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RESERVE LOWERED! -1957 Pre-Unit Triumph Thunderbird

Guide Price: £6,500 - £8,500

The Background

The Triumph Thunderbird was effectively one of the very first sports bikes, introduced in 1950 with a new 650cc twin engine to offer something faster and more powerful than the existing Triumph 500.
At that time the 500 was going great guns in the USA, fuelling Triumph’s export drive whilst driving the quest for increasing sales of more up to date machines. 
The Thunderbird used the same basic frame and engine casting as the 500, but with increased bore and stroke and all new bodywork. The term “pre-unit” refers to the engine & gearbox configuration, but we’ll come to that in a moment.
Unsurprisingly, the Thunderbird sold well. US buyers couldn’t get enough of the new British high-performance bike, and with over 85% of orders being exported Triumph was thriving.  Nevertheless,  it also had to keep up with rapidly evolving tastes in the increasingly flamboyant American vehicle market – and that meant a new model Thunderbird every year.
The 1957 model is one of the most iconic and boldest designs. A new chromed tank badge appeared, recognisable by its striking chrome-grille 'mouth organ' look, with the Triumph name picked out in white against a black background - and a new tank which accommodated it.
In addition to the styling changes, the ’57 Thunderbird got a new chain guard offering better enclosure and a more solid mounting to the lower rear shock absorber  bolt, but still in a flamboyant fifties style. 
The Thunderbird we are auctioning today is a matching numbers bike, & all original save the concentric carburettor.

The History

TGE 410 had only two prior owners and was subject to a full restoration by the previous keeper. During the restoration as many original parts as possible were used so there is a nice patina to some of the chromed  components, such as the headlamp trim and bold Triumph badges. 
A new seat and a full mechanical overhaul are massive benefits for the future owner.

The Paperwork

The bike comes with a current V5 in the name of the existing owner demonstrating first registration in 1957 and the likelihood it is on an original registration plate.

IMG_8328.jpeg 2.99 MB

The Condition

Make no mistake, this is a stunning bike to look at. It harks back to an era of vehicle design that was all about excess, but because Triumph has always brought style & taste to the fore, this '57 Thunderbird pulls it off.  It’s a machine full of beautiful details, all fabulously presented, with largely original & un-restored trim adding to its patina.
It’s a usable rather than concours restoration, but that’s the best part of its appeal. It looks great, but it’s not so overdone that you’d be frightened to use it.

The Mechanics

So what is a pre-unit, anyway? It means that the engine & gearbox are separate, connected only by the primary chain cases, rather than being combined in the same casings as the later ‘unit’ Triumphs are. Pre unit bikes are said to be easier to repair and maintain. 

So, now we’ve cleared that up, we can move on to how well this bike starts. Yes it does, very well. Even with the sellers bad leg. Of course you must remember to switch it off, on the traditional ‘jelly mould’ headlamp switch, because its coil (not magneto) ignition.
Those  who are longer in the tooth may remember that should you forget to switch off the bike's ignition after use, thus draining the battery, you can still use the “emergency ignition” switch position to get it started again. This will momentarily re-connect the ignition circuit directly to the engine alternator for a direct power source. Once the bike starts you immediately turn the key back to "ign" for normal running & charging.  That was  an advanced feature in 1957, & still in use on  Norton Dominator twins in the early 60's.  You can see a close up photograph of the famous "jelly mould"  ignition & lighting switch as preferred by Triumph & Norton in the gallery to this lot.

One other thing, the original monobloc carburettor has been replaced by the later concentric variety, still Amal made of course, but potentially one of the reasons she does start very reliably.

The Appeal

The Thunderbird is one of the most iconic bikes of its era and is a robust, light weight and beautifully 'Triumph' machine, not to mention  much sought after & rare as you know what.
As well as being the correct  colour and harking from what many believe to be the best year of Thunderbird construction, this is a bike that will really appeal to an enthusiast who prefers matching numbers & few previous owners, but more importantly wants a Thunderbird to ride out on.  Being a good starter and not being too shiny and new are of course this bike's appropriate credentials.

Notice to bidders

Although every care is taken to ensure this listing is as factual and transparent as possible, all details within the listing are subject to the information provided to us by the seller. Car & Classic does not take responsibility for any information missing from the listing.

As is normal for most auctions, this vehicle is sold as seen, and therefore the Sales of Goods Act 1979 does not apply. All bids are legally binding once placed. Any winning bidder who withdraws from a sale, is subject to our bidders fee charge. Please see our FAQs and T&C's for further information. Viewings of vehicles are encouraged, but entirely at the sellers discretion.

Vehicle specification
  • Year 1957
  • Make Triumph
  • Model Thunderbird
  • Colour Black & Gold
  • Mileage 68,570
  • Engine size 650
  • Location Essex
Bidding history
11 bids from 5 bidders
  • ZsoltCZ £6,500 01/10/20
  • Thomas•••• £6,200 26/09/20
  • Stuart £6,100 26/09/20
  • ZsoltCZ £6,000 26/09/20
  • Alamb £5,700 26/09/20
  • Stuart £5,500 26/09/20
  • Alamb £5,100 26/09/20
  • ZsoltCZ £4,000 26/09/20
  • Stuart £3,000 26/09/20
  • garry.b•••• £2,700 26/09/20

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