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The History of Triumph
In 1902 the first motorcycle emerged from Triumph's Coventry works. Known since as "'o 1', it was essentially a strengthened bicycle with a 2.25bhp Minerva engine hung from the front down tube. Drive was via a belt from the engine's crankshaft to the rear wheel while the bicycle's pedals, chain and crank were retained. Schulte chose the Belgian-made Minerva engine simply as a matter of quality - he was a perfectionist and, at that time, the cutting edge of internal combustion technology was coming out of continental Europe.
By 1905 Schulte - in collaboration with Triumph Works' Manager Charles Hathaway, himself a gifted designer and motorcyclist - had produced an entirely in-house machine, the Model 3HP. Featuring a 363cc single cylinder side-valve engine, it was claimed the Model 3HP produced a heady 3bhp at 1,500rpm and had a top speed of around 45mph.
Schulte now concentrated on refining and developing this machine and while other manufacturers tried to move too quickly, Triumph kept on a consistent path of evolution, always proving their machines.
Engine capacity grew as the years clicked on and by 1908 the Triumph engine was displacing 476cc, putting out 3.5bhp and came equipped with a 'variable pulley' to deal with difficult inclines.
An Isle of Man TT win (with Jack Marshal at the handlebars) the same year further underlined Triumph's reliability and road worthiness. As was said at the time, 'Eight Triumph's started, and eight finished'
Triumph motorcycles had now proved themselves worthwhile machines and in 1910, a new advance was made to make riding a Triumph even easier - the 'free engine' device. This device meant that the engine could be started with the bike on its main stand, via the pedals, rather than by bump starting or pedalling furiously for 30 yards or so.
By the outbreak of the First World War the Type A, as it was known, had a 550cc engine slugging out 4bhp. The British Government placed orders with Triumph in order to equip army despatch riders at the front. The now legendary Triumph Type H was pressed into service from late 1914 onwards and, in the face of the mud and misery that existed for its riders in the Great War, earned itself the nickname 'the Trusty'.
The decade ended on a sour note though as Schulte parted company with Triumph in 1919 after disagreeing with Bettmann's desire to diversify Triumph's manufacturing capabilities.
Deciding to diversify Triumph's manufacturing base, early in the '20s Bettmann purchased a former car factory in Coventry and started producing a 1.4 litre saloon. Produced under the name of the Triumph Motor Co, this foray away from two wheels was to prove the eventual undoing of Bettmann's empire.
On the motorcycle front, two years after the end of hostilities in Europe, Triumph unveiled another evolutionary motorcycle, the Type SD, the first Triumph to dispense with belt final drive in favour of a chain-driven rear wheel.
With a capacity of 550cc the Type SD was too big to enter the Senior TT so Triumph developed an all-new single cylinder engine of 500cc capacity. The 'Riccy', as it became known, went on to collect many world speed records, including the flying mile with a speed of 83.91mph.
Other models followed including the basic Model P, which sold 20,000 units, and the TT (or Two Valve, as it was called), which became the mainstay of Triumph's range.
While Bettmann was making the decisions that would lead to his firm's demise, others, such as John Young Sangster, were learning the ropes of the bike industry. Known as Jack, John was the son of Charles Sangster, who until his death in 1934 had headed a large engineering company, Components Ltd. Components Ltd owned Ariel, a firm with a reputation for building top quality motorcycles. Like Triumph, the Great Depression was draining Components Ltd of cash and in 1932 the company folded but Jack, through his own intuition, networking abilities, private wealth and application of Schulte-style values (rationalisation and concentration on fewer models) turned the Ariel business around.
Triumph in the meantime was struggling, with cars in particular proving extremely difficult to turn a profit. Bicycles and motorcycles, which were still produced under the Triumph Cycle Co guise, were held up for sacrifice. The pedal bike plant went first, in 1932 and then four years later Jack Sangster purchased the motorcycle division. Ironically, Val Page, an ex-Ariel man and extremely talented engine designer had joined Triumph in 1932 and had set about designing a brand new range of bikes.
Sangster immediately installed two of Page's Ariel ex-colleagues at the new Triumph Engineering Co Ltd; Edward Turner became Works' Manager and Bert Hopwood was appointed designer. 1937 proved a landmark year for Triumph with the launch of a range of revamped singles (known as Tigers) together with the remarkable 498cc Speed Twin (T100). This model revolutionised motorcycling - it started well, ran well, had a reported top speed of over 90mph and simply defined everything a modern motorcycle should be.
