Updated: Aug 20
The Tale of a Tiger Personal memories of a special bike. The Tiger 100C was Triumph’s challenger to the BSA Gold Stars and Norton Internationals in the Clubman’s TT races of the early nineteen-fifties (see the full story on the bike in the Part One blog). Bruce Cox of BRG Multimedia remembers that model well, thanks to a very special example that he once owned…
At a local VMCC club night recently (writes Bruce) I met John White, newly returned from living in Spain and who I had not seen for literally some fifty years! This soon led to our recollections about a very special Triumph Tiger 100 that I had bought from him in 1959 and which, with the benefit of half a century’s hindsight, both John and I wish we had never parted with!
The Triumph factory was not officially involved in racing in the early ‘fifties but is said to have specially prepared some machines in the factory development shop for hand-picked riders deemed to be potential winners of the Clubmans TT race held on the Isle of Man TT Mountain Course. These included half a dozen of the 1954 Tiger 100 models with the swinging arm frame which was new for that year.
Riding one of these allegedly ‘works prepared’ bikes in 1954 was Gloucestershire rider, Tony Ovens who finished fourth at an average speed of 84.87mph for the four laps of the nearly 38-mile Mountain Circuit.
This was only fractionally slower than the three BSA Gold Stars that finished ahead of him. And it was the Tony Ovens Triumph that John White and I had both owned.
Unfortunately for Triumph, 1954 was the year that the legendary single cylinder BSA Gold Star began its eventual total domination of the Clubman’s class and the best that a Triumph twin could do was the fourth place achieved by Tony.
Gold Star specialist, Eddie Dow was one of the BSA riders that year but was still getting over extremely serious injuries incurred in a very bad crash at Laurel Bank while he had been leading the 1953 Clubman’s on a Gold Star. Many years later, Eddie still remembered the Ovens Triumph well. He rode a ‘Goldie’ to tenth place in that 1954 race and told John White that Ovens on the Triumph had gone by him as though he was standing still…!
Tony Ovens finished fourth in the 1954 Clubmans TT on the Triumph Tiger 100C.
The Clubman’s TT had passed into the history books in 1956 and It was a year after that when John White’s brother Tim purchased ‘our’ Triumph from Eddie Dow’s Banbury dealership. Unfortunately, Tim (who, incidentally, was no relation to another friend of the same name who is pictured later in this feature) later had a really serious accident on the bike when he hit a badly repaired trench across the road which collapsed the alloy front wheel and threw him into the rear of a stationary coal lorry. The collision resulted in Tim being rushed off to Warwick hospital, the bike being badly smashed up, and the coal lorry being towed away because the impact had bent the solid back axle!
Whilst in hospital Tim offered his brother John the remains of the bike at a ‘brotherly’ price and John then took the whole sorry basket case to the local Triumph dealer in Banbury, Bert Shorey.
Bert’s son, Danny, was one of the best road racers in the UK in the late nineteen-fifties and throughout the ‘sixties and had partnered Mike Hailwood to win the 1956 Thruxton 500 Miles race on a 650cc Tiger 110. So, Bert knew all the right people at the Meriden factory and sent the bike there to get it repaired and brought back to its Clubman’s TT specification by the factory competition/development department.
It came back to John in pristine condition - all straightened out and with some new bits such as a ‘siamesed’ two-into-one exhaust system and a new big-bore Amal Monobloc single carburetor replacing the two (by then old-fashioned) small bore Amals and remote float chamber as used in in the original T100C race kit.
“Alas, in a moment’s weakness” says John “and really just to appease my new girlfriend (now my wife) who did not like bikes, I sold it to Bruce and purchased a car. I have regretted that decision for the rest of my life, especially when I later saw another of the 1954 Clubman’s TT bikes in a motorcycle museum in Germany with the information placard stating that it was one of only six built at the factory. I still wonder how many of the rest of those six 1954 Tiger 100C models are now left intact…if any”.
The bike first caught my eye (continues Bruce Cox) when I saw John sitting on it where all we young local motorcyclists used to hang out in town near Banbury Cross. I had been lusting after a Gold Star but there was something about that Triumph which really got me interested in learning more about it. Probably because it had downturned handlebars poking out of the familiar Triumph headlamp nacelle and rear-set footrests…neither of which I had seen on any other Triumph. And then there were the alloy mudguards with number plate mounts welded to the stays of the rear one…evidence that at some point it had been a ‘racer’. There was also a hefty tubular front fork brace mounted ahead of the fork tubes and masquerading as the front mudguard bracket.
