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,
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.
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
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 3,000 units!
Most bikes are fitted with footpegs only, not pedals.
Schulte builds a prototype 600cc vertical Twin.
Despite 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.
Schulte leaves the company, with a (very!) generous severance
package. He’s replaced by none other than Col. Holbrook.
Triumph 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 drive.
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 Ricardo.
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.)
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.
Wall Street stock market crashes. Triumph sells its German
Under pressure from creditors, Bettmann is deposed as head of the
company. A small two-stroke, the Model X, is the first Triumph with unit
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 four-strokes.
Page’s first attempt at a 650cc Twin is a commercial failure; the
public seems to want V-Twins.
A foot-change gearshift is available as an option on 650 Twins.
Triumph’s 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.
Turner 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.
Bill Johnson buys an interest in British and American Motors, a bike
shop in Pasadena. (Johnson Motors will later distribute Triumph
motorcycles across the American West.)
All motorcycle production is geared towards the war effort. With a
new bike in the works, the Triumph factory is demolished in the blitz of
A new plant opens in Meriden, England.
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 fork.
Ernie 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.)
A rear “sprung hub” is optional.
The 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 “aircraft”
Triumph sells more bikes in the U.S. than any other market,
Jack Sangster sells Triumph to BSA for £2.5 million.
The 149cc OHV Terrier is released.
The Tiger 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.”
Johnny 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.
The exquisitely styled 350cc “Twenty one” may be an aesthetic
success, but it proves a commercial failure.
Mike Hailwood teams with Dan Shorey to win the Thruxton 500, which
is one of the most important races in the UK, from a commercial
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
Bert Hopwood moves from AMC to Triumph, where he conceives a
Triumph 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.
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 the period.
Buddy 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.
Gary Nixon proves that last year’s Daytona 200 win was no fluke by
repeating the feat.
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.
Malcolm Uphill wins the Production TT on a Bonneville. In the
process he puts in the first-ever lap over 100 mph on a production
Rob North, an expatriate Englishman based in San Diego, designs a
stiffer frame for the Triples, just in time for Daytona.
Uphill 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 boots.
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.
The BSA 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
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 of day.
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.
This is the final year of production for the Trident. Bonneville
production continues after the workers form a co-op to keep the Meriden
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.
Although 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.
After 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.
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.
The first “new Triumph” motor, a 1200cc Four, runs on the test
Bloor stakes at least $60 million of his own money on new
mass-production tooling for the Hinckley plant.
Triumph 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
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 founded.
Exports of new Triumphs to America begins.
The 50,000th new Triumph is produced.
The fine Sprint ST sports-touring bike is launched.
Triumph serves notice that it will enter the ultra-competitive 600cc
supersport market by creating the TT600. It will be good, but not quite
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 supersports bike.
The 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.
Triumph 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.
The 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
- Join date : 16/01/2010
Age : 35
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