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Vintage Motorcycles: Triumph Coventry Works



Vintage Triumph Motorcycle

New Triumph Co. Ltd. History


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Like many of the motorcycle companies that burst onto the scene at the turn of the 20th century, Triumph had its roots in the bicycle industry. The "New Triumph Co. Ltd." began in 1886 as the "Triumph Cycle Company," of Coventry, England. New Triumph Co. Ltd. was backed by the Dunlop Tyre Company in Dublin, Ireland.



The Triumph Cycle Company was founded by Maurice Johann Schulte and Siegfried Bettmann (1863—1951), both natives of Germany. Bettmann emigrated to England 1884, while Maurice (Mauritz) Schulte, an engineer by trade, oversaw production in Germany. Bettmann's first business in England was "S. Bettmann & Co." of London, which imported bicycles and sewing machines manufactured in Germany, then sold under the S. Bettmann & Co. brand in England.


Triumph Motorcycles & Charles Hathaway (1902-1920)

The New Triumph Co. Ltd. began selling "Triumph" bicycles in 1889, manufactured by its German subsidiary "Orial TWN" in Nuremberg.

At the turn of the century, New Triumph Co. Ltd. expanded into the burgeoning world of the motor-driven-cycle with its first version appearing in 1902. The first Triumph motorcycle - known simply as the "No. 1" - was built from cannibalized parts made by other manufacturers. The motor for the No. 1 was a single-cylinder 2hp Minerva, made in Belgium. Early Triumph motorcycles also used engines built by J.A. Prestwich of Middlesex.



1907 Triumph Roadster
1907 Triumph Roadster

By 1907 the company built its first all-Triumph designed motorcycle, sold under the "Triumph" brand and the secondary brand-name of the "Gloria." Their motorcycles were produced at the 'Triumph Coventry Works' under the supervision of designer and plant manager Charles Hathaway.

Maurice Schulte retired from the company in 1919, being replaced by colonel Claude V. Holbrook, who was head of motorcycle procurement for the British military during WWI.


Triumph SD 'Spring-Drive' (1920-1930)

In 1920, Triumph introduced the revolutionary shock-absorbing clutch assembly and chain-driven three-speed gearbox known as the "Spring Drive," which also replaced the final belt-drive with a chain.

The engine for the SD - known as the "Riccy" - were designed by "Ricardo Consulting Engineers" in Shoreham by the Sea, England. The Triumph SD engine was a single-cylinder 500cc mill with four pushrod-driven overhead valves. Riccy engines were used in the Model P, Model R, Model W.



1928 Triumph 500 Nuremberg
1928 Triumph 500 Nuremberg (TWN) 'Two Valve'


Triumph TT 'Two Valve' (1920-1930)

In 1926 the Riccy engine was replaced by the 'Two Valve,' or 'Triumph Horsman TT' which was designed by Victor Horsman. The TT was a single-cylinder 498cc motor with two overhead valves driven by rocker-arms using roller-bearings.


Triumph Automobiles (1920-1930)

In the 1920s Bettmann purchased the Coventry factory used by the Hillman-Coatalen Motor Car Company - founded by William Hillman who also started the

Premier Cycle Co.. The automobile devision was dubbed as the "Triumph Motor Company," which first produced saloon cars.



1947 Triumph TRW
1957 Triumph TRW 500cc Twin-Cylinder Military


Triumph 'Tiger' & 'Speed Twin' (1930-1940)

After the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression swept across Europe killing off many motorcycle companies. Strapped for cash, Triumph sold off its bicycle division in 1932, and sold the motorcycle division to Jack Sangster (son of Ariel founder John Young Sangster) in 1936. The company was renamed "Triumph Engineering Co Ltd."

The first new models introduced by Triumph Engineering were the single-cylinder "Tiger," and revolutionary 27bhp "Speed Twin," also known as the "T100." The Speed Twin featured a 498cc two-cylinder inline parallel-twin (aka vertical-twin) engine, designed by Triumph's chief designer Edward Turner, who penned the ill-fated Ariel "Square Four" engine during the late 1920s.


Triumph Speed Twin & Model 3H (1940-1950)

1940 was a watershed year for Triumph. The 'Model 3H' became a staple for the British army under the name 3HW, positioning the Triumph factory as a military target for Germany, along with Coventry's Dunlop, Daimler, GEC, Humber, and Whitworth plants. The Coventry factory was destroyed in November, 1940 as part of the German 'blitz of Coventry' - code-named by the Luftwaffe as "Moonlight Sonata." New factories were built in the West Midlands city of Meriden and in Warwick during 1942.



1947 Triumph Speed Twin
1947 Triumph Speed Twin

During the mid 1940s, the traditional 'springer' front fork assembly was replaced by the new 'telescopic fork' design. Five new models were introduced: the "3T" 349cc single-cylinder touring bike, the "5T Speed Twin," "Tiger 100," the 649cc "Thunderbird," and 500cc "Trophy."



