There are quite a few iconic movie motorcycles—the 1961 Triumph TR6 Trophy from The Great Escape comes to mind immediately, as does the Captain America Harley-Davidson in Easy Rider. It’s easy to overlook the customized 1949 Triumph Trophy 500 ridden by Arthur Fonzarelli in the Happy Days television show, but it was seen by far more people than the movie bikes in the show’s 11-season run. Bonhams sold The Fonz Triumph at the TMC Presents…Hollywood Cool auction for a staggering $231,562.
The Happy Days Fonz Triumph has an unexpected tie-in with the Triumph from The Great Escape. In an odd twist, the Triumph Trophy 500 was customized by Bud Ekins. As most motorcyclists know, Ekins performed the famous jump over the barbed wire fence in The Great Escape. Ekins was Steve McQueen’s stunt double, and the Triumph TR6 Trophy was pretending to be a BMW R 75. This Fonz Triumph is one of three that was built for the show.
Henry Winkler, who played The Fonz, was not a motorcycle rider. “I was on the bike,” Winkler told CNN’s George Stroumboulopoulos in 2013. “I was supposed to go about five feet…I went five feet at about 90 miles an hour. I’m not kidding. And the man who was the Director of Photography was sitting right in front of me. I watched him fly. I dropped the bike. We slid under the sound truck. They came running over, and they pulled the bike out because they rented it. Then they pulled me out!”
Winkler went on to claim to Stroumboulopoulos that “the second bike I used, which was a Triumph, was the same bike that Steve McQueen used to jump the fence in The Great Escape.” That’s not true, of course, but it made for a good story and referenced the Ekins association, whether intended or not.
Certainly, the Triumph played a big part in the life of the fictional Fonz. When it was destroyed in a traffic accident, Howard Cunningham (father of lead character Richie) said to The Fonz, “It’s only a motorcycle.”
The Fonz responded with a thoughtful soliloquy: “Just a motorcycle, huh, Mr. C.? Let me tell you a little story. When I was young, I was a complete nerd, okay? I tried everything to be cool. Nothing I tried worked, and then it came along. It changed my whole life. It’s the whole reason for me to live. Just a motorcycle, eh? And I suppose your mother was just a mother?”
Little did The Fonz or Mr. C. know that his motorcycle—just a 1949 Triumph Trophy 500 with some silver paint, buckhorn bars, and no front fender—would sell for nearly a quarter-million dollars one day.
Photography courtesy of Bonhams
The Fonz 1949 Triumph Trophy 500 Photo Gallery