No Reserve Garage Find: 1973 Triumph Bonneville

In the 1960s, as Honda motorcycles started to become ascendant, the bike that still stood out and still gleaned attention was the Triumph Bonneville. Even with Harley Davidson in that mix and the Bonneville was still a motorcycle that commanded respect; not exalted exactly, but the Bonneville was recognized as something special on two wheels. Today, our find is a 1973 T140 model, located in Lutz, Florida and available, here on eBay for a current bid of  $2,800 with fifteen bids tendered so far.

Produced originally between 1959 and 1983, the Triumph Bonneville was built by Triumph Engineering in Meridien, West Midlands UK. Triumph Engineering went bankrupt and the company was purchased by an investor and he eventually changed the name to Triumph Motorcycles Ltd as it is currently known. The Bonneville continued to be offered until 1988 and then production ceased. A newer version of the Bonneville was introduced in 2001 and continues to this day.

This example is listed as having experienced 8700 miles on its 53 HP, 750 CC twin-cylinder engine. The seller doesn’t state specifically, but the gearbox should be a five-speed manual. The seller states, “I was able to get it to run for a quick video that is in this auction, see the video below this description and 46 detailed photos, but I will still be listing it as a non-running project as I have not gone through it myself “. Clearly, it starts and runs, seemingly pretty well. The old school simplicity with its kick starter is a pleasant memory of the past. Actually, seeing the seller going for a spin reminds me that the Bonneville had a rather diminutive frame for a bike packing a 750 CC engine.

This Triumph has a pretty weathered look about it, particularly the chrome and the aluminum bits. There is a coating of surface rust on the wheels, handlebars, and headlight while the oxidization is noted on the wheel hubs. The painted surfaces, which consist of the tank, side cases, and frame still present pretty well and show no signs of a laydown or a simple falling off of the stand. The black vinyl seat is an exception in that while it is not weathered-looking, it does have a hole poked through on the left-hand side.

 

I recently started to ponder about the Bonneville and its reputation for speed records. For a research project on music that I have been working on, I came across this image of Duane Allman, gifted guitarist of the Allman Brothers Band, wearing a Triumph tee-shirt that proclaims “Triumph World’s Fastest 245.557 MPH” (Allman, a known motorcycle enthusiast, sadly lost his life in a 1971 crash but he was riding a Harley Sportster and only going about 45 MPH). But I did find the speed record that Allman’s shirt is referencing, it was set by Joe Dudek in 1962 using a 650 CC Bonneville engine, running on nitromethane, and powering an X-15 inspired streamliner at, where else, the Bonneville Salt Flats. So yeah, that Bonneville speed record is a bit of a stretch but the Bonneville motorcycle, in stock form, was still recognized for its top-end capability.

While not an ardent motorcycle follower, I really like this bike. I believe it’s the same thing that draws us all to old cars, it’s the simplicity of design, the lack of confounding electronics, the “you’re on your own to operate sanely” mentality. And of course, old memories that are associated with places where a motorcycle or a car took its owner, fun times and serious ones as well, all conspire to stir up fond remembrances. If this were my Bonneville, I’d slowly work on cleaning it up a bit, not a restoration, just some help in the presentation department. And of course, I’d take a good look at the mechanicals and see what, if anything, needed attention. This Triumph seems like it could be a pretty reasonable buy, don’t you think?

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Comments

  1. Howard A Member

    Shiver me timbers, Geomechs, it’s an antique British oil dispenser! Aw, Jim, you put a smile on this old codgers face. The 750 Bonne, volumes could be written. As a huge fan of the Allman Bros., thanks to Jim for mentioning that. I believe a peach truck pulled out in front of him, which is why the album they were working on at the time, is called “Eat a Peach”, in memory of Duane Allman.
    I believe these were 5 speeds, if you can get the right shift, left brake thing down. Many went for the back brake and ended up downshifting, with dire results, I might add. As a big fan of anything British, I love this and after that dismal experience with that DRZ, I gave half a thought of getting a vintage bike, but realistically, I have no place to keep/work on it,( and work on it you will, it’s part of the fun) and with long stretches of highway here, not the best bike for that. Coming from Milwaukee, British bikes were considered okay. Dubja, Dubja 2 thing, der, just don’t show up with a “rice grinder”, is all. They leaked oil, they vibrated, parts fell off, hard starting( don’t forget to “tickle” the carbs,oops, too much, handful of gas) but before Asian bikes hit the scene, these were the best bikes to have. They out handled, out powered, out stopped a HD, and were just plain cool. Marlon Brando and Fonz knew what to ride. Thanks, Jim, great find, some bike enthusiast will be mighty happy here, guaranteed!

