Inspiration: Racing

Triumph DNA

History reincarnated

The evolution of a Triumph species

If Charles Darwin was still around today he’d be delighted that his theory of the fittest always thriving had been proved correct.

His was an obsession with the evolution of mankind, but the argument is just as compelling in motorcycling, where DNA and bloodline are at the core of everything Triumph touches. Like every great family tree, there are pivotal points in history from where genealogists can trace the lineage and proudly declare ‘ah, Great-granddad looks like me’.

The Hinckley-based manufacturer’s new Thruxton and Thruxton R – part of the new Bonneville Reborn quintet – are the descendants of three iconic bikes that are unmistakeably the forebears of a bloodline of legends.

When you look at the ’59 Bonnie, which was actually started in 1958, and then look back at the ’37 Speed Twin there’s not a lot of difference. You can see the DNA running through them both

Alan Dugdale

The all new Thruxton and Thruxton R

That’s the view of marque aficionado Dick Shepherd, and he should know. He has the largest and most significant personal collection of Triumphs on the planet, currently standing at 320.

“The new Thruxton is a stunning bike, largely because its lineage is instantly recognisable. I’m sure that in 100 years we’ll say the same because Triumph don’t change things that work,” he said. Shepherd leads the team to an unassuming modern outbuilding where three of the Thruxton’s ancestors are enjoying a well-deserved rest.

The T120’s distinctive Pearl Grey and Tangerine bodywork

A quick glance at the line-up of 1937 Speed Twin, 1949 Thunderbird and Tiger 110 from 1956 shows the striking family resemblance and a devotion to enhancing rather than changing.

The trio are linked by blood, sweat and tears to the original British superbike, the best and most exciting sports bike you could buy – The Bonneville, named after the 243mph land speed record.

Despite the popularity of the Bonnie’s unmistakeable silhouette, Shepherd, a modern-day motorcycle detective devoting his life to tracking down historically significant models, admitted finding an original Thruxton was a struggle.

The original factory hand-built batch numbered just 49, but the waters have been muddied by the passing of time and presence of customised copies designed to echo the race-winning bike.

Inevitably, Shepherd got hold of one of the first dozen T120 Bonnie’s off the line – identifiable by their engine number – which would go on to sweep the board for Triumph at the eponymous race track in Hampshire, continually taking podium spots in the 500-mile endurance race year after year to earn their new nickname.

His saviour was former TT winner Alan Dugdale, who had spotted an article about the T120R Thruxtons penned by Shepherd, and got in touch to say he’d sell him the bike, which finished 16th in the 500 mile in 1960 and eighth in 1961.

Alan Dugdale reunited with his  Isle of Man TT bike
Alan Dugdale reunited with his Isle of Man TT bike

“When you look at the ’59 Bonnie, which was actually started in 1958, and then look back at the ’37 Speed Twin there’s not a lot of difference. You can see the DNA running through them both,” he said.

The DNA that still runs deep within the bike

Dick Shepherd

The 650cc T120 bike features the tell-tale tank design and fuel cap that epitomised the attention to detail of Triumph’s bikes under the leadership of General Manager Edward Turner. Named because it could hit 120mph – actual tests showed only 108mph, still lightning fast for the time – it was distinctive for its Pearl Grey and Tangerine decal, large fenders and post-war Thunderbird-inspired headlamp nacelle.


But despite being the fastest bike money could buy, the factory’s quest for speed – fuelled by those endurance race successes – saw the development of a works-only initial batch of 49 Thruxtons in 1965.

The limited run of heftier horsepowered bikes was crafted by technicians solely for racing teams, using specially picked components and precision-machined cylinder heads and crankcases… and the rest really is history.

said: “The new Thruxtons are just like the ones from the 60s in terms of styling and design, but with a raft of new technology that’s come along in the intervening years.

“The wonderful thing is that Triumph haven’t just slung the lot on. They’ve done it very subtly and maintained the most important thing; the DNA that still runs deep within the bike.”