Alan Cathcart raced a Saxon-framed Triumph 980cc triple for two seasons before Steve Linsdell took it to the TT in 1996 and lapped at over 113 mph. Alan explains how it all started over a bottle of beer.
As the world’s oldest surviving motorcycle marque, celebrating its ton-up centenary this year, Triumph has a proud track record in the Isle of Man – even if their last TT victory was as long ago as 1975 with Dave Croxford and Alex George on the legendary ‘Slippery Sam’.
Since then, the Triumph name has featured infrequently on the entry list, but there have still been some notable performances, such as Steve Linsdell’s 1996 Senior TT aboard a Saxon-framed 980cc triple.
Linsdell, now a Triumph dealer in Bedfordshire, averaged 113.43 mph to finish in 14th place overall and win not only the silver replica but also the massive Joey Craig Trophy for the most outstanding performance on a British-made motorcycle.
In fact, the PFM-backed Saxon-Triumph was one of a handful of customer copies built in his Surrey-based stables workshop by Saxon design guru Nigel Hill – a bike I had raced over the two previous seasons for the owner Paul Taylor in International BEARS/Thunderbike events around the world.
Like a lot of good ideas, it all started over a drink – in this case, a consolatory round of Austrian pils in the open air café at Zeltweg’s scenic Osterreichring circuit in the summer of ’93. I had just failed to finish the European Thunderbike race with a blown motor in oil geologist Taylor’s Saxon-framed 1000cc Motodd-Laverda triple. “I guess this is going to have to be it,” said a resigned Taylor. The 20 year-old three cylinder Laverda design was just to long in the tooth to keep up. But what about a modern three cylinder motor with performance potential? No contest, really – it had to be a Triumph.
One phone call to John Bloor later, we sat in front of Mr.Triumph himself and came away with a deal for factory support in the form of a couple of engines, a parts deal ant the promise of help from Hinckley’s R&D engineers.
The 12-valve dohc triple motor was the factory’s own 885cc Super III development motor with Cosworth crankcases an 19 kilograms lighter than the standard unit.
THIS had been originally prepared for Taylor by Jack Lilley Motorcycles, who removed the heavy gear-driven balance shaft to save vital weight and speed up engine response. They fitted a set of 39mm FCR Keihin flatside carbs, a digital ignition with altered curve and a special crankshaft with revised balance factor, both supplied by Triumph.
Power was raised from the standard 115 bhp at 9500 rpm to 133 bhp at 10,200 rpm at the rear wheel. At the bike’s Monza debut in the Spring of 1994, I rode it to third place in a soaking wet race.
The engine was then overbored to 980cc and fitted with exotic camshafts from German specialist Gunther Knuppertz. The head was ported and flowed and when the ‘Taylormade Racing’ Triumph arrives at Daytona a year later it was producing 142 bhp at 9800 rpm and we finished third again.
It was in the same form that Steve Linsdell ran his customer bike at the TT, fitted with a Micron exhaust which satisfied the noise police without sacrificing the glorious engine note and good for a top speed of 170 mph on the Isle of Man or Daytona gearing.
To accommodate the rather tall Triumph engine, Saxon’s Nigel Hill designed an open-cradle aluminium, tubular space frame chassis using the engine as a fully-stressed member. At a glance, the front forks looked conventional but were, in fact, Hill’s SaxTrac system – merely thin-walled cast-alloy tubular sliders running on compliant linear bearings. Devoid of internal hardware, the tubes served only to locate the front wheel and operate the single Saxon-developed shock.
AFTER two seasons of racing the Saxon-Triumph I know the SaxTrac design works. It offers inherent anti-dive under braking ant the steering geometry can be altered very quickly via the eccentrics. Head angle could be varied in increments between 22 and 26 degrees – though we usually opted for 23.5 degrees – and trail could be adjusted over an equally wide range.
The four mounting points for the front suspension package are widely spaced, allowing suspension loads to be spread over a wide area and the shock delivers more sophisticated suspension compliance than any set of forks.
But that wasn’t where the innovation ended. The Saxon bodywork featured internal ducting and in order to mount the bulky watercooled Triumph engine as far forward as possible, Hill mounted the radiator beneath the seat, just ahead of the rear wheel.
In this position it shared – with the carbs – the flow of cool air from the large ducts in the front of the bodywork. Running at 85 degrees C on a summer race day in Austria showed that Hill had done his sums right. The Triumph never got too hot and bothered to spoil the fantastic starts I was consistently able to make.
The Monza rostrum finish for a bike which had only turned a wheel at a Mallory test session just four days before, was a great start and we went on to grab a pair of victories at our next big international race at Zeltweg in Austria – the first-ever such wins for a Hinckley Triumph.
Unable through injury to ride the bike at Assen, I handed it over to Robert Holden who took an impressive victory to make it three in a row. A pretty good start.
FOR 1995 we opted to tackle the BEARS World Series, starting out well with that third place in Daytona behind two Brittens from New Zealand. This was followed by a deeply satisfying victory at Monza when we turned the tables on the Kiwis, and beat them.
That left us leading the World Series after two of the six rounds – but that was as good as it got all season, and we wound up fourth in the points behind the Brittens, and Ron McGill’s VR1000 Harley Superbike.
In 1996 the Taylormade Saxon travelled to America for local start Scott Zampach to race in the Formula USA series, returning for Linsdell’s TT ‘triumph’ and a fourth place in the Sound of Thunder World Series.
Zampach had some good results against 1300cc four-cylinder bikes before sadly crashing it very hard in the last race of the season, suffering career-ending injuries from which he’s thankfully mainly recovered.
The bike caught fire and was burnt out, but a hard year’s restoration by the Taylormade team saw it back to its former glory, earning a permanent home in the National Motorcycle Museum where it’s presently on display in the foyer.
So if you see a new Triumph street bike model with a funny front end that looks just like a conventional tele-forked package, you’ll know where it came from!
Reproduced with kind permission from Alan Cathcart