Hinck­ley Hits…


THE UN­EX­PECTED IN­VI­TA­TION ON TRI­UMPH-HEADED NOTEPAPER had been in­trigu­ing, but I was not ex­pect­ing much when I ar­rived at an anony­mous build­ing in an industrial es­tate out­side Hinck­ley in the English Mid­lands in June 1990. Af­ter all, Tri­umph had fi­nally gone bust seven years ear­lier; a fi­nal nail in the cof­fin of a once-proud Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try that had strug­gled through the 1980s in ter­mi­nal de­cline. Strange as it now seems, back in those pre-in­ter­net days there had barely been a ru­mour that some­thing was stir­ring at Tri­umph. We knew the failed firm had been bought from the liq­uida­tor by a builder. The site of its fa­mous old fac­tory at Meri­den, 25 kilo­me­tres to the south-west, was a hous­ing es­tate with roads called Bon­neville Close and Day­tona Drive. I had no sus­pi­cion that any­thing ex­cit­ing was go­ing on at Hinck­ley, de­spite hav­ing spent many days at a prov­ing ground just down the road, speed-test­ing the lat­est, mostly Ja­panese bikes. There I had oc­ca­sion­ally glimpsed a pro­to­type ro­tary-en­gined Nor­ton, but no Tri­umphs. A Tri­umph dealer had been us­ing new spare parts to as­sem­ble small num­bers of 750-cc Bon­nevilles, an­tiques com­pared to mod­ern GPZs and GSX-Rs. But that had ceased. Tri­umph was dead.

Then, on that June morn­ing in 1990, a man in a grey uni­form opened a door in that Hinck­ley industrial build­ing to re­veal a re­mark­able scene. In­side Tri­umph’s new fac­tory were rows of huge, state-of-the-art man­u­fac­tur­ing ma­chines. There were also two mo­tor­cy­cles, pro­to­types of a new range of three- and four-cylin­der su­per­bikes with ca­pac­i­ties rang­ing from 750 to 1,200 cc.

The set-up was mind-blow­ing and the bikes were hugely im­pres­sive. Their liq­uid­cooled en­gines and steel-framed chas­sis were mod­ern, in­spired by Kawasaki’s GPZ900R, the top su­per­bike of a few years ear­lier. The faired sports-tourer and naked triple looked al­most pro­duc­tion-ready, though the faired bike’s paint­work was split be­tween red and white to show al­ter­na­tive colour choices.

This was clearly not some un­der-funded en­ter­prise, in­spired by a mix of pa­tri­o­tism and pas­sion for mo­tor­cy­cling, like sev­eral pre­vi­ous re­vival at­tempts. It was a hugely se­ri­ous op­er­a­tion that had been years in the mak­ing. Meet­ing John Bloor, the com­pany’s 47-year-old owner and driv­ing force, con­firmed that view — although de­spite his ob­vi­ous brains and track record I still strug­gled to un­der­stand his in­cen­tive for in­vest­ing so much ef­fort and money in an in­dus­try with such a dis­as­trous record.

Three decades af­ter that June day — still the most mem­o­rable of my ca­reer — it’s per­haps Bloor’s vi­sion and be­lief that stand out most of all. Tri­umph is now a global con­cern that em­ploys more than 2,000 peo­ple

and last year pro­duced around 65,000 bikes. Per­haps, the man who made it all hap­pen is the only one who might have pre­dicted that level of suc­cess all those years ago.

In 1990 Bloor and his small team had al­ready spent sev­eral years and tens of mil­lions of pounds build­ing and equip­ping the fac­tory and de­vel­op­ing a range of bikes. He’d been to Ger­many and Ja­pan to in­vest in ul­tra-mod­ern tool­ing, de­ter­mined to prevent the qual­ity con­trol prob­lems that had plagued the Tri­umphs pro­duced at Meri­den on an­cient, worn-out ma­chin­ery.

This had all been done in great se­crecy, as re­lated by Gary Mc­Don­nell, a for­mer Meri­den worker who was among Bloor’s first em­ploy­ees at Tri­umph. ‘Af­ter the old fac­tory closed, a lot of us used to meet up and some ex-Meri­den peo­ple were at the new Tri­umph fac­tory,’ Mc­Don­nell re­called. ‘They were tight-lipped about it, but I was told there was a job for me there if I wanted one.

‘I started around Christ­mas 1987 and joined a very small, ded­i­cated team of about 12 peo­ple. It was the most fan­tas­tic, mem­o­rable, and ex­cit­ing part of my whole work ca­reer. It was a brand-new fac­tory — well fi­nanced, clin­i­cally clean, and cav­ernous. With the de­signs I saw, I knew this was the start of the res­ur­rec­tion of the Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try — some­thing very, very spe­cial was about to un­fold.’

That small team was hard at work. The pur­chase of Tri­umph had in­cluded an R&D de­part­ment project, co­de­named “Diana”. ‘But when we ap­praised it, we found it wasn’t vi­able, so we had to do some­thing else,’Bloor said. ‘I was told that they’d spent x pounds on it but within two months of buy­ing the firm, we’d ar­ranged to go and have a look at how peo­ple who do it bet­ter op­er­ate. We came back, scrapped the lot and started again.’

Bloor’s early mod­els were de­signed us­ing a mod­u­lar con­cept sim­i­lar to one pro­posed by leg­endary BSA-Tri­umph en­gi­neer Bert Hop­wood shortly be­fore that firm went bust in 1973.This in­volved the ma­jor­ity of en­gine and chas­sis parts be­ing shared among sev­eral mod­els, sub­stan­tially re­duc­ing de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion costs. The sys­tem al­lowed one ba­sic en­gine and chas­sis lay­out to gen­er­ate six first-year mod­els, from naked 750-cc Tri­dent triple to faired 1,200-cc Trophy sports-tour­ing four.

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