Inspiration: Interview

Three… the magic number

Triumph collector Dick Shepherd & his trio of watershed bikes.

“Look at any of the new bikes coming out of Hinckley and it’s easy to see how legend and legacy have played their part in strengthening the emotional connection,” says Dick Shepherd.

The world’s foremost Triumph authority believes that the marque’s enduring strength can be traced back to three watershed bikes.

He gave a guided tour of the room that contains the lineage of bikes at the heart of his 320-strong collection.

1. 1937 Speed TwinThruxton5

Featured Overhead valve 500cc 5T Speed Twin giving 27hp, six-stud cast iron barrel and cylinder head, with separate alloy boxes housing the rockers and valve adjusters, 8-inch hub and girder forks.

Twin facts:

  • Edward Turner’s first bike as Triumph General Manager, it formed the basis of all Triumph bikes that followed.
  • The most exciting motorcycle of its era, it would become the inspiration for the 650cc Triumph twin that Johnny Allen rode to the 214mph land speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats in 1956.
  • Cost £75

Dick says “This was Turner’s first Triumph, so when Ivan Wicksteed suggested it could be modified to break the Brooklands record, he turned his back on him and walked off. A year later Wicksteed and school pal Marius Winslow smashed the track record and Turner was the first to congratulate them.”

If only the war hadn’t intervened, Turner would have supported them in future bids. Instead the track was partly dismantled to make room for a runway. But racing has played a part in Triumph’s heritage ever since.

2. 1949 Thunderbird 650cc

Featured Variant of the Speed Twin’s parallel twin engine bored out from 500 to 650cc for added grunt demanded by the US market. Sprung hub rear suspension, telescopic front forks and an austere post-war headlight nacelle.

Thunder strikes:

  • In American folklore, the mythical eagle-like Thunderbird unleashed thunder, lightning and rain, perfect for Edward Turner’s assault on the US market.Thruxton3
  • The Thunderbird was launched on a track at Montlhery, near Paris, by riders who averaged 92mph over 500 miles.
  • The 1950 6T Thunderbird was immortalised in Marlon Brando’s The Wild One to the anger of Triumph importers who objected to the use of the bike in a film about rowdy motorcycle gangs

Dick says “This motorcycle was very much a product of its time and was a natural progression from the Speed Twin, with added horsepower, good acceleration and improved power-to-weight ratio”.

If only Turner hadn’t bothered with the headlight built in to the nacelle, he’d have won over the US market even faster.

3. 1956 Tiger 110 650cc

Thruxton4Featured First produced in 1954, initially with single carb, the ’56 upgrade had twin carbs, higher compression, dual seat, improved cooling, the first swing arm suspension on a Triumph and a screw-in cap.

Tiger roars:

  • Triumph’s fastest production motorcycle yet, it was developed for the power-hungry American market, where 80% of production was headed.
  • Got its name because it was capable of 110mph, although official records put it at 109mph.
  • In keeping with the rock ‘n’ roll explosion of the time, the T110 ditched the drab and switched to a standout light metallic shell blue.

Dick says “The natural progression, this bike was the precursor to the all-conquering Bonneville. If you look at its shape and styling you can see the family resemblance. The bike marked a watershed for Triumph in terms of style, but if you look at the ’59 Bonnie and then look back at this and the ’37 Speed Twin there’s not a lot of difference.”

If the ’56 Tiger 110 had never been born, we might never have seen the ’59 T120, an instant hit that became one of the most famous motorcycles of all time.

The trio of watershed bikes that have shaped everything in their wake