"The average rider of the late 1970s wasn’t going to
be fobbed off with an old-tech, leaky, pushrod British
twin when, for significantly less money, he could buy
an up-to-the-second Jap multi that could thrash the Bonnie
on any quarter mile length of straight. However ..."

 

Triumph Bonneville T140

Buyers guide

 

The colour scheme on this UK/Euro specification model came out in 1980. Triumph (Meriden) was in trouble and was desperately trying to come up with new ways to look at an ageing bike. An electric starter appeared soon after, and the firm had ideas for a completely new machine. But the investment money wasn't there, and the hopes died a death.


 

Specifications
Models and variants
Top specialists & links
History and development
OIl-in-frame chassis
Rear disc brake and revised cylinder head
Meriden under pressure
Bonnie Special and electric starters
Harris Bonnies and the end of the line
Is this the right bike for you?
Ownership tips

T140 quick review

T120 quick review


Are you a Bonnie owner?

 

We've just updated our 750 Bonneville buyers guide, and we're looking to add to it with more Bonnie tales and images from owners. We run three of these bikes, but we just can't get enough of them. So show us yours and we'll show you ours. All T120s and T140 variants are welcome. We're talking about TR7 Tigers, TR65 Thunderbirds, TSXs (we've got one of those too), TSSs or what have you. Images need to be large-ish, and we'd like to see what you look like. Interested?

feedback@sumpmagazine.com


 

Prices

People are asking an awful lot of money for T140s these days (Spring-2014), and we're pretty sure that expectations are considerable higher that real world prices

We've been recently looking at Jubilee Bonnies and Royal Wedding Bonnies that are asking up to £13,000. Meanwhile, other sellers are struggling to part company with very clean, low mileage T140s at £5,000.

That represents a £7,000 - £8,000 differential, and the fact is that Jubilees and Royal Weddings just aren't that desirable anymore (especially so for the Jubilees).

Generally speaking, you can buy a decent privately owned UK or US specification Bonneville, taxed and tested for the UK market, at around £4,000—or even £3,250 - £3,500 if you're patient and haggle.

Meanwhile, prices for T140D Specials appears to have slowed a little. There's no obvious reason for that, except the general state of the economy. We've seen quite a few at sub-£4000 whereas we would have expected to see them fetching a little higher when compared to standard prices. That said, many of these "Specials" are not originals, and they (naturally) need to be unmolested and 100 percent "correct" to draw in the collectors.

TSS Bonnies (8-valve heads) are too rare to be certain of prices, but £6,000 - £7,000 has been recently asked. We're doubtful that anyone is getting that at present. And although these (fast) machines can be made to run well, many owners still haven't really got to grips with their foibles, and that helps hold down prices.

Elsewhere, Tiger TR7s currently fetch about the same prices as T140s. If anything, many riders these days are opting for the single-carbed Tigers in preference to the twin-carbed Bonnies. A decade ago, TR7s generally fetched slightly less.

The 750cc TIger Trail (TR7T) is also too rare to give accurate prices, but you can generally figure to pay about the same as you would for a TSS—which is undeserved really because the difference between the TR7T and the standard T140 isn't that great, and standard T140s are certainly better for all round road use.

The ultra-rare short-stroke 650cc TR6T Tiger Trail carries a slightly higher premium than the TR7T at up to £8,000 for a reasonable one, and maybe £5,000 -£6,000 for a poor example.

The 650cc TR65 Thunderbird (1981-83) now sells for roughly the same price as a decent T140 at £4,000 or so, but sellers often expect a lot more (£5,000 - £7,000).

Lastly, the 750cc TSX is currently fetching fairly big numbers, so expect to pay £7,000 - £8,000 for a very clean and original example—and these prices, we feel, could jump significantly higher once the economy picks up. There's good investment potential there.


1973 Triumph TR7 Tiger

 

1973 749 TR7 Tiger (later TR7V).

