TRIUMPH BONNEVILLE PROJECT
RIDE ALONG AS WE CONVERT OUR TIRED
1979 T140D BONNEVILLE SPECIAL INTO A
1981 T140LE "ROYAL WEDDING" CLONE
UK-spec 1981 Triumph T140LE Bonneville 'Royal Wedding' edition.
JUST WHAT IS A "ROYAL WEDDING", ANYWAY?
In the dark days at Meriden (the factory where the classic Triumphs were built), the creative minds there came up with a solution to help sell some of their outdated, obsolete models in an increasingly competitive market. They began building small runs of "Specials" or "Limited Editions". In 1977, they came out with the Bonneville "Silver Jubilee", and in 1979, they introduced a 2-year run of the T140D Bonneville Special, with mag wheels & 2-into-1 exhaust. Unfortunately, the market yawned. Many T140D's when unsold & some were even bought back by the factory. But in 1981, they tried it again. This time, it was a very short run, so it really was a "limited edition".
THE ROYAL WEDDING: A BIG EVENT
It's difficult for us Americans to fully grasp the significance of the wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. In England, it was huge. And Triumph wanted to not only honor this momentous occasion, but also to cash in on it.
US-spec 1981 Triumph T140LE Bonneville Royal Wedding edition.
TWO VERSIONS, BOTH RARE
Having been stung by building too many T140Ds, it was decided that this Royal Wedding limited edition would be just that: limited. They were planning on building just 400 bikes, 200 for the US market & 200 for the UK. And each would be styled differently. The UK version (top picture) had a silver frame & running gear, blacked-out engine & forks, & a chromed tank. A very handsome bike. The US version (above) looked much more 'normal' by comparison, with standard black frame, polished engine covers & black paint with gold stripes. Exact sales numbers are hard to come by, but it seems the UK-version fared much better in the marketplace, with 268 built, compared to just 95 of the US-spec bikes. Amazingly, this didn't seem to help prices with the black US-spec "Royal" sold for just $5,750 at the MidAmerica Auction in Vegas, recently (again, pictured above). Again, it's a pretty plain-looking bike, compared to the UK-spec version.
I'M BUILDING A UK-SPEC CLONE
Hence my decision to ape the UK-spec bike. It's not only much better looking, but very distinctive, a real head-turner. I mean, how many classic Triumphs have you ever seen with a silver frame & a fully blacked-out engine? So, with this mission in mind, I begin my quest.
SOME QUICK BACKGROUND
I bought this bike about a year ago for $3,000, a '79 Triumph T140D Bonneville Special. I replaced both tires, the chain, the rear shocks, the kickstart mechanism, clutch plates, the front & rear brake systems (disks, master cylinders & rebuilt calipers). I also rebuilt the Amal MkII carbs with European-spec jetting. I rode it around for a season to determine what needed to be fixed, then tore it down this winter with the idea of doing the rest of it. Mechanically, I planned to bore it out with new pistons & rings, have the head done as needed, have the crank dynamically balanced with new bearings, & get new cams (the stock 1979 cams are smog-dogs). Otherwise, I planned to paint everything up real pretty & make it back stock. But, then this new plan emerged to make it look like a Royal Wedding & it just took off from there.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 21, 2012
THE BITS START COMING BACK
A few weeks ago, I tore the bike apart & hauled all the various parts & components off to Rabers. They got my cases, crank, barrels & head for all the necessary machine work. I also brought them my frame & all the cycle gear to have it powdercoated. Most of it was to be done in Argent Silver, with the chainguard, fork sliders & caps, the upper fork covers & the headlight in black. I just picked it all up & for the most part, it looks fantastic.
The process of powdercoating involves baking the parts in an oven to 400 degrees F, which sometimes boils impurities trapped in the parts to the surface. When this happens, it stains the finished powdercoat. As you can see in the above photo (see arrow), this happened on my frame, just below the left footpeg. It also happened on several spot along the bottom of the frame (which won't show) & on the centerstand (which also won't show). I called Rabers & considered bringing it back. But they spoke to the powdercoater, who said he'd pre-baked the frame 4 times to boil all the impurities out, but it still happened. And it could happen again, even worse. I decided that it probably be noticeable anyway, so I let it go. I'm anxious to start putting it together.
