By John Burns
-by Ian Falloon
Ian Falloon is known mostly for his excellent work about Italian motorcycles; this is his first British bike endeavor, and feels like a huge undertaking given Triumph’s beginning in 1902: 1885 really, if you count the bicycles. This is the revised and updated version of the book Falloon originally published in 2015.
We start at the very beginning. What’s in a name? Siegfried Bettman, a German emigrant, began building bicycles in Birmingham for export throughout Europe. Worried that “Bettman” didn’t sound English enough, he changed the company name to Triumph, and the business began to prosper.
In 1902, we’re attaching a Minerva engine from Belgium into a bicycle; by 1905 Triumph’s built its own 363cc engine (3 hp at 1500 rpm), and by 1909 3000 Triumphs are produced at the Coventry factory. Being tasked to build 30,000 Model Hs for WW1 didn’t hurt business. Somebody always finds a way to screw things up, though; along came the Great Depression, and by 1936 the decision was made to shut down the motorcycle division and concentrate on automobiles.
A last-minute deal was cut with the bankers, however, and Edward Turner enters the picture as managing director and chief designer: “… but it was soon quite obvious that he was the chief of every other department, from sales to engineering and styling…. Not only was Turner totally in charge, he was also confident and fearless operator.”
Falloon gives Turner the credit for being an early believer in the importance of styling: Overhauling bikes mainly with new chrome gas tanks and rubber knee grips, polished aluminum engine covers, and TT-style exhausts boosted sales. So did calling them Tiger 70, 80, and 90 – which referred to each models’ top speed.
Turner had already designed the Square Four for Ariel, a motorcycle so advanced it continued …read more