Single carburettor. Disc front brake, drum rear. Simple. Tried. Tested. Great for touring. Later examples would suffer emissions restrictions, but any of them can be "dirtied" up with a few engine mods. You'll instantly feel the improvement in performance. Try it.


1979 Triumph T140E Bonneville

 

In 1979, Candy Apple Red was the colour to have. Disc brakes front and rear. Gaiter-less forks. Well built. Reliable. And oil tight.


Specifications

 

Type: Air-cooled, OHV, twin

Capacity: 744cc

Bore & Stroke: 76mm x 82mm

BHP: 44 @ 7000rpm (variously quoted
at 46-50bhp)

Compression ratio: 7.9:1

Transmission: 5-speed, multi-plate
wet clutch

Brakes: 10-inch discs front and rear

Electrics: 12-volt, electronic ignition

Front suspension: Telescopic,
two-way damped

Rear suspension: Swinging arm with

Girling shock absorbers/dampers

Wheels: 4.00 x 19-inch front,
4.25 x 18-inch rear

Weight: 410lbs (dry)

Maximum speed: 105mph


Meriden Triumph T140 - primary side.

 

Models and variants

T140V 744cc

T140E 744cc
TR7 744cc
T140J Jubilee 744cc
T140D Special 744cc
T140E Electro 744c
T140ES (Electric Start ) 744cc
TR65 (Thunderbird) 649cc
T140ES Executive 744cc
TR7T (Tiger Trail) 744cc
TR65T (Tiger Trail) 649cc
T140AV (Anti Vibration) (Police) 744cc
T140W TSS 744cc
T140LE Royal Wedding 744cc
TSX 744cc


750cc Triumph T140 Bonneville engine cutaway

The unit "seven-fifty" engine as

drawn by the late Lawrie Watts.


Triumph's 8-valve T140W TSS

The 8-valve T140W TSS. Fast, flawed, and fixable. Owner perseverance is required.


1978 Triumph T140V Bonneville

 

But what do owners say
about their bikes?

T140V owner review

T140E owner review

TR7V owner review

T140 Bonneville Street Custom


Triumph Bonneville movie on YouTube

 

Want to see a 750 Bonnie
on the move?

Click the link below and take a ride.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obzF8kEyRLo


Top specialists & links

 

Norman Hyde

www.normanhyde.co.uk

 

TOMCC

Got the bike? Join the club. Branches nationwide. Knowledgeable people. Big social calendar.

www.tomcc.org

 

Grin

Telephone 0776-555-3258 (Urgent enquiries only, please)

www.grintriumph.com

 

T8 Motorcycles

Telephone 01394 279929

www.t8ts.co.uk

 

British Cycle Supply Company

US and Canada based. Lots of interesting stuff. These guys ride with pride.

www.britcycle.com

 

MAP Cycle

US based British bike parts. Huge range of high quality, high performance precision spares. Original equipment and custom parts.

www.mapcycle.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IF YOU'RE LOOKING for an all-weather, all-purpose, everyday classic British bike, you’re probably staring straight at a 750cc T140 Triumph Bonneville. A lot of negative criticism has been hurled at these machines, notably citing problems with vibration and oil leaks. But the fact remains that these machines offer excellent handling, good braking, decent enough suspension, an acceptable turn of speed, and have better parts back up than just about any other classic British bike in the market place.

 As for the vibes, these never were as bad as some suggested (although a poorly set up Bonnie with an unbalanced crank is a minor torture). And the much-mentioned oil leaks are no worse than those of other British bikes. But because these work horses are used more, so the leaks are seen more often. Almost nobody trailers one of these from show to show.

Not yet, anyway.

 

Sump 750cc T140 Bonneville

 

Two of Sump's girls striking a pose on one of our examples. It's the same everyday hack as seen on our humble YouTube video (see elsewhere on this page). We'd love to stop and tell you more about it, but the girls are calling. Know what we mean?

