There are many websites detailing the history of Triumph motorcycles so this briefly provides a few interesting insights into the T120 Bonneville and its evolution to the New Bonneville.
One might ask why a British company would name it's motorcycle after an American landmark? Attribute that to a Triumph setting the world speed record (214mph) at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah back in 1956. But the Federation of International Motorcyclists for some questionable reason, did not recognize it. In 1959, as a rebuff to that ruling, Triumph created it's most powerful motorcycle to date ... and called it the "Bonneville".
The Bonneville became Triumph’s best known model but it's roots go back to the Speed Twin of 1937. It first introduced the 360 degree vertical twin engine that defined big Triumph's for decades to come. Today, the
look of the New Bonneville's engine
hearkens back to the mill that made
a naked bike truly beautiful!
Triumphs made their reputation in competition but the movies are what many say gave the Triumph almost universal appeal. When Marlon Brando rode a Thunderbird 6T in "The Wild One" (1954), the Triumph motorcycle became more than fast, more than famous -
The aura grew when Steve McQueen made that famous jump in "The Great Escape" on a Trophy TR6 ( not really, even though Steve wanted to, a legendary stunt man -
The model number for Triumphs like T100, T120, and T140 were indicative of the maximum speed the motorcycle was supposedly capable of attaining. Unfortunately, those numbers were somewhat optimistic... but not by much. A few simple engine and exhaust modifications made those figures very attainable.
In reality, the real impediment to reaching the "T" number speed was mainly the chassis and that uneasy feeling at speeds over the century mark telling you that maybe, just maybe, a few handling modifications were also in order!
Triumphs were indeed fast but you might wonder
why Harleys didn't blow them away since their 1213cc engine was almost twice as large? Well, a 1966 Bonneville TT was rated at 54hp and the Harley was listed at 55hp so the race should have been close... if that's all that mattered. But the Harley had to lug another 200 pounds or so of Milwaukee dead-
In those days, however, most cycles did not remain stock for long, so it could always be a challenge. Full-
Data from the mid-
Harley FLH 690 lbs. 60 hp 0-
Bonneville T120R 390 lbs. 50 hp 0-
*from Motorcycle Classics database.
Back in the 50's and 60's, the loyalty of Harley and Triumph riders made them natural competitors for road dominance in the States. This rivalry went all the way to the boardroom when, in 1951, Harley Davidson asked the US Tariff Committee to place a 40% duty on all imported motorcycles. They were denied, however, and instead were charged with restrictive trade practices. Maybe they should have left well-
Philip Vincent did not like chrome and, because of this, his Black Shadow was made with stainless steel. But, high manufacturing costs made it a very expensive motorcycle and production ended in 1954. It set a mark for excellence that endures to this day.
Highly advanced in many ways, it
featured the earliest successful use of
the engine and gearbox as part of the
chassis–it had no forward down-
The speedometer read a remarkable
150 mph and this was not an altogether
empty boast; the Black Shadow exceeded that at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1948.
Triumph's best sales year in the US was 1967 when over 28,000 were imported (almost 80% of production) and most of them were Bonnevilles. But in the mid-
The New Bonneville is worthy of it's lineage. It's not just a new T120 -
...and it owes that to a line of motorcycles that once ruled the asphalt.
*For an insight on what was available 40+ years ago, examine the 1964 Triumph Brochure.