Triumph Motorcycle History
2012 Triumph Thunderbird
Twin Boss NL
1954 Twin BDG
1954 Twin BDG
Triumph has been producing distinctive motorcycles
celebrated for their style and engineering since
Through the Fifties and
Sixties, names such as Steve McQueen and Marlon
Brando cemented the Triumph legend, while numerous
land speed records and race track successes gave
bikes like the Thunderbird, Bonneville, Tiger and
Trident iconic status.
In 1991, the new Triumph
company emerged. Remaining true to the heritage,
Triumph was reborn combining the very latest design
and manufacturing facilities with the character and
design flair that has always been associated with
the famous swooping badge.
As Triumph continues to
build upon the richest heritage in the motorcycle
industry, modern bikes like the Speed Triple, Rocket
III and Daytona 675 will stand proudly alongside
their predecessors when the history books are
Triumph is a privately-owned British company with over
100 years of history. Triumph has always had its own
distinctive character and a history of creating bikes
that become design classics since they first came to
market in the 1900s. Like the rest of the British
motorcycle industry, Triumph went out of business by the
1980s. But the brand was resurrected in the 1990s by
British industrialist John Bloor who has built a lineup
of cutting-edge sportbikes to nostalgia-themed
Siegfried Bettmann moves to Coventry,
England from Nuremberg, Germany.
Bettmann starts an import-export
company. He imports German sewing machines and also
sells bicycles badged with the name “Bettmann.”
Bettmann changes the name of his company to New Triumph
Co. Ltd. (Later it will be changed again to Triumph
Cycle Co. Ltd.) His principal investor is John Dunlop, a
Scottish veterinarian who, albeit briefly, holds the
patent for the pneumatic tire. Nice idea, too bad he
didn’t really have it first! (Another Scot, R. W.
Thompson, was the real inventor.) In any case, Dunlop is
the first to successfully commercialize the invention.
A German engineer, Mauritz
Schulte, joins Triumph. He convinces Bettmann that
Triumph should design and produce its own products.
The company buys an old ribbon-making
factory in Coventry and sets it up to make bicycles.
Schulte imports one of the first
“practical” motorcycles, made by Hildebrand and
Wolfmuller, to study the machine. Triumph considers
making it under license, but under English law, powered
vehicles are subject to a 4-mph speed limit. A man must
walk ahead of each vehicle waving a red flag. This is
bound to limit commercial appeal, and Triumph chooses
not to get into the motorcycle business.
With the repeal of those onerous
sections of the Locomotive Act at the end of the 19th
century, Schulte sets out to design his own motorcycle.
First Triumph is produced – known as No. 1. This is
basically one of the company’s bicycles, fitted with a
2-hp Minerva engine made in Belgium.
Triumph opens a subsidiary in Germany
to build and sell motorcycles there. Better engines are
sourced from JAP (the initials of James A. Prestwich.)
Triumph produces its first motorcycle
completely in-house. It’s powered by a 3-hp engine and
has a top speed of 45 mph.
Annual production reaches 1,000
units. A new 450cc motor makes 3.5 hp.
A new model comes with a variable
pulley to help with difficult inclines. To change gears,
the rider comes to a complete stop, gets off the bike
and moves the belt by hand. Jack Marshall wins the
single-cylinder class at the TT (on the old Peel course)
averaging about 45 mph. It’s not known if he stopped to
change gears or just pedaled his ass off, too.
Triumph makes a big advance with the
‘free engine’ device (basically, the first practical
clutch), which allows the user to start the engine with
the bike on its stand and ride away from a standing
start. There are two models in the lineup, and sales hit
Most bikes are fitted with footpegs
only, not pedals.
builds a prototype 600cc vertical Twin.
its strong connection to Germany, Triumph is chosen
by Col. Claude Holbrook to supply the Type H
motorcycle for military Allied military service.
Triumph will sell 30,000 motorcycles to the military
over the course of WWI.
leaves the company, with a (very!) generous
severance package. He’s replaced by none other than
produces the 550cc Type SD, the company’s first bike
to feature a chain-driven rear wheel. SD stands for
Spring Drive – it’s an early version of a cush
Bicycle-style rim brakes are replaced by drum
brakes. The new bikes need better brakes, as they
now make a lot more power – especially the prototype
20-hp Model R, with four-valve head. It is known as
the “Riccy” after one of its designers, Frank
1923 The 350cc
Model LS is the first Triumph with an oil pump
driven by the motor. (Until then, the rider had to
pump oil by hand.)
