TRIUMPH? IT WON’T LAST
25th ANNIVERSARY bike rolled offthe production line. It’s 25 years since the first Hinckley making Trumpets Phil West re-assesses those early, history- Continued over
stonishing as it seems, it was a full 25 years ago this month when the first of the all-new, John Bloor/ Hinckley Triumphs hit the road – I should know, I was there. There was no fanfare, no great unveiling, no glitzy press launch. Instead, scruffy, in a knackered bike jacket I’d had 10 years, along with photographer Jim Forrest in an equally scruffy Citroen BX GTI, I turned up unheralded at a slightly damp Hinckley car park to put the new machine, the first Triumph Trophy 1200, through its paces.
What followed, though we didn’t remotely realise it at the time, turned out to be one of the most significant events of modern British motorcycling.
MCN decided to revisit some of those original Hinckley machines and reevaluate what it was about them that helped new Triumph succeed. After all, without those bikes, the original Trophy 1200, short-stroke Daytonas and charismatic triples, Triumph simply wouldn’t be what it is today.
To do just that we enlisted Jack Lilley’s of Ashford, Middlesex who, apart from being one of the marque’s leading dealers, are also one of the longest established, being one of the firm’s original agencies in 1991. Today Lilley’s are run by Jack’s grandson, Dave, who, apart from selling and servicing the latest Triumphs to the great and the good (James May, Rav Wilding and Jean-jacques Burnel of The Stranglers are all among their loyal clientele), has in recent years begun collecting those early machines. It’s Lilley’s bikes you see here…
ABloor’s miracle revival
With hindsight, particularly in light of other recent ‘revivals’, it’s simply impossible to overstate the difficulty of the task facing John Bloor’s fledgling team back in the late ’80s.
In recent years there has been an abundance of historic returns – Norton, Ariel and Brough Superior among them. And while all are achievements to be proud of and produce machines that are truly desirable and exciting in their own ways, none come anywhere near matching the achievement of Triumph.
Those others are mostly cottage industries, ‘boutique’ brands handbuilding exotic bikes in small batches. John Bloor, his millions and his team, recreated a whole industry, launching not just ‘a bike’ but a whole range of them all at the same time.
Key to achieving just that (leaving aside the little matter of setting up a factory capable of mass production, a brand new dealer network and all the complications that go with it) was what has been called a ‘modular approach’ to the bikes’ design and engineering.
Simply: one base bike layout could be configured in a variety of ways with a minimum of alternative parts to create a whole range. In Triumph’s case this meant a common tubular steel spine frame complete with 25-litre tank and seat unit which held a transverse, multi-cylinder engine that, with a single bore size and piston could be produced in both three and four-cylinder layouts and, courtesy of a different crank, in long or short stroke form.
The various permutations of that meant four different motors could be produced, which Bloor’s team then configured into six different machines in three distinct families. The sporttourer Trophy 900 and 1200, sportster Daytona 750 and 1000 and roadster Trident 750 and 900 were the result and were all publicly unveiled at the Cologne Show in September 1990 to go on sale early the following year.
The downside with that approach, of course, is that all the resultant machines are inherently compromised. A tourer, for example, that shares much of the basic architecture of a sportster, such as chain drive, is never going to quite be able to match a purpose-built, shaft-drive rival.
But there was a further handicap, too. While Bloor’s new Triumphs benefitted from a historic name that was guaranteed to arouse public interest (a ‘Bloor’ motorcycle family would certainly never have created so much publicity) it was also a name tarnished by reputations for non-competitive performance and unreliability. It was vital that the new Bloor machines instantly dispelled these associations and to that end they were not just massively ‘over-engineered’, as has often been reported (or, for short: heavy), but also conservatively equipped and styled.
As would be borne out by the bikes themselves, these are not necessarily bad requirements. As a result, suspension components, for example, were by Japanese firm Kayaba, already well known to the British public as suppliers to the ‘Big Four’ manufacturers. Similarly the brakes were also made
O Tiger 900 introduced O Trident Sprint introduced O Daytona 900 Super III introduced O Daytona 900 & 1200 introduced (and 750 and 1000 deleted) new rear bodywork etc
O Speed Triple 900 introduced