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Smithology: On the trail of a 1973 Triumph

The Triumph smelled funny. Like old oil, but also dirt covered in old oil, plus a strange and familiar funk. Maybe you know the scent: equal parts grandma-basement and used tractor, with a faint hint of What Died in Here? Rusty old British sports cars used to smell like this by the time they ended up in junkyards, back when rusty old British sports cars tended to get sent to junkyards, instead of restoration shops.


And yet it wasn’t a sports car. It was a motorcycle.


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I've ridden English bikes for many years. I still have a few; '73 Norton Commando Combat, '67 Matchless Hybrid (read Norton), and a '65 Triumph 650 bitsa bobber. I have found that most issues with the bike are improper maintenance or people trying to turn them into the Harley they can't afford. My Commando still has the original stock wiring harness. I took it off the bike and laid it out on a white sheet (for notemaking) and cleaned and tightened every connection I found. I also upgraded the ignition to an early Boyer unit that uses the stock advance weights and put a dual lead single coil (Harley) on it since the aluminum cans will leak at the slightest provocation. I've ridden that bike all over the Western States with no worries.

I was offered the Hybrid by someone because they saw me riding my Norton, which looked well-ridden (not a garage queen). They had trouble with the ignition timing and there were no more bike shops to work on it. He said it would get hot after just a few miles down the road. I knew immediately that late timing keeps heat in the head and the problem was either to adjust the point or advance the timing. It turns out there are zero timing marks on the engine. I adjusted the points to factory settings then advanced the timing by feel and sound. Most engines will take as much advance as you can give them until you cant kick it over (backfire through the carb) or you hear the pinging. I rode it for several miles before taking it down for a quasi restoration.

Lastly, the Triumph was bought because I regretted selling my original one. This one was updated with electronic ignition and charging systems, plus a Mikuni carb. I could tell it was owned by a Harley rider for several reasons, among them because the Sportster forks with 1" bars, and because the charging was changed to negative ground. Many folks get confused about the electrical flow. I prefer the positive ground because you don't get corrosion on the battery terminals.

I don't ride often now because I'm crippled. I haven't given up hope of riding full time again, but after ten years of a silent shop, my wife is pressuring me to part with my collection.

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