If nothing else, Triumph managed to attract a very cool fanbase…
Triumph never had Norton’s racing success, so lacked some of its great rival’s glamour. In the end, the two were merged during the 1970s in a desperate and ultimately unsuccessful bid to save the British motorcycle industry.
Despite government support, Triumph went under in 1983. That was until John Bloor, who made millions in the building industry, bought the name and established a manufacturing facility in Hinckley. His first bikes owed nothing to older Triumphs, though the company does now produce a modern version of the Bonneville air-cooled twin, a cult machine on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1960s-70s.
Like so many British motorcycle engines, the Bonnie grew bigger as the years went by. The original 650cc unit was based on the 500cc Speed Twin (designed by Edward Turner in the ’30s) and later became a 750. It got its name from the Bonneville Salt Flats, where in 1962 its predecessor, the Tiger 110, set a new world speed record at 224mph.
Assailed by the Japanese, Triumph had to produce something better than an air-cooled twin. The Trident triple went on sale in 1968 but stood little chance against Kawasaki’s 900cc Z1 four and Honda’s CB750 four.
If Triumph lacked track glamour, it had street cool. Marlon Brando gave the brand – and motorcycling – a bad-boy image with the Thunderbird he rode in The Wild One.
Steve McQueen was a huge Triumph fan, riding a succession of twins on the street, in competition and on film. He rode a Triumph Trophy (made to look like a BMW) in The Great Escape and a similar machine as part of the US team in the 1964 International Six Days Trial.
Bob Dylan loved his Triumph Tiger but wasn’t such a great rider and was badly hurt in a crash in ’66. He wears a Triumph T-shirt on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited.
Despite this, Triumph was going nowhere. Born in 1902, bought by BSA in the ’50s, then merged with Norton in the ’70s by ex-racing driver Dennis Poore, it couldn’t compete against a new force in motorcycling.