1925 The 500cc
Model P is affordable and a commercial success – at
first. Triumph sells a heck of a lot of them, but
owners are disappointed by poor build quality and
the company’s reputation is harmed. Towards the end
of the year, Triumph improves things.
Production hits 30,000 units.
Street stock market crashes. Triumph sells its
pressure from creditors, Bettmann is deposed as head
of the company. A small two-stroke, the Model X, is
the first Triumph with unit construction.
1932 The noted
engine designer Val Page joins the firm. Page
quickly creates several new motors, including a
150cc two-stroke and 250, 350 and 500cc
first attempt at a 650cc Twin is a commercial
failure; the public seems to want V-Twins.
foot-change gearshift is available as an option on
car and motorcycle businesses are split. Jack
Sangster, who had owned Ariel, buys the motorcycle
business and immediately hires Edward Turner (who
had previously created the Ariel Square Four) as
chief designer. Sangster reinstitutes Bettmann as
the company chairman.
unveils the 498cc Speed Twin (T100) that has a top
speed of over 90 mph. It is the definitive British
motorcycle and establishes a pattern for Triumph
bikes that will last more than 40 years.
Johnson buys an interest in British and American
Motors, a bike shop in Pasadena. (Johnson Motors
will later distribute Triumph motorcycles across the
motorcycle production is geared towards the war
effort. With a new bike in the works, the Triumph
factory is demolished in the blitz of Coventry.
1942 A new
plant opens in Meriden, England.
1945 Over the
course of the war, Triumph has sold 50,000
motorcycles to the military. With the return of
peace, the company focuses on three models, the
Tiger 100, the Speed Twin and the smaller touring
349cc 3T. All models feature a telescopic front
Lyons wins the Manx Grand Prix on a redesigned Tiger
100, using a lightweight all-alloy motor that
Triumph designed for use on aircraft during the war.
(The motor powered a radio generator.)
1947 A rear
“sprung hub” is optional.
off-road 500cc TR5 “Trophy” and big-bore 649cc
Thunderbird are released. The Trophy is named in
honor of the British team that uses the bike to win
the ISDT. It’s powered by a version of the
sells more bikes in the U.S. than any other market,
Sangster sells Triumph to BSA for £2.5 million.
1953 The 149cc
OHV Terrier is released.
110 is released, which is basically a tuned (40+hp)
version of the Thunderbird, with a rear swingarm.
Marlon Brando rides a ’50
Thunderbird in the film “The Wild One.”
Allen goes 193 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in a
streamliner powered by a tuned 650cc T-bird motor.
The TR6 “Trophy” is the
first Triumph built expressly for the U.S. market.
It will prove popular with desert racers.
exquisitely styled 350cc “Twenty one” may be an
aesthetic success, but it proves a commercial
Hailwood teams with Dan Shorey to win the Thruxton
500, which is one of the most important races in the
UK, from a commercial perspective.
1959 The very
popular T120 Bonneville 650 is introduced. It’s an
evolution of the Tiger, fitted with twin carbs –
something American dealers have long been asking
for. It will remain in production until 1983.
Hopwood moves from AMC to Triumph, where he
conceives a three-cylinder motor.
design staff is further strengthened with the
arrival of Doug Hele, from Norton. He finalizes the
design of the Triple motor (though it will not
appear for several years). Hele also designs a
stiffer, double-cradle frame for the Bonneville, but
it was not adopted.
1963 All the
650 Twins now feature unit construction. With the
encouragement of Johnson Motors, a
stripped-for-racing version of the Bonneville is
produced for the U.S. market only. The T120C “TT”
will become one of the most sought-after Triumphs of
Elmore wins the Daytona 200 on a factory-prepped
500cc Tiger. The Gyronaut X-1, a streamliner powered
by two Triumph 650cc motors, goes 245 mph on the
Bonneville Salt Flats.
Nixon proves that last year’s Daytona 200 win was no
fluke by repeating the feat.
1968 The 750cc
Triple finally makes an appearance, powering both
the Triumph Trident and the BSA Rocket 3. Although
the motor is powerful by the standards of the day,
it is too little, too late. Within weeks, the world
will be buzzing with news of the Honda 750-Four,
which has overhead cams, a front disc brake and
electric start to boot.
Uphill wins the Production TT on a Bonneville. In
the process he puts in the first-ever lap over 100
mph on a production motorcycle.
