He’s revered as the The Godfather of the Indian film scene with a string of acting and screenwriting credits spanning six decades, but these days Bollywood veteran Salim Khan would rather be tinkering with his Triumph than fine-tuning a script.
He will arguably never surpass his proudest motorcycle moment – when he and a leading custom house recreated the beloved imported 1956 Tiger T100 he was forced sell a few years later when he moved to Mumbai to pursue his acting dream,
It was the bike of his dreams, honed by a childhood poring over international film magazines full of grainy black and white images of Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando and James Dean. As a teen he was equally mesmerised by the sight of English policemen on the Triumph Speed Twins on his weekly trips to the local movie house.
One of his school friends who owned a 1948 Triumph Speed Twin used to let the young Khan live out his own movie scenes, and the seed was sown.
“There were hardly any other bikes in our little town, so I never got overtaken. I lost myself in my Triumph and its incredible throaty sound,” he said.
Half a century later and despite his stellar reputation – he was the main attraction at the Delhi premiere of Rohit Shetty’s film Simmba – he remains rooted in the simpler, splendid trappings of his hard-earned journey to fame, epitomised by that vintage reborn Triumph.
Just a few short years after importing the T100 flying machine and ‘zipping around on it too fast’, according to neighbours in his hometown of Indore, Salim headed for the big city for good.
His family sold the bike for him as the young star got his big break, famously riding a bike on-set as a body double. He was paid with a bottle of whisky.
Bikes, and in particular Triumph, remained in Salim’s bones as his career as an actor and then writer flourished. So when son Sohail bought him a working, but poorly modified, 1956 Tiger T100, he tried in vain to get it restored to recreate the memory of his first love.
“Each time I wasn’t happy with the performance because I knew what it should sound like. I just couldn’t get the engine right,” he said. A chance meeting with Jignesh Mistry, boss of Mumbai-based EGO Custom Wheels, saw the pair recreate the original, with a delicious combination of memory and technical know-how.
Jignesh painstakingly tracked down the old parts from the UK including an original tool kit.
“The whole family are Triumph fanatics and all ride Triumphs, but because this Tiger was always the subject of stories, they decided to buy him one,” said Jignesh.
“But he just couldn’t get it to run right until I heard about it. I thought it would be a great challenge. The Tiger is like the precious jewel of the family.”
Salim said: “I guided him from my memories and details of parts like the overflow plate, speedo and single Amal Carburettor. He knew I was a connoisseur just from my comments.” Eight months later the bike was ready, and, like the excited teenager who had waited for the shipment from England in the mid-50s, Salim was a child once again.
It was amazing to feel that same roar, those same vibes as I did when I first rode the Triumph T100 in 1956Salim Khan
He said: “There wasn’t one thing that seemed out of place. The feel was the same and it was just like my old Triumph. He had achieved what I had in mind. It was a wonderful job.
“It was amazing to feel that same roar, those same vibes as I did when I first rode the Triumph T100 in 1956.” Jignesh said: “After he rode it he said he had been reconnected with his youth. He was young again.”
Fame meant he had the funds to restore the bike, but his ride-outs are restricted to his farm about an hour from Mumbai, where he can put the T100 and his 2007 Bonneville through their paces without being recognised.
Salim said: “We all ride motorcycles and pedal cycles and love the Triumph heritage. It’s a marque that has a unique place in all our hearts.”