 

 

History and development

 

Launched in 1973, the T140 picked up where the 650cc T120 Bonneville left off, and the extra 100cc came with a penalty. Edward Turner, designer of the 1937 Triumph Speed Twin (the grandfather of all successive Meriden twins—and the inspiration behind a lot of other twins from rival marques) has been quoted as saying that he never intended his 500cc engine to be enlarged. Certainly to no more than 650cc.

But by the late 1960s, the Americans (in particular) were clamouring for more horses for their track and desert courses, and if the Meriden factory couldn’t provide the required upgrade, then the Yanks would.

And did.

Eventually, feeling the pressure of Japanese superbikes eating up showroom floor space and sales, and hoping to turn US aftermarket 750cc top-end kits into much needed dollars, the company acquiesced and finally built the long-time-coming 750cc twins.

 

Oil-in-frame chassis

 

These new machines were always 5-speed, and were launched with a front disc brake and drum rear and inherited the controversial oil-in-frame chassis trailblazed by the 650cc T120. That frame started out wrong, but ended up right, and has lasted around forty years without significant issues.

Styling was a pretty much orthodox British sit-up-and-beg configuration with a build quality that the Japanese bike industry still hadn't matched. Frames were hand welded. Tanks were hand striped. The overall feel was of a value-for-money, traditional machine, albeit manufactured around a design that could have been justifiably pensioned off in the mid 1960s.

The (nominally) 750cc engine was near identical to the (649cc) 650cc power unit. But the first machines off the line were (for production reasons) actually 724cc. Within months however, this became 744cc—which remained the cubic capacity of these air-cooled parallel twins until the bitter end.

 Development of the new seven-fifties was, by 1974, slowed by the now infamous industrial unrest at the Meriden factory in Warwickshire that saw production halted for around eighteen months—and, woe of woes, at a time when the Japanese were becoming increasingly aggressive and competitive; a fatal commercial combination that put a large number of nails in the coffin of what was left of the British motorcycle industry. Which, with Norton just about the hit the skids, was really just Triumph.

 

Rear disc brake and revised cylinder head

 

By the time the Meriden industrial situation/debacle was resolved, the Triumph Trident (which was in fact the true competition for its twin cylinder stablemate) was almost dead on its feet, leaving the "ageing" Bonnie desperately trying to claw back prestige and customers with a package that was beginning to show a lot of mechanical wrinkles.

 The Meriden engineers, however, were not giving up without a scrap, and the 750cc Bonnie and Tiger was, if not exactly technically brought up to date, then at least patched up enough to scrape it through the increasingly stringent noise and environmental pollution laws that were almost as big a problem as the incoming Japanese—and, come to that, the incoming Germans who, with their new range of BMW Boxer twins, were rapidly shedding their “old man” image and looking increasingly attractive to a younger aspirational biking set.

 And then there was Harley Davidson knocking on the door and slowly getting its act together with a range of brutally attractive, if expensive, 1000cc and 1200cc twins.

In 1976, a rear disc brake arrived. In 1978, the bike developed a new, parallel-port cylinder head (to replace the earlier splayed-head that had been a feature since 1959), while the TR7 Tiger, which had started with a single carb, retained it throughout).

That same year, new carburettors were introduced for the T140 (Amal Mk2s as opposed to Mk1s; the Tiger kept its Mk1), and overall, the bikes were looking more angular and modern—and a little too angular and modern for many marque diehards. Worse still, performance was down and vibration was up. At least, the modern generation of wannabe gonzo motorcycling journalists felt so, and said as much.

Loudly, and often.

 

Meriden under pressure

 

Unquestionably, such hostile press opinion cost the firm some sales—but perhaps not as many as you might expect. The average rider of the late 1970s wasn’t, after all, going to be fobbed off with an old tech, leaky, pushrod British twin when, for significantly less money, he could buy an up-to-the-second Japanese multi that could thrash the Meriden bike on any quarter mile length of straight.