MORE COOL NEW STUFF
I also picked up my cylinder head, now with new valves, springs & guides. In addition, I got new steering head bearings & a cool oil filter kit that fits into the sump at the bottom of the frame. It's the same one used on the BSA B50. After all the money I will surely spend on this engine, I don't want to take any chances on dirty oil.
including Powdercoating Frame & Cycle Gear, head work, steering head bearings & oil filter.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 26, 2012
PLATED NUT & BOLTS
But you can't put anything together without nuts, bolts, fasteners & hardware. Again, my original intent was to do this on the cheap. I was going to buff up all my nuts & bolts with my buffing wheel, but it never works all that well. After seeing some lovely plated bolts at Rabers, I decided to have them plated. There are several ways to go here: dull zinc, bright zinc, cadmium, nickel, or chrome. I decided to go with bright zinc, which looks good & is a fraction of the cost of nickel or chrome. I brought every nut, bolt, fastener & bit of hardware over to have it bright zinc plated. When Joe from Rabers went through them all, his vast knowledge of Triumphs allowed him to spot a handful of pieces that I had missed, based on looking at the pile of stuff. Amazing, utterly amazing...and he was right on every count. So, all the stuff just came back, we separated out the nuts & bolts that go with the cases (still to be worked on at Rabers) & I took the rest home. These include every nut, bolt, washer & fastener on the bike, the rear axle, the swingarm pivot, the kickstart shaft (just the end that you see), the shifter shaft (again, just the end that you see), etc, etc.
TIME TO START PUTTING IT BACK TOGETHER
First things first. I need to thoroughly flush out the oil reservoir in the frame. It got bead blasted before powdercoating & even though it was sealed off, there could be some glass beads in there somewhere. And nothing would be more catastrophic to a new engine than contaminants in the oil. I'm going to use hot water, detergent & some sort of long bottle brush to pull it off. Then I'll let it dry in the sun for a day or so. Then I can start putting it back together will all that shiny new hardware.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2012
I'm at that stage where nothing seems to happen very quickly. As you can see above, I now have the frame & swingarm, front forks, rear shocks, front & rear wheels & brake calipers, and both center & side stands assembled. That was the fun part. Now the real work begins...
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2012
BAD WIRING FROM THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS
With the rolling chassis together, the next order of business is to install the wiring harness, before anything else is added to get in the way. I began cleaning up the old harness but found it to be quite clean. However, I noticed several broken wires, where the insulation was broken away completely, exposing the copper underneath (see arrows above). There were also several bad connectors, and some missing connectors, and upon closer examination, several areas of the harness were very brittle. What to do? What else? It's off to Rabers for advice (or so I thought). I was going there anyway this last Saturday to be interviewed by Metro Silicon Valley, along with the Jim Tomich, the president of the BSA Owners Club of Northern California, about our upcoming Clubmans All-British Weekend motorcycle show on Saturday, March 31, in San Jose CA.
FIX THE OLD ONE, OR BUY NEW? THAT IS THE QUESTION
You guessed it. It was the sage advice of Mike Raber himself (Bob's son) that I not take a chance on these dodgy electrics, considering I plan on riding the wheels off this bike. Sage advice indeed, especially considering that electrical problems were endemic to classic British bikes, and were most often the problem that stranded you on the side of the road, thanks to our good friends at Lucas. In their defense however, I will say that everything worked on my T140D when I tore it down, every last light, every control. Of course these later Co-op Bonnevilles had a mishmash of different parts (often due to their inability to pay suppliers) & the 1979 Bonnevilles had Italian switchgear, which worked much better than the clunky old Lucas items they replaced. But my point is that I haven't experienced any electrical problems with this bike ever, not until now, at least. Best to change this stuff out now, while its all accessible. Brand new Lucas wiring harness it is.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2012
WIRING CAN MAKE YOU CRAZY
I can't imagine what a modern motorcycle wiring harness must look like, let alone a modern car, but just this simple pre-computer electrical system is loaded with connectors & terminals. I have to lay the new one out next to the old one & start figuring things out, item-by-item.
