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MD Spotlight: 1957 Triumph TR5/R

Jonnie Green and his amazing TR5/R.

Smiths clocks show the bike's original mileage—and unrestored conditon.

At an event like the Quail Lodge Motorcycle Gathering, held every year at the swanky Carmel Valley, California golf resort, you see a lot of very expensive stuff. The collected dream machines of platoons of millionaires. Motorcycles that have been lovingly stripped to the tiniest components and then rebuilt by experts to be better than new, spotless examples of the finest two-wheeled engineering humanity can produce.

Frankly, I can see how one may begin to get a little jaded, which explains why the judging at Concours events seems so harsh. The judges must get fatigued by all the near-perfection…cracked Bakelite? And a faded registration sticker? How dare you besmirch these hallowed greens with your trash! You seen one immaculately restored Series C, you seen ‘em all.

That’s why I was drawn to a scuffed and battered old Triumph owned by a fast-talking Brit named Jonnie Green. Green has a little side business, Ton-Up Classics, selling vintage motorcycle parts and memorabilia, so one day in 2004 an estate-auction outfit called him up—would he be interested in looking at a pair of old Triumphs and a garage full of old motorcycle stuff in San Diego? Jonnie hopped into his ’59 El Camino and drove down from L.A. to pick everything up—”I didn’t know what I had until I got home.”

Number on engine block indicates this bike was the 40th TR5/R out of 104 built that year.

What he got, along with a 1948 Tiger 100, was a 1957 TR5/R, a very special and rare bike indeed. Basically a street-legal factory roadracer, 104 TR5s were plucked from the assembly line and rolled into Triumph’s racing department. There, the motors were blueprinted (Triumph referred to its race-prepped engines as “Red Seal”) and fitted with a long list of works hop-up parts—dual race carbs, race-spec cams and valve springs, tappets, valves, pistons, exhaust, gearbox, clutch, quick-detach lighting and other parts that are probably impossible to find today. The chassis was also upgraded with “the latest type non-fade rear suspension units,” rearset footpegs, air-scoop-equipped front brake and even a lightweight alloy front fender.

Original Johnson Motors brochure lists all the trick bits you get with the '57 TR5/R.

The original owner, a guy named Shorty Dufree, according to Green, didn’t race the bike. But he did ride the pee out of it—Jonnie pointed out the scrapes on the exhaust headers—and kept it in almost-stock condition (he changed the fuel taps) until he stopped paying to re-register it in 1983. A serious connoisseur, he may have been the only owner of a ’57 TR5/R to not race the machine after paying $959 for it, which means it’s probably the only example in original condition. Green says he’s found 7 or so other owners around the world, but they only have the original frame and engine. This bike—number 40—is unrestored, virtually all original, and incredibly, still running fine: Jonnie rode it 120 miles the day before the Quail Lodge event.

The story of this TR5/R is what makes it special. Anybody (or at least any wealthy person) can order up a replica or perfectly restored example of a rare or significant motorcycle, but it won’t have the story or the historic glow of a bike like Green’s. “I love restored bikes, but I keep the original unrestored bikes. I’m very lucky; it just came my way. Some things are meant to be in life.”

Insurance card and original black-on-yellow '56 license plate. When the state switched to yellow-on-black plates in the early '60s, the bike's original owner got sequential plates for his two Triumphs, which Jonnie still has.

10 Comments

  1. wctriumph says:

    Triumph always did build the best and most beautiful motorcycles.

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  2. Dean says:

    The bikes are cool, but the stories behind them are sometimes better! It is great to see he still rides the bike, but I would love to hear some of the original owners’ stories of “riding the pee out of it”!!

    I still have an early 70′s Kawasaki S2. The smallest of the famed three cylinder two-stroke bikes, but I don’t care about the size. It was my dad’s bike for a few years until he realized he was a bit too big for that little 350. Never mind when my mom came with for a ride! But when my two older brothers and I started street riding, that was our first bike. My oldest brother even took it on a motocross track (he used to race) and said those street tires would throw one helluva roost! He also got ticketed for wheelies once… It would foul plugs if you rode too slow. It was noisy, buzzy, and smoky if you rode too fast. But the peaky power came on just before redline, and felt like it would pull your arms out of the socket! Now, we just call that “good acceleration”! It is orange, with yellow stripes that scream 70′s! It’s not in horrible shape since it was put away in a shed in the 80′s with a half tank of gas, and old oil, when I got my first “real” bike. But my family never got rid of much, so when we found it, it was mine again! It will run someday, and I will enjoy it thoroughly!

    Good stories and memories indeed. Isn’t that half the reason to ride in the first place?

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    • zuki says:

      Hi Dean, enjoyed your story. Don’t forget about the 250 S1… that was actually the smallest of the Kawasaki triples… :)

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      • zuki says:

        Btw – I still have my Dad’s ’72 H2 that he bought new! Pristine with only 3,300 original miles but I still take it out for rides to keep it fresh. He had a red ’67 Suzuki TC250 X-6 scrambler that he purchased new before the H2.

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  3. Jim W. says:

    Gee…I can remember walking into Johnson Motors in Pasadena and looking at these beauties…along with other assorted Brit bikes…..

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  4. Provalogna says:

    Enjoyed this concours (pronounced con-KOORRR) very much a few years ago, great weather, great riding down from San Francisco.

    Dirt track legend Mert Lawill was there selling clothing and stuff in his booth. He signed the T-Shirt my buddy purchased. My favorite current T-Shirt is the one I bought at the show.

    Great barbecue, etc. You gotta see this show, at least once.

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  5. Rich says:

    Wow – this is amazing. How many miles are on the odometer? I cannot read the characters.

    Buy of the century?

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