Triumph Cub: 1960 Production Test

Join production tester Hughie Hancox on a 1960 test run of the Triumph Cub.

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"Triumph: Production Testers' Tales" by Hughie Hancox details the author's time, 1960 to 1962, as part of the production testing team at Triumph.

Cover Courtesy Veloce Publishing

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Triumph: Production Testers’ Tales (Veloce Publishing, 2012) is the story of one worker’s time on the Triumph Production Testing team from 1960 to 1962, packed with amusing anecdotes about the obstacles associated with a tester’s daily life. With guides to fixing problems still found on the 1960s models, and previously unseen photographs of machines restored by the author, this is an intimate and useful account of one of Britain’s most famous factories. The following excerpt comes from the section, “The Cubs.” 

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There was no denying the fact: the Triumph Cub, generally, was a little motorcycle, but with the feel of one of its bigger brothers. With its punchy, four-stroke engine, it did not seem like a tiddler when you were riding it. Okay, so it only developed a heady ten or twelve brake horse power, but the lovely muted bark from its Burgess silencer made it somehow seem more.

We were halfway through the year already, and it would only be a few more months before the 1960 models came to an end and the 1961 new models would begin coming off the lines.

With Joe leading to give me some idea of the speeds involved in testing the little Cubs, we proceeded up past Millison’s Wood on the way to the top of Meriden Hill. Both Cubs  the T20 and the T20S — had the same engine and carburettor, but the sports model had bigger forks, upswept exhaust, and a higher riding position, and came with Energy-Transfer ignition which enabled it to be ridden in competition without a battery. I don’t suppose the sports version was very much faster than the standard model, but it seemed to be, especially with the sports cam and stronger valve springs. The engine was also a little noisier, due to having a 9 to 1 compression piston rather than the 7 to 1 standard item.

As I followed Joe up to the top of the hill heading toward the village, I suddenly became aware of the beautiful exhaust note that Joe’s machine made, coupled with that of my bike. It wasn’t noticeable on the twins, so I suppose it was because they were single cylinder machines that this peculiar strobing effect came about. I remember back in the early 1950s, as a regular visitor to Oulton Park and Silverstone, hearing the big Manx Nortons pulling hard in a bunch, and giving off this very same effect. It was almost like the ‘wa-wa-wa’ sound of the out-of-sync engines of the Heinkel III German medium bombers when they ‘visited’ Coventry in 1940.

There was no doubt that, with its nacelle, pull-back handlebars, and Triumph patented twin-seat, the little bike sold like hot cakes. It was the bread-and-butter bike for Triumph, and the going-to-work-on bike for the masses. Wages in 1960 were round about fifteen pounds a week in the big car factories, so it was no surprise that, at one hundred and forty four pounds and fifteen shillings, including purchase tax, the little Cub was a bargain.

Cresting the brow of the hill, Joe opened up a bit on the downward run toward the village. Passing Church Lane on the left, the place where Peter Cooper was killed, we approached the village in tight ‘line astern’ at about fifty miles an hour. Easing off, we slowed and trundled past Arthur the policeman’s house at roughly thirty miles an hour, giving a quick glance over to the right to see if he was in. You could usually see his police spec Triumph Cub — equipped with a screen, and a radio-transceiver on the specially adapted twin-seat  — parked on the drive at the side of the police house if he was in residence, but if it wasn’t there, you had to be very wary as he could appear behind you at any time on the test route.

The radio equipment on Arthur’s bike was made by PYE of Cambridge, and wasn’t transistorised, so was about the size of a breeze block, and twice as heavy. With an aerial on the back and a special fitting on the top of the petrol tank to take the two-way handset, we reckoned that, with its rider’s weight added, the police Cub would do all of thirty miles per hour downhill with the wind behind it.

Going through the village on a very light throttle ensured a pleasing ‘wuffle’ from the Burgess silencers, nothing that anyone could take offence at, really. The T20S sports model was noisier, probably because it had a slimmer style silencer, with a thinner-than-standard main body. You really could elicit a staccato ‘bark’ that did, on occasion, annoy some of the elderly residents of the village if two or three Cubs were ridden together.

Approaching the island in the village centre, with its cyclists’ memorial on the green, Joe changed down into third and indicated with his left hand that we were going to dive down to our left, on the start to the ‘Mile.’ Following suit, I heard Joe start to accelerate in third, and then change up into top.

Running easily at about fifty miles an hour, we proceeded slightly downhill along the ‘Mile’ in close formation, the exhaust notes mingling and ‘strobing’ delightfully. Depending on how you felt the motor was running, you could increase speed momentarily to sixty miles per hour to ensure all was well, but your left hand hovered over the clutch lever all the same should it require ‘snatching’ in the event of a tightening motor. Thinking back, I never, ever had a seizure on any model I rode, but my friend, Big Bill Letts, had untold difficulties in 1953-54 when the first Terriers came out. Bill said they were “little buggers” that would nip up anywhere; on the centre stand when you were getting ready to go out, when you pulled out of the factory, when you shut off on the over-run, they seized just about anywhere. He reckoned, given half a chance, they would even seize when the engines were being built on the Terrier/Cub track!

It was definitely something to do with combustion chamber temperature when the engine was running under its own power, because they didn’t nip up on the rollers when Fred ran them. It turned out to be piston material expanding too quickly under combustion working temperatures. Bill said it was all sorted out satisfactorily, but there weren’t half a lot of Terrier re-bored barrels sent up to the Service Repair Department for service exchange items!

At the bottom of the ‘Mile’ was the Cornets End Lane junction, and at this point we shut off and braked. Looking over our shoulders to ensure none of the Big Boys were bearing down on us at speed, we U-turned and headed back up to the lay-by, and Somers Lane rest area.

Only a couple of weeks ago, I went for a ride down the ‘Mile,’ and now at the bottom is a large island, but the old lay-by is still there, just as it was all those years ago. I was disappointed to see Somers lane was no longer a lane, but a fully fledged road, and an entrance to a plush golf club which has expanded to both sides of the ‘Mile.’ Billy and Bonneville’s field is still there, but now it’s occupied by horses, not the couple of splendid rams that trotted up to greet us every time they heard our engines.

Pulling the two Cubs onto their centre stands, we immediately removed our gloves and helmets, placing them on the grass bank where we sometimes lay in the sun. Then, our trusty reversible screwdrivers in hand, we set about adjusting both tick-over speed and pilot mixtures. By having the motors at working temperature, it was easy to slow the tick-over, then gradually wind in the pilot mixture screw until the exhaust became lumpy, then out again from this point until a steady, firm exhaust note was achieved. All that was necessary then was to reset the tick-over to the desired speed, which, on the standard Cub, was approximately six hundred revs per minute. The bikes could then be switched off and rested for a little while, whilst a roll-up was savoured and enjoyed.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Triumph: Production Testers’ Tales — from the Meriden Factory by Hughie Hancox and published by Veloce Publishing, 2012. Buy this book in our store: Triumph: Production Testers’ Tales.