Triumph Motorcycles

Triumph Motorcycles

Triumph Motorcycles is a British motorcycle manufacturer, originally based in Coventry. A new company in Hinckley took over the name rights after the collapse of the company in the 1980s.

Triumph Engineering Co Ltd

Infobox Defunct Company
company_name = Triumph Engineering Co Ltd
fate = bankrupt
successor = Triumph Motorcycles Ltd.
foundation = 1885
defunct = 1983
location = flagicon|UK Meriden, England, UK
industry = Motorcycles
key_people = Jack Sangster
Edward Turner
products = List of Triumph motorcycles
num_employees =
parent = BSA, Manganese Bronze
subsid = former subsidiaries, if any
The company began in 1885 when Siegfried Bettmann emigrated to Coventry in England from Nuremberg, part of the German Empire. In 1884 aged 20, Bettmann founded his own company, the S. Bettmann & Co. Import Export Agency, in London. Bettmann's original products were bicycles, which the company bought and then sold under its own brand name. Bettmann also distributed sewing machines imported from Germany.

In 1886, Bettmann sought a more universal name, and the company became known as the Triumph Cycle Company. A year later, the company registered as the New Triumph Co. Ltd., now with financial backing from the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company. In that year, Bettmann was joined by another Nuremberg native, Moritz Schulte.

Schulte encouraged Bettmann to transform Triumph into a manufacturing company, and in 1888 Bettmann purchased a site in Coventry using money lent by his and Schulte's families. The company began producing the first Triumph-branded bicycles in 1889. In 1896, Triumph opened a subsidiary, Orial TWN (Triumph Werke Nuremberg) a German subsidiary for cycle production in his native city.

In 1898, Triumph decided to extend its own production to include motorcycles and by 1902, the company had produced its first motorcycle - a bicycle fitted with a Belgian-built engine. In 1903, as its motorcycle sales topped 500, Triumph opened motorcycle production at its unit in Germany. During its first few years producing motorcycles, the company based its designs on those of other manufacturers. In 1904, Triumph began building motorcycles based on its own designs and in 1905 produced its first completely in-house designed motorcycle. By the end of that year, the company had produced more than 250 of that design.

In 1907, after the company opened a larger plant, production reached 1,000 bikes. Triumph had also launched a second, lower-end brand, Gloria, produced in the company's original plant.

World War I

The outbreak of World War I proved a boost for the company as production was switched to support the Allied war effort. More than 30,000 motorcycles - among them the Model H Roadster aka the "Trusty Triumph," often cited as the first modern motorcycle - were supplied to the Allies.

Bettmann and Schulte fell out after the war, with Schulte wishing to replace bicycle production with cars. Schulte left the company, but in the 1920s Triumph purchased the former Hillman car factory in Coventry and produced a saloon car in 1923 under the name of the Triumph Motor Company. Harry Ricardo produced an engine for their latest motorbike.

By the mid-1920s Triumph had grown into one of Britain's leading motorcycle and car makers, with a convert|500000|sqft|m2 plant capable of producing up to 30,000 motorcycles and cars each year. Triumph also found its bikes in high demand overseas, and export sales became a primary source of the company's revenues, although for the United States, Triumph models were manufactured under license. The company found its first automotive success with the debut of the Super Seven car in 1928. Shortly after, the Super Eight was born.


When the Great Depression hit in 1929, Triumph spun off its German subsidiary as a separate, independently owned company, which became part of the Triumph-Adler Company. The Nuremberg firm continued to manufacture motorcycles under the Triumph brand until 1957. In 1932, Triumph sold off another part of the company, its bicycle manufacturing facility to Raleigh. By then, Triumph had been struggling financially, and Bettmann had been forced out of the chairman's spot. He retired completely in 1933

