Triumph’s modern story is one of teamwork over more than three decades, but, most of all, it’s about one man: the remarkable John Stuart Bloor or JSB as he’s known to staff at Hinckley, some of whom have been there since the earliest days.
Bloor founded Triumph Motorcycles Limited after buying the old marque from the liquidator and still owns it although he’s now well into his seventies (he turns 77 on 16 June) and spends less time at the factory.
Bloor is a fascinating, down-to-earth character who became hugely successful from a humble background. A coal-miner’s son from a village in Derbyshire, in England’s East Midlands, he left school at 15 to work for a local builder. Two years later, he’d become a selfemployed plasterer and, by the age of 20, he’d built his first complete house, already showing the combination of a sharp mind and appetite for hard work for which he would become renowned.
Bloor Homes grew rapidly to become one of the UK’s largest privately owned housebuilding firms and, by the early ’80s, its boss found himself featuring above the likes of
Elton John in lists of Britain’s richest people, his fortune running to over £100 million (Rs 900 crore). But Bloor wasn’t satisfied with that and looked for a new business opportunity. When purchasing the Meriden site for housing he became aware that the Triumph name was available and bought it for a reported £150,000 (Rs 1.35 crore).
He had ridden motorcycles in his youth but his experience of Triumph was largely negative, as he later recalled: ‘When I was 16, I used to have a Tiger Cub. To be honest, I didn’t think a lot of it, as water used to get into the points. I’d be coming back home from work on a winter’s night at 6.00 pm and was always having to pull over and start fiddling with the points. I wasn’t best pleased!’
A motorcycle firm appealed, he said, partly because its products are tangible and, unlike houses, have the potential to be exported worldwide. (As he has proved, they can also be made reliable.) ‘Bikes are an end product and I like end products. They’re engineering and I like engineering. There’s no bloody ego trip for me,’ he told me on that day in June 1990. That is undoubtedly true. Bloor is uninterested in personal publicity and has barely agreed to an interview with any journalist since. He rarely appears at Triumph functions and used a disguise to visit bike shows anonymously.
He is famously blunt speaking but inspires great loyalty. ‘He’s an immense figure ― a real one-off with incredible vision and commitment,’ says Bruno Tagliaferri. ‘He has a tremendous memory ― he knew everyone on the site ― and a great knowledge of the product, engineering, sourcing… He’d always know how much parts would cost. He’s a very good reader of people. He’s also a good listener, but once he makes a decision, he sticks to it.’
Many have wondered why Bloor has not been knighted, though he was honoured with an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to the motorcycle industry in 1995. He does not have a lavish lifestyle despite last year being reportedly worth almost £2 billion (Rs 18,000 crore). His precise wealth and motivation might be hard to evaluate, but what is for sure is that very few people have been more important to motorcycling over the last three decades and more.