The Best of Triumph

1975 Triumph T160 Trident

  • 58bhp@7250RPM
  • 741cc
  • 552LB (250KG)
  • NEW £1091, NOW £3500

1975 Triumph T160Under Norton Viller Triumph ownership, the firm refined the 750cc Trident for 1975, giving it electric start, a rear disc brake, enhanced cornering clearance and sleeker styling.

With hindsight, it was triple that should have been available five years earlier. To comply with US regulations the T160 had a left-side change for the five-speed gearbox and quiet but efficient annular-discharge ‘black cap’ silencers to terminate a handsome 3-4 exhaust. Built entirely at the old BSA factory in Birmingham because of the Meriden closure, the T160 had the inclined cylinders seen on the BSA Rocket 3 and X75 Hurricane. A Bike magazine test recorded 126mph, and although some examples suffered quality control snags, the Trident made a fine sports tourer. Fewer than 7500 were made before NVT collapsed in 1975.

1966 Triumph TT Bonneville

  • 54bhp@6500 RPM
  • 649cc
  • 350lb
  • NEW $1250 (£800), NOW £10,000

From 1963 to 1967 a pure competition version of the 650cc Bonneville was built primarily for the North American market. Its punchy engine was basically the stock T120 twin, but in a high state of tune with high-compression 11:1 pistons and open pipes elegantly tucked under the frame to allow maximum cornering clearance. They make a deafening sound. A large ignition cut-out button use in emergencies.

In American terminology, TT is a form of dirt track racing with both left and right turns plus motocross-style jumps. The TT Bonneville was not only successful in that spot, but in desert scrambles, drag racing and as a hot street machine in states with lax road regulations. The best known racers aboard TT specials were Eddie Mulder and Skip ‘Van Loony’ Van Leeuwen.

1952 Triumph Tiger 100

  • 34bhp@6500 rpm
  • 380lb (172KG)
  • NEW £224,NOW £6500
1951 Triumph Tiger 100

1951 Triumph Tiger 100

In the early ’50s only the limited-production BSA Gold Star could rival the Tiger 100 for speed in the 500cc class. In 1951, the engine with a cast iron barrel and head used since 1939 was supplanted by a lighter, cooler running all-alloy engine with closely-pitched fins. The unit responded well to home tuning and many pre-1959 T100 engines were used for solo and sidecar road racing, plus motocross and even Formula 3 car racing.

Triumph catered for tunes by marketing a speed kit for the T100, most being sold in the USA, plus for 1953 only, a T100c racing version. Later there was also a twin carburettor cylinder head option that took the Tiger up to 105mph in road legal form.

Triumph adopted swingarm twin shock suspension later than other leading British factories, but its addition to the T100 for 1954 was a significant improvement.

1958 Triumph TR6 Trophy

  • 40bhp@6500rpm
  • 650cc
  • 390LB (177KG)
  • NEW £271, NOW £11,500
1961 Triumph Trophy TR6

1961 Triumph Trophy TR6

Triumph used long distance trials such as the ISDT more than road racing to promote its products after the second world war. Machines developed for tough off-road events in Europe were also ideal for American enduros and desert races.

So the 650cc Trophy launched in 1956 was an immediate success with US riders who wanted a street legal bike that would be competitive in weekend sport.

Developed from the 500cc Trophy, launched in 1949, and given a swingarm frame from 1954, the bigger version had a grunty single-carburettor engine with a high-level popes and a protective steel plate under the crankcase.

The late ’50s model was successful in major US enduros and the International Sic Days Trial where factory riders including Johnny Giles rode forest trails at 90mph.

1948 Triumph Grand Prix

  • 42bhp@6800rpm
  • 314lbs (142KG)
  • 498cc
  • NEW £343. NOW £16,000

Based on a one-off that Ernie Lyons rode to victory in the 1946 Senior Man GP, the Gran Prix was offered to Privateer racers looking for a competitive 500cc class ride.

Isle of Man rider Don Crossley gave the GP the first of its two Manx Grand Prix wins in 1948, when another five of the twins finished in the top 12.

The GP’s all-alloy engine featured cylinder and head castings originally made by Triumph for a portable generator with fan cooling. Fed by twin track carburettors with a shared flexibly-mounted floatbowl it had two exhaust meggas that made a fantastic rasping noise when the power was full-on.

telescope forks, first used by Triumph in 1946 were fitted to a rigid frame with rear suspension provided by the company’s own patented Sprung Hub.

1910 Triumph Roadster

  • 3 1/2 hp
  • 499cc
  • 165 lbs (75kg)
  • NEW £48, NOW £14,000

After launching its first motorcycle in 1902, Triumph gained a reputation for reliability, underlined by solid results in early Isle of Man Tourist Trophy events for road machines.

In 1908, the Coventry factory won the single-cylinder race with seven 475cc Triumphs finishing in the top 10. While many early British makers bought in proprietary engines, Triumph made its own. For 1910, an improved unit of 499cc was introduced, with valves at one side of the cylinder operated from gear-driven camshafts. It was a typically simple and sturdy design.

A significant feature was the ‘Free Engine’ clutch mechanism in the rear wheel hub, where drive was taken directly from the crankshaft by a hide belt. Operated by a pedal on the right of the engine it disengaged the drive allowing the engine to be started with the bike stationary.

1979 Triumph T140E Bonneville

  • 50bhp@6500rpm
  • 747cc
  • 433 lbs (196kg)
  • NEW £1,577, NOW £4,500

Without the resources to put new designs into production, the Meriden workers’ co-operative set up in 1975 could only refine the 75-cc T140V five-speed Bonneville twin launched shortly before factory crisis of 1973.

