Triumph Engineering Co
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 formed the Triumph Engineering Co Ltd largely led by ex-Ariel employees, including Edward Turner who designed the 500cc 5T Speedtwin - released in September 1937, and the basis for all Triumphs until the 1990s. In 1939 the 500 cc T100 Tiger, capable of 100 mph, was released, and then the war began.
WW2 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. One of Triumph's wartime products is of particular interest: portable generators for the RAF, using 500cc Triumph engines with alloy barrels.
1940 November 14th. The Priory Street Works works are almost completely destroyed by fire as a result of the Blitz
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 Triumph's 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.
1948 Another motorcycle based on the wartime generator engine was the 499cc 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.
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 licensed 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 production 650cc Thunderbird was a low compression tourer, and the 500cc Tiger 100 was the performance bike. That changed in 1954, with the change to swing arm frames, and the release of the alloy head 650cc Tiger 110, eclipsing the 500cc Tiger 100 as the performance model.
1956 Sangster became Chairman of the BSA Group.
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-Davidson 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.
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 175cc 2 stroke single or a 250cc 4 stroke twin engine for the enthusiast.
1962 The last year of the "pre-unit" models, Triumph used a frame with twin front downtubes, but returned to a traditional Triumph single front downtube for the unit construction models that followed.
1963 All Triumph engines were of unit construction.
1969 Malcolm Uphill, riding a Bonneville, won the Isle of Man Production TT with a race average of 99.99 mph per lap, and recorded the first ever over 100 mph lap by a production motorcycle 100.37 mph. For many Triumph fans, the 1969 Bonneville was the best Triumph ever.
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, managed by Dennis Poore, emerged.
When the BSA group collapsed under its debts, government help led to a merger with the Norton-Villiers subsidiary of Manganese Bronze Holdings. 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. Without warning, in September 1973 NVT Group chairman Dennis Poore 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.
1974 As scheduled, Trident production moved to the BSA factory in Small Heath, 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 pounds - 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 750cc 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.
In 1983 Triumph went into receivership. John Bloor, a 53-year-old plasterer turned wealthy English property developer and builder, who had little interest in motorcycles, had for some time wanted to start up a manufacturing business. Bloor became interested in Triumph, and particularly its still highly regarded brand name. He bought the name and manufacturing rights from the Official Receiver. Enfield India lost, bidding £55,000 to the Official Receiver. A new company Triumph Motorcycles Ltd (initially Bonneville Coventry Ltd), was formed.
In 1988 Bloor funded the building of a new factory in Hinckley, Leicestershire and put between £70m and £100m into the company between purchase of the brand and break even in 2000.
National Motorcycle Museum exhibits:-
- 1950 Triumph Tiger 100
- 1951 500cc Triumph Tiger 100
- 1954 650cc Triumph Tiger 110
- 1954 Jim Alves’ 650cc ISDT twin
- 1956 650cc Triumph Streamliner
- 1969 Triumph T120 Bonneville TT
- 1970 Triumph Works 750cc Production raceR No.2 'Slippery Sam'
- 1971 750cc Works Triumph Trident Winner 1971 Bol d’Or 24 Hour Race
- 1971 Formula 750 works BSA/Triumph
- 1975 4-Cylinder 1000cc Prototype
- 2004 Triumph 955cc Speed Triple
Sources of Information
- The Times, Tuesday, Nov 20, 1945
- The Times, Friday, Dec 21, 1951
- 1961 Guide to Key British Enterprises: Motor, Motor-Cycle and Commercial Vehicle Manufacturers