The old harness (above), while not up for long term road duty, was certainly in good enough shape to tell me everything I needed to know. Wire-by-wire, everything seems to match up pretty well with the new harness (below). Note the blue labels on all the connectors on the old harness. This and my disassembly photo log really saved the day.
LEARNING FROM TV: 'AMERICAN RESTORATION'
Have you every watched that TV show on the History Channel called 'American Restoration'? It's about Rick Dale who owns a restoration shop in Las Vegas & he restores everything: motorcycles, juke boxes, vending machines, bicycles, signs, you name it. And whenever they take something apart, they take lots of digital pictures of it during teardown, that they can refer to later when it comes time to put it all back together. I did it for the first time on this project, and I can't tell you what a difference it makes! You definitely want to do this on your next project. It's helped me choose the right bolt, or place the bracket on correctly the first time, and it's helping me sort out this wiring, big time. Above you will see a photo of what I call "The Rat's Nest", the biggest snaggle of wiring on the bike, which resides under the seat. Lots of things hook up here, and the routing must be just right to get around things like the battery box & chain.
APPLYING A LITTLE SMARTS, FOR A CHANGE...
Here you can see the rolling chassis now assembled, with the wiring harness loosely installed with gardening twist-tie wire (temporary until I get it all finalized, then it will be replaced with zip-ties). In the background you can see my laptop with (not easy to see) the image of the old wiring harness in the same place on the bike (2 photos up), being used as reference to help me route it.
THAT'S ABOUT IT...FOR NOW
I will continue to install the wiring harness. I also need to fire up the blast cabinet (my new toy...I can't wait) & media blast the battery box (tray), coil mount/tool tray & various other painted steel bits that I will then prime & repaint, all in the same satin black finish as everything else. When it comes time to put it all back on the bike, again the dozens of detailed photos I took of the bike prior to disassembly will help immeasurably. I'm also waiting to hear back from Bob Raber about my engine. There will be a some decisions to be made, but I plan to replace every bearing & bushing, balance the crank, blueprint the entire engine, of course bore it out, the head is already done. It will be a new engine when I'm done, and I hope an exceptionally smooth & reliable one. I also want to paint it all satin black, and I mean all of it, including the outer cases (primary, timing cover & outer gearbox cover) per UK-spec Royal Wedding standard. I need to get all these castings back from Rabers when they're done with the installation of all bearings & bushings (which requires heat), and thoroughly cleaned, then I will paint them up & return them for final assembly. While I plan to be there & take part in the assembly, I am going to have them do it, as opposed to my doing it myself in my garage. They have all the tools, knowledge & experience to do it not just right, but perfect. And that's what I'm after. More very soon...
THURSDAY, MARCH 1, 2012
NEWS ABOUT MY ENGINE...
I got a call from Bob Raber himself about my engine. He takes a personal interest in the heavy-duty rebuilds like mine, and I for one am glad. There are probably few people on Earth who know more about the inner working of Triumph 650/750 twins than Bob Raber. And it pays off for me again and again. Sure, there are cheaper ways to go...or at least those that might seem to be cheaper at first. But in the end, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. Especially when it's in the engine room of the motorcycle that you'll be riding all over the place, often in very remote locales, for a long time to come. In this case, the price of doing it right is going to be about $2,800, not including the head which I've already paid for at $500. WOW!! A little more than I was expecting, maybe twice a 'little more'. Of course, I've been out of touch with the actual costs of these things for a good long while. I haven't rebuilt the bottom end of a Triumph motor in decades. After a moment's thought, I gave him the go-ahead, to do the engine work, and do it right.
With my crank away for regrinding, this left the center flywheel & polished alloy connecting rods. You can also see my new rod bearings in the gold box new Megacycle Cams, still in the box.