From 1976 left-foot gear changing replaced the traditional British right-foot layout to comply with regulations in the American market that was critical to the Bonneville’s survival, and a disc rear brake replaced the drum.

While down to power and old-fashioned compared to the new European and Japanese superbikes in the late ’70s, the Meriden Bonneville had its attractions, including sound handling, low running costs and simple home maintenance. A measure of patriotism also bolstered the aging Bonnie, MCN’s Bike of the Year and Britain’s best-selling 750 in 1979.

1994 Triumph T309 Speed Triple

  • 98bhp@9000rpm
  • 885cc
  • 460 lbs (209kg)
  • NEW £7699, NOW £2750

Arriving in 1994, the 900cc Speed Triple rapidly assumed classic status. Putting a slight twist on the  revered Speed Twin model name, the unfaired model had the lusty DOHC, 885cc, 12-valve engine and spine-type tubular steel frame proven on the Trident and Daytonna triples.

Showing how the Hinckley factory was gaining market confidence after a successful launch four years earlier, the naked triple offered a fresh, elemental riding experience in the cafe racer tradition.

Although thoroughly modern it had echoes of the past in the layout of the headlamp, instruments and low clip-on handlebars.

Strong acceleration to a 135mph maximum, sound handling and sharp brakes endeared the lit the Speed Triple to riders looking for excitement. The model soon accounted for half of Triumph’s European sales.

1972 Triumph Hurricane X75

  • 58bhp@7250rpm
  • 741cc
  • 444 lbs (202kg)
  • NEW £895, NOW £18,000
Triumph Hurricane X75

Triumph Hurricane X75

Young American designer Craig Vetter created the X75 Hurricane at the behest of BSA Inc, as Yanks didn’t like the look of standard 750cc BSA and Triumph triples. He was given a standard BSA Rocket 3 and a free hand to create a fresh design in tune with the swinging ’60s.

An organically-shaped tank moulding extended rearwards under the seat, the front fork were lengthened Chopper-style, with a prominent chrome headlamp and tilted-up instruments. A flat-track exhaust system from BSA Inc inspired the megaphone-style silencers.

A pre-production model hit 122.9mph in tests and the bike caused a sensation in America. After BSA folded, a batch of less than 1150 Hurricanes was produced by Triumph two years later.

1939 Triumph Tiger 100

  • 33bhp@7000rpm
  • 498cc
  • 365 lbs
  • NEW £80, NOW £10,000

Triumphs success as a manufacturer through ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s was founded on Edward Turner’s parallel-twin engine design of the late ‘30s. Managing Director of the Coventry factory, Turner was an innovative but pragmatic designer who deftly balanced performance and style against production costs.

His 500cc 5T Speed Twin launched in 1938 was a revelation for riders used to thudding sports singles. They marvelled at the brisk acceleration and smooth power delivery of a compact ohv engine that could propel them 90pmh and beyond.

The speed twin was an eye-catcher too with elegantly splayed exhaust pipes, a chrome-plated fuel tank and a dark red frame when other British makers invariably used black.

The speed twin was followed up by the Tiger 100 sports variant the following year. Turner had first given the tiger model name glittering chrome, silver and black sports singles unveiled in 1936, the fastest being the Tiger 90 with a model code that hinted at its top speed.

The Tiger 100 could indeed hit and even exceed the ton, if the detachable end caps on its silencers, nicknamed ‘cocktail shakers’ because of their shape, were removed.

Following the convention of the time, girder-type front forks with friction damping were fitted to a rigid tubular frame.

The large eight-inch headlamp had a chrome-plated shell and a tank-top instrument panel carried the lighting switch, an ammeter and an oil pressure gauge as well as an inspection lamp on a lead. World War 2 intervened to stop production, but not before a 1940 model was announced and briefly sold in the US, where the zippy T100 did wonders for establishing Triumph in that market.

1959 Triumph T120 Bonneville

  • 46bhp@6500rpm
  • 649cc
  • 404 lbs
  • NEW £294, NOW £16,000

Unveiled at the 1958 London Show, the Bonneville became Britain’s most famous motorcycle and a massive dollar earner, enjoying a production life nearly 30 years in the same basic first 500cc parallel twin of 1938, the twins: 6T Thunderbird and the faster 110mph-plus Tiger 100.

To maintain the impetus of American sales, Triumph needed a new flagship with more performance. The 650cc engine’s output was boosted by using a new cylinder head with twin carburettors on splayed intake stubs and the bottom-end was before beefed up with a stronger crankshaft assembly.

Coded T120 to suggest a 120mph top speed the Bonneville was named after the Salt Flats Speed Venue in Utah, where Triumph had made history in 1956.

A Texas-based team ran a streamliner powered by a 650cc engine at 214mph, beating the official world record and allowing the Triumph to use the iconic “World’s Fastest Motorcycle” slogan.

With its fashionable two-tone paintwork, the Bonneville was an immediate hit with Britain’s ‘Ton-Up Boys’ although much early production was earmarked for export to the US and the Commonwealth.

Once Doug Hele, Formally with Norton, got settled in as Triumphs development chief he sorted the Bonneville chassis with a few key improvements and by 1967 handling was first class.
Proof of the transformation came with the 750cc Production TT wins on Bonneville’s for John Hartle in 1967 and Malcolm uphill in 1969, with a landmark 100mph lap of the Mountain Course in the latter year.

The 1959 Bonneville shown here is one that was specially prepared for the annual 500-mile Production machine race at the Thruxton circuit in Hampshire.