In 1936, the company's two components became separate companies. Triumph always struggled to make a profit from cars, and after going bankrupt in 1939 was acquired by the Standard Motor Company. The motorcycle operations fared better, having been acquired in 1936 by Jack Sangster, who also owned the rival Ariel motorcycle company. That same year, the company began its first exports to the United States, which quickly grew into the company's single most important market. Sangster's formed the Triumph Engineering Co Ltd largely led by ex-Ariel employees, including Edward Turner who designed the 500 cc 5T Speed Twin - released in September 1937, and the basis for all Triumph twins until the 1980s. Contrary to popular belief, however, this was not Triumph's first parallel twin. This honour falls to the Val Page designed, but unpopular, 6/1. After Turner arrived, in his usual brusque manner, the 6/1 was dropped, later to be replaced with Turner's design. The 6/1 engine later resurfaced, somewhat modified, as the BSA A10. In 1939 the 500 cc Tiger T100, capable of convert|100|mph|km/h, was released, and then the war began.

World War II

Motorcycles were produced at Coventry until World War II. The town of Coventry was virtually destroyed in The Blitz (September 7 1940 to May, 1941). Tooling and machinery was recovered from the site of the devastation and production restarted at the new plant at Meriden, West Midlands in 1942. (It was actually the village of Allesley, which was difficult to find on a map!) One of Triumph's wartime products is of particular interest: portable generators for the RAF, using 500 cc Triumph engines with alloy barrels.

Post-war era

The Speed Twin designed by Edward Turner before the war was produced in large numbers after the war. Efforts to settle the lend-lease debts caused nearly 70% of Triumphs post war production to be shipped to the United States.

Post War, the Speed Twin and Tiger 100 were available with a sprung rear hub, Triumph's first attempt at a rear suspension.

Privateers put wartime surplus alloy barrels on their Tiger 100 racers, and won races, inspiring the Triumph GP model. By 1950 the supply of barrels was exhausted, and the GP model was dropped. The American market applied considerable pressure to reverse this backward step, and a die cast close finned alloy barrel was made available. The alloy head made the valve noise more obvious, so ramp type cams were introduced for alloy head models to reduce the noise.

Another motorcycle based on the wartime generator engine was the 499 cc TR5 Trophy Twin, also introduced at the 1948 Motor Cycle Show. It used a single carburettor, low compression version of the Grand Prix engine. Britain won the prestigious 1948 International Six Days Trial. The Triumph works team had finished unpenalised. One team member, Allan Jefferies, had been riding what amounted to a prototype version. [ V4065.pdf] (Retrieved 26 December 2006)]

To satisfy the American appetite for motorcycles suited to long distance riding, Turner built a 650 cc version of the Speed Twin design. The new bike was named the Thunderbird (A name Triumph would later license to the Ford Motor Company for use on a car). Only one year after the Thunderbird was introduced a hot rodder in Southern California mated the 650 Thunderbird with a twin carb head originally intended for GP racing and named the new creation the Wonderbird. That 650 cc motor, designed in 1939, held the world's absolute speed record for motorcycles from 1955 until 1970.

The Triumph brand received considerable publicity in the United States when Marlon Brando rode a 1950 Thunderbird 6T in the 1953 motion picture, "The Wild One".

The Triumph Motorcycle concern was sold to their rivals BSA by Sangster in 1951. This sale included Sangster becoming a member of the BSA board. Sangster was to rise to the position of Chairman of the BSA Group in 1956.

The production 650 cc Thunderbird was a low compression tourer, and the 500 cc Tiger 100 was the performance bike. That changed in 1954, with the change to swing arm frames, and the release of the alloy head 650 cc Tiger 110, eclipsing the 500 cc Tiger 100 as the performance model.

In 1959, the T120, a tuned double carburettor version of the T110, came to be called the "Bonneville". As Triumph and other marques gained market share, Harley became aware that their 1 litre-plus bikes were not as sporty as the modern rider would like, resulting in a shrinking share of the market. The Triumphs were models for a new, "small" Harley Davidson as a result: the now-fabled Sportster, which started out as Harley's version of a Triumph Bonneville. With its anachronistic V-twin, the Sportster was no match for the Bonneville, but it proved a solid competitor in US sales and eventually also in longevity.Fact|date=March 2007

In the 1960s, despite internal opposition from those who felt that it would dilute the macho image of the brand, Triumph produced two scooters; the "Triumph Tina", a small and low performance 2-stroke scooter of around 100 cc with automatic clutch and a handlebar carry basket, and the "Triumph Tigress", a more powerful scooter available with either a 175 cc 2-stroke single or a 250 cc 4-stroke twin engine for the enthusiast.