A LOT FOR THE MONEY
While it may not seem like it, that's actually a good price, considering all the highly-specialized work that is being done, literally by craftsmen. First off, my crankshaft was torn down, inspected & was sent off to be reground. Above you will see the central flywheel, already pressed off, and the alloy connecting rods, highly-polished from the factory. The rod journals will be reground, with undersized rod bearings. The main journals were actually too small & had to be knurled to bring their diameters back up, then lathed back down to size. Then new heavy duty double-roller bearings will be installed, which is a big upgrade over the stock ball bearings. They will last longer & run smoother.
Stock ball-style main bearing on bottom is being replaced by a roller-style main bearing, top, still in the wrapper.
Once back from the grinders, the crank will then be reassembled & sent off to the balancer to be dynamically balanced. Everything will be weighed & matched, both rods, piston/ring/wrist pin assemblies, and balanced rotationally, and side to side. This of course, after my cylinders were bored out .020 over with new pistons & rings. And let's not forget about those new MegaCycle Cams & new cam bushings pressed into the cases, along with every other bearing, bushing and seal.
Here, "Little Joe" Bources demonstrates the subtleties of Triumph shift cam plate dynamics. A rough spot, perhaps?
EXPERT EYES & HANDS
Besides all the expensive parts & machining, what you're really paying for are the highly-specialized, uniquely-experienced eyes and hands of Rabers'
expert repair staff. They inspected every gasket surface, every nut & bolt, every thread, every bearing, bushing & seal, and a whole bunch of things you've probably never heard of. In this process, "Little Joe" Bources, now an 8-year veteran at Rabers, spots a rough spot in my shift cam plate between 2nd & 3rd gears.
Checking the precise interface between the shift cam plate & the shift fork. I was notchy before, now it's smooth as silk, promising more satisfying shifts.
IT PAYS TO DO IT RIGHT
I'd like to think I know a thing or two, but I don't think I would have checked this. Little Joe ran the shift forks through the grooves in the shift cam plate to check their smoothness & found one that was sticky. He hand-polished out the rough spots & now it runs smoothly. These left-side shift Triumphs tend to shift a little stiffer than the old right-side shift bikes (pre-1976). When they crossed the shifter over to the primary side, it came out in front of the clutch, which is farther forward than it would have in the old setup. So they simply shortened the shift pedal, reducing its leverage, and you can really feel it, especially if you've got a notchy shift cam, like mine used to be. I'm hoping this will make it much smoother.
MARCH 10, 2012
BACK AT IT
There's lot to do. I've now picked up a bunch of my engine parts of Rabers & intend to prep & paint them satin black, per my plan.
The first batch of engine cases to be painted & returned.
GOTTA PAINT THOSE CASES
One of my mandates to Rabers was that I wanted to retrieve all my engine cases after all the sonic washing, heating & pressing of bearings & bushings, and any machining was done, so that I could paint them matte black. As you can see from the photo at the top of this page, the '81 T140LE Royal Wedding has a completely blacked-out engine, not just major cases, but everything: inner cases, outer cases (primary, timing & gearbox), head, rocker boxes, valve covers, all of it. To accentuate this, I've had all my nuts, bolts & hardware bright cadmium-plated so that they should stand out nicely against the black engine. Again, check the photo at the top of the page. While all these parts have been thoroughly washed in a sonic parts washer, I will further prep them by spraying & wiping them down with Ignition Points Cleaner. This is a trick I was taught by another Rabers
mystic, Paul Hudson, who has built some gorgeous Vincents with lovely black engines. The Points Cleaner is non-oily & draws any oil embedded in the pores of the metal out. I plan to do this, then warm up the pieces in the oven (150 degrees for 15 minutes with the oven door slightly open), paint them, then oven-dry them (same as above) for toughness. Then I'll let them sit for a few days before disturbing them. Air-dry paint gets tougher by the day, right after application.
The instrument binnacle after a shaker-can paint job.