    Like 13
    • Jim ODonnell Staff

      Howard:

      Thx!

      Actually, the “Eat a Peach” reference came from an interview Allman gave a writer for “Creem”, a music review magazine in August of ’71. The interviewer asked him what he was doing for the “revolution” and he said, “Hell, there ain’t no revolution, just evolution, and every time I’m back in Georgia, I eat a peach for peace.” The truck that did him in was a highway construction vehicle. In my research, I actually found an interview with the wife of the driver of the truck.

      JO

      Like 7
      • Howard A Member

        Thanks, Jim, I just go by what I’ve heard, pre-innernet days. The internet sure tells a story, usually, the right one, and blows most urban legends out of the water. I believe the songs on that album have ties to Allman’s death , I read, especially “Little Martha”, which I think was the last song he wrote.

      • Kenneth Kittleson

        Jim is correct about Duane Allman, who crashed a Harley Sportster, but Howard may be onto something, as Allman Brothers bassist Berry Oakley crashed a new Triumph 750 a year later and a few blocks away, killing him also. Berry hit the front and then the back of a city bus that was turning in front of him. His bike would have looked a lot like this one.

        Like 1
  2. geomechs geomechs Member

    Another scoot for the record books! I always had a special place in my heart for a Bonneville, with a huge emphasis on the motorcycle version. My brother had a ‘62 which was the last year of the transmission being separate from the engine, and I think the first one for the Bonneville. I remember it going like Jack, the Bear, but shaking all the way. My friend found a ‘77 model that was one of the smoothest vertical twins I ever rode. It was a pleasure to ride…

    Like 3
  3. FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

    The Triumphs were great bikes back in the ’60s, but then the Jap bikes came on strong and out handled, out powered them and Triumph just couldn’t keep up. This vintage Bonneville is a great find for the Brit bike enthusiast and no doubt the new owner will restore it back to it’s former glory. Here’s a picture of my old ’83 Triumph TSX, 1 of 371, that I purchased from the original owner with only 11 original miles.

    Like 7
  4. bobhess bobhess Member

    Rode one of the later models in the ’70s but was already sold on the 4 cylinder Honda with electric start that we spent some time with just prior to that. Did appreciate the “race bike” feel of the Triumph and it’s inherent fun factor. Didn’t directly tie the bike to the Allman Brothers but was, and still is, a major fan. Lots of work got done in the garage with them in the background.

    • Howard A Member

      Hi bobhess, I bet these British folks began to sweat in 1969. While the Trident/Rocket3 was a step in the right direction, my favorite Brit bike( we called them “Limey’s”, with no intention of being rude, now, I read “Limey” is considered derogatory) but it still couldn’t compete with the Honda 750. I don’t think Triumph, or any bike maker, ever recovered from that.

      Like 2
      • Euromoto Member

        In re: “Limey”, see above.

        Like 2
  5. Dana C.

    “I don’t have enough garage space” is not a defense. You have ample space in your Living Room. A cardboard diaper under it is okay. Paired with a Norton 850 Commando, it’s the ideal set up. You always have one to ride while the other’s being repaired.

    Like 4
  6. angliagt angliagt Member

    I passed by a yard sale a couple of blocks from our house,
    & for some reason,I went back to look.There was a ’78 Bonneville
    with the top end exposed,but a perfect red/black tank,good chrome.
    After negotiating,I made a deal for $500,& the seller would take
    payments,& keep it until I paid it off.I had it for a few years,but sold
    it for $1500 when we moved to Virginia.
    I’ve thought about getting another street bike,but I don’t trust
    the drivers around here.You have to be paranoid when you ride,
    because THEY ARE out to get you.

