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Hagerty Employee

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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Intermediate Driver

I own a 1969 BSA Lightning and plan to get it back on the road soon. British motorcycles are a great hobby and also a great form of exercise! You can work up quite a sweat pushing one home......

Advanced Driver

Exquisite and iconic, and inescapably soulful: not only old Triumphs, but Sam Smith's observations.


sam your description of motorcyclists was on the ball. unless people ride they will never understand the feeling of being so alive, free and involved with the environment we travel through as on a bike. in a car you are riding in a cage, watching the world go by, not feeling or participating. that triumph looks like a motorcycle, sounds, feels like a motorcycle and not a sewing machine. what a score, you lucky man

New Driver

love hearing the inner workings of a true enthusiasts mind. Music of a well tuned Triumph engine goes directly to the soul. The open air magic is the completion of the orchestral masterpiece!

Intermediate Driver

I have a friend who Brit Bike lover.At last count(I haven't spoke with him in a in some time) had three Triumphs and two BSAs.Ohe of them is a 73 Bony,that he bought new.

And,before anyone asks,he won't sell anything.   

Intermediate Driver

As a lover of motorcycles, of which I have owned 52, mostly British from Triumph Tiger 110's, BSA Gold Star 500, Sunbeam S8 etc. Seven Harleys, one Moto Guzzi , one Czechoslovakian Jawa 350, plenty of Japanese and a couple of Chinese, I just loved your write-up. To all the people that have never owned a motorcycle, it's your loss and you don't know what you are missing. I'm now 81 and took my '86 Honda Rebel 450cc out for a 50 mile blast yesterday and still enjoyed every minute of it. All the best and enjoy the Triumph.

Intermediate Driver

The beauty of motorcycles is that the good parts are all on display, not buried under yards of sheet metal. That and the fact that when one rides it is an involving act, unlike a car transporting one from place to place. On the bike, the journey is the reason for the trip.

The TR5T is a fairly rare, very underappreciated model, still usable today as a back road/dirt road ride.

I know a bit about flawed orphan motorcycles and the draw to save at least some of them to carry on the name and the history. Mea culpa, I restore and collect Spanish Bultacos.

New Driver

It’s been 38 years since I sold my last bike, but I am glad to read Sam on virtually any subject. 


Should you decide to go for that ride in the forest and the bike decides that it wants to rest, just stay with it. The rescue party can easily find you by following the trail of escaped parts and the trail of oil...

New Driver

Craigslist vehicle listing are free!

Community Manager

It's $5 where I live. 

Pit Crew

What great writing !


Sam Smith put me on the seat of a former Norton Commando of the mid 60's.


Eloquently expressed, especially the sensory experience of Grandma's basement.


I loved it !


Sam, you should have talked to your father before buying a British bike. You always love them in the beginning. After that, you go into the "I'm going to get it running again" phase. Then you sell it to someone who will love it in the beginning..........get how the cycle goes?
Because I'm an old man who grew up riding British bikes, I've owned a bunch of them and experienced the love and exasperation they offer. I hope that you own whitworth tools. I sold mine off a few years ago, so that I would no longer be tempted to buy anything old and British ever again. Just the same, I will still cross the street to admire a British bike or sports car. You never get over having put your hopes on one. But they always let you down in the end. Now I ride German bikes. Old German cars, too.
Good luck to you. Owning a British bike will give you something to talk and write about for many years to come. I have a lot of British bike stories. All of them are about how terrible they are. Just don't try to take it too far from home.


The don't take it far from home comment reminded me of the old Royal Enfield I had a few years ago. Don't leave home without your cell phone because then you can call the wife to bring the truck again. I love old looks but got tired of all of the issues. So now I have a 2017 Moto Guzzi V7III Special. Old looks and solid reliability, I am happy. 

New Driver

Whitworth tools are a necessity if you are going WAY back. That fun little 500 is S.A.E. all the way! I also got the Triumph "virus" about 50 years ago. Ride, race, rebuild, repeat! Would not trade those times for Bill Gates money. They have CHARACTER!


The last bike that I owned was a 1973 Triumph Trophy Trail. Rode it about 2 years in 76 & 77. Traded it for a Benson Gyrocopter. Worst trade I ever made. Many times wished I had that bike back.

Pit Crew

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.