I just loves me some old bikes! That’s why I used to write about them for a slew of now-defunct vintage motorjunk rags — Old Bike Journal, Classic Cycle Review, and others. It was truly a labor of love, because the pay truly sucked.
The piece you’re about to read was written in 1994. The photos here are from 17-year-old Kodachrome slides that used to be in color. Trust me, this bike is purple.
Anyway, this piece was never published because I wrote it for a magazine that went under just before I mailed it in. So wait no longer. Enjoy!
Text & Photos Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
THE PHOENIX AND THE CHICKEN
A 1970 Triumph Daytona Gets a Second Chance
“You’ll never find it by yourself,” Ron Butler assures me over the phone. Is he talking about the Titanic? Shangri-La? Inner peace?
Nah. He means his house in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where I’m going to check out his bike.
“Meet me at the Big Chicken,” he says.
The Big Chicken? Right.
So off I go on my mission, which is to inspect not large poultry but rather something closer to eternal life: Ron’s painstakingly restored 1970 Triumph T100R. It’s a shiny purple bomber resurrected from a rust-encrusted hulk. But before we get into that, let’s get you up to speed on this chicken thing.
Unlike Ron’s house, you couldn’t miss the Big Chicken with a busted Hubble. And what the locals call a chicken isn’t a chicken at all, but a rooster. A six-foot-tall rooster. It’s a major landmark here in Lebanon, but it would be equally distinctive anywhere.
As promised, Ron is waiting for me at the Big Chicken. It squats majestically on Route 322, perpetually trying to hatch a feed mill office. From there we proceed to Ron’s house, where several nice bikes live with Ron. When he’s not crossing your wires in his secret life as a phone network analyst, he’s out cruising blacktop on a couple of big Harleys or a Kawasaki triple.
But the undisputed star of his fleet is the T100R. Also known as the Daytona Super Sports, this unit 500 twin debuted commercially in 1967, the same year the works prototype won at Daytona. The production model was essentially unchanged from the racing version. Consequently, the Daytona holds a special place in history as one of Triumph’s first café racers.
Production continued through 1973, when Triumph abandoned the model as a result of financial woes and the whims of a buying public clamoring for big twins. The Daytona 500 was exported to the U.S. in smaller numbers than the 650 Bonneville and Trophy, making it a rare sight indeed in the colonies today.
Modest sales failed, however, to squelch the Daytona’s historical importance. Among its technological innovations was a radical new unit twin design. Unit construction engines per se weren’t new, having been introduced in 1957. But they’d been well-hidden beneath bathtubs until 1967, the year the new T100’s muscle was exposed for all the world to see. The next year a revolutionary hole appeared in the T100’s primary chaincase that allowed ignition timing to be checked with a strobe light.
The seven-year production span was a parade of firsts, including an oil pressure gauge and a rev counter. When turn indicators and idiot lights made their appearance, they were hot news in the motorhead world.
By 1970 the T100 had morphed into Ron’s version. At 83.25 inches long and 336 pounds, it’s a compact bike with a huge power plant, and so buff that it needs an eight-inch twin-leading-shoe front brake to manage all its fire-breathing horsepower. The spec is 41 BHP at 7,200 RPM; contemporary literature pegs its top speed at 120 mph or so (on leaded gas). When asked to verify that figure, Ron just grins and says his bike goes pretty good.
Fair enough. But no way would you believe it was unrecognizable a couple of years ago, little more than a decaying doorstop in someone else’s garage.
Back then, Ron says, “The engine was a deep red color from the rust” acquired from a decade of hatching dustballs. Complementing that was an attractive topcoat of pigeon dung.
Arguably the scariest part was prying the Daytona from its then-owner, an old-timer who claimed he was “saving” the bike — because it was so rare and valuable! Rare, certainly. Valuable? Maybe to pigeons.
“I mean, it was ugly!” Ron says, laughing now about the treasure he paid “a couple hundred bucks” for after two years of dogged persuasion. When he finally went to collect it, he says, “I didn’t even try to start it up. I kicked it over with the kickstart to make sure the engine wasn’t frozen up. But I wasn’t even going to try to get it going.”
Given the circumstances, “wasn’t frozen up” is compelling testimony indeed to the immortality of the 490 cc OHV motor that once kicked ass at Daytona.
Inertia and corrosion were only two of Ron’s problems. Before abandoning it in the dovecote, the T100R’s former owner had tarted it up with the wrong head and a single-carb conversion, and tossed the original dual Amal Concentrics. The mufflers were incorrect, the electrics were shot, and all the decals and badges were missing. Ditto any chrome that had ever safeguarded its metal parts. Assuming the speedo is original, it’s been a helluva long 18,774 miles.
Perhaps because Ron lives in the shadow of a leviathan pullet, it takes him a while to find a bright side to this chapter. But eventually he recalls something good about the mess he brought home: “I don’t think this bike was ever wrecked!”
He never doubted its potential or authenticity, not even after showing it off to a buddy whose response was, “What the heck did you get that for?!”
A good question. But when the bike going gets tough, the tough go to someone with a storeroom like a transit museum. In Ron’s neighborhood, that would be Hermy Baver, Jr., of Hermy’s Cycle Sales in Port Clinton, Pennsylvania.
Ron told Hermy the project was a piece of cake. “All Hermy had to do was completely dismantle the twin, fix everything, and then just reassemble it again to new condition.” See, men of vision are different from us mortals.
I call Hermy and ask him for any fond memories. “The bars were rusty,” he says after thinking for a while. “And the engine was cracked and had to be welded.”
The job took six months. Ron says the work order was seven pages long.
Fortunately, Hermy’s been around the block with old Triumphs. He dug up new rims and spokes, the correct head, a wiring harness, and stock mufflers. He reinstated the correct Amal carbs. Everything that was ever chromed, he replated or replaced. The hardest piece to locate? That was the styling strip atop the gas tank. Naturally, Hermy triumphed.
An interesting footnote to this restoration suggests hope for the spawn of Detroit. The Daytona’s paint and powder coating were jobbed out to a car dealership, Knopf Pontiac in Allentown, and executed there by master craftsman Jesse Britton. The worst-kept secret in Pennsylvania, Britton reportedly repaints more old bikes than Catalinas, and it shows. During deconstruction Hermy had found traces of the original purple paint on the underside of the tank, which Jesse replicated perfectly. And check out the hand-applied pin striping!
Ron says he fixed up his bike to ride, not show, and boy does he. Dusting the Big Chicken was never so much fun. And how does that Daytona run?
“Great! It’s brand new again!” says Ron. It looks brand new, too. “I’ll be riding it ’til I’m 95!”
Text & Motorcycle Photos Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Big Chicken Photo Copyright © 2011 DEBRA JANE SELTZER
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