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The Triumph Motorcycle - World War II

Motorcycles were produced at Coventry until World War II. The town of Coventry was virtually destroyed in The Blitz (1940-1941). Tooling and machinery was recovered from the site of the devastation and production restarted at the new plant at Meriden, West Midlands in 1942. One of Triumph's wartime products is of particular interest: portable generators for the RAF, using 500 cc Triumph engines with alloy barrels.

The Speed Twin designed by Edward Turner before the war was produced in large numbers after the war. Efforts to settle the lend-lease debts caused nearly 70% of Triumphs post war production to be shipped to the United States.

Post War, the Speed Twin and Tiger 100 were available with a sprung rear hub, Triumph's first attempt at a rear suspension.

Privateers put wartime surplus alloy barrels on their Tiger 100 racers, and won races, inspiring the Triumph GP model. By 1950 the supply of barrels was exhausted, and the GP model was dropped. The American market applied considerable pressure to reverse this backward step, and a die cast close finned alloy barrel was made available. The alloy head made the valve noise more obvious, so ramp type cams were introduced for alloy head models to reduce the noise.

Another motorcycle based on the wartime generator engine was the 499cc TR5 Trophy Twin, also introduced at the 1948 Motor Cycle Show. It used a single carburettor, low compression version of the Grand Prix engine. Britain won the prestigious 1948 International Six Days Trial. The Triumph works team had finished unpenalised. One team member, Allan Jefferies, had been riding what amounted to a prototype version.

To satisfy the American appetite for motorcycles suited to long distance riding, Turner built a 650 cc version of the Speed Twin design. The new bike was named the Thunderbird. Only one year after the Thunderbird was introduced a hot rodder in Southern California mated the 650 Thunderbird with a twin carb head originally intended for GP racing and named the new creation the Wonderbird. That 650 cc motor, designed in 1939, held the world's absolute speed record for motorcycles from 1955 until 1970.

The Triumph brand received considerable publicity in the United States when Marlon Brando rode a 1950 Thunderbird 6T in the 1953 motion picture, The Wild One. Triumph motorcycles was founded by (believe it or not) two Germans named Siegfried Bettman & Muaritz Shulte. Siegfried changed his old company name to Triumph, and the company was born in 1902. The first thing they did was take a small Minerva engine to a bike and their was their first motorcycle. Later they designed their own engine

The Triumph Motorcycle concern was sold to their rivals BSA by Sangster in 1951. This sale included Sangster becoming a member of the BSA board. Sangster was to rise to the position of Chairman of the BSA Group in 1956.

The production 650 cc Thunderbird was a low compression tourer, and the 500 cc Tiger 100 was the performance bike. That changed in 1954, with the change to swing arm frames, and the release of the alloy head 650 cc Tiger 110, eclipsing the 500 cc Tiger 100 as the performance model.

In 1959, the T120, a tuned double carburettor version of the T110, came to be called the Bonneville. As Triumph and other marques gained market share, Harley became aware that their 1 litre-plus bikes were not as sporty as the modern rider would like, resulting in a shrinking share of the market. The Triumphs were models for a new, "small" Harley Davidson as a result: the now-fabled Sportster, which started out as Harley's version of a Triumph Bonneville. With its anachronistic V-twin, the Sportster was no match for the Bonneville, but it proved a solid competitor in US sales and eventually also in longevity.