dealer in nearby Enfield, Connecticut for only $3,250. Perhaps this seller will eventually have to accept something a bit more realistic. So what do our readers think of this motorcycle? What do you think it’s worth?

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Comments

  1. Tirefriar

    Most likely the tires will need replacement due to age. The asking price is very strong – I concur that the seller should exert some effort in cleaning the bike in order to get something closer to where he wants to be at. On the other hand, he might be going for that “barn find” look. IMO though, dirt is not patina.

  2. Howard A Member

    They leaked oil, they vibrated, they shook, rode rough, the brakes were so-so, infamous Lucas electrics, hard starting, but they are the coolest bikes on the planet, and I’d love to own one. You can really lean these babies over in turns. Before the guy across the alley from me, as a kid, the guy that had the Kawasaki 500, the bike before that was a BSA 650 Thunderbolt ( 1 carb, the Lightning had 2 carbs) It was a cool bike, but nothing but problems, and he bought the Kawasaki. Everybody has a “British bike story” or knows someone who did. ( 1 friend years ago, while riding his Triumph at night, felt something wet on his leg. When he got to a light, he noticed his leg was soaked with oil. All the oil blew out a loose tach cable) With proper, modern updates ( gasket sealants and breakerless ign) these bikes can be a lot of dependable fun. I still have a hankerin’ for a Trident,( or Rocket 3) but surely wouldn’t turn down a Bonny, it the price was right. If you want one, I’d get one now, as the prices are only going to go up. Great find.

    • geomechs

      Hi Howard. I sure remember Lucas electrics; we called them: “Lucas, Prince of Darkness.” I have to say that once you understood what they were trying to do with all those multiple ground wires the systems weren’t that hard to live with. Sorta. And yes, if they stopped leaking oil, you’d better check it. Reminiscent of a Detroit Diesel…

  3. DENIS

    I love those old Triumphs and it looks like a nice specimen but I think $3000 is more realistic…you will spend $$ on maintenance items…

  4. Matt Tritt

    Why all the love for a ’71? Triumph went the wrong direction this year with the cheezy chrome fenders, squarish side covers and the odd looking forks. For most of us old Triumph fans, ’69 was the last best vintage – and they demand a lot more money. I know of no better bike in tight turns and even though they don’t have a very high top end, they’re perfect for suckering Harleys into untenable situations. Or so I’ve been told.

    • geomechs

      Hi Matt. I’m inclined to agree with you; ’69 was the nicest Triumph ever. I always wanted one but eventually ended up with a Norton Ranger. Might not have been as quick in the corners but it went like a striped-a$$d ape.

      • Matt Tritt

        Norton Rangers are nothing to sneeze at either. I owned 2 69 Bonnies in succession. The first had my fav color combo: burnt orange and silver gray. The only thing better in my book would be a 57 pre-unit Tr-6 with a parcel rack and touring tank. Probably kill myself at the first corner these days!

    • Andy Frobig

      I had a ’77 Bonneville that I converted to a Tiger–one carb, better gas mileage and low-end response and no synching. The ’69 had beautiful lines, but the T140/TR7 had five speeds, front disc from ’73 on and rear disc from ’76, and were slightly more reliable because they got the same power from 95 more cc. The rear-disc models also shifted on the left, so they had a shallower learning curve if you were switching from a Japanese bike. My ’77 was very pretty, maybe not ’69/70 (I don’t know why everybody says how great the ’69 was but not the ’70, they were the same bike except for paint) pretty, but the 5-speed and the disc brakes, especially the front, made it a more practical rider, and the 750s are cheaper today so if you really want a Triumph to ride, they’re the ones for me.

      • Matt Tritt

        Really no meaningful difference between 69 and 70 except, as you say, the paint. When they switched to an oil frame they opened up a can of worms and the shoe-type brake hubs are much better looking than discs in my opinion; even if the latter work better. Painted fenders, rounded side covers, lower seat position, better looking headlamp and fork gaiters make a big difference. But I would love to have that extra 100 cc’s and a 5th gear. And less gonad rattling at high speeds, of course.

  5. Cleric

    I’m more interested in the Buick behind it!

  6. Scott

    Way to high $ for this Bonnie, I’ve had several throughout the years all were good bikes but needed constant attention not so much mechanical but a fricking nightmare electrically. I’m with you anytime I hear it just needs cleaned up or TLC, red flag, This looks solid $5500.00 is utterly crazy.

