Optical illusion Triumph T120/140 Bonneville

With this cleverly modified Meriden-made Bonneville twin, what you see is not what you are really seeing…

The illusionists’ art has been in the news recently, when well-known magician David Copperfield was taken to court after one of the punters at his show chosen from the audience to participate in a disappearing/reappearing trick, fell and hurt himself as he was hustled through the backstage corridors of a theatre in Las Vegas, the plan being the audience member (and the 17 other volunteers) would ‘reappear’ as the back of the auditorium for Copperfield to take the applause.


As part of the court case, the illusionist had to reveal how the trick was performed, but Gerry Cain – the owner of this visually-tricking Triumph – is quite happy to discuss how he’s performed his own illusion and his motivations for doing so.

This isn’t the only Triumph to have been given a makeover – there was a famous Triumph story from around 1970, of a different beauty kit. American buyers (who the men at Meriden had high hopes would be falling over themselves for the new triple) were somewhat ‘cold’ about Ogle’s avant garde styling for the recently introduced Trident, and the US distributors wanted a solution. Step forward the ‘beauty kit’ – basically a load of bits to make the breadbin tank bedecked and Raygun silencered Trident look like the Bonneville and TR6 which the American buying public so loved…

The benefit of hindsight (supported by the fact the Trident basically morphed into looking like a three cylinder Bonnie) says that, probably, the Trident’s ‘cutting edge’ styling would have been better off avoided, in favour of a more familiar silhouette, but the people might have accused Triumph of conservative ‘same old, same old’ so the company couldn’t really win. But what did happen was that later versions of the T150/T160 Triumph Trident began to look a lot more like the circa 1970 Bonneville, which itself was clearly recognisable as being from the same line of Bonnevilles which arguably began in 1960, with the first twin front downtube frame, the replacement for the 1959 launch season Bonneville’s single downtube version – visually the removal of Triumph’s first year Bonneville nacelle did more to change the visuals (from 1950s to 1960s in an instant) than the frame swap.


Gerry decided to follow his own course of action and make his T140 look as he fancied – which was as that first of the quickly-detachable headlight Bonnevilles.

A man employed in the printing business, he overlaid a picture of a 1960-62 era pre-unit T120 onto a photograph of a T140, like the one he had in his garage. From there he noted and plotted how and where everything fell, and set about making a plan so that his T140 was adapted to carry what was, effectively, the T120 silhouette.

Once he’d decided what needed doing, it was to time to make it reality in metal… and glass fibre – which was the product used to make the ‘oil tank’ (the T140 oil is carried in its frame) – and toolbox, basically just copies of those found on the T120. The rear subframe was significantly modified (and shortened too) while proper pattern T120 mudguards were carefully altered to fit.


The petrol tank was crafted from a proper T120 one, with the bottom and middle cut out and reshaped to go over the T140’s frame. A T120 seat was also altered so that it fitted, which with the handlebars and the angle of the clocks, meant that the T120 silhouette which Gerry was pursuing was followed carefully and closely.


Read the full story in The Classic MotorCycle August 2018


Enjoy more The Classic MotorCycle reading in the monthly magazine. Click here to subscribe.