Inspiration: Interview

The McQueen connection

A couple retrace their Triumph roots

In the heady days of the ’60s and ’70s British motorcycles production was at its peak. FTR catches up with a couple, Edward and Thelma, who met in the heyday of British motorcycle production. They share their story of life at Triumph in these times, how they met, and a rare encounter with Steve McQueen…

Reliving the past

Things were different back then. “It was a far cry from the pristine factory today,” Edward explains. “The original factory had its own foundry, the floor was dirty. There were bits and pieces and oil and dirt everywhere. The new factory is high technology, it’s up-to-the-minute.”

Edward had moved into Triumph in the export division. “I had an interview with Bill Robertson, the Export Manager, and we got on like a house on fire immediately. I stayed until ’71. I loved it there, it was really like a family. Bill was in charge of US exports, and I pretty much had the rest of the world. Although 90% of the exports went to the US  – so he was the busy one!”

The spark

Thelma was a telephonist at Triumph and recalls how the two met. “You weren’t allowed to make private calls at the factory. One of the girls would go around and collect the money from everyone who’d used the line to make private calls. I was one of the girls who went around and collected the money, and Edward was one of the guys who owed.”

From there, a mutual attraction developed, “And he had a nice MGA, so I consented to go out with him.” Thelma laughs.

Edward and Thelma with a newspaper cut out of Thelma with Steve McQueen on his bike

McQueen’s visit

While Edward cruised in his MGA, Thelma was on two wheels: “I had a Tina scooter I used to ride to work on, but it used to conk out on the last stretch. One of the test riders on a Bonneville would always come and pick me up, bring someone back for the bike, then have my scooter mended and ready for my commute home.”

Steve McQueen once swung by the Meriden workshop before heading out for the International Six Day Trial. A local paper came to take a snap of Steve McQueen’s bike for their front page. And Thelma was invited to hop on the back: “It was a great moment. He was obviously such a huge star and it’s fantastic he has this Triumph connection. It’s also a very rare picture of Steve McQueen.”

Edward and Thelma moved out to Australia a decade ago. Having heard about the new Factory Visitor Experience, and planning to visit the Midlands during their trip, they decided to take a look.

A Triumph that Steve McQueen used to ride is currently on display and Thelma was given special dispensation to sit on the motorcycle. “I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to climb back on one of Steve’s bikes.”

Triumph’s story continues…

“The factory still retains that family atmosphere, but in a much more modern way,” Edward explains. “The Visitor Experience really tells the story and captures the essence of the older factory and the transition to the new.”

“We’re so impressed with the new place. Everyone is so friendly, just like the old days, and there’s so much so see,” Thelma adds. “We’d love to come back again. Sitting on the bike certainly brought back memories!”