  7. Carl W French

    Anyone can ask anything. What they get will be a different matter. Looks solid and with appears with unmolested wiring. Clean grounds and contacts will temper any Lucas demon. My ’72 is as reliable as can be.

    • Andy Frobig

      And a brand new, cloth-covered wiring harness is reasonable for these bikes, anyway, not to mention that parts are a million times more available for British bikes than for anything else that’s more than, say, fifteen years old. Still, a ’71 is the least desirable big Triumph twin to me, and probably to most Triumph lovers. I wouldn’t buy one at any price, because I’ve got really short legs!

  8. Doug Towsley

    ha ha ! about dang time some cool british bikes were featured on here! Plenty of examples out there. I specialized in Triumphs-BSA-Nortons. Still have a bunch.
    The 71 was an ugly duckling, high seat height and some ugly features. Later OIF bikes (Oil in the Frame) were better. I always advise people if you want a cool classic to ride, the 71 and on make a good choice. Plus no one gets upset (Rivet counters and OCD bolt polishers) when you restyle them or paint non stock colors.

    But for collectibility and value, unit 650s (1963-1970) are the better choice. Not as user friendly but the preunits (Prior to 63) are also getting big money these days.
    See the Las Vegas Mecum-Mid America auction in January and their website lists past sales.

    I have several British bikes for sale right now (including a 71 Triumph and a 71 BSA), and more in the pipeline. Affordable projects, most need restoration or work but I include parts, manuals, parts books, service bulletins and whole sale prices on the parts you need to complete them. I dont want to deal with flippers or dealers. I saved these bikes and want to see enthusiasts buy these and ride them and bring them to events. These are all old Shop inventory I never will get too and I dont run a store front shop anymore.

    The Oregon Vintage MC club will have its annual bike show and swap meet (And several vintage bike rides) coming up soon. The Norton International rally will be in July in Northern California in a AMAZING location. I will have displays and workshops/tech sessions there and promoting the NW Vintage Car & MC museum. This years rally ANY British bike is welcome!.

    Now if we could just see some cool singles up,,, BSA Goldstars, Norton ES2, Matchless G80. Some BSA Victors or how about some Velocettes!

    Ride ’em, Dont hide ’em!

    • Andy Frobig

      As time marches on, the OIF bikes have gotten a lot more expensive than when I had my ’77 in the ’90s, but the T140/TR7 are great riders and I think the best way to get into Brit bikes if you want to ride. I put about 40,000 miles on mine in nine years–I say about because a) I don’t really trust Smiths gauges, b) I broke more than one speedo cable, and I wasn’t about to stop riding while I waited for the new one, and c) when I got my speedo rebuilt, they left a digit out of the odometer, and there was no way to know which one since I didn’t write the mileage down before shipping it off. So when I sent it back, it was like setting it back to zero. But that bike was the trustiest companion I could have hoped for, even after a couple hundred bucks worth of light bulbs replaced. Now, this ’71 is not worth nearly what the seller is asking. The cheesy cycle parts and high seat make it a borderline lemon to me. But for those who think it’s a lot for a post-’70 Triumph, maybe, but not for much longer.

    • Andy Frobig

      You’re in Oregon? Did you ever deal with the Sandy Bandit?

      • Doug Towsley

        Uncle Cliffy? My favorite curmudgeon. Cliff “the Sandy bandit” Mahjors is a legend. I knew him well. He died last fall. I spoke at his memorial service and a lot of us had some great stories.
        The bandit was a crazy but shrewd guy. He taught Evil Kneivel how to ride thru fire jump trick. Cliff used to perform with the Joey Chitwood stunt and thrills show. I have a picture of him riding a Matchless doing a wheelie down the road. Bystanders pointed out the front fork caps were not tight. Cliff said “Doesnt matter, im not going to ride using the front wheel anyway” And in the picture you can see the caps securing the axle are loose.
        Cliff was a dealership for Triumph here in Oregon. He did a lot of crazy things but everyone expected him to lose the dealership when he got up in the Dealers annual meeting (On the Queen Mary in Long Beach) and told Edward Turner
        “You guys are idiots!, If you ran Triumph like the Jap’s run Suzuki all us dealers would retire fat dumb and happy!” Turner was a tyrant and known for his explosive temper. But Cliff survived just fine. He also told Dennis Poore “You will die broke and alone!” and loved to crow about it “And I was right!!!”

