The current trend of transforming every conceivable motorcycle, from a 50cc Honda monkey bike to a Harley Road King into a show quality cafe racer has moved far away from the original cafe racer concept of the 1960s and the purpose for which they were created. Not that we are complaining! There are many stunning and beautiful cafe racer interpretations being unveiled every day, built from the most unlikely motorcycles. As I have stated before; when an ugly duckling well on its way to being ignored by history, forgotten and scrapped is transformed into a swan it adds value to that motorcycle and ensures its continued existence. This article, however, is written to serve as a reminder of the original purpose of building a cafe racer back in the day….speed, speed and more speed!
Racing from cafe to cafe on London’s newly completed highways in the 1960s is what gave rise to the original cafe racers. British motorcycles were tuned and modified for maximum performance. The motorcycles were cosmetically customised to replicate the racing motorcycles of the era which also increased performance. The riders were young and working class which meant these were generally low budget motorcycles. Owners had to make do with what they could afford, mixing and matching components from various makes and models of Brit bikes to try and achieve the best combination for maximum performance and bragging rights. The most radical of these cafe racers were the hybrids built by installing the engine from one manufacturer into the frame from another manufacturer. Some combinations were more successful than others. The most popular of these hybrids was the Triton, our featured motorcycle.
Triton was a mythological Greek god but in British classic motorcycle terms a Triton is considered by many to be the ultimate cafe racer of the 1960s and 1970s. The Triton motorcycle has itself also become an icon of legendary proportions. The name is a combination of Triumph and Norton. A Triumph parallel twin engine was installed into a Norton “Featherbed” frame. This frame design had been commissioned by Norton in 1949 to be used for their 1950 Isle of Man racing machines. Racing success was immediate with this new frame. After test riding a Norton racing motorcycle with the new frame, successful racer Harold Daniell said it was like riding on a featherbed compared with the previous frame design. The name stuck. Although on paper the Norton 650cc engine had slightly more horsepower than the Triumph Bonneville T120’s 650cc engine, the reliability and strength of the Bonnie engine compared to the Norton engine made the Triumph engine the favoured choice. Over revving a Norton destroyed the engine. The Triumph engine also vibrated less than the Norton’s.
Our featured Triton is one of the finest examples you are ever likely to see or hear. It is owned by Rob, who also owns the BMW R69S that we featured. This motorcycle was built as a historic track racing motorcycle and was never originally intended for road use. The engine started out as a pre-unit 650cc Bonneville engine. The Triumph engine and gearbox were separate until 1963, after which they were built as one unit. Peter Moody the renowned classic Triumph engine expert, even though it is only his hobby, built the engine to racing spec. Amongst other modifications he installed a Morgo 750cc kit. These high performance kits have been in production since 1969 and include new improved barrels, pistons and rings. The aluminium conrods were imported from Steve Campbell of Thunder Engineering in England. The Triumph four speed gearbox was retained. The rest of the motorcycle was built by Rob Godwin from Performance Welding. He used a pre-1960 wideline Norton Featherbed frame. As Rob intended racing this Triton, every bit of extra weight was shaved off the motorcycle. Even the stainless steel bolts used throughout this Triton have been drilled in the centre to lose weight. The hand controls and rearsets as well as the exact replica Norton Manx seat were purchased from British Triton specialists Unity Equipe. They also supplied the beautifully styled exhaust headers onto which Rob installed the stainless steel megaphones which he had made. Dellorto carburetors feed the fuel mixture to the engine. When completed, without lighting and only a rev counter fitted, the Triton weighed a mere 145kg. No shortcuts were taken with this build. The wheels’ hubs are off a later model Triumph which had conical hubs, modified by Rob to look like Norton hubs. The Akront rims are aluminium. Period correct but vastly better than original Hagon rear shocks were fitted.
The Triumph ventilated drum brake is always a looker, even in black. The fenders are aluminium and specially made for Nortons. The front forks are the Norton Roadholders, probably the best of their era. Rob remade the fork shrouds from aluminium to reduce weight even further. The list of performance modifications is endless on this motorcycle.
Unfortunately this Triton never got to race. Rob also races a Yamaha which has the gear selector on the left hand side, whilst the Triton’s is on the right. Getting confused whilst racing could be lethal. The gear selector on the Triton could not be moved to the left side and so for safety sake the Triton was not raced. The Triton was then sold in racing trim by Rob Godwin to its current owner, another Rob. He set about making it more street legal by installing a Bonneville light on his own brackets and a tail light. He raised the headlight similarly to what the style was in the 1960s. Rob also installed the new gauges on brackets that he fabricated. The biggest single modification that he made was to replace the original steel tank with a carbon fibre replica which he had made and painted so that you would never know the difference! Even less weight!
Building a hybrid cafe racer is not easy. Fitting and aligning all the mismatched components to form a functional motorcycle is skilled work. I would not know where to start. Rob Godwin took this Triton to a new level. He is currently developing a range of Harley Sportster cafe racer components including rearsets. Contact Rob at 011 425 4177 to find out more information. The Triton is now one of the favourites in its new owner Rob’s incredible collection of motorcycles. I want this motorcycle so badly that I am battling to sleep at night!