The outbreak of WWII put a different complexion on Triumph's commercial aspirations, as all production was geared up for the armed services. A prototype 350cc twin - the 3TW - was on the blocks and approved as the standard service bike when, on the night of the 14th November 1940, the Triumph factory was completely demolished in the blitz of Coventry. Undaunted, motorcycle production was resumed in temporary facilities in Warwick, while a brand new factory was built in Meriden. The new plant opened its doors in 1942.
In the late '30s the Speed Twin (T100) had impressed the American flat track racing community, and when hostilities ceased Turner sensed the potential for strong US growth. Shrewdly he'd maintained correspondence with Bill Johnson, Triumph's west coast distributor, throughout the war years and 1945 visited the US to cement the relationship.
Post war the range on sale consisted of three models - the Tiger 100 and Speed Twin plus the smaller 'touring' 349cc 3T - and in 1946 Irishman Ernie Lyons won the Manx Grand Prix on a Tiger 100, beating a host of Nortons. By the end of the decade the styling of these bikes had evolved to enclose the headlight and clocks in a nacelle - a unique (and instantly recognisable) feature at the time and two new models had been added: The off road 500cc Trophy, and the big bore (649cc!) Thunderbird, built in response to an American plea for more power.
The 1950s was a golden decade for Triumph, although it started with the sale of the firm to rivals BSA. Triumph continued to be run separately however and in 1953 a new breed of Triumph bike arrived with the advent of the 149cc OHV Terrier. The 199cc Tiger Cub followed a year later, which proved a massively popular bike. The same year also saw the introduction of the Tiger 110, in essence a 'sports' makeover of the 649cc Thunderbird twin but with swinging arm rear suspension and a bigger front brake.
Two years later Johnny Allen set a new world motorcycle speed record (214.5mph) on the Bonneville Salt Flats using a 649cc Triumph engine in a streamlined vehicle. His record was rejected, due to alleged timing gear problems but it inspired one of Triumph's most famous ever motorcycles...
The T120 Bonneville.
The very essence of café-racer cool the Bonneville had the right, spartan look and just as importantly, the performance to go with it. It was a truly special motorcycle and arrived just in time to take full advantage of what was to become a very special decade...
The '60s were to prove a fabulous decade for motorcycling in general and Triumph had a winning formula. The Bonneville was a fantastic success - the definitive sports twin of the '60s - both in Britain and in the States and competition success at the Isle of Man TT and Daytona spawned a myriad of models.
Social acceptibility of motorcycles was at an all time high. Bikes were still at the heart of everyday transport for many people but were also appearing in the coolest films of the decade, alongside screen stars such as Steve MacQueen and Marlon Brando. Added to this was the birth of the rebellious teenager, who turned their motorcycles into cult café racers.
Triumph's output peaked at around 50,000 bikes a year with sixty percent of exported, primarily to the US.
Harry Sturgeon, an ex-MD of a BSA group subsidiary, took over from Turner in 1967 and continued Triumph's policy of evolution rather than revolution.
But rumours of a Japanese 750 became more persistent and eventually could not be ignored so Sturgeon gave the go ahead to the development of a three cylinder 750. The design was pushed through and became the Triumph Trident (T150) and BSA Rocket Three.
The 1970s were disastrous for Triumph. Sturgeon died three years after taking the helm and Lionel Jofeh replaced him - a man who, like Sturgeon, was on the 'outside' of the business. He didn't last long and was replaced by Brian Eustace. Management of the BSA group as a whole was in a state of flux, constantly changing and with no consistent strategy.
Ironically, the three cylinder motor was proving almost unbeatable on the race track and in its 'Slippery Sam' guise won the IoM Production TT five years on the trot from '71-'75, as well many Formula 750 races.
Thanks to the internal confusion, and the rapid progress of the Japanese factories, Triumph was in deep trouble, with the BSA group recording a loss by 1971 of 8.5m. A year later a 3.3m loss was posted and things were looking bleak. In July 1973, in a government sponsored move, a new company was formed - Norton-Villiers-Triumph. Against the wishes of the Triumph workforce Norton Villiers Triumph planned to move Triumph production to the BSA factory at Small Heath, Birmingham.
As a result the Meriden workers staged a sit-in that lasted almost two years. It ended finally when in March 1975 a workers' co-operative was set up purely to manufacture the Bonneville in 750cc form, primarily for the American market.