PAINTING THE CYCLE PARTS
There's a lesson here: get organized prior to taking action. Lack of organization on my part, early on in this project, caused me not to send several parts out to be powdercoated that should have been included. The big ones are the battery box, the inner side covers & this instrument binnacle (above). All this stuff was powdercoated from the factory, back in 1979. There was literally almost no paint on this bike. My little blast cabinet wouldn't make a dent in this stuff. So, at the advice of an expert, I got some "Aviation Stripper" (nasty stuff), carefully brushed it on (outdoors with gloves, eye protection & good ventilation) & the stuff just peeled away. I cleaned it up nicely with a wire wheel then primed & painted it with a shaker can, and it came out quite nice. I oven-baked it (150 degrees for 15 minutes) & we'll see how tough it is. It looks good & makes me wonder if I shouldn't have done the whole bike this way, instead of paying $600 to have it all powdercoated (which turns out to be quite easy to scuff & chip).
Before (left) and after (right). Painting chrome plastic isn't easy.
A LITTLE TURN SIGNAL HISTORY
It's the cosmetic details that will make my '79 Bonneville Special
look like a 1981 Bonneville
Royal Wedding. If you closely examine the photo at the top of the page of the UK-spec Royal Wedding, you will note that it has black turn signals front & rear. These are actually different in shape from mine. Mine were made in England, probably by Lucas. But by 1980, things were going so badly for the Meriden Co-op (the worker-owned factory making Bonnevilles
only) that many of their age-old suppliers refused to do business with them, fearing they would never get paid. And by this time, the volumes of Triumph Motorcycles
was so low that it was hardly worth their trouble. So, the scrappy Brits began sourcing parts out of Italy. The unique gas tank, gauges, lights, turn signals & lots more came from Italian firms like Marzocchi. While I like the looks of these slimmer, square-section turn signals, I'm not prepared to spend a bunch of money replacing mine. Instead, I'll just paint my old ones black.
The turn signal bodies are that chromed plastic like model cars used to come with. I'm not sure how the paint will stick, but here goes. I lightly sanded it with 400-grit, then cleaned it up with 600-grit, wiped it down with a clean cloth, then warmed it in the oven (150 degrees for 15 minutes with the oven door all the way open), shaker-can primed it, oven-baked it (150 degrees for 15 minutes, oven door ajar), primed it again, baked it again, then applied 3 layers of matte black spray paint. Each coat was very thin, then I allowed it to air dry for an hour or so, then oven-baked each coat. It came out looking good. We'll see how it holds up.
SATURDAY, APRIL 21, 2012
TIME TO PAINT THAT ENGINE!
Well, I’ve delayed long enough. Now the Clubmans Show is behind us & it’s time to get back to the business of my Project Bike. Rabers has finished up the preliminary work on my engine. It’s now been bored, all the surfaces checked & when needed resurfaced, new bearings, bushings & seals installed & it’s ready to go back together. Time for me to intervene. This morning I picked up my engine cases, barrels, head, rocker boxes & inspection covers, inner & out gearbox covers, timing & primary covers. All have now been sonic-washed & are sparkling clean. Upon getting them home, the first step was to douche them all thoroughly with electronic contact cleaner, which is oil-free & evaporates in seconds leaving no residue. Once so cleansed, I set to the painstaking task of masking all the surfaces & covering all the voids I didn’t want exposed to paint. I bunched up paper to fill the voids & help support the masking tape. Then I used a new razor blade to carefully trim the tape such that the paint would just break over the edge of the gasket surface, leaving no unpainted “halo” between mating surfaces.
JUST POP IT IN THE OVEN!
Once everything was masked & cleaned, I warmed them for 15 minutes in a 150-degree oven. Since I’m painting the engine with shaker cans, temperature becomes much more important. Spray paint is air-dried, compared with professional-grade paints shot out of a gun, which have a hardener mixed in prior to application. This type of paint will harden almost no matter what. But shaker can paint needs to be applied & dried at 70 degrees F or more in order to evaporate the volatile solvents in the paint. Preheating the metal also helps, so that the paint doesn’t go down onto a cold surface. And preheating the cans is another trick. If they’ve been sitting out in your cold garage all winter, they’ll be too cold to dry quickly. So, bring them inside the night before you need them. If I need them quickly, I will place them on top of a heater vent.
