1947 Triumph 3T, A Recap Of The Forgotten Vintage

Triumph came out of the Second World War battered, but with a brand-new factory at Meriden and a 10-year start over their competition. This was because before the war they had introduced a range of vertical twins that set the standard for all the other British manufacturers to meet. They were first out of the traps releasing details of their peacetime range and their package contained five models, four twins and a single.

Of these, one was a civilianised version of the sturdy war department 350cc 3HW single. There were plenty to go around, and although it was never an official model, buyers snapped them up. desperate to buy anything new with their postwar gratuities. The big sellers were Triumph’s 500 twins, the Speed Twin and the Tiger 100, which were initially nearly identical to the models that had been rolled out in 1937-39.

These were supposed to be joined by two new models, a pair of 350cc twins, the 3T De Luxe and the sporty Tiger 85, though the 3T was the only one to make it into production. The De Luxe name refers to the adjustable De Luxe sprung saddle and the 3T was only ever available as a De Luxe. Edward Turner, Triumph’s head of everything, was determined to ditch Triumphs singles in favour of twins and he had first proposed a 350 twin in the late 1930s and prototypes were built but the design was not a success. This prewar prototype 3T was fitted with a new engine, rather than a smaller capacity development of the Speed Twin, and it had been built down to a price. It had a long stroke arrangement and the engine had a flimsy crankshaft and performed poorly under testing, with no sign that performance could be improved. A second utility 350 twin, the 3TU, was to be badged as a New Imperial and was even worse, with a flimsy frame, pressed steel wheels and a badly designed and constructed cylinder block and gearbox.

The Triumph designer Bert Hopwood, in his book Whatever Happened to the British Motor Cycle Industry, described both machines as “horrors”. The first 3T became the basis of a military machine, the 3TW, which was stillborn in the Coventry blitz, when the Triumph factory was destroyed along with 50 new 3TW bikes awaiting dispatch. Hopwood says that Hitler did the army and the motorcycling public a favour by snuffing out the 3TW at birth. The only surviving 3TW, the first motorcycle ever built with an alternator, was supposedly taken home on the night of the blitz by a test rider and survived. It may be the example in the Beaulieu Motor Museum. Despite the 3T’s shortcomings, there were some parts of the prewar design and that of a bigger military 5TW prototype that were worth pursuing.

The 5TW was developed later into the highly regarded TRW. Having established the idea of a small capacity twin, the postwar 3T De Luxe was a new machine that borrowed some of the better elements of these bikes and from the sportier 500 twins too. Although it looked like a compact version of the Speed Twin, the 3T engine was very different internally. The crankshaft was similar to that developed for the 3TW and the 5TW Army machines with two halves clamped to a central flywheel and one-piece conrods on plain big ends. Most of the rest of the crankcase arrangement and the valve gear mirrored the Speed Twin and Tiger 100 design, though the barrels and the cylinder head were different, with long studs holding the head on and the head and rocker covers cast in one unit. with the valve gear accessible through a knurled cap on a one-piece tappet cover. The head and block fixings were later changed to a design like that used on the 500 twins. The 3T had a small carb, straight rather than kinked exhaust pipes and slightly different silencers. Electricity was supplied by a separate magneto and dynamo arrangement, which was quieter in operation than the Magdyno used on other machines of the period. It had the gearbox and forks from the Speed Twin and a rigid frame, and the combination made for a more predictable ride than those fitted with the sprung-hub rear suspension as an option that came later. A natty chrome trim surrounded the front number plate. The frame was, to a casual glance, similar to the 500 version, but it was significantly smaller and based on the frame of the 3HW single. The 3T was a smart little machine, arguably prettier than the Speed Twin or the Tiger 100.

     The 185 never made it to production, partly because the factory didn’t need to make a new model when everything they could build was flying out of the dealerships and there was no need to build a sportier model. and partly because Triumph had trouble improving on the 19bhp power output of the 3T, which was more than adequate anyway. A competition version of the 3T competed in trials events with considerable success. The road-going 3T was timed by Motor Cycling testers and found capable of reaching 74mph at the top end. Motor Cycling liked the twin, which they found could pull from 15mph in top, and cruise happily at 30-60mph. With big brakes from the 500 it stopped well, though if pushed to the limit the handling could be a little skittish and the rider had to wind in the steering damper a little. Ridden normally. the 3T returned fuel economy approaching 80mpg and was warmly received by economy-minded buyers. The engine produced its power in a similar manner to the larger twins and. as a result, it was a pleasant and charismatic machine to ride.

The Motor Cycling reviewer said: “There cannot be the slightest doubt that this 3T De Luxe Triumph fulfils almost all the requirements of the tourist and in addition it supplies performance worthy of a sports specification. The tester was left with an outstanding impression of a performance satisfying in the extreme, the more because it was useable performance.” Later models dispensed with the separate headlight arrangement and other shiny items of trim in favour of Turner’s nacelle design, which was not only seen as more modern, but was also a handy expedient that reduced the need to use chrome plating, after the supply of chrome and nickel was hit by the Korean War.

The final models were black with white pinstriping on the tank in place of the chrome finish Sadly. the little 3T was not a big sales success, competing as it did with the company’s own 500 twins and inevitably costing almost as much to make. while its smaller capacity required it to be sold at a lower price. The 3T retailed at just over E160, while the 500s started at around £180. The 3T went out of production in 1951, the same year that Triumph was taken over by rivals BSA. Triumph returned to the 350 marketplace six years later with the unit construction 3TA

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