Not your traditional heirloom

Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly Guest Columnist

Mint Hill family treasures restored rare British bike

by Alan Hodge

Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly freelance writer Alan Hodge also is an accomplished motorcycle enthusiast. He refinished this motorcycle recently, belonging to the Cook family of Mint Hill. (Above, from left) Bob Brown, Trevor, Alex and Mike Cook. Photo courtesy of the Cook family

When the subject turns to family heirlooms, pocket watches and furniture usually come to mind. But in the case of Mike Cook of Mint Hill and his family, the item they treasure and intend to pass down through the generations is a vintage Triumph Bonneville Silver Jubilee motorcycle.

The bike is one of just 1,000 that were sent from the Triumph factory in Meriden, England to the United States in 1977 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s 25 years on the throne.

In 1985, Mike’s father-in-law, Bob Brown, bought it used at a place called Arnold’s Garage in Bluefield, W. Va. After riding it a while, Brown became involved in other things and the bike sat idle for many years until Mike got it in 2010.

Not long after he brought the Triumph home, Mike and his wife, Robin, hatched the idea of having it restored so the family could not only enjoy it now, but also hand it down to their two sons, 12-year-old Trevor and 9-year-old Alex.

The idea was a good one, but there was just one problem- the bike looked rough and barely ran.

Wanting to rectify that situation, Mike called me and asked if I would be interested in getting the family jewel back on the road. Having restored several other classic British motorcycles, including a 1972 Triumph Bonneville and a 1968 BSA Lightning, I jumped at the chance.

When Mike brought the bike to my shop, it looked pretty sad. The frame was rusted, the paint job was several shades of faded red, all the rubber bits had crumbled, the front fender was missing, wiring for the lights had been spliced with tape and the brakes were frozen. The engine would start after a dozen kicks, but barely ran.

The whole bike was covered in grime and grease. Just cleaning the grease and dirt away to see what was needed in the way of new parts took a gallon of soap, six rolls of shop towels and a lot of scrubbing.

However, under the rough exterior was a genuine and very rare Silver Jubilee just begging to rise like a phoenix and take a place of honor in the Cook household.
The restoration project took several months of painting and wrench turning. I gathered parts from as far away as England and at least a dozen states. While I waited for parts to arrive, I studied photographs of other restored Silver Jubilees as well as original sales brochures from 1977 to make sure we got everything just right.

My mail carrier must have felt like Santa Claus when the parts started coming. For several weeks, packages of all sizes showed up on the porch with postmarks from far away places.

As the project progressed, Mike and I decided to go back to the bike’s original metallic silver and royal blue paint scheme. We added chrome fenders and polished all the aluminum parts to a brilliant luster. New brakes made stopping a whole lot safer, and the cobbled together wiring was replaced.

The engine was basically good, but the valves were way out of adjustment and the carburetors were clogged. Once that was taken care of, and several test rides and adjustments made, the bike started right up and ran like the wind.

Though Mike had made several visits to the shop bringing parts and infusions of cash, he had never seen the bike complete and ready to roll, so when he came to take it back to Mint Hill a few weeks ago, it was a very special occasion.

The plan was for him to just load the bike on the trailer and depart. Instead, I loaned Mike a helmet, and he took a short ride. I’ll never forget the sound of the Triumph as he rode up the street and came back with a huge grin on his face. I have to think the bike was smiling too, now that it looked and ran like it did 35 years ago.

I love working on those old British bikes and this project was a win-win situation for everyone involved. Not only did I get a ton of satisfaction from bringing that rare Silver Jubilee Triumph back from the edge of total ruin, it was also gratifying to know that a cherished member of the Cook household will be on the roads around Mint Hill for many years to come.

For more photos of Mike’s bike, go to my website at

Alan Hodge is a freelance writer for Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly.

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