In 1962, the last year of the "pre-unit" models, Triumph used a frame with twin front down-tubes, but returned to a traditional Triumph single front downtube for the unit construction models that followed. The twin down tube, or duplex frame, was used on the 650 twins, as a result of frame fractures on the Bonneville. Introduced in 1959, for the 1960 model year, it soon needed strengthening, and was dropped in 1962, with the advent of the unit engines for the 650 range. The 3TA (21) was the first unit construction twin, soon followed by the short-stroke, 490 cc "500" range.

From 1963 all Triumph engines were of unit construction.

In 1969 Malcolm Uphill, riding a Bonneville, won the Isle of Man Production TT with a race average of convert|99.99|mph|km/h per lap, and recorded the first ever over convert|100|mph|km/h|0 lap by a production motorcycle at convert|100.37|mph|km/h|2. For many Triumph fans, the 1969 Bonneville was the best Triumph ever.Fact|date=March 2007

American sales had already peaked, in 1967. In truth, the demand for motorcycles was rising, but Triumph could not keep up.

In the 1960s, 60% of all Triumph production was exported, which, along with the BSA's 80% exports, made the group susceptible to the Japanese expansion. By 1969 fully 50% of the US market for bikes over 500 cc belonged to Triumph, but technological advances at Triumph had failed to keep pace with the rest of the world. Triumphs lacked electric start mechanisms, relied on push-rods rather than overhead cams, vibrated noticeably, often leaked oil, and had antiquated electrical systems; while Japanese marques such as Honda were building more advanced features into attractive new bikes that sold for less than their British competitors. Triumph motorcycles as a result were nearly obsolete even when they were new; further, Triumph's manufacturing processes were highly labour-intensive and largely inefficient. Also disastrous, in the early 1970s the US government arbitrarily mandated that all motorcycle imports must have their shift and brake pedals in the Japanese configuration, which required expensive retooling of all the bikes for US sale.

The British marques were poorly equipped to compete against the massive financial resources of Japanese heavy industries that targeted competitors for elimination via long-term plans heavily subsidized by the Japanese government. Triumph and BSA were well aware of Honda's ability but while the Japanese were only making smaller engined models, the large engine market was considered safe. When the first Honda 750 cc four cylinder was released for sale to the public, Triumph and BSA were facing trouble. A 3-cylinder engined motorcycle was developed to compete against the Japanese fours: the BSA Rocket 3/Triumph Trident.

The 1970 Tiger/Bonneville re-design and taller twin front downtube oil tank frame met a mixed reception from Triumph enthusiasts at the time, and was insufficient to win back those already riding the Japanese bikes that had hit the markets in 1969; the Honda 750 Four, and the Kawasaki 500 Mach 3. The Triumph 350 cc Bandit received pre-publicity, before being quietly shelved. Triumph was still making motorcycles, but they no longer looked like the bikes Triumph fans expected. The Trident attracted its own market, but the Japanese bikes were improving more rapidly.

Harley Davidson had responded to Triumph's earlier marketing success by producing sportier models that retained the engine design traditional Harley owners identified with, and had managed to survive. Triumph did not manage to do as well with its redesign. Problems were compounded in 1970 by difficulties with parts supply and the labour force.

In 1971 a five speed gearbox was introduced.

The parent BSA group made losses of 8.5 million pounds in 1971, 3 million for BSA motorcycles alone. The British government became involved. The company was sold to Manganese Bronze Holdings, which also owned Norton, AJS, Matchless, Francis-Barnett, James-Velocette and Villiers. A new company called Norton Villiers Triumph (NVT), managed by Dennis Poore, emerged.

