The Tale of the Triumph 500cc Racer that went to the Belgian GP Part 1

Dommie Nator

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A true tale of the Triumph 500cc racer that went to the Belgium GP and finished second to the mighty MV Agusta.
By Les Williams.


One day a long time ago in the year of '69 at the humble Triumph motorcycle factory Mr Hele, who was a genius and a gentleman and also the boss of the trying out and gofaster shop, asked two of the mechanics named Arthur and Jack if they would mind making two racing motorbikes for our Percy. Now in those days Percy was the tryer out and gofast person and a very fast racer man, his riding boots had a lot of sticky tape holding them together, proof that he was a very fast corner man and also that he did not have a lot of shiny pennies. Arthur and Jack set to work with great gusto and after many loud engine noises from the Heenan and Froude device, then much work with the hammers and things and after a few days hard work they blew the tyres up to reveal two beautiful racing motorbikes. Number one racer was made from a single front downtube but the tubes and things were made from the magic not so heavy metal, brought over to the works by “Ken the Frame” all the way from the place called Brum, a number five mark was bestowed on to the headstock, because as Arthur said to Jack he may have to find the frame again in thirty long years or so.


Two special, very shiny light metal oil tanks fitted down low in front of the engine, a clever idea of the nice Mr Hele. Number two racer was made with a very special twin downtube frame, put together in that place called Brum by the most clever Ken the Frame. No mark was bestowed on this frame so Arthur decided to name it “Enfield”, a central oil tank was made to keep the slippery stuff in.


Both racers had the same go very fast engines, made by Jack in between his teabreaks and the odd smoke or two to reflect on how much horse manure would be left on the floor of the loud noise shop after testing the said engines. There was a lot.

Now in those days Mr Hopwood lived upstairs in a big shiny office with wood panelling, a deep pile carpet, a large oak desk and chairs with leather seats for his minions to sit on when he wanted to shout at them. Also he had a pretty desk maiden to bring him tea and bickies all day long. Now in the time taken to tell you about the office and things Mr Hele had rushed up the stairs and stepped into the big shiny place without knocking, he could do this because really they were both very good friends. However Mr Hopwood was in a rather vexed mood that morning, his Rover automobile had been seen off by a BSA testerman on a proddy race bike on his journey to the factory, so perhaps he did not quite cotton on where when Mr Hele asked about the gofaster test in the land of the belgiums, he looked down at Hele but said they could go if Mr Percy would bring him something nice back, also they could take the Transit to bring it back in, so that was that.

On the day after next the trusty Transit was made ready with an oily rag service and the kipper smell removed, after being in the Isle of Man for the TT races you see. Then the two beautiful racers were loaded carefully, plus a couple of hammers and tool things, a change of underwear, a few sandwiches and a big flask of tea, then Arthur, Jack and Percy were away. After a pleasant sea trip landing in Belgium and after our Percy had bribed the borderman with a pile of Triumph stickers and things all they had to do then was to find Spa, so with Jack doing the the map work they got to the circuit in half an hour or so. Arriving at the circuit this “Ragbag Team” were allocated the same pit area as the mighty MV Agusta team, at first the MV mechanics could not believe the tatty Transit entering the pit of the great and mighty and duly refused entry. The order of the day became fisticuffs and things, so Arthur who is quite large showed the smallest Italian his fist and the trusty van, which I might add was the mobile hotel, cookhouse, workshop and perhaps with a bit of luck a resting place for a passing maiden, was in. The MV mechanics moved their beloved machines as far as possible from this new outfit worried they might catch oil leaks and things.

In due course practise happened and our Percy taking out in turn the two racers to test the best for gofast and also for the wibble wobbles, making very fast times on both and at the end of a glorious day Percy was on the front of the grid along with the person called “Ago” After this the MV team became very nice and started offering round the pasta and vino and things, moving closer to the Triumphs for a better looksee.
TBC.
 
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Love the writing style... eagerly awaiting next 'bit' thank you....

(Not exactly sure what a: 'Triumph' is, mind you)
 
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Soon, if there's "Lockdown reading interest"
I worked as part of a dirt race car pit crew for a season. The real stories and drama surrounding the racing were great. To say nothing of watching a race where someone taps another racer into the wall, and then seeing the ensueing fist fight in the pits after the race is finished...
 
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My Pop's raced dirt track back in the days after WWII and I heard some cool stories, I still have a couple of programs from some of the races he was in. :)
 
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My 500cc short stroke Triton was built out of parts which were brought to Australia by Baldo Meli - (Paddy). He used to work in the Triumph factory and was involved in making the first Bonneville head. He got a 12th on the IOM in about 1948. The Triton was built with all the theories of the 1950s. It was just a nasty piece of shit. I raced it for 12 years and it taught me everything I know. The stroke was 63mm and the motor was built out of 650 parts. The Percy Tait 500 would not have been a nice bike to race. And a Paton 500 would also probably give the rider a hard time. A Norton Manx is a much better way to go - much less anxiety.
 
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If you were going to build a replica of the Percy Tait 500cc Triumph, you need to remember that Percy Tait was not an ordinary rider. Both Percy Tait and Geoff Duke spent WW2 in the British Army motorcycle corps. I've got an article about Percy in a magazine. He used to ride across snow-covered roads extremely quickly. When asked, he simply said 'you don't tense-up'. If you wanted to build the Triumph, replica, you would need to find a 1973 T100 motor which has the real timing side bearing in the crankcases, and also a six-speed gearbox. I saw one of those motors at a swap meet years ago - the bike was $3000 when that was a lot of money, so I did not buy it.
 
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Percy Tait was a yokel. Mike Hailwood had a rich father. It makes a difference.
 
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