Although there were some noteworthy bikes built during this period , such as the '77 Bonneville Jubilee Special and T140D Special with cast wheels - the writing was on the factory wall.
The Meriden factory closed its doors in early 1983. The cash had simply run out and liquidation followed along with the sale of the company assets. The Meriden site was bulldozed into rubble in '84 and houses built. It seemed like the end of Triumph and, with it, the British motorcycle industry.
Fortunately it wasn't.
Property developer and self-made millionaire John Bloor rescued the Triumph name and a new, privately owned company - Triumph Motorcycles Limited - was born. Initially Devon-based firm Racing Spares (who'd previously been making parts for Triumph) were licensed to build the final incarnation of the Bonneville, principally to keep the Triumph marque alive, while the new company laid plans for Triumph's return to the world stage.
The designs on the table from the co-operative were outdated and pretty much unusable so the new company returned to the drawing board. From 1985, for three long years while Racing Spares built Bonnies, the new Triumph company put plans in action in total silence and secrecy. During this time a new factory was built in Hinckley, Leicestershire and a range of models were developed. Featuring three and four cylinder engines, with water-cooling, four valves per cylinder and double overhead camshafts, these were quite unlike anything Triumph had built before.
Six brand new Triumph motorcycles were unveiled to the bike industry and press at the Cologne Show in September 1990. Based around two different engine formats, these models - the unfaired Trident 750 and 900 triples, the touring-oriented Trophy 900 triple and 1200 four and the sports-slanted Daytona 750 triple and 1000 four - employed a modular concept, meaning that many parts were common to all. They were well received in all quarters and the line up evolved over the next few years.
But it was the advent of the Speed Triple in 1994 that really caught the press and the publics' imagination. Just as the hopped-up Thunderbird had metamorphosed into the Bonneville in the '50s so the new Speed Triple captured a piece of café racer chic. It had a ton of character, plenty of performance and a raw look that was just right for the time. It also had its own one-make race series, which ensured that the public saw what the Speed Triple was capable of on a racetrack.
Ever growing volumes brought the opportunity to evolve away from the modular concept and in 1997 the T595 Daytona was launched to an expectant world. Dispensing with carburettors its brand new three-cylinder engine used state of the art fuel injection, which at the time was a rarity. It also had a chassis the match of pretty much any production sports bike available and marked Triumph's ability to not only exist as a manufacturing entity, but to lead once again.
Subsequently the fuel-injected engine was adopted to power new versions of the Tiger and Speed Triple, together with the unveiling in 1998 of a brand new sports-touring machine - the Sprint ST.
The end of the decade also saw an expansion to Triumph's production facilities with work completed on a second Hinckley manufacturing facility.
The dawn of the 21st Century saw Triumph build its 100,000th bike at the Hinckley plant and release two brand new motorcycles. The first, the sports middleweight TT600, met the Japanese manufacturers squarely on their turf. With a 599cc fuel-injected inline four-cylinder engine and a chassis that was won universal praise the TT600 was the only non-Japanese contender in the class. Perhaps even bigger news for Triumph was the unveiling of the second new model - the Bonneville. An evocative 790cc air-cooled parallel twin, the new Bonnie combined the look, feel and soul of the legendary late '60s T120. It was an immediate success and the cruiser-style Bonneville America followed hard on its heels, specifically designed for the US rider.
Then fate intervened again. Just as Triumph geared up for the busy coming season, the factory was devastated by fire. The blaze of 15th of March 2002 saw the complete destruction of the main stores, injection moulding area, chassis and final assembly lines while the rest of the plant was heavily smoke damaged. Undeterred, even though the fire was one of the largest industrial conflagrations ever to occur in Britain, Triumph immediately set about rebuilding and almost six months to the day, the rebuilt factory was fully operational. R & D was unaffected by the fire and soon after the factory re-opened the the four-cylinder Daytona 600 supersports bike was shown publicly for the very first time.
Spearheading a return to racing the Daytona 600 competed successfully in the British Supersports championships of 2003 and 2004 and scored a win at the Isle of Man TT at its first attempt.
Other new models have followed since including the amazing Rocket III, the first production motorcycle to break the 2-litre barrier and most recently a brand new Sprint ST and Speed Triple and an all-new incomparable Daytona - a 675cc Triple.
With a comprehensive ongoing model development programme and continual factory investment who knows what the rest of this decade may bring.