Sirkegian Triumph Thunderbird

1951 Triumph Thunderbird
As a kid, Bobby Sirkegian had better “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” stories than the rest of his school chums. Already making a name for himself in early Southern California drag racing, running and winning against full grown men, 13-year-old Bobby traveled with his bike-dealer father to Wendover, Utah in 1953 to take part in the fifth annual Bonneville Speed Week. Because Bonneville officials knew of the youngster’s prowess on a drag bike, he was given special permission to run on the salt flats. He lined up for passes in the 650cc class on this stripped-down 1951 Triumph Thunderbird, just treated to a full restoration by Sirkegian, now 72. It’s one of the bikes on offer at Bonhams’ November 12 auction at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

1951 Triumph Thunderbird
SCTA rules required that the bike remain stock-appearing, though the engine was thoroughly souped up. Cylinders were bored .040-over and oversize crankpins were fitted, as were special-grind Iskenderian camshafts and lifters, and lightened, narrowed timing gears. A flow-benched cylinder head got bigger intake and exhaust valves, S&W valve springs and a pair of remote-float Amal GP carbs. A BTH racing magneto provided spark. A 3-gallon fuel tank from Triumph’s 3T model carried enough gas for the speed runs. Because stopping was not a great concern but friction was, a brake-less spool hub was fitted up front. To get Bobby laid down and out of the wind, the 650 was fitted with dropped handlebars, a scooped seat and footrests moved back near the rear axle.

1951 Triumph Thunderbird
One of the bike’s speed secrets was provided by family friend Rollie Free, famous for his record 150.313-mph “bathing suit” run aboard a Vincent in 1948. Free gave the Sirkegians a pair of his 3 x 20-inch Avon “File Tread” rear tires specially developed for high-speed work at Bonneville. Bobby’s 122-mph pass on a 650 didn’t set any class records but he was given a special award for the being the youngest rider ever on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

1951 Triumph Thunderbird
Like all of the Sirkegian race bikes, the Triumph was impeccably turned out. Bobby never went back to Bonneville, concentrating instead on drag racing, then AMA flat-tracks and road racing, but he kept the T-bird all these years. Now semi-retired from his job as a trade school instructor, Sirkegian is restoring his stable of old racers one after the other. His Daytona BSA Gold Star and Triumph dragster have previously been featured on Bike EXIF. Next on Bobby’s to-do list are his favorites, a pair of dirt-track Goldies—one for miles, the other specifically built for Ascot Park’s famous half-mile.

1951 Triumph Thunderbird