It was 1973, and David Pickett wasn’t long out of short trousers.
But despite his tender years, the eight-year-old was already a veteran motorcyclist, riding a Motobécane moped around the fields near his home.
The problem was, his younger sister, Allison, had reached an age where she, too, fancied a go on the little moped.
So David’s father, Robert, came up with a solution – why not let them have a bike each?
“One of our neighbours was an old chap who used to get hold of bikes and tidy them up, use them for a bit and sell them on,” says David, now 54.
“My dad had seen this Triumph Tigress arrive, but he had put it in a shed and hadn’t got around to doing anything with it.
“When I was born, our family transport was a 250cc Tigress with a sidecar, and dad thought it might be nice to have one again.
“He managed to persuade the guy to sell it, and then dad tidied it up.”
This largely forgotten British scooter, in 175cc guise, was to be David’s new toy, leaving Allison free to call the Motobécane her own.
“Her feet didn’t touch the floor, so dad had to hold it up for her as she moved off, and when she wanted to stop she called him and he had to run over and hold it up as she slowed down,” he remembers.
“I’d be pelting around the field on the Triumph for most of the day. A lot of the local kids used to bring mopeds – it was good fun.”
The fun wasn’t to last, however, as the disused farmer’s field across the street from his parents’ house, near Winchester, was on the market, and by the time David was 10 development work had begun.
“Once the field was built on, the scooter got put in the shed and I didn’t get a chance to ride it for many years,” he says.
Ironically, David now lives in one of the homes built on that very field in 1976, and the 1960 Triumph remains on the same patch of land that gave its owner so much boyhood enjoyment.
The Tigress, also sold as the BSA Sunbeam, was designed by Edward Turner and advertised as “the sleekest, smoothest scooter of all”.
It featured a distinctive, bullet-shaped rear end, and was designed to appeal to its maker’s traditional motorcycle customers looking for an economical shopping or commuter bike.
Available with either an all-new four-stroke 250cc engine, or a two-stroke 175cc unit, a development of the BSA Bantam engine, the Tigress was also lighter than traditional scooters.
But like all British attempts to break into the 1960s scooter boom, it failed to win over die-hard fans of the Italian Lambretta and Vespa.
As a result, it’s a rare sight on today’s roads, which is one of the reasons David has never parted with his childhood conveyance.
“It’s nice to have something a bit different,” he says. “There’s also a bit of a nostalgia thing about it.”
There’s no doubt that David likes to be different; he also has a collection of six Skodas, including a 1986 Estelle he’s owned from new, and a pretty S110R coupe.
The Triumph fits neatly in front of three of the Skodas in his garage, and David plans to restore it back to its former glory – once he’s finished rebuilding his beloved Estelle.
“I want to get it all looking tidy again,” he says. “My intention is to take all the panels off and have them blasted and powder coated, but the car’s taking over at the moment.”
After David’s field was concreted over and built upon, the Tigress was consigned to the shed for more than 20 years.
One route back into riding was blocked by his anxious parents when David had just started an apprenticeship in his teens, and needed transport to work.
“Bikes were dangerous”
“I’d saved up enough money to buy a little Honda moped, but my parents were dead against it,” he says. “They said bikes were dangerous and got really stroppy about it. They had friends whose kids had been involved in accidents riding mopeds.”
A keen cyclist, David used the money instead to buy a custom-built, 25.5-inch Claud Butler bicycle.
“It turned out to be the last custom built bike that Claud Butler made, and I still have it and still ride it,” he says. “I did a lot of racing and time trials, and rode it all over the country, doing North Wales and back in a day once.”
Finally, after a break of more than 20 years, in his early 30s David did finally bring the Tigress out of hibernation.
“The traffic getting into Winchester for work was horrendous, and said to my parents that I was going to get a little motorcycle, park it for free and get through the traffic,” he says.
“They said ‘why do you want to buy another one? You’ve got one in the shed’. So I dragged the Triumph out, got it to work, got it MoTd and used it for work on and off for a couple of years.”
Despite spending so long out of action, the dusty scooter required minimal work before being pressed into service.
A new battery and fresh tyres were necessary, while a thorough service and brake check ensured it would go, and stop.
The petrol tank was drained, revealing a coating of rust that would later cause problems.
“There were a couple of instances where it died on me,” says David. “Some flakes of muck had got through to the carb and stopped it, so I had to push it home.
“After that I thought, ‘this is not really going to be something I can use every day’. Being left sitting for long periods probably didn’t do it any favours.
“Also, having taken my test on modern bikes, it felt like a world away from a commuter bike.”
From then on, the Tigress was restricted to “sunny afternoon rides”, where the rare scooter would attract quizzical looks from passersby.
“There aren’t many around, and when I would take it down to the local town I got people peering at it and asking ‘what’s that then? I didn’t know they made one of those’,” he says.
“One old boy came up and said he’d had one years ago and did I want a spare wheel for it? I said ‘yes, that would be handy’ and he gave it to me.”
Sadly, as a result of tragic circumstances, the Tigress was once more off the road about 12 years ago, when David’s wife died shortly after giving birth to their son Christopher.
“Having lost his mum when he was born, I decided to be more sensible and not take chances,” he says, putting the Triumph away once more.
“He’s 12 now, a bit older, and I’ve since remarried, so maybe I could get out on it again now.”
David was never tempted to sell this treasured piece of his childhood in the intervening years, and is now planning on a long-overdue restoration.
“I’m not thinking of getting rid of it,” he says.
As well as plans to have the panels shot-blasted and resprayed, the interior of that troublesome petrol tank needs attention.
“Once that’s sorted it should be quite a reliable bike again,” he says. “I might have it painted china blue to match the Estelle (pictured).
“When we go to classic car events I’m thinking that we can put it on a trailer and take it along.”
Given David was eight years old when he first rode the Triumph, what chance 12-year-old Christopher following in his father’s footsteps?
“I probably would let him ride it, if I knew of a suitable place,” he says. “It’s one of those childhood memories it’s so nice to look back on. It’s quite a fun thing to be able to say you can do at that age.”
For now, David is simply looking forward once again dragging the Tigress out of hibernation, and restore her to her former glory.
Leave a comment