NOW PRIME & REHEAT
Once warmed, I applied a thin coat of self-etching primer that I got from an auto body supply store. This gives the paint good bite. I allowed this to air dry for an hour or so then placed it back into the oven for another 15 minutes at 150 degrees.
PAINT IT BLACK
Now, it’s finally time to paint. Just make sure to dust off the parts with a clean cloth. Then apply thin coats of paint, allowing each to dry for at least half an hour. Don’t put it down to thick. When you get it all done & dried, place it back into the over for an hour or so at 150. I’m using VHT Engine Enamel so the temp won’t be a problem. Hey, if 150 degrees in your oven is a problem, what’s going to happen when you get that engine hot, out on the road?
PAINTING POLISHED ALLOY
Part of the unique look of the UK-spec T140LE Royal Wedding is the satin black engine. Not gloss black, not flat black, satin black. There is a subtle difference. While it’s not as noticeable on the rough cast pieces like the crank cases & top end, it becomes obvious on the high-profile polished outer engine cases (primary, timing & gearbox covers). Aluminum can be tricky to paint anyway, but when its highly polished, the way the outer covers on a Triumph engine are, the paint may not want to stick. So, the first step is to take the high polish off, that it rough them up to give them some “tooth” for the paint to hold on to.
SAND THE HECK OUT OF IT!
I started with 400-grit & sanded the entire surface off, removing the shine. Believe me, this is tougher than it sounds. Not because there’s any difficulty to it, but simply because it’s really hard to destroy a lovely polished surface like that & make it dull. Many imperfections showed up that I didn’t expect, so I took some more time smoothing out the ones that I could. Then, I followed up with 600-grit. When done, I wiped them off then cleaned them up with Electronic Contact Cleaner again & masked them. Into the oven they go.
AFTER A LONG RESPITE, PROGRESS CONTINUES...
I've been away from the project for awhile...too long. The real danger here is that you forget where everything goes, how it goes together, whether that nut gets a washer behind it or not, or which washer, or whether it points in our out. I've been going crazy, and making numerous trips to Raber's
for help, advice, parts and exploded diagrams. Slowly, slowly, it's coming to gether. My best advice is to never lose your momentum in a project like this. Get your stuff machined, then put it back together right away. Oh well...
So, I've gotten most of my stuff back now, that's the good news. The tank is now painted & it turned out great. I was hoping to do a tank similar to the one on the original Bonneville Royal Wedding, but it got way too expensive. By 1981, the Meriden factory had blown most of its deals with its former suppliers, by not being able to pay them. So, all the traditional British suppliers of tires, wheels, chains, controls, electrics, and miscellaneous hardware were replaced by new suppliers mostly from Europe. Controls came out of Germany, mag wheels from the US, and among other things, tanks from Italy. So, to do this right, I would need to buy an '81-'83 tank (about $800), have it chromed (about $600) and then have it painted & pinstriped (about $400). I just wasn't willing to spend $1800 on a tank! So, I took my stock '79 T140D Bonneville Special "peanut tank" and had it painted. Not quite as pretty as the real think, but striking nonetheless.
MORE TO COME...
As I continue to plod along, I hope to get it all together very soon. I'll keep you informed.
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TRIUMPH BONNEVILLE YEAR-BY-YEAR
TRIUMPH BONNEVILLE ESSENTIAL BUYER’S GUIDE
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FACTORY-ORIGINAL TRIUMPH TWINS
TRIUMPH MOTORCYCLE RESTORATION, PRE-UNIT
TALES OF TRIUMPHS & THE MERIDEN FACTORY
TRIUMPH ILLUSTRATED SHOP MANUAL, 1935-1939
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Triumph Bonneville Project