British to the last
1982 Triumph Bonneville T140 ES
Years produced: 1980-1983
Claimed power: 50hp @ 7,000rpm
Top speed: 100mph
Engine: 744cc OHV, air-cooled parallel twin
Weight (dry): 194.6kg (429lbs)
MPG: 35mpg (avg.)
Price then: $3,295
Price now: $3,000 - $5,000
1982: It was the year of the Falklands’ War, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the death of John Belushi. It was also when, in March, Bill Sarjeant’s Triumph Bonneville T140 ES rolled off the production line at Meriden and made its way, Bill reckons, to British Motorcycles on Fraser Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. From there, its story is a little vague until restorer par excellence Richard Brown in Victoria, British Columbia, bought it.
A little history
In 1975, the British motorcycle industry was pronounced officially deceased when Norton Villiers Triumph, the UK’s sole-surviving mass-producer, pulled the plug on its Commando and Trident range at the end of the model year. And that should have been that.
The huge BSA-Triumph conglomerate had foundered over the failed introduction of its 1971 model range and from increasingly intense competition in the U.S. — its biggest market by far. In 1972, Norton Villiers owner Dennis Poore bought the failed company and its two main manufacturing facilities (the BSA plant at Small Heath and the Triumph Meriden factory), naming the new company Norton Villiers Triumph (NVT). Poore planned to move all Triumph production to Small Heath and close Meriden, and announced his intentions in 1973.
The Meriden workforce had other ideas. They closed the factory gates, locking themselves in. Supported by other trade unions, the workers’ cooperative was determined to keep building Bonnevilles and produced a small number of bikes from their parts inventory. But no new supplies were forthcoming, and it was surely just a matter of time before the cooperative failed, too. When NVT shut down in 1975, it appeared the coffin was nailed shut.
But a change of national government ushered in a Labor administration, which decided the Meriden cooperative could become a bold, new experiment in socialist “enterprise.” Industry Minister Tony Benn persuaded his government to fund the workers’ cooperative. Suppliers were also encouraged to support the “venture,” and Bonnevilles were soon once again rolling out of Meriden, albeit in smaller numbers. The cooperative actually struggled on for another nine years, the last Meriden Bonneville being built in 1984. By that time, Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, and there was emphatically no more government money.
In that year, a young property developer named John Bloor bought the Meriden site and flattened the factory to build a housing subdivision. At the same time, he acquired rights to the Triumph brand and licensed Les Harris’ Racing Spares Co. in Devon to continue building Bonnevilles until 1988.
It’s not widely known that new Triumph motorcycles were available in every peacetime model year from 1902 to the present — except for two: 1989 and 1990.
The Co-op Triumph Bonneville
As well as dealing with restarting production, the newly-formed Meriden Workers’ Cooperative had to design a crossover gear linkage for 1975 to meet U.S. Department of Transportation requirements for a left side shift and right side rear brake pedal. A rear disc brake arrived in 1976. 1977 saw the production of 2,400 limited-edition Silver Jubilee models (celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s 25-year reign) with special paint and trim but otherwise essentially to 1976 specifications. But real change came in 1978, which heralded a new cylinder head with parallel intake ports and Mk2 Amal carburetors. Electronic ignition was introduced in 1979, the same year the T140D Bonneville Special with Lester cast alloy wheels and a siamesed exhaust was introduced.
The big news for 1980 was — finally — an electric starter, fitted at the rear of the timing chest where the magneto had lived on the original 1959 Bonnie. The new models were the Triumph Bonneville T140 ES, T140EX Executive (with full hard luggage) and the T140LE Royal of 1981, celebrating the marriage of Charles and Diana. Shown in 1982 was a new 8-valve cylinder head, subsequently fitted to the 1983 TSX. Also in 1983, the TSS appeared with a rubber-mounted engine. Along the way, Bing CV carburetors had replaced Amals on the T140E models.
But sales, though reasonably strong in the late 1970s, had seriously tailed off, and by 1984 the cooperative was insolvent. Production ceased, and the manufacturing rights were sold to John Bloor. The first Bloor-licensed Harris Bonnevilles, still badged as Triumphs, arrived in 1985 with Marzocchi forks, Brembo brakes and Bosch electrics.
Bloor, however, had other, bigger plans for the Triumph name. Work on a new Triumph factory in Hinckley, Leicestershire, started in the mid-1980s, and a new Triumph range of liquid-cooled, multi-cylinder bikes was announced in 1990. Thanks to Bloor, the Triumph story is still being written.
Bill Sarjeant’s 1982 Triumph Bonneville T140 ES
After he got it, Richard Brown completely stripped and rebuilt the bike to concours standard as a present for his wife, who, unfortunately, found the Bonneville’s seat just too tall. Rick sold the bike, but the new owner didn’t keep it long, either. West Vancouver resident Bill Sarjeant found it on the www.robinsclassicbikes.com consignment website. Proprietor Robin Mullett facilitated negotiations for the purchase — which took a year and a half! “In the end we worked out a deal,” says Bill. “Robin even delivered it right to my door.”
Bill thinks his bike may have started life as a Bonneville Executive with factory fairing and full hard luggage. He’s tracked down another 1982 Bonnie in BC that is only five numbers away from his own bike, and it’s an Executive for sure. Although there’s no longer any way of telling, it seems likely the two bikes were built at the same time and shipped together: Bill remembers seeing a pair of Bonneville T140LE Executives at British Motorcycles in the early 1980s. “They sat for two or three years,” Bill recalls. “They wouldn’t sell — they were a bit of an oddity at the time.”
In the end, one was sold locally, complete with its luggage, and the other went to Calgary as a Triumph Bonneville T140 ES, without the touring equipment. “I have a feeling that my bike may have been the Calgary one,” says Bill. “I don’t think there were that many shipped in.”
Why a Bonneville, and why that bike? “I bought it before the new (Hinckley) Bonneville came out,” says Bill. “It still had the vintage look, but it was relatively modern. I grew up in Montreal. There were a lot more BSAs and Triumphs than Nortons. I sort of had a leaning toward Triumph because of the look and the sound.
“The power is quite good. It’s a comfortable bike — you can actually cruise all day on it and not end up in traction. What I like about it most is the look: the chrome, the wheels; it’s very tastefully done. I like the wide bars. Everything works so well on it and always has. It’s never been a bike that I’ve had a breakdown on; it’s never left me at the side of the road.”
The only real issue Bill has had with the bike has been setting up the Bing carburetors. Owning the Bonneville T140 ES was the end of a long hiatus from riding for Bill, so he wasn’t quite sure what to expect. “When I first bought it, it ran well, but I never pushed it,” he recalls. “I was returning to motorcycling after about 35 years. For the first couple of years it ran great, then it started bogging above 4,000rpm.”
Bill suspects it may have been re-jetted to suit the shorty mufflers that were on the Bonnie when he bought it. Now fitted with the correct “cigar” pipes, the mixture seems to be too rich. Bill plans to send the carbs to “Doctor Bing” at the Bing Carburetor Agency in Council Grove, Kan. “I had a wonderful response from him,” says Bill. “He sent me a three-page checklist, ‘here’s what to do before you send them to me.’”
Bill also plans to remove and refit the cylinder head to fix a persistent oil leak from one of the pushrod tubes — a known problem area on Triumph twins, but fixable with the correct assembly procedure. A couple of paint blemishes will also get repaired. “Other than that, I’m just going to keep the bike the way it is and ride it,” he says. “I’ll never sell it. I’m going to bequeath it!” MC