America's Brit Bike
1967 Triumph T120 Bonneville
Claimed power: 52hp @ 6,500rpm
Top speed: 110mph (period test)
Engine: 649cc air-cooled OHV parallel twin
Weight (wet): 390lb
Price then / now: $1,309 / $4,000 - $12,000
1967 was Triumph’s best year ever in the U.S., with an estimated 28,000 bikes sold here. Whatever the number, Tom Blocker’s glad he finally got his 1967 Triumph T120 Bonneville.
“Shouldn’t you be wearing polyester, playing shuffleboard and heading off to Mrs. Appleton’s buffet?” I enquired of the 63-year-old grandfather of three as we stood peeling our sweaty helmets and leathers off in the pit garage.
I’d just worked my tail off at some outrageous speeds staying with Tom Blocker on his Ducati 1098 while riding my Kawasaki 600cc track bike, and as I was soon to discover, his passion for motorcycles extends far beyond going extremely fast on my local race track.
A confirmed dirt bike guy, Tom started riding on a Honda CB160 with high pipes and offroad tires. In fact, most of Tom’s early years were spent on two wheels.
A stint as a service manager at a Honda/Triumph dealer as a young man started his love affair with the brand, but not by choice. It seems no one in the shop wanted to work on the unreliable British twins that were constantly in for repair, as all of Tom’s work mates preferred the more reliable and cleaner Hondas. Tom somehow got the job of tending to the old British bikes, and subsequently became quite intimate with the mechanical workings of the breed. And even though he never owned one, it left him with a desire to have one in the garage for the occasional Sunday ride.
Entering a career in the automotive business, starting a family and engaging all the responsibility those tasks bring with them curtailed Tom’s street riding for close to 25 years, although he did continue dirt riding.
Then fate intervened in 2003, while he was in Las Vegas on a business trip. Attending the Art of the Motorcycle exhibit at the Venetian, he fell in love with a Ducati 916 and an MV Agusta that were on display as part of the exhibit. With the “stupid drug” (as Tom likes to refer to the love of motorcycles) injected straight into the main vein, he flew home, telling himself, “There’s no reason for me not to have one.”
Tom has always enjoyed high performance, and when he wasn’t riding he was driving, racing open-wheeled cars for a number of years in SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) Sports 2000, so the sporting nature of the Ducati marque spoke to him. Soon, a 916 found its way to Tom’s garage. This was quickly replaced with a more comfortable ST4S once he discovered the 916’s plank-like seat and stiff, race-derived suspension.
This didn’t last long, either, and Tom soon bought a 999 for regular track weekends. The 999 was traded for his current 1098 as he looked for more speed, and he also added a Multistrada for road duty, and a KTM 300XC to stay sharp in the dirt.
But with all these two-wheeled activities back in his life, he still hankered to have an old Triumph in the stable.
If you’re starting to hate Tom about now for having so much fun on two wheels, it’s about to get worse. You see, Tom is blessed with a wonderful wife, Claire. And Claire, knowing he was lusting after an original 1967 Triumph T120 Bonneville, tracked down his object of affection at Baxter Cycle in Marne, Iowa. The bike she found wasn’t pristine, but it was in good running order, so after some discussion and an exchange of money Claire had it delivered to the house — without Tom knowing. This was a little tricky, as she had to time it to arrive before the MasterCard bill. With his good friend Wayne running decoy on the day of arrival by taking Tom out for a ride, the bike was smuggled in and was waiting in Tom’s garage upon his return.
Although the Triumph was a little rough, it was ready, and for a time Tom enjoyed blasting around the neighborhood and tinkering with the old girl in the garage. She was blowing oil from the breather, though, and Tom knew it needed an engine rebuild.
Tom knew he wouldn’t have the time to undertake a rebuild himself, so he employed the services of Buddy Brown and Ted Hubbard at Port City Cyles in Mooresville, N.C. These guys have Castrol R running through their veins, and are still pissed off that the Japanese ran the Brits out of business. Buddy used to be a BSA dealer and Ted was a notable Class C Expert flat track racer who campaigned BSAs, and between the two of them they have forgotten more than most people will ever know about British twins.
Pulling the engine out of the frame, they stripped and cleaned everything before splitting the cases. Once inside, they found the engine was full of sludge, so it was certainly time for some attention. All the bearings were replaced and a new oil pump was installed, and then the crankcase was bolted back together. The top end was fine as were the pistons, so they were reused, and the engine was re-installed without any attention to cosmetic appearance, as Buddy and Ted’s attitude was they could care less how it looked as long as it ran well. This refresh set Tom back about $800, and he rode the Triumph as a functional but not pretty bike for a while longer. It ran reasonably well, but the carburetors never seemed quite right to Tom, no matter how much he worked on them. Truth be known, he was itching to perform a ground up restoration on the bike.
A chance meeting at a local track day with Joe Rankin, who was riding an immaculately prepared Aprilia RS250 and an equally well-sorted Suzuki SV650, found Tom his restoration man. The problem was, it took two years of pestering Joe to talk him into taking on the project. With the Triumph finally at Joe’s workshop in Raleigh, N.C., it was completely taken apart to the last nut and bolt for the restoration Tom had been wanting.
The frame and swing arm went out to be powder coated black, and while they were away Joe began hand-polishing the engine cases and valve covers. He cleaned and prepped the carbs and also installed new fuel lines. The wheels were disassembled, the rear hub receiving black powder coat and the front silver. New stainless steel spokes were laced into the original rims and the wheels were finished with new bearings and tires.
The bike had a lot of new parts already, so there was no need to replace the cables, handlebars or levers, although Joe did redo the wiring harness. He also replaced the steering head bearings and installed new header pipes. The original mufflers were deemed to be in good enough shape, as was the seat. “The devil’s in the details,” Tom says as he shows me the $3,849.66 parts bill. Every nut, bolt, washer, grommet, breather pipe and seal was replaced, along with all the screws, springs and connectors. He also went with a Boyer electronic ignition to help make the bike easier to start, as there’s no electric starter on a T120 Bonneville.
And it doesn’t really need one, as Tom enthusiastically shows me how quickly and easily the bike starts with one or two firm kicks. Tom also spent $500 on chrome plating, with stuff like the foot peg bracket and gear shifter receiving the upgrade. As the project was coming to fruition, one of the final touches was to send the bodywork to Greg Pettigrew at European Motorcycle Restoration and Paint in Charlotte, N.C. As a wizard who specializes in European motorcycles, it’s hard to top Greg’s work. He made sure the paint matched the original scheme, and it’s clear Greg is an overachiever. The quality of the work shines through as I shoot the bike in the last light of day, the reflections of the trees nearly perfect in the wet-looking gas tank.
With the bodywork back, the original fenders were hand polished and all new grips and rubbers were installed. The instrument cluster was cleaned up, the tachometer drive replaced and a new speedometer drive was installed. A new set of fork seals, final drive chain, and various bulbs were the last few items on the list, and Joe had the Triumph buttoned up and ready for delivery.
Tom is delighted with his immaculately restored Triumph, and it now sits proudly in the garage next to his modern bikes as the favorite. Thankfully, he does more than just look at it, as the 1967 T120 Bonneville gets ridden regularly. And take it from me: Like all of Tom’s bikes, it doesn’t get ridden slowly. MC