Anyway, learning that John wanted to sell it, I was first in line with the ‘readies’. I couldn’t afford a new Gold Star in any case, so the Tiger 100 seemed like a good alternative. And after finding that I could easily blast past my Gold Star and Road Rocket-mounted mates on our Sunday morning rides, I was more than happy with the choice I had made.
At that time, I was 18 years old and the racing bug had already bitten by then. So away went an entry for the National Clubman’s Handicap race that was a curtain raiser to the big International ‘Silverstone Saturday’ race in April 1960. Somewhat surprisingly my entry was accepted and so my first race ever was to be on the high-speed Grand Prix circuit.
The race was a handicap event which saw the two-fifties flagged away first, then the three-fifties a minute or so later and then, another minute or so after that, off we went on the five hundreds. After the start it was all a bit of a blur, chasing down as many of the smaller bikes as possible. So at the end of the race I was truly amazed to be told that I had finished third in the 500cc class at an 83.60mph average and sixth overall on handicap. There only two of the many 500cc Gold Stars entered ahead of the Triumph, so it was still obviously competitive with BSA’s best.
My next race on the Triumph was at Rhydymwyn in North Wales – and what a shock that was! I knew nothing about gearing bikes for different sized tracks and turned up with the same high ‘TT gearing’ that the bike had always had…only to find that the track was 16 feet wide and just over half a mile long through an old army coal dump! I never got out of first gear and still burned out the clutch...it was a rude awakening about the technicalities of going racing!
Just a boy! Eighteen year old Bruce Cox after his first race in May 1960 at Silverstone
Apart from road riding, that was about it for the Triumph in its original Clubman’s TT form. I was aiming to get more serious about racing in later seasons (something I sadly never really did) so we took the Triumph off the road for 1961 and into the workshop behind Rod Gould’s house, where he built it into a very purposeful-looking racer.
With a special pannier tank and racing seat from one of Eddie Dow’s Gold Star specials, plus new small-bore exhaust pipes and reverse cone megaphones, it was an eye-catching bike. But in the real world of racing neither it nor I were going to be anywhere near the front runners in national class competition.
Nowadays, I have only a handful of hazy memories of what I now realize to have been quite a special motorcycle. Obviously, I wish I had never sold it and that it now sat in my garage restored to its 1954 Clubman’s TT specification. But, as is so often said, hindsight is a wonderful thing…
The 1961 season wasn’t quite the end of the ‘tale of the Tiger’. In 1963 I was a journalist working for Motorcycle Mechanics magazine and together with fellow staffer, Dave Weightman, decided to build a magazine project bike using his Norton Dominator stripped down and fitted with my Triumph engine, which I would then ride in that year’s Manx Grand Prix on the Isle of Man TT course.
Silverstone 1961. (Left to right) Rod Gould (BSA Gold Star) Tim White (Triumph) and Bruce Cox with the ex-Clubmans TT Triumph rebuilt by Rod. One of the three young hopefuls made it all the way – Rod was World 250cc Champion in 1970 and a Yamaha team rider for three years.
It certainly looked ‘fit for purpose’ but in reality it was still a road bike chassis and could really have done with some upgrades, such as the twin leading shoe front brake as fitted to the Manx Norton racers. The racing linings we fitted to the Dominator brakes got the drums so hot that they expanded and lost much of their braking efficiency. A lesson in the fact that you can’t go fast without the right equipment.
Luckily, there weren’t many spots on the TT course back then which demanded sustained hard braking and I did manage an 86mph lap before retiring with gear selection problems. That was a respectable enough speed for a newcomer with Triumph power in those days when the MGP winners on their Manx Nortons only lapped in the mid-nineties but what I really took on board was just what a demon rider Tony Ovens must have been to average over 84mph on the standard Triumph nine years earlier!
Bruce Cox at Signpost Corner in the 1963 Manx Grand Prix
Read more about racing with the Triumph Tiger 100 in the 1950s and '60s in the e-book published by www.themotorcyclefiles.com.