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.”
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.
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.”