The Triumph T140V Bonneville

A great rideable classic
By Richard Backus
November/December 2006
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Good examples of the Triumph T140 Bonneville don't seem to be hard to find, but they don't seem to stay on the market for long, either.
Photo by Richard Backus
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Triumph T140V Bonneville
Years produced:
1973-1980
Total production: N/A
Claimed power: 50hp @ 7,000rpm (1976)
Top speed: 110mphEngine type: 744cc, air-cooled two valve per cylinder parallel twin
Transmission: Five-speed
Weight: 188kg (414lb)(w/half-full tank)
MPG: 40-50
Price then: $1,995 (1976)
Price now: $2,000-$5,000

The Triumph T140V Bonneville is a great rideable classic and is much more affordable than its earlier counterparts.

The Seventies were not good years for Triumph. By 1972 Triumph, arguably the personification of motorcycles and motorcycling, had been eclipsed by a hoard of Asian upstarts, despite 70 years of manufacturing tradition behind the fabled company.

In some ways, Triumph had been its own worst enemy. An entrenched, misplaced belief within the British motorcycle industry in its own superiority had resulted in outdated product, just as new rivals were launching the most technologically exciting motorcycles ever seen. Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha were spearheading a revolution, changing and innovating their products yearly. But in 13 years of production, Triumph’s iconic Bonneville, introduced to rave reviews in 1959, had changed little. At Triumph, it appeared that evolution, not revolution, was the order of the day.

The Bonneville desperately needed a shot in the arm to remain competitive, and Triumph belatedly responded in 1973 by upping the Bonnie’s 650cc engine to 744cc and, finally, fitting a five-speed transmission in place of the old four-speed.

Unfortunately, the “new” Bonnie, dubbed the T140V, suffered under Triumph’s heavy load. That same year, Triumph announced the closure of the Meriden plant where the Bonnie was built, prompting the workforce there to wage an 18-month strike, during which all Bonneville production ceased.

This could have been the end of Triumph, and the company’s future looked bleak at best. But new hope came in the spring of 1975, when the striking workers formed the Meriden Cooperative. With loans from the government, the new company renewed production of the Triumph T140V Bonneville.

The great Triumph twin got a new lease on life, as once again new T140Vs started rolling off the assembly line.

Unlike its former stewards, the Meriden Cooperative saw the need to update and improve the Bonnie, while at the same time playing to its time-honored strengths of simplicity, agility and light weight.

The new Bonnie benefited from a fresh imperative to improve the breed. Oil leakage, always the scourge of British twins, was profoundly tamed, and the Triumph T140V Bonneville was continuously improved and updated.

Front and rear disc brakes came in 1976, as did left-hand shift to satisfy U.S. regulations. Much-improved Amal MkII carburetors came in 1978, and by 1979 all Bonnies sported electronic ignition.

The market unfortunately failed to respond to the “new” Triumph with the needed enthusiasm. At its height in 1976, the Meriden Cooperative produced perhaps 350 bikes a week, most of which were shipped to the U.S. By 1980, the Cooperative had exceeded its line of credit by at least $4,000,000, and in 1983 the Cooperative called it quits. The Bonnie’s second shot was over.

The Triumph T140V Bonneville today
It’s too bad, really, because the revived Bonneville was in some ways the best Bonnie ever. Contemporary testers raved about the bike’s excellent handling, citing its low weight and low center of gravity. “It sometimes feels like the Bonneville turns if you just think about turning,” one tester said. “This is a motorcycle whose pegs your grandmother could drag,” noted another.

And compared to the technologically superior Japanese multis, some testers called the the Bonnie a breath of fresh air, a reminder of how bikes used to be built. As an antidote to the increasingly complex bikes out of Japan, the Bonnie was a success. But in a changing market driven by technology it was out of touch with the times.

Ironically, less than 20 years later John Bloor’s revived Triumph proved them right with the introduction of an all new 850cc Bonneville, in the process touching off a retro revolution that continues today.

Good T140V Bonnies are fairly easy to find, and even though some price guides would have you think otherwise, they’re generally fairly priced. Good runners seem to start in the mid-$2,000 range, and we’ve found really nice examples going for just a grand more.

Two-cylinder alternatives to the Triumph T140V Bonneville
Yamaha XS650

- 53hp @ 7,000rpm/105mph
- Air-cooled, four-stroke parallel twin
- Five-speed
- Drum brakes front and rear (front disc starting in 1972)
- 428lb (wet)
- 45-55 MPG
- $1,500-$3,000

Considered by some as the classic British twin done better than the British ever could, the Yamaha XS650 has long been praised for being a basic motorcycle at a basic price. It succeeded in solving some of the shortcomings of its English predecessors, including chronic oil seepage and fritzy electrics. As Cycle Guide said back in the day, “It doesn’t leak, it doesn’t break, it doesn’t require much attention and it doesn’t cost much.”

Although they don’t handle as well as the Triumph, the Yamaha XS650 has the Triumph’s classic look with Yamaha reliability. Their long production (1970-1983, with an estimated 500,000 built), has resulted in ongoing availability of parts and reasonable (and sometimes even cheap) resale value.

Many have been customized into flat trackers, street-trackers, bobbers, choppers and more, but unless it’s been done right, you’re better off going with a stock model and customizing it yourself, should you feel the need.

BMW R75 /6
- 50hp @ 6,200rpm/110mph
- Air-cooled, four-stroke opposed twin
- Four-speed
- Single-disc front, drum rear
- 462lb (wet)
- 45-55 MPG
- $1,800-$3,500

BMW’s launch of the 750cc BMW R75 /5 in 1969 (along with its smaller 500 and 600cc variants) marked the beginning of a new era for the Bavarian company. BMW quality had always been tops, but the company’s products were seen as increasingly stodgy in a fast-changing market featuring ever-faster bikes.

With an improved engine, frame and suspension, the BMW R75 /5 reaffirmed BMW as a market contender. Not especially quick off the line, it was a supreme touring bike, capable of carrying its rider in comfort all day at near-100mph speeds, a quality few of its rivals could claim.

R75 /5s have drum brakes front and rear, with a front disc coming on the R75 /6 in 1974. Purists like the early bikes, but for everyday riding the 1974-1977 R75 /6 models are considered the best, and they’re generally cheaper. With an estimated 80,000 made, this was a high-volume machine for BMW. Tough as nails with legendary reliability, the survival rate is high, making it relatively easy to find a solid rider. MC 

 

 


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