Rob North, an expatriate
Englishman based in San Diego, designs a stiffer
frame for the Triples, just in time for Daytona.
wins the proddie TT on a Triple, which is nicknamed
“Slippery Sam.” Not because of its well-designed
fairing, but because it leaked oil all over Uphill’s
1971 A new
frame appears for the Bonneville. It is a Rob North
design based on the Trackmaster dirt-track frame and
it carries the oil in the large-diameter top tube.
group, which includes Triumph, posts a huge
financial loss. The decision is made to shut down
BSA and focus resources and energy on Triumph. Craig
Vetter’s freelance “American hotrod” design for the
Triple, which was to be a BSA model, is produced as
the Triumph X75 Hurricane.
Bert Hopwood designs a
modular engine based on an overhead-cam, 200cc
Single that can be produced as a 1,000cc
across-the-frame Five. It will never see the light
By the end of the year, the
writing is on the wall for the British motorcycle
industry. Triumph merges with Norton and is put
under the control of financier Dennis Poore.
1975 This is
the final year of production for the Trident.
Bonneville production continues after the workers
form a co-op to keep the Meriden factory going.
1977 NVT goes
bankrupt. The Meriden Co-op introduces the
Bonneville Jubilee Special in honor of the Queen’s
50th birthday. It’s 750cc and has cast wheels.
the British government is willing to write off a
substantial debt, the Meriden factory is still deep
in the hole. There are a few interesting bikes on
the drawing boards but no capital to develop them,
nor is there any reason to think the work force
could or would produce machines capable of rivaling
the ascendant Japanese manufacturers, which are
going from strength to strength.
some lean years, the Meriden factory closed its
doors. English property developer John Bloor bought
the remains later that year, saving the Triumph
name. Bloor licensed the Triumph name to a small
shop that continued to assemble a couple of
Bonnevilles a day until 1985.
1985 Bloor, an
unlikely savior, builds a subdivision on the site of
the old Meridan factory, but he also acquires a new
site, in nearby Hinckley. There, he outfits a new
factory with new prototyping tools.
1987 The first
“new Triumph” motor, a 1200cc Four, runs on the test
stakes at least $60 million of his own money on new
mass-production tooling for the Hinckley plant.
unveils six new models at the Cologne Show in
September: The unfaired Trident 750 and 900 Triples,
the touring Trophy 900 Triple and 1200 Four and the
sports-oriented Daytona 750 Triple and 1000 Four.
The machines are, by and large, better than most
industry pundits expected. That said, they’re a step
or two behind the best that Japan has to offer.
1994 The Speed
Triple is introduced. It’s not trying to be a
Japanese bike, and it’s the first of the new
Triumphs to earn several unqualified positive
reviews. The under-rated Tiger “adventure bike” also
appears this year. Triumph Motorcycles of America is
of new Triumphs to America begins.
50,000th new Triumph is produced.
1998 The fine
Sprint ST sports-touring bike is launched.
serves notice that it will enter the
ultra-competitive 600cc supersport market by
creating the TT600. It will be good, but not quite
2002 A massive
fire guts the main Hinckley assembly plant. The
smoke clouds definitely have a silver lining,
however. The company’s insurance claim funds a “do
over.” The design and R&D shops are undamaged and
continue new-bike development while the factory is
rebuilt and refitted with state-of-the-art tooling.
Triumph releases the four-cylinder Daytona 600
Triumph Rocket III is released, which is the first
production motorcycle to displace over 2000cc. It
works better than most test riders expect it will.
Still, it’s an answer to a question that few real
motorcyclists are asking.
bores out the Daytona 600 to 650cc. The change bars
the bike from competition in the 600 Supersport
class, but it was not having success there, anyway,
despite a popular win at the Isle of Man in 2003.)
The change makes the bike a great “real world
middleweight,” especially for taller riders.
Daytona is re-released as an
all-new 675cc triple. It’s
class-legal in European supersport racing (and in
Formula Xtreme here in the U.S.). With this bike,
the new Triumph company has truly come of age.
2007 A “mini
Speed Triple” is introduced in the Street Triple.
Powered by the same 675cc three-cylinder in the
Daytona 675, the Street Triple provides Speed
Triple-type entertainment in a smaller package.
Though the similarity in names leads to much
Bonneville lineup finally receives fuel injection —
one year after Europe.
In a bid to
challenge the market normally dominated by a certain
brand from Milwaukee, the Thunderbird cruiser is
launched. Powered by a 1600cc parallel-Twin, it’s
the largest production engine in this layout.
The Tiger 800, featuring a
bored-out Daytona 675 engine, harkens back to the
Tiger’s roots as a dual-purpose motorcycle.
Resouces for the
information for this story:
Triumph Motorcycle Company http;//triumph.co.uk
Sheldon's EMU http://cybermotorcycle.com/euro/brands/