Every time Alex Reeve drops in on his granddad, the conversation always turns to the same subject… the best motorcycle he never owned – a 1939 Triumph Tiger 100.
The 91-year-old never quite got over the disappointment of failing to buy his dream bike. Until now.
“Over the years, he’s told me many stories about this incredible bike and how he could never afford one when he was growing up, so I wanted to make his dream come true,” says Alex. Only a couple of hundred of the bikes remain in existence so it was a tall order.
‘All my life I wanted a Triumph’
Harry Graves was 13 when he and older brother Lenny pawned their suits to buy a 2-stroke Coventry Eagle for £7. As they cleaned it in an East London street, a man drew up on a brand-new Tiger 100 to pick up his girlfriend. “I was amazed by the bike and went over and spoke to him about it. I always dreamed of owning one but could never afford to. All my life I wanted to own a Triumph.
“One of my wishes was to be able to see this wonderful motorcycle again in my lifetime. It was something that I never thought would happen, so to get the chance to see one, be able to touch it and actually sit on it was a dream come true. It’s difficult to find the words to describe how it made me feel, but it is a moment that I will never ever forget.”
Speed Twin success
Harry never saw another ’39 Tiger again after that day. But his obsession never waned, despite owning a Douglas Twin and Royal Enfield in his twenties, so Alex decided to track one of the Tigers down. The search ended at the world’s largest collection of Triumph motorcycles owned by collector Dick Shepherd, where Harry was reunited with one of the first T100s ever made just before World War II. The model Harry eventually sat on is even more rare because it is a one-owner example.
The bike was first produced under the watchful eye of Triumph chief designer Edward Turner, who came up with the lighter and more powerful T100 after being buoyed by the success of the Triumph Speed Twin two years earlier. The bike Harry fell in love with featured a single carburettor, a larger fuel tank and detachable silencers, and was made for the sports enthusiast.
The silver and black pinstriped classic was tested on a 2,900km run, from the tip of Scotland to Land’s End in Cornwall. That was before being taken to the limit at the Brooklands circuit for an afternoon of laps, where it averaged 126.3km/h.
The Tiger 100’s sporting prowess was cemented in the same year when racer Freddie Clarke nudged 190km/h on a bored-out 503cc Tiger 100 before production was brought to an abrupt halt when the Triumph factory was bombed in 1940.
Alex says: “Because of that, this bike is hard to come by, which might explain why my grandad never saw another. Every time I see him, he mentions it, but he’d never actually got up close to one, let alone sat on one before now. When he finally did, he was in tears.”
Alex had been about to give up trying to reunite Harry with the model when he was handed a fresh lead by Ken Kirby at Suffolk Triumph suffolktriumph.co.uk “In the end, he had an absolutely brilliant time and I know that he will always remember this as much as I did. And to be honest, I can see why he was so in love with the bike.
“Last week on his birthday I gave him a framed blown up picture of him on the bike and he was in tears again. It just shows the powerful bond that exists between a man and a motorcycle.”