Speed Twin 500cc Engine
1947 Triumph Speed Twin 500cc Engine


Triumph T120 Bonneville & Cub (1950-1960)

In 1951 Triumph's Jack Sangster became Managing Director of the competing BSA Motorcycle Group (Birmingham Small Arms), and shortly thereafter BSA acquired Triumph. The merger of these two British giants made the consolidated company the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer.



Triumph sales were helped along with the use of a 1950 Thunderbird 6T in the 1953 Marlon Brando movie The Wild One, although the movie was credited with a new negative stereotype of the motorcyclist as an "outlaw."



1963 Triumph Bonneville
1969 & 1970 Triumph T120 R Bonneville

Entering into the 'small-displacement' motorcycle arena, Triumph introduced two new models: the "Terrier" with a 149cc single-cylinder overhead valve engine, and the 199cc "Tiger Cub." The "Tiger 110" was introduced in 1954, featuring the newly developed "swing arm" rear suspension system.



Triumph T140 650cc Engine
Triumph Bonneville 650cc Engine

Perhaps no single model defines the Triumph brand more than that of the "Bonneville," or "Bonnie" as it came to be known. The evolution of the Bonneville began with the introduction of the Tiger 110 in 1954.

In 1956, a new two-wheel 214.5 mph speed record was set at the Bonneville Salt Flats, with a streamlined motorcycle powered by a 649cc vertical-twin Triumph engine. Although the record was ultimately reversed due to technicalities, it cemented Triumph into the history books, and the moniker of "Bonneville" was added the the Triumph lineup in 1959.

The Bonneville T120 was a sportier dual-carburetor version of the Tiger 110, and was Triumph's best selling model for over a decade.


1960-1970: Triumph's Golden Decade and the Trident 'Triple'

The Bonneville ("Bonnie") and other Triumph models came to epitomize "cool" in the popular culture of the time, and were prominently featured in movies, television shows throughout the 60s and 70s.



Triumph 750cc Flat Track Racing Engine
1966 Triumph Flat-Track modified 750cc racing engine

By the end of the 1960s, as much as 60% of Triumph sales were to America and other counties, but the rising sun of Japan loomed over the British and American motorcycle industries like a dark cloud.



1967 Triumph Bonneville TT Special
1967 Triumph Bonneville TT Special

In response to the large-displacement inline fours that were soon to hit the market, Triumph introduced the "Trident T150," an inline three-cylinder engine that was launched along with the BSA Rocket 3. The Trident "triples," nicknamed the "Tiger 100 and a half," were produced from 1968 to 1975, under the model numbers: T150, T160, and X75 Hurricane.


1970-1988: Triumph's Decline

With the success of Honda's CB750, and several management changes and gaffs, Triumph went into a tailspin. In 1973, the British government stepped in to rescue its indigenous motorcycle industry, and NVT ("Norton Villiers Triumph") was created out of the three faltering companies: Villiers Engineering Ltd., Norton Motorcycles, and Triumph Engineering Ltd.



1974 Triumph  Bonneville T140 Cafe Racer
1974 Triumph Bonneville T140 Cafe Racer

In a final attempt to save the British motorcycle industry, the "Meriden Motorcycle Cooperative" was formed by the British Labour Party, but this also proved to be too little, too late.



Triumph T140 Engine
Triumph T140 Engine - Owner: David Edwards, California

Finally succumbing to competitive pressure from the Japanese, the British government threw in the towel on any future bailouts, and the West Midlands/Meriden Triumph factory was shut down in 1983. The Triumph name lived on briefly under Les Harris of "Racing Spares," a Triumph parts supplier in Devonshire, South West England. Racing Spares continued to produce the Bonneville and Tiger from 1985 through 1988.


1990-Present: A Triumphant Return

A developer/speculator named John Bloor purchased the Meriden factory's land, along with the 'Triumph' trademark and any future manufacturing rights. The Meriden factory was raised, but a new factory was built in Hinckley, near the original home of Triumph in Coventry, Midland's.

The official kick-off of Triumph's rebirth took place in 1990, when the first reincarnated Triumphs rolled off the assembly line, and "the legend was reborn." The new lineup consisted of a blending of retro bikes based on the Bonneville/Tiger twins, and modern sport bikes based on the Trident 'triple-cylinder' formula.



Triumph Sprint ST
2003 Triumph Sprint ST 955cc Triple

The strategy was a resounding success, with the retro line appealing to nostalgic baby-boomers, and the modern sport bikes appealing to a younger audience who was looking for something a little out of the ordinary. Although Triumph would still be considered as a "nich" manufacturer, the company has maintained a loyal following to this day.


Vintage Triumph Links

Triumph Website

Triumph Owners' Motor Cycle Club

The Villiers Engineering Co. Ltd.

National Motorcycle Museum in Coventry

Triumph Classic Motorcycles - by Hugo Wilson

Triumph Motorcycles in America - by Lindsay Brooke

Triumph History

Triumph Motorcycles Timeline - 1963-1972: The Glory Years

Vintage Triumph Gallery

Triumph Owners' Triumph RAT Discussion Group

Triples Online - BSA Rocket3 & Triumph Trident



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