A surviving Classic and the new Speedmaster
Having watched Steve McQueen in the Great Escape for so many years after Christmas lunch, Triumph motorbikes became part of my psyche but it was not until the 1982 film, An Officer and a Gentleman that the Bonneville really got into my soul. I thought this motorbike combined so much and it did not hurt that a female friend of the time was a Richard Gere fan.
The name, of course, comes from the Salt Flats in Utah where a bunch of motorcycle companies sought to out do each other on speed records.
The Bonneville had its first Triumph production run in 1959 and extending through towards the end of 1985 but its 650cc engine lost out on power against the likes of Honda and the expanding Japanese manufacturers. These were the days of Triumph Engineering and Norton Villiers Triumph, poor British Governments and the decline of our manufacturing base.
The original T120 models mutated into T140s by the 1970s with a 750cc engine and continued in production until the sad demise of the Meriden factory in 1983. This would have logically been the end of the story apart from the intervention of the maverick John Bloor and his Devon Bonnevilles.
Whatever one thinks about that episode, Bloor's Triumph Motorcycles Limited is still alive and well, not at Hinkley anymore but manufacturing in Thailand. The new 790 Bonneville (actually now with 865cc engines) is respected and sought after.
The success or failure of this long history probably depends more on America than it does on traditional European markets and the signs are quite good. The Speedmaster is becoming very popular and fits the Classic retro-look that is so popular with many American bikers.
One other sad note in this story is that back in 1968, Triumph refused to sponsor Evel Knieval's jump of the Caesars Palace fountain. The Bonneville was Knievel's preferred mount but Harley-Davidson offered him money and free maintenance to use one of their heavier motorcycles. Would it have made any difference? We will never know but 29 days in a coma is a lot to pay for free-maintenance.
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31 August 2011, 11:04AM
That Triumph company made ordinary bikes before the turn of the century and were right there with the first motorbikes. Why did they not make it? Why are they not as well known as BMW and Harley-Davidson? Is this a British failure ?
Honda's growing success in Brazil with their CG 150 Titan Mix engines
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