NVT collapse

When the BSA group collapsed under its debts, government help led to a merger with the Manganese Bronze Holdings subsidiary Norton-Villiers. The three remaining brands to be produced by the company were combined to create the new group name of Norton-Villiers-Triumph (NVT). However, this restructuring would result in a number of closures and redundancies, due to the withdrawal of the Conservative government aid (as an inducement to Denis Poore to take on Triumph) by the then Labour Minister, Roy Hattersley. After many consulations with the factory personnel explaining the consolidation necessary to face the Japanese challenge, in September 1973 NVT Group chairman Denis Poore finally announced the closure of Meriden works effective February, 1974. Of 4,500 employees, 3,000 were made redundant. Faced with unemployment and having their products handed over to a rival firm, the workers at the Meriden factory demonstrated against a move to Small Heath, Birmingham, the BSA site and staged a sit in for two years.

The Bonneville engine size was increased to 724 cc in 1973, and called a 750.

Edward Turner died at home in his sleep on August 15 1973. [ IanChadwick Triumph Timeline 05] (Retrieved 26 November 2006)]


As scheduled, Trident production moved to the BSA factory in Small Heath in 1974, but as BSA used non-craft labour in manufacturing, quality fell dramatically. In October 1974 the Labour Government announced the formation of the Meriden Cooperative under Tony Benn, with a loan of £5 million - on the condition that NVT retained ownership of the name, and continued the sales and marketing of the machines. The cooperative resumed production in March 1975, but dropped production of the lightweight T120, to concentrate on the 750 cc twin machines, the Bonneville and the Tiger, primarily for the USA market. The cooperative needed additional cash, and agreed a deal with Lord Weinstock's GEC company to sell 2,000 Bonnevilles for £1,000,000 together with consultation on setting up a sales force.

Meanwhile, NVT stopped production of the Trident in 1975, and also killed off the development of the 1000 cc Quadrent (often and mistakenly called the "Quadrant") due to cash flow difficulties. A number of key engineers left the company, including Henry Vale, Jack Wickes, Les Williams, Ivor Davies, Arthur Jakeman and Norman Hyde

In 1977, after fighting over who had rights to sell Triumph motorcycles for many years, NVT went bankrupt and the rights were sold to the Meriden Cooperative. The limited edition Silver Jubilee T140V was made to commemorate Queen Elizabeth's 25 years on the throne, a T140 Bonnie with hand-striped wheel rim, chromed engine cases and special sidecover badges. Nominally 1,000 were scheduled for the UK, 1,000 for the US, and about 400 more made for export later. The model sold well, and production increased slowly to 350 machines a week, 60% going to the USA. After this it was all downhill, with no investment in new machines, merely makeovers of the 750 cc twin.

However, the Bonneville T140D won the "Machine of the Year" award in Motor Cycle News – a questionable honour this late in the bike's life, owing more to the bike's reputation than its competency against the (mostly Japanese) competition. The T140D had Lester cast alloy wheels, a new cylinder head with parallel intake tracts, Amal MKII carburettors, Lucas Rita electronic ignition system, and a lower 7.9:1 compression to reduce vibration.

In 1980, debt reached £2 million pounds - additionally above the earlier £5 million loan. In October, the British government wrote off £8.4 million pounds owed by Triumph, but still left the company owing £2 million to Britain's Export Credit Guarantee Dept. Triumph experimented with several designs in its last years, none able to stop the decline.

In 1981 the T140D Bonneville Royal Wedding to celebrate marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana reached the sales rooms, with 250 each for the UK and America. It had electric start, chrome fuel tank and wheels, and a certificate – and after the original SpeedTwin, the launch Bonneville of 1959 and late 1960s derivatives, is one of the most prized models for a collector.

1982 was the last year of "full" production, with the 8-valve TSS model launched – although a porous cylinder head made by external contractors was its death knell. The company with no money briefly looked at buying the bankrupt Hesketh Motorcycles, and even badged one as a marketing trial – but went bankrupt itself in late 1983.