    Like 4
    • Howard A Member

      Well, anglia, I don’t think they are purposely “out to get you”. Due to distracted driving and the fact there just aren’t as many motorcycles today, people don’t expect to see someone on a bike, which means, you have to be more diligent and aware, than ever. When this here bike was new, bikes were everywhere. Like a Model A, you have to choose your routes carefully. Like I say, the mountain roads here are great, a little unnerving with the 2,000ft. dropoffs, but mostly, Colorado has long stretches where there’s nothing( next sign, 50 miles) and a HD cruiser is the ticket. I spent a summer in Upstate NY, near Kingston,( apparently, everything north of the “city” is considered Upstate NY) and the guy I stayed with had a Honda CX 500. I didn’t care for the bike,( sorely needed a 6th gear, 6,000 rpms @ 55 wasn’t for me) but the( slow) ride through the Catskills was beautiful, and I reckon this bike would be right at home.

  7. Dean

    “They leaked oil, they vibrated, parts fell off, hard starting”…yep, those are all true, and you forgot about having to change needles in the carbs for every 1000 feet of elevation change in the mountains. But all that goes away when you remember what it felt like to just think about leaning into a corner and find yourself executing a smooth sweep. I had a 1968 Bonneville. Great bike on the mountain roads(even with the needle change thing) but I lived on the wide open prairie and they weren’t made for long straight runs.

    Like 3
  8. JoeBob

    I always liked Brit bikes. They vibrated, but they were always nice handling rides, and in general, relatively light for their displacement. Electronic ignition is a plus. Surprising how clean the pipes are considering the surface rust elsewhere and on the front rim. The seller doesn’t say much about the inside of the tank but it can’t be too bad as the bike runs. It’s bid up to $2950 right now and if I was closer I’d go take a look.

    Like 2
  9. chrlsful

    the Triumph Trident turned our head away from the Japanese in ’68 (660cc) but wasn’t there a 900cc Triumph B4 folding too? I’d love one. Rewired a friends failing ThunderBird (the 1 pictured above’s grand father – a ’58?) that hada magneto w/run, start, emergency positions – the latter for ‘no battery’ runs home.

    Like 1
  10. Pauid

    Like thousands of others, I ditched the Triumph and went for the K-0 Honda 750 four. What a difference! Went so far as to put the Honda in the living room(I was single) and put all the lights on. Indicator lights for everything. No leaks, powerful, smooth, and an electric start that took just a quick push of the tiny button. Still, the Triumph’s had character.

    Like 3
    • 370zpp

      I rode 750 Hondas back in the day, and you could even use the kickstarter to start it – using only your hand.

      But, alas there is something eternally cool about Triumphs like this one.

      Like 2
  11. stephan

    Oil in the frame, they always leaked. Get a pre 70 with an oil tank.

    Like 1
  12. SMS

    I love the names. A T140 meant that at one time some lunatic reached over 140mph, just as my Matchless G80 reached 80mph. At anything over 45 the bars grew over 6 inches in diameter, my feet would float over the pegs, and my butt became numb. There is nothing like sitting bolt upright and taking a Sunday morning backroad ride on one of these, bliss.

    Like 2
  13. Solosolo Member

    I notice most “Yanks” write very derogatory articles about “Limey” motorcycles. Yes, they do leak oil, if they don’t leak there is no oil in the engine, but I have owned about 40 British bikes and have never had trouble with the Lucas electrics. As for them not being long distance machines, I regularly rode my Tiger 110 300 miles each way per weekend to visit my friend in hospital and only ever lost one silencer. As for Harley’s I would rather not comment on my 1925 JE or 1981 Low Rider, however, the ’39. ’41 and ’43 WL’s were o.k. apart from the lack of speed in comparison to the Triumph and my ’56 Gold Star 500. They are all a case of “different strokes for different folks!”

    Like 7
    • SMS

      Learned from a wise old rider. A fine wire brush and dielectric grease on connectors every spring keeps the demons away. That works on Lucas and all other brands.