However, on the curves it was a little different. In fact it was a lot different. At that time, Japanese bikes had notoriously bad handling, and British twins (and triples) were famed for their sure-footedness. The average Jap superbike had a huge hinge in the middle and (often) a distinct wobble when it approached anything like its theoretical top speed.

But the Japs were learning fast, and there wasn’t really any place else to go for the Bonnie; certainly not without radical revisions, for which there simply wasn’t the development cash anymore.

In 1979 the Yamaha 650 Special (twin) appeared; a devilishly handsome piece of kit that did pretty much all that the Meriden offering could do (except handle), and at a lower price. It was largely also oil tight, and vibrated less, and had a good electric starter. These 650cc Yams, since 1968, had built a reputation as dependable all-round machines, and they sold in huge numbers around the world.

But this particular Yam, with its cast wheels and black and gold livery, hit the right note during the right summer and had exactly the street cred required by contemporary riders looking to build or maintain a sub-hooligan wish-I could-afford-a Harley image. Whilst at the same time, the Yam Special was not so left-field that ordinary guys looking for a simple, decent, attractive everyday twin would shy away from.

 

Triumph T140 from Sump

 

▲ One of Sump's own T140s, lightly customised with Lester cast wheels, TSS side panels, a two-into-one-exhaust, a Bates headlight, wider handlebars, and bright yellow livery. The engine timing has been altered too for more overlap and better breathing. And that front wheel is an 18-incher (same as the rear), hence the non-ideal mudguard fit. We love it.

 

 

Bonnie Special and electric starters

 

Regardless, Meriden felt the pinch and rapidly responded with the T140D Special (Lester cast wheels, black and gold livery, two-into-one exhaust); a machine that in terms of looks and quality of materials easily shunted aside the Yam Special. But the king of the twins was on shaky ground (not least because it was 10-15% more expensive), and knew it.

The following year, an electric start appeared; the first on a British motorcycle that actually worked well. For a while, anyway. There were later problems with this hurriedly engineered system, but none of which can be shown to have really hit sales (except in the second hand market). And within three years of that auspicious event, having seen relatively minor (and some not so minor) revisions, the "legendary" twin was dead.

That was 1983.

Part of the problem was a collapsed US market. Part of it was business export market guarantee intrigues. Part of it was that the Bonnie was simply looking less and less relevant. And sales had truly plummeted during those last few years despite most riders bearing a grudging respect for the T140 (some of whom who were, naturally, always meaning to buy one, or at least cadge a ride on one someday). And of course the biking press, now that the dirty deed was done, said that it was a pity that the British bike industry was over. But never mind, we’ve still got the Japs ....

 It might have been kinder had someone pulled the plug a little earlier, because at the end of production, the 1973 flood of Bonnies had turned into a pathetic trickle pouring down the drain of history with bikes being offered in any specification and any colour, just so long as you bought something.

Please.

 

 

▲ 750cc TR7T Tiger Trail. Built between 1981 and 1982, these rare twins have a small but loyal following. Check our TR7T Tiger review.

 

 

Harris Bonnies and the end of the line

 

It was a sad end for a company that really loved its product; an end that enjoyed a short-lived resurgence in 1985 when the late Les Harris bought a short-term manufacturing licence and built another 1200 or so bikes up until 1988.

Today, these machines are as good as they ever were (whatever that means to you), with overall reliability much higher (thanks largely to retro-fitted electronic ignitions; first fitted as standard in 1979).

They’ll leak a little oil, which can be ignored without issue, or (mostly) fixed if you just take the trouble to rebuild them properly. On the plus side, a little black gold splashed around a motorcycle isn’t such as bad thing if you want to keep the lethal oxides at bay.

Overall, Bonnies and TR7s are nimble, tractable, decent stoppers, and maintenance light. And when they do go wrong, they can be sorted fairly easily. Also, they return around 50-55mpg. You won’t see much change out of 100mph, but acceleration is still pretty good, even two-up.