        Cliffy bought out ALL the US British bike inventories, Distributors, warehouses, all the stock. Pennies on the dollar. He then made Millions of dollars reselling it all. He lived just as thrifty as if he was broke. Dirty worn out shop clothes, Rode a old Suzuki or Triumph cub almost everywhere. I dont think he owned a car. I could go on and on about Cliff. I have some of his old shop stuff. I have extensive photos of his shop, and the NOS inventory, brand new bikes in crates, NOS engine cases with no numbers (I have some still) and other stuff of his.

        He bought out Johnson motors (JoMo) Tricor, NVT, and the dealers and dist for the east coast. Some of the BSA Corp as well. Stored much of it in shipping containers and semi trailers. (hint hint, I have a 48 footer trailer on my property and 2 storage containers as well)

        Here is a reprint of an article those wankers at cycle world wrote originally in 2003. Mark Hoyer has his name on it, which is BS, because it was originally written by David Edwards. I dont hold a grudge anymore to David. (He got shafted later on) But those pricks got most of that material from me and my original stories and photos and the Ingrates didnt even have the courtesy to credit me or even buy me a beer.
        (I can prove this) But this can give you guys and idea of the world famous “Sandy bandit” RIP my friend.

        See: http://www.cycleworld.com/2015/07/30/mining-for-old-the-greatest-cache-of-vintage-motorcycle-parts-in-the-world

    • Dave Wright

      You probably also know my step son’s father in law. Dennis Burkman. He had a large collection in Southern California.

      • Doug Towsley

        Im sorry but the name does not ring a bell, But its possible we met. I have had health issues the last 2 years (Ran over by a drunk driver, lucky to be alive) so have not been making as many events as I usually do. But I generally attend events from California to Canada each year and do some volunteer and promotions for the NW Vintage Car & MC museum here in Oregon.
        I am usually at the Clubmans show in San Jose each year. And i usually put on a couple bike shows and events each year as well. If he attends many events, Im sure we ran across each other.
        Next one coming up is the Oregon Vintage MC annual spring show and swap meet in Corvallis Oregon at the Benton county fairgrounds. Vintage ride on May 21, Show and Swap meet on May 22nd. I will have a large booth for the Museum and the Oregon Norton Enthusiasts (O.N.E).
        Also planning to attend the Norton International Rally down in NorCal in Quincy in July. ANY BRITISH BIKE owner is welcome! Some nice rides, tech sessions and many activities. I was invited to put on some tech discussions about the evolution of the Norton brand. I am the caretaker and owner of Norton America Motorsports. Also owners registry of the VR series bikes.

  9. Doug Towsley

    Oh yes, I feel compelled to address one other common misconception.

    These bikes did have some quirks and issues. Some of the parts were “Built to a price” which even the asian bikes had issues with from time to time. But these British bikes are simple to work on, Fairly affordable, Parts availibility is EXCELLENT! and prices are far more affordable than other bikes even Asian bikes.

    There are MANY upgrades and improvements such as ignitions, charging and performance and hot rod parts. These can be very reliable and fun bikes. Dont let the naysayers or uninformed sway your opinions. The community of support and advice to help a new owner is out there. Not hard to find.

    As to this bike, Its well above normal market prices for condition its in. However prices are on the rise, and its spring time. Lots of people who never gave classics a second look are moving in and trying to cash in. But there are some good deals out there and well worth considering. These old British bikes are excellent investments as well.

  10. Pfk1106

    I had a 70 bonne. Loved how it handled, wore out the rubber on the pegs….the 71 sat to high for me. Put dunstil exhaust and velocity stacks. Improved the breathing and the sound. Neighbors hated when I came from work at 2 am. I made a little noise….

  11. Andy Frobig

    1971 was a bad year for Triumph. The seat was too high, too wide, too flat and hard, and the wire headlight and fender brackets were ugly and weak, the headlight shell was ugly too, the front fender especially was too small, the front brake wasn’t so hot two years after the CB750 came out with a disc, and the bikes just before this were outright classics, while the ’72 had enough improvements (lower seat, 5 speed later in the year) to make the ’71s good donors for racing motors. This one is way overpriced. But I’d say a ’73 750 in this condition might be worth it.

  12. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    nice….there was a rich kid that had one…..wasn’t much of a rider though…..

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