Triumph Motorcycles Ltd

Triumph Motorcycles Ltd is the largest surviving British motorcycle manufacturer. When Triumph went into receivership in 1983 John Bloor, a former plasterer turned wealthy English property developer and builder became interested in keeping the brand name going. and bought the name and manufacturing rights from the Official Receiver.cite web|url=|title=1980's - The end and the new beginning.|accessdate=2008-09-20] The new company (initially Bonneville Coventry Ltd) ensured that Triumph has produced motorcycles since 1902, winning it the title of the World's longest continuous production motorcycle manufacturer. [cite web|url=|title=Significant Motorcycles in Triumph History |accessdate=2008-09-20]

Triumph motorcycle models

Company timeline

*1884: German immigrant Siegfried Bettmann sets up S. Bettmann Import Export Agency in London and begins distributing bicycles under Bettmann name.
*1886: The company changes its name to Triumph Cycle Company.
*1888: Triumph buys a factory in Coventry to begin producing bicycles.
*1889: The company moves its headquarters to Coventry.
*1902: The first Triumph motorcycles go into production using a Belgian engine.
*1903: A manufacturing subsidiary is created in Nuremberg, Germany, to produce Triumph motorcycles for the German market.
*1905: The first fully company-built motorcycle is produced.
*1915: Switching to wartime production, the company produces 30,000 "Trusty Triumph" motorcycles for the Allies during the World War I.
*1923: The first Triumph car model, the 10/20, is launched.
*1929: Triumph's German subsidiary is spun off as a separate company, which continues to make Triumph motorcycles until the 1950s.
*1936: Triumph car and motorcycle operations are broken up into two companies; Jack Sangster, who owns Ariel motorcycles, buys the motorcycle division.
*1939: Triumph Cars goes bankrupt and is acquired by Standard Motor Company.
*1940: The company switches to wartime production, building over 50,000 motorcycles for the Allies.
*1950: The Thunderbird model debuts.
*1951: Triumph is acquired by the BSA Group, which also makes BSA motorcycles.
*1953: Marlon Brando rides a Triumph Thunderbird in the film The Wild One.
*1958: The Bonneville, hailed as the greatest motorcycle of all time, is introduced.
*1969: Triumph production peaks at nearly 48,000 motorcycles.
*1972: Norton-Villiers-Triumph (NVT) is created in an effort to rescue the British motorcycle industry.
*1973: After NVT chairman announces the closure of the Triumph plant; its workers stage an 18-month sit-in, shutting down production.
*1974: Meriden Motorcycle Cooperative is created with government backing and production soon resumes at the Triumph plant.
*1983: Triumph goes bankrupt, and its brand and manufacturing rights are acquired by John Bloor.
*1990: Bloor opens a state-of-the-art plant in Hinckley and unveils new Triumph models.
*1991: The company begins full-scale production of new models.
*1995: Triumph returns to the U.S. market, distributing through Triumph USA subsidiary set up the year before.
*2000: The company relaunches the Bonneville and approaches the break-even mark
*2006: With the 2007 model year bikes, the 790 cc engine is phased out completely
*2007: Led by the perennial favorites, the Speedmaster and America cruisers, as well as the iconic Bonneville and award-winning Daytona 675 sportsbike, Triumph is the best selling brand of motorcycle in Australia according to 2007 sales figures released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.
*2008 Joe Esposito, renowned Cairo racer, bought this machine for testing purposes.
*2008: Because of world wide government environmental regulations, all parallel twin motors are phased over to fuel injection from carburetors.

ee also

*List of Triumph motorcycles
*Triumph Rocket III
*BSA Rocket 3/Triumph Trident
*Triumph Triple - Hinckley
*Tribsa - custom bikes
*Triton motorcycle - custom bikes
*Triumph Motor Company - cars


External links

* [ Official Triumph website]
* [ 125 Years of Triumph Motorcycle History]
*dmoz|Recreation/Motorcycles/Makes_and_Models/Triumph/|Triumph Motorcycles

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