A Triumph Over Tinnies: Ben, Stevo and Danny’s Pre-Unit Trophy

Words: Geoff Baldwin Photography: Luke Ray

One of the coolest Triumphs you’ll find in the Melbourne custom bike scene at the moment is the work of close mates Ben Cox, Stevo Garth and Ben’s old man, Danny. Their ’62 pre-unit hard-tailed Trophy looks like something you’d expect from a professional workshop, but the truth is it’s the first full build the boys have completed. “It’s a legitimate home built bike,” claims Stevo, “we built it in his (Ben’s) Dad’s carport and to be honest, with all the drinking we did during the build a lot of funny shit happened. There were times at the end of the night where we had to make a call on whether we should stop or not to avoid screwing it up!”

The build began three years ago when Ben and Danny bought the lightly modified Triumph Trophy. Over the next twelve months, Ben saved up cash and planned out the build thinking through everything from the bike’s stance to its paint scheme. Once the build began it was two years before it was finished. “It was mostly done a couple of hours at a time on Friday nights and there was just as much beer drinking and talking about the bike as there was actually building it,” Ben told me as we lined the bike up for its alleyway shoot. “Trial and error played a huge role. The fender you see on it now is the fourth one we tried, we made several seat pans and chopped a couple of oil tanks trying to get the right look.” At that point Danny jumped in, “They bent up that sissy bar in the carport using a vice bolted to the floor and nailed it on the first attempt though!”

“When we bought it all the lines were wrong. The old owner chose the wrong bolt on tail and as we found out the frame he’d used was actually from a 500 not a 650.” Along with this discovery, Danny also noticed that the bike’s primary had been stretched a couple of inches making it one of a kind. A new hardtail with a 2’’ stretch and 1’’ drop was ordered from Lowbrow Customs and a springer front end acquired from Factory Metal Works. Originally Ben had planned to use a narrow Harley front end, but they simply weren’t skinny enough for the look he was chasing. The only problem then was finding a wheel skinny enough to fit.

After trying out a few different Triumph hub and rim combinations, Ben got his hands on a Norton Commando hub. “The air scooped drum fit, so we had it laced up to a 21’’ rim and machined some spacers. The rear Triumph hub was laced to an 18’’ rim before they were painted and polished.” Firestone Champion Deluxe rubber was then added to the rear and a classic Avon Speed Master tyre went on the front.

A few years back Danny owned a Doc Hogs workshop so using his old contacts he did some research on the engine. He found it had been rebuilt by a reputable workshop not too long before they picked it up so the decision was made to leave its internals alone. Instead, time was invested into cleaning and polishing the alloy and removing unwanted chrome. To get the engine to sit in the frame with its new rear end all new engine mounts were fabricated.

The original carb was retained but it was such a snug fit in the frame that finding a filter to fit became a real challenge. In the end, the boys had the ingenious idea of purchasing a K&N pancake filter, which they dismantled and sliced at an angle to match the line of the frame before refitting the top cap.

After a visit to Japan midway through the build, Ben returned with a concept for the bike's exhaust. Danny’s good mate Jimmy from Outer Cycles was enlisted for the job and although there was some initial doubt about fitting a bend between the engine and the frame Jimmy delivered. The bike’s one off headers came back exactly how Ben had hoped and he finished them off with a pair of cocktail shakers mounted “chopper style” at 45 degrees.

Another of Danny’s old work buddies John who now runs Doc Hogs in Bayswater was also keen to get involved. He let the boys use his machinery and assisted with technical things they couldn’t do themselves including machining more custom spacers and getting the wiring sorted out. After the boys had finished welding everything up and smoothing out the seams John also painted the frame, hubs, primary cover and springer for the boys using two-pac black in his workshop booth.

To achieve Ben’s vision for the custom paint the rear fender, the oil can and fuel tank with its Pingel drag petcocks were taken to Karl Stehn of KDS Designs. “I wanted a metallic green and gold look, but the most important thing I was after was the Triumph logo. I showed Karl photos I had collected, I was after a mix of Cramps and old horror, slime, comic book text styles. After a few attempts he had a sketch that was just right. I wanted it done in gold leaf and he told me about a new kind he had with a spiral effect on it. We went for it and he nailed it.” Then for the seat Ben took his pan to Aaron at Weird-o-pholstery. His original idea was to mimic the zigzag pattern of the Firestone, but after chatting about it with Aaron they decided to add Aztec patterns into the stitching and he couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

After the paint was done it was final assembly time and everything went back to Danny’s carport where Stevo and Ben began piecing everything together again.  The plan was to get the bike ready for the 2014 Chopped Rod & Custom Show, which was fast approaching. Despite all their testing the engine didn’t want to go into the frame and the hardtail wasn’t mating up to the front half of the frame correctly. With limited resources available the boys resorted to using whatever they had at their disposal to get it to fit. The engine mounts were further modified and they used carpentry clamps and tie down straps to flex the frame enough to slide the 650 into place.

“The first ride was awesome. After all that hard work there’s nothing like firing it up and getting it out on the road.” Ben told us. “There were a few dramas and bits ‘n’ pieces we had to work out. It took me a while to figure out that the shaft in the rotor was bent so it would lose spark after running for a while. We also fixed clutch issues and had the headlight fall off, it’s got Loctite on it now and the bike runs like a dream.”

Just a few months before the build was complete Stevo had a spill on his motocross bike leaving him badly busted up. With a huge list of injuries including a fractured back and two broken ankles his hopes of jumping on the bike when it was first fired up were dashed. Ben kept him in the loop through the last stages of the build and sent him videos from the first ride. During our interview Stevo was up on his feet again with the aid of crutches and he guaranteed me that when he’s off them the Triumph will be the first bike he rides again.

This article first appeared in Tank Moto issue 06. 

Follow Ben: @benjaminjoncox.

Geoff BaldwinAustralia, Triumph