Azad’s Triumph Bonneville: reimagined British scrambler is California cool
On Any Sunday is arguably the greatest movie documentary ever made about motorcycles. Released in 1971, it was hugely influential in changing negative perceptions of two-wheelers, from antisocials in the Brando image of the 1950s to pop-culture heroes millions wanted to emulate.
Decades later, the bikes and fashions may have dated, yet this movie is still must-see viewing. That’s thanks largely to the immortal star factor of Hollywood icon Steve McQueen (who assisted with production and appears on dirt-bikes throughout the film) and the cinematic artistry of its producer, director and narrator Bruce Brown.
One of many admirers of Brown and McQueen (who were also avid Triumph fans) is Shannons Club member Azad Sellars, who owns this wonderful interpretation of Triumph’s iconic T140 Bonneville that draws inspiration from the Californian desert racers of the 1960s.
This style of scrambler featured not only in On Any Sunday but also Brown’s first two-wheeled doco released several years before titled Hare and Hound Classic, which focused on an event of the same name in which hundreds of riders sped across California’s vast Mohave Desert at insane speeds in pursuit of victory.
They were typically stripped-down road bikes, often 650cc or larger, fitted with knobbly tyres, engine skid-plates and high exhaust pipes, expected to withstand merciless punishment over rough terrain. Triumphs were a popular choice, long before Japan’s global dirt-bike dominance.
“I’d always watched my dad do similar stuff,” Azad says in explaining where his life-long love of motorcycles and his inspiration for this build came from. “Dad lived up in the bush so he would often take old road bikes and turn them into paddock-bashers with knobby tyres and all, so that was certainly one element. The other is that whole Californian desert and beach scene - it’s just super cool.”
Azad decided that the 1973 T140 Triumph Bonneville he’d owned for about a decade would be the perfect starting point for a custom build that embraced those iconic Californian ‘desert sleds’ but with just enough road-legal hardware to be a daily rider.
The T140 released in 1973 was a logical evolution of the original T120 launched more than a decade before. It was essentially the same bike but with the thumping 650cc air-cooled parallel-twin bored out to 744cc, producing 49bhp (37kW). This was paired with a five-speed gearbox and its oil-filled twin-cradle frame, with telescopic forks and coil-over rear shocks, featured front disc and rear drum brakes.
To turn Azad’s California dreaming into reality, he approached Tom Gilroy and his team at Purpose Built Moto on Queensland’s Gold Coast, just across the border from Azad’s northern NSW home in Tweed Heads. Although vintage Triumphs aren’t usually on PBM’s bike-building menu, Tom shared Azad’s vision of what he wanted to achieve and, as these images attest, the result is a stunning success.
Given that Azad’s Bonneville had been gathering dust for years in storage, it was no longer in running order. It required a full rebuild to bring it back to life and that’s exactly what PBM did. Apart from the engine, frame and fuel tank, everything on this bike has been modified.
The forks and front brake were stripped, rebuilt, refinished and equipped with a PBM-fabricated mudguard and bracket assembly, which pays homage to the Triumph’s original design but is shorter in keeping with the minimalist desert sled theme.
The rear-end was also rebuilt with a new PBM mudguard, drum-brake overhaul and replacement of the original coil-over shocks with fresh aftermarket units that are 20mm longer, providing more wheel travel which is also consistent with its desert-racing heritage.
The chunky wheels and tyres are a key component in this bike’s retro-appeal, comprising new ‘valanced’ rims laced to the original Bonneville hubs and wearing Pirelli trials-style tyres, which provide good all-round handling and durability.
After a cautionary strip-down, PBM discovered that the original engine was in good health. So, it was reassembled with fresh gaskets, rebuilt Amal carbs (now equipped with external DNA air filters) and a new Boyer ignition, which together ensure it starts first or second kick every time. The big crankcase side-castings were also polished to a mirror finish.
Another signature vintage scrambler component is a single-sided exhaust system, sitting up high and tucked in tight, well out of harm’s way. PBM did a masterful job with its custom-made stainless-steel twin-system, which incorporates internal baffles to keep a lid on noise levels. Azad loves the exhaust note.
“The T140 was my first British bike and I remember the first time I kicked it over, I immediately fell in love with its big, thumping sound. Tom’s pipes give it more of a crackle and it sounds amazing. As soon as you start it up, pretty much anyone within 15 metres turns around and looks to see what it is because it sounds quite aggressive.”
The original Bonneville fuel tank is another highlight, resplendent in a tasteful silver and white paint scheme by Justin at Popbang Classics, which visually links the tank to PBM’s custom-made side-covers that fill voids in the frame left by the redundant original air-box.
Azad sits comfortably in a new seat, finished in a bespoke leather cover stitched to perfection by Jamason at Timeless Auto Trimming. The handlebars are the original Bonneville items equipped with new vintage-style grips and controls.
We also love the minimalist instruments, with no tacho and the speedo body neatly grafted into the headlight bucket, along with three warning lights. PBM’s discreet LED brake-light, rear numberplate light/plate-holder and front/rear indicators make it legal for road use, without detracting from the stripped-back persona.
Although it’s more than half a century old, Azad rides his Bonneville scrambler to work each day and ventures off the bitumen on occasions to enjoy its all-terrain versatility.
With its plush seat, increased suspension travel and generous sidewall compliance courtesy of the Pirelli rubber, he says it’s so comfortable he can ride all day without a problem and never ceases to be amazed by its performance.
“It’s slower off the mark than a lot of bikes these days, but it’s certainly not lacking in power and is a lot of fun,” he assures.
“My mates ride either big Harleys or 1000cc road bikes. We often do two-day rides together and, apart from long straight stretches, they rarely get away from me. Even with the knobby tyres it’s amazing how well it handles. It always blows them away when we pull up at a pub and they’re like ‘wow, you’re still here!’ because they don’t expect it to perform so well.”
No doubt about it. If Azad’s vintage scrambler is anything to go by, those Californian desert racers of the 1960s were really onto something!