Retro Book Review: Triumph Motorcycles from Speed Twin to Bonneville
Triumph is one of the iconic names in motorcycles. And, though the Triumph line begins in 1902, Timothy Remus’ Triumph Motorcycles from Speed Twin to Bonneville picks up the story in 1937 with the introduction of the 500cc Speed Twin, designed by Edward Turner.
Superbly photographed by Remus, set in large, easy on the eye print, the book’s 144 pages fly by as you move through what is essentially a photo essay of some of Triumph’s most elegant road machines and Spartan racing bikes. Period advertising copy makes for some fascinating reading, as well.
In its pages, you’ll learn about some lesser-known aspects of Triumph. For example, the story of the squared off, cast aluminum head motors that were originally made for WWII generators, but ended up in motorcycles. Mated with a T100 lower end, the generator top ends were part of some stunning racing successes; in the 1946 Senior Manx GP won by Triumph’s chief engineer, Freddie Clarke and in the 1950 Daytona 100 won by American Rod Coates.
Adding human interest and personality to the book are interview segments with Triumph collector Denny Narland and owner of Baxter Cycle, Randy Baxter.
Reaching 1959, the story features the then-new 650cc Bonneville. As Remus moves through the chronology of Triumph’s development of its trademark parallel twins, he brings in details that brand aficionados like to know. For example—the headlight nacelle on the premier year 1959 Bonneville is unique to that model year, with multiple gauges and switches and proclamation, “World Motorcycle Speed Record Holder.” From 1960 on, most instrumentation moved to the headstock and out of the headlight nacelle.
Remus describes the how incrementally the product was improved through the 1960s. It wasn’t until the 1963 model year that the Bonneville came equipped with air filters, the 650 cc bikes went to unit construction, and 1966 before the line went from 6- to 12-volt electrical systems!
In 1969, when Honda unleashed the mighty CB750 Four with electric starter, 5-speed transmission and disc brake up front, Triumph was still hoping to pay the bills selling essentially the same machines at the end of the decade as it did at the beginning with kick starters, four speeds, and drum brakes all-round.
When Triumph finally introduced its three-cylinder 750 Trident (actual displacement was 724cc, initially), in addition to lacking what the Honda had, its styling was, in the view of many, disastrous. The fuel tank came to be known as the “bread box” tank and side covers were oversized and angular. By 1975, Remus recounts, the Trident was improved with sleek styling, 5-speed transmission, disc brake and electric starter.
Special commemorative edition Bonnevilles are also covered, including the Royal Wedding edition of 1980 and the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Edition Bonneville of 1977—each minted in limited numbers and each featuring striking special paint and trim treatments.
These special editions, the Trident, the Vetter-associated X-75 Hurricane, and some excellent engineering in the TSS and TSX models of the early 1980s were not enough to keep Triumph competitive and the end came in August of 1983.
Happily, that’s not the end of the Triumph story. Remus takes us to the rebirth of the marque under the ownership of John Bloor, whose leadership has the brand roaring back and continuing to flourish to this day.
Title: Triumph Motorcycles from Speed Twin to Bonneville
Author: Timothy Remus
Publisher: Wolfgang Publications, Inc. 217 Second St. North, Stillwater, MN 55082
Timothy Remus also wrote an earlier book about Triumph motorcycles to keep an eye out for:
Title: Triumph Motorcycles Twins and Triples
Author: Timothy Remus
Publisher: MBI Publishing Co., 729 Prospect Ave., PO Box 1, Osceola, WI 54020-0001 USA
Rider’s Library Note to Readers: many of the books that we’ll feature here may be out of print and some may be difficult to find. That could be half the fun. The Internet should make the search relatively easy but, ironically, none of the books currently scheduled for eventual retro-review for the Rider’s Library section were found with the help of the Internet. They all were found at book stores, used book stores, antique shops, motorcycle shops, yard sales and so on.