Bathtub Triumph: 1960 Triumph 5TA Speed Twin

U.S. buyers hated the Triumph 5TA’s controversial “bathtub” styling, but 60 years later there’s new appreciation for Triumph boss Edward Turner’s design.

| September/October 2018

  • triumph speed twin
    Gary Athey's 1960 Triumph 5TA Speed Twin.
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • bathtub triumph
    Gary Athey's 1960 Triumph 5TA Speed Twin.
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • bathtub triumph
    Gary Athey's 1960 Triumph 5TA Speed Twin.
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • bathtub triumph
    Owner Gary Athey meticulously rebuilt and detailed the 490cc engine of his 5TA.
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • bathtub triumph
    Gary Athey's 1960 Triumph 5TA Speed Twin.
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • bathtub triumph
    Gary Athey's also restored a 1958 3TA, which lives in his collection with his 1960 Triumph 5TA Speed Twin.
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • bathtub triumph
    Gary Athey's 1960 Triumph 5TA Speed Twin.
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • bathtub triumph
    Gary Athey and his lovely Triumph 5TA.
    Photo by Jeff Barger

  • triumph speed twin
  • bathtub triumph
  • bathtub triumph
  • bathtub triumph
  • bathtub triumph
  • bathtub triumph
  • bathtub triumph
  • bathtub triumph

1960 Triumph 5TA Speed Twin

  • Engine: 490cc air-cooled OHV parallel twin, 69mm x 65.5mm bore and stroke, 7:1 compression ratio, 27hp @ 6,500rpm
  • Top speed: 90mph (est.)
  • Carburetion: Single Amal 375/35 Monobloc
  • Transmission: 4-speed, chain final drive
  • Ignition: 6v, coil and breaker points ignition
  • Frame/wheelbase: Single downtube cradle, mild steel lug and braze with bolt-on rear subframe/52.75in (1,340mm)
  • Suspension: Telescopic fork front, dual shocks rear
  • Brakes: 7in (178mm) SLS drum front and rear
  • Tires: 3.25 x 17in front, 3.5 x 17in rear
  • Weight: 341lb (155kg)
  • Seat height: 29.25in (743mm)
  • Fuel capacity: 3.5gal (16ltr)
  • Price then/now: $885 (per 1959 TriCor dealer catalog)/$ 6,000-$15,000

In the late 1950s Triumph was one of the most popular brands in America. For that reason alone it makes sense that a Triumph would have captured Gary Athey's attention, but it was his choice of model that proves interesting.

"I grew up near Green Bay, Wisconsin, and was riding when Triumphs, BSAs, Nortons, Harleys and Indians were popular," Gary explains. "All of my friends had those bikes, and they were a dime a dozen; you could see them all over the place. No, what I really liked was the look of the bathtub Triumph, and you didn't see very many of them around."

Styling misfire

Triumph's Edward Turner initiated the design theme of the bathtub rear metal enclosure and the deeply valanced front fender. First seen early in 1957 on the 350cc 3TA "Twenty One," the conservative styling was then introduced for the 1959 model year on the 500cc 5TA "Speed Twin." It didn't go over very well here in the U.S.

According to Triumph Motorcycles in America co-authors Lindsay Brooke and David Gaylin, the bathtub design was met with disdain, and dealers had to contend with the bodywork into the mid-1960s. "Turner's failure to accept America's love of the 'naked' motorcycle cost Triumph incalculable lost sales in its biggest market," Brooke and Gaylin note in their recently revised and expanded book. They continue: "Many U.S. dealers had to remove the factory-fitted bathtubs from the 500s and 650s just to sell the motorcycles. This was especially true in sunny, dry California, where dealers often stripped the bathtubs as soon as they uncrated the motorcycles. At the larger dealerships, including Bud Ekins' shop in Sherman Oaks, it wasn't uncommon to find piles of bathtub enclosures stacked up behind the shop." In 1959, American East Coast distributor the Triumph Corporation, or TriCor for short, released their dealer catalog announcing Triumph's lineup. In it, TriCor refers to the new 5TA as the Speed Twin Streamliner.



"A completely new 30.5 cu. in. (500cc) OHV 'over-square' vertical twin engine 69mm bore x 65.5mm stroke model replacing the earlier version Speed Twin, and embodying a new conception of comfortable, clean and modern motorcycling," TriCor's copywriter wrote of the Speed Twin. "Provides high performance with turbine-like smoothness and exceptional mechanical silence with extremely easy starting and proven reliability."

Of the bathtub bodywork, TriCor said, "The enclosed streamlined rear seat sets a new standard of cleanliness for rider and passenger alike. Extremely generous front fender is employed and the whole machine is of modern advanced design, beautiful appearance, low comfortable seating position, most economical to operate and easy to keep clean. This fine new Triumph model looks to the future and will appeal not only to experienced motorcyclists but to newcomers to the fun and economy of motorcycling."






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