Friday, January 1, 2010

Car Buddy's '66 Triumph

The following is a story sent to me by a Suede and Chrome reader, car buddy, and fellow hubhead: Rob Riley. Rob and I got to know each other on the "Hub", the H.A.M.B., and myspace through our shared interest in cars. We later met face-to-face down in Nashville, Indiana at the Hotrods and Hillbillies Show hosted by the Gravel Draggers Car Club. Rob has a sweet homebuilt Pontiac that has been featured a few years ago on this website.

I'd sent Rob an email a few weeks ago and asked him if he had any pictures and/or story of projects that he would be willing to send me. The months of January and February are a little slow when it comes to hotrods in the Midwest. I knew Rob builds some pretty cool custom models, and thought it might be cool to feature some of them during the month of January. Well, what I received in the following days was absolutely awesome. Several cool custom models with the stories behind them, however, I wasn't prepared for the story I'm posting this morning.

Rob had told me that he owned a 1966 Triumph (which perked my interest because my first memories of a motorcycle are of the Triumph my father owned when I was a small child.) I encouraged Rob to send me some pictures and back story on the bike, and I was floored when I received the following. Hope Suede and Chrome readers enjoy the pictures and story as much as I did!

Instead of editting it into some sort of feature story, I thought it would be best just to leave it in Rob's own words. Thanks Brother for sharing your pictures and amazing story!

"It's a 1966 Triumph Bonneville, 650 c.c.

When I was about 5 years old. my dad's cousin Tom bought this motorcycle (this was in 1975). Every time he would ride this bike to our house, I would sit on it and pretend to ride it. I loved this bike from the minute I saw it, even at 5 years old. At the time it had ape hanger handle bars on it, drag pipes, the gas tank was black, and it had the wrong seat on it.

Fast forward about 6 years to 1981 or so. I was 11 years old now, and Tom still had this bike. It was starting to show it's age, and he didn't ride it that much anymore. He would still ride it to our house on occasion and I still drooled over it. I guess you could say that I was seeing a diamond in the rough, and I loved the way this bike sounded. It was different from all the Hondas and Harleys that were around. It was a Triumph and it had it's own unique sound and look to it.

In December, 1981 Tom decided to go on a snowmobile trip to Michigan with some of his friends. 1/2 way into the trip, Tom was in an accident on the snowmobile and he was killed.

Toms mother (my dad's aunt) always knew that I loved his motorcycle, so she gave it to me. I was 12 years old, and the proud owner of a 66 Triumph, but it wasn't the same due to the circumstances as to how I ended up with the bike. I let the bike sit for about 10 years before I decided to do anything with it.

Now it's the spring around 1993, and something urged me to drag the old Triumph out of my dads shed. I was married by now and I needed a project that wouldn't break the bank...and the Triumph was the perfect subject.

The first thing I did was to get rid of the ape hangers, and put on a set of straight drag bars.

I pulled the motor and transmission out and re-painted the frame, While the motor was out, I checked it all out and everything looked good internally. I had to replace some gaskets because they had dry rotted, but other than that I didn't do anything else to the motor internally. I rebuilt the ancient amal mono-bloc carbs., put on new fuel lines, plugs and wires. I had to flush out the gas tank and clean it because it had gas in it while it was stored away. With the tank off, I figured I might as well paint it because the old black laquer paintjob was cracked and chipped. I stripped the tank down to bare metal and found that the original holes for the triumph badges had been welded closed. so, I smoothed the welds out and painted the tank in black laquer again. I put it all back together and rode it this way for two summers.

The following winter, I decided to have a friend of mine re-paint the tank because I had spilled some gas on the tank, and it started to eat away at the black paintjob. My friend Frank Slovnik painted the tank for me and he used Plymouth Prowler purple with a little black mixed in it. It was an ok color, but it made the tank look like a plumb. I rode it like that for awhile, but I wasn't 100% happy with it. I also added a new set of drag pipes to it at this time, and the correct Triumph seat. I rode the bike on and off for the next couple of years.

On the week of thanksgiving, 1998, I was at my parents house visiting. A friend of my dads was there, and his name Was Tommy Taylor. He and my dad grew up together, and my dad taught Tommy how to paint when they were kids in the 50's, Tommy was a long time family friend and I grew up hanging around his paint shop. I got to see all of the custom cars and hot rods that he was painting and building. Tommy had a natural talent for painting, and he made a career out of it. He painted several custom magazine cars and everyone in our home town of Waukegan Il. wanted him to paint their cars. Tommy had the disease known as gigantism and he was a huge man. His dr. reccomended that he move to a warmer climate and get away from the harsh Illinois winters. So Tommy moved to El Cajon California around 1982-83 I think. So, he came to Illinois to visit my parents on that week of Thanksgiving in 1998. At this time, Tommy had landed a gig building and painting custom show bikes for Yamaha. This was for the new v-star line, and they wanted several customs built for shows. He also had his own Paint shop where he would do custom paint jobs on custom hot rods, trucks, motorycles and the occasional wave runner or airplane.

I had not seen Tommy in a long time, so when I saw him at my parents house, I told him about the Triumph. He knew the bike because he knew my dads cousin Tom. We talked for awhile, and then he told me to send the gas tank to him in California and he would paint it for me.

I told him that I would pull the tank off and send it to him after the new year.

Christmas day, 1998 my parents come to my house for Christmas. My dad walks in with a box and I figured that it was a Christmas present for my 3 year old daughter, He told me that it was for me, and that I needed to open it right away. I tore the box open, and in that box was the most beautiful, wildly painted gas tank I had ever seen in my life! Tommy went back to California and went through some of his stuff, and he found a Triumph gas tank.

He decided to paint that tank and send it to me rather than having me send my original tank to him.

Back again to when I was a kid for a minute. In the early 70's Tommy painted a wild 40 Chevy sedan that belonged to another one of my dad's friends. His name was Sam Gregory. This 40 chevy was the wildest painted car I had ever seen at the time. (this was around 1973-74 maybe and the car wore this paintjob up until about 1994-95).

I LOVED that car, I loved the paintjob that Tommy did to it, and Tommy remembered that when he painted the tank for my Triumph. Sam Gregory died around 1997 maybe..I can't remember exactly. His 40 chevy was in the middle of being re-done when he passed away. Tommy was the guy painting the 40 chevy again and my dad helped finish the car. Once the 40 chevy was finished, raffle tickets were sold and the car went to the person holding the winning ticket. The $$ went to Sams wife, and the car ended up in Minnesota last I heard.

So the tank that you see on my bike now is the tank that Tommy painted.

If you look at the paint job that was on Sams 40 chevy in the 70's, and then look at the paint job on my tank, you will see that they are very similar. Tommy did this for a reason, and I will never forget it. Tommy passed away in April 1999, and this gas tank is the last paint job that he ever did.

This is a pic. of Sams 40 chevy from the early 70's. this pic is a scan from a Hot Rod show world magazine.

here's the 40 chevy after it was re-done.

here's my motorcycle as it looks today."

All I can say is..."WOW"! Thanks for sharing your pictures and the background behind your awesome Triumph Rob!

If any other Suede and Chrome reader would like to share pictures and background stories of their cars, motorcycles, projects, models, etc..., I'd love to review them and share them with Suede and Chrome readers. Just drop me an email at

Thanks again Rob! On Monday, January 5th, I'll start posting some of the other kool stuff Rob has sent my way. Come back again to see some cool custom models that Rob has built!