The seat height is fairly low at around 31-inches, and only those with extra short inside leg measurements will have to worry about getting both feet flat at the same time on opposite sides of the saddle.

 

Is this the right bike for you?

 

Most owners/riders wear open-faced crash helmets. But if you really must wear a full-faced lid, this is one of the few British bikes that will indulge your obsession with your bridgework without looking too ... well, naff. So much so that Meriden was keen to use full-faced helmets in its later adverts as if to prove to the world that what was pretty long in the tooth was actually very modern and cutting edge.

But which bike should you buy? The short answer is whichever one you most enjoy looking at—provided the price is in line with current market expectations. None of twins have particular "issues", except perhaps the electric start models (which need a little extra care with the starter gear sprag clutch), and the T140W TSS derivation (with its eight-valve head and other under-developed revisions). If you're considering an early bike (pre-1976), you're strongly advised to think in terms of left or right side gear change. It can make a major difference to some riders.

If you want to cut your maintenance chores a little further, and without a significant power penalty, buy a Tiger.

After a long time in the low value, low status doldrums, oil-in-frame Bonnies and Tigers have risen in value and prestige. And rightly so. For commuting, these bikes can easily take the daily rough and tumble, being nimble in traffic with enough presence to command some respect on the road. For touring, they're long legged enough to carry you for hundreds of miles a day, two up and with luggage, without blowing their cool and leaving you exhausted. And for Sunday fun and games on your favourite back roads, a 750—or 650—twin will do everything demanded of it by the average classic biker, with plenty in reserve.

They can be tuned and beefed up to show a genuine 115-120mph on the clock. But you'll also have to drop the bars and shift the footrests back to do it. The compression will need to be raised; bigger carbs will need to be fitted; and expect to do a lot of headwork (porting, polishing, and perhaps lighter valve springs).

Meanwhile, stripping some of the excess tinware can cut the flab by around 60lbs, or more, thereby effectively liberating a few extra bhp at the bottom end.

 And if anyone tells you that the oil-in-frame T140s are rubbish, just fix up a time and a place and let us know. We’ll send some of the boys round to sort it out.

 

Ownership tips

 

1. Use a quality 20W50 low detergent multigrade oil and change every 1500 miles maximum, or less. Change it every year, anyway.

 

2. Chrome discs make for worse braking. De-chrome, or replace. Un-chromed cast iron discs are superior.

 

3. Check the wiring looms carefully when buying. Many looms haven't been replaced in over 30 years. Worn looms are a fire risk.

 

4. Use the best fuel you can get, and avoid cheap supermarket petrol.

 

5. Rejuvenate the braking system by replacing old hoses. And change the hydraulic fluid at least every two years, or less. DOT 4 will do nicely.

 

6. Rough fork action can often be fixed by loosening the forks from the spindle upward (including yokes), and retightening in the correct sequence according to the factory workshop manual. Worn head bearings will advise you of the fact with regular clicks and clonks over road bumps.

 

7. Check regularly that the oil is returning. Raise the seat, unscrew the oil filler cap, and run the engine. There's a small pipe just visible at the top
of the frame elbow. Oil should squirt from that pipe in "glugs". You won't see a continuous stream. Get to know the feel of new and old oil.

 

8. Check the centre stand for smooth action and looseness, and check the side stand for sloppiness. T140s should elevate easily without giving you a hernia. If they're hard to raise, something is wrong; possibly worn bolt holes, or poorly manufactured stands (especially from the Far East).

 

9. Gears should change cleanly and click into place. You might occasionally get a first gear clonk. But beyond that, the gear changes should be fairly slick. They should slip into neutral when stationary. But naturally, they prefer to find neutral on the move at walking speed.

 

10. Clutches are fairly heavy, but should bite smoothly and progressively.

Keep a spare cable with you—or, at least, an emergency cable repair kit. All our T140s have been cable hungry.

 

 

Back to the top



















































 

 

 

Copyright Sump Publishing 2010/2014