Debate: Black Face Or Grey Face?

Debate: Black Face Or Grey Face?

Black Face Grey Face Smiths Gauges Blog

Hello again fellow C.B.S. readers and fans. Today we will be discussing a topic that has been fiercely debated on online forums, books and even motorcycle shows over the past decades. Did 1970 Triumph and BSA motorcycles come with Smiths black face gauges or Smiths grey face gauges? Below I will pitch my 2 cents of why there is no correct or wrong answer on this topic - everyone is right.


What are black face gauges and grey face gauges?

Black face and grey face gauges are a style of speedometer and tachometer that was produced by the Smiths Instrument company in England. Smiths designed and manufactured most gauges that where fitted on vintage British motorcycles. The grey face gauge has always been know as the "earlier" style while the black face gauge has always been known as the "later" style. These particular gauges  in reference are magnetic - not chronometric.


Why is this information important to restorers?

Anyone that has restored a motorcycle understands that all work is prone to scrutiny - especially when your Britbike is in a concourse show. Obtaining the wrong information can hurt or penalize your restoration. 100 point restorations are extremely difficult but achievable. It all starts with fitting the correct parts for each model year and having information or proof to backup any doubts up.


What application are black face and grey face gauges correct for?

1970 Triumph 650 Sale Advertisement

Original advertisement from 1970 showing a 1970 Triumph Bonneville with grey face Smiths gauges. - This shatters the "only black face" theory.

For 1970 Triumph and BSA motorcycles I have seen many models that had grey face gauges and some models that had black face gauges. Most restoration books today state that all 1970 models had black face gauges - that is incorrect. To date there are no data logs that prove this but based off of experience, history and research working with original models my theory is correct. I personally like to go off of engine and frame numbers. For example, early 1970 Triumph and BSA twins that had engine prefixes "AD" (January 1970) would of most likely had grey face gauges. I own an "ED" (May 1970) Triumph Bonneville that came equipped with original black face gauges. If you do some google searching you will find that even later 1970 models had grey face gauges - not to mention this original 1970 Triumph advertisement shown above that features grey face gauges.



To sum it up, 1970 models where fitted with grey face gauges and later models with black face gauges. Figuring out what gauge you should use is up to you. Restorations books and hear say sometimes do not hold the answers to your questions. We also recommend keeping an open mind when performing a restoration and making decisions. Remember - the factory had to keep the assembly line moving at all costs. Feel free to chime in below by posting a comment. Thanks for reading!


  • Jon W. Whitley

    I had a 1970 T120R and it had Gray face gauges and I have no reason to suspect they weren’t original to that particular bike. It was an early 1970 production bike FWIW.

  • Toby Bateman

    The Nov date is correct, the Triumph model yr started in the August and the first batches of machines went to the US . As such the ‘Early’ 70’s US machines would have had the ‘grey faces’. By the time the home market and general export machines left the factory the ‘black faced’ instruments where on the parts shelves.

  • David Patterson

    Nice to know for restoration. As for me, I have trouble seeing the grey face gauges so I always use the black.

  • philip morris

    And yes those that think they know don’t and are full of it as you know they would argue just because the head of a bolt or screw is wrong or not factory as they say they probably don’t even own a bike

  • philip morris

    Yes your right about that .do your home work and check parts catalogue it can certainly be talk about for some time as you say they had to keep assembly line moving dont be surprised what you might find on your bike if you start looking.

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