      Like 5
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Hi Solo. Over the years I made some less than flattering remarks about British bikes and Lucas wiring, but they were mostly in jest. The biggest problem with British bikes was understanding them, and the electrical system. Start thinking in British terms and they never posed much of a problem. I had my share of British bikes; my first one was a ’59 BSA B33 Sportsman. No powerhouse by any means but it could lug like a Cummins diesel. I learned the most about Lucas electrics with the B33 and when I got my Norton Ranger I knew what to expect. Neither one of them left me at the side of the road. Sure the Norton vibrated a bit but nothing ever broke. My brother’s ’62 Bonneville was a shaker but then someone who owned the bike sometime before stuck a set of 12.5/1 pistons in it. Put the stock set back in and it was a lot smoother. I used to take a lot of trashing from the Japanese motorcycle fraternity but there was really nothing they could fault me with. Back when I rode my Norton the only Japanese bike that made any competition to me performance-wise was a Kawasaki 500 Triple and they WERE potent. MOST of the ribbing was in good fun although there was one guy about ten miles away who thought that Honda invented the motorcycle. He bought a ’71 Honda 750 and immediately challenged me to a race–and lost. Twice. I might add that was the ONLY time I ever drag-raced anything. I made it to my ultimate goal of owning a Harley. I miss all my bikes and wish I could’ve kept them all, even a Honda Super Hawk that I fantasized over just before I landed the BSA. But life has a way of getting in the way…

      Like 1
    • Howard A Member

      Don’t be fooled, mate, if it wasn’t for you Brits, us Yanks might be speaking German today. There’s no question, British engineering helped win the war, and I personally, am forever in your debt.
      GOOD SHOW!!

      Like 2
  14. AndyG

    I owned a brand-new 79 Bonneville and rode it for over a decade. To me the Triumph handled better than the few metrics I’ve ridden. 59 was the first year for the Bonneville, I’ve known two of them. The 79 had concentric Amals, they weren’t mounted at an angle away from each other, they were parallel. It also came stock with electronic ignition. The 79 Special had some differences from the regular 79 such as a special paint scheme, mag wheels, 2-1 exhaust, and rear caliper mounted on top of the rotor. Very nice bikes anyone should enjoy. Powerful, good handling, good looks. Wrenching on that bike was almost daily. Part of the ownership. The owner of an older British bike will develop a network of support.

    Like 3
  15. ChingaTrailer

    Must have been 1967 or 1968 in Burbank California – my first ever motorcycle ride as a young teenager – on the back of Steve McQueen’s Triumph Bonneville!

    Like 1
    • Solosolo Member

      Was Steve McQueen riding it? If so you were one helluva lucky fellow! Please tell us the story of how it came about.

  16. bobhess bobhess Member

    Love the “in the living room” comments. Started in college using my 360hp short block standing on end with a round plywood piece and a table cloth on top as my bedside table in the dorm waiting to finish building the car. Lot of stacks of race tires in the guest bedroom etc. since then. Many of these bikes showed up in dorm rooms during those times. Let the good times roll!

    Like 1
    • Howard A Member

      A friend of mine out of HS, we rebuilt his 36hp VW motor on his moms kitchen table,,,couple times. Once she came home from work early, and wasn’t too happy,,,

      Like 3
  17. Derek

    I’ve ridden a couple of 750 Bonnies and found that the vibrations when you rev it are horrible; made my eyeballs dance. I, at the time, had a 750 Laverda – which spoiled me somewhat!

    Like 1
  18. Bill Settle

    I upgraded to this bike from my Honda CL350 when I was 17 and my cool factor went through the roof, at least in my own mind. After an unplanned parking lot replacement of the push rod tube seals with ones meant for a Corvair it never leaked another drop of oil and ran like a top. This was the last year of the right hand shift, and was indeed a 5 speed. I’ve got a restored 1977 and a 2015 now. The old ones would definitely leave your hands numb after a long ride.

    Like 2
  19. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    SOLD for $3,700.

    • Solosolo Member

      That seems to be a very low price for such a great machine, even if it does need a bit of work. Maybe it’s because I am in UK but it still seems low.

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