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KAWASAKI Z-1000 (1977-1984)

What it is: Kawasaki‘s immortal Z1 engine, bored-out, in a variety of tweaked and restyled guises. Early models were slower than the 900s; later examples were faster. Not as desirable as a Z1/900, but benefits from a much improved chassis and brakes. Far, far cheaper too. Others in its family...


KAWASAKI Z1-R (1978- 1980)

What it is: Sporty Z1000 with more power, slab-sided styling, bikini fairing and four-into-one exhaust. Never that popular because of its distinctive looks and tiny fuel tank (bigger 3.5 gallon option appeared on later models). Handles little better than a stock Z1000. Others in its family tree: Essentially every Z-prefixed...


HONDA CB750 FOUR (1969-1979)

What it is: The original superbike. Smooth, fast and refined, the 750 Four elevated biking to a higher plain. Its arrival in the UK in 1969 signaled the beginning of the end of the old British bike industry. Others in its family tree: The 750 spawned a whole family of...


SUZUKI GSX1100 KATANA (1981-1991)

What it is: Hugely influential bike, named after a Japanese sword. Looks fantastic and handles better than the stock GSX, on which it was based. Not a big seller in the Eighties due to its cutting-edge looks, but now an acknowledged classic. Starting to get expensive. Others in its family...


KAWASAKI Z1(1973-1976)

What it is: One of the greatest bikes. Ever. Fastest production bike in the world when launched. Made large capacity and DOHC technology accessible. Staggeringly beautiful too. Others in its family tree: First conceived as a 750 - Japan got a 750cc model, the Z2. Only 30 or so Z...


HONDA CB900F (1979-1984)

What it is? Honda‘s first 16-valve four, developed alongside a 750cc version. Its long-stroke engine has plenty of punch, it handles, and even the brakes and suspension are half decent. Nearly as fast as the CBX-6 too. Later models got twin-piston calipers, rubber engine mounts and a fairing. Others in...


YAMAHA XS1100S (1981-1984)

What it is: Sports version of Yamaha’s shaft-driven XS1100 tourer, with svelte all-black looks, revised frame geometry, better suspension, and dinky cockpit fairing. Very comfy, very fast, very heavy indeed. Others in its family tree: XS750/850 triples. The XS1100 was the guinea pig for Yamaha‘s turbo development prior to the...


SUZUKI GS-1000 (1978-1983)

What it is: Careful copy of the Kawasaki Zl engine installed in the best big- bike chassis of the era. Murdered the Z-1000 on road and track. Can be tuned to produce monster power with little loss of longevity. Others in its family tree: Developed from the GS750. S model...

Still The Best – Triumph Engineering Company

B2B Marketing Demands

Triumph-T110To keep the rain and dirt off the trousers it had a broadly valance front fender and heavily skirted rear wheel enclosure, which was fondly referred to as the “bathtub.” Unfortunately, while this model was being designed and created, the white-collared fellow who was the intended purchaser had gone out and bought himself a car. While the practical Englishman purchased an Austin Seven, the motorcycling man, especially in the United States, wanted the sporting look. And all that sheet metal did not appeal to him; he wanted a bare-bones bike. This was an epic gaffe, and the man most responsible was no other than the semi-legendary Edward Turner, who was credited with designing the Speed Twin that appeared in 1937.

In truth this short retrospective is as much about the men in the British motorcycle industry as the machines in those years between 1936—the foundation of the Triumph Engineering Company Ltd.—and 1973, when Norton Villiers absorbed Triumph. Names like Edward Turner, Jack Sangster, Bert Hopwood, Jack Wickes—they were as important in the 1950s as Soichiro Honda and Willie G. were in the next generation.

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Back in the early 1930s Sangster owned the Ariel motorcycle company. In 1936 he bought the Triumph motor­cycle business, putting his Ariel employee, Ed Turner, in charge. He gave Turner a small office and an assis­tant, designer Bert Hopwood, and an assistant’s assistant, one Jack Wickes, who as a 16-year-old in 1931 had got­ten a job at Triumph and learned to wield a nice pencil in the blueprint department. Within a year the three of them came up with the 5T Speed Twin, a 27-horsepower, 500cc vertical twin that looked lean and sporty. It got the public’s attention. Success begets suc­cess, and two years later a faster ver­sion, the 33-horsepower Tiger 100 appeared—the 100 signified the speed that the Tiger was reputed to reach.

09_Triumph_gauges_BJNThen the war came along, and Sangster sold the Ariel division to BSA in 1940. In 1942 Turner, a feisty fellow, got in a fight with Sangster, quit, and went to work at BSA. Only to come back the following year. The war ended and Triumph returned to the business of building motorcycles, adding the 350cc 3T to the two 500s. Then Turner got in a fight with Hopwood, who left and went to Norton, where Hopwood devel­oped another vertical twin.

Turner liked to think of his motorcycles as gentlemanly transportation, for gents who wanted power, comfort and elegance. The infa­mous sprung hub provided a little more comfort, and expanding the engine to 650cc gave more power. Sitting down with Wickes and a blank sheet of paper resulted in a nacelle covering the head­light, providing a place to put the speedometer, ammeter and ignition switch, which resulted in the 1949 Thunderbird 6T Power was apparently a secondary consideration for Turner. Yes, they had made a GP version of the 500 for a couple of years in 1947 and 1948, but Turner did not really like the racing side of the business. A do-it-yourself race kit, with the Delta dual-carb cylinder head and hot cams, was available for the T100 in 1951. That was the same year that BSA acquired the Triumph Company.triump

In 1956 Sangster took over the BSA group, and put Turner in charge of developing and designing Triumph, BSA and Ariel motorcycles. Are you keeping all these names straight? The U.S. market, which consumed the biggest portion of the Triumph factory‘s output, always wanted more power; it provoked the advent of the 650cc, 42- horsepower Tiger 110, soon followed by the sporty-looking TR6, having no nacelle but a separate Speedo, tach and chromed headlight. At the same time Turner and Wickes were working on a new 350, the ideal commuter bike. The TwentyOne (for cubic inches) was in the 1957 line, having a very nice unit-con­struction 350cc engine, with gearbox backed up against the crankcase, sim­plifying the primary drive. The bore was 58.25mm, stroke, 65.5mm, for 349cc and 18.5 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. But it certainly lacked any sense of sportiness, as the front fender looked like a skinny helmet, the rear wheel half hidden by the two skirted panels which looked, to the unfocused eye, like a small upside-down bath. Anyone wanting the complete package could opt for the handlebar fairing and leg shields. A very gentlemanly ride, obvi­ously thought Turner, though the derisory English moto-press was fond of referring to gents wearing skirts.

triump 3For the 1959 model year the 350 (renamed the 3TA) was bored out to 69mm, creating 490cc, and the 500 5TA Speed Twin appeared, also with the ‘tub, claiming 27 horsepower. One should not blame just Turner and Wickes for overdressing their bikes; Philip Vincent had signed his motorcycle’s death warrant with the ill-advised 1955 Series D, which had full coverage from handlebars to taillight. Under Turner’s watch the 1958 Ariel Leader was com­pletely enclosed as well. Enclosure was a buzz-word among a few misguided members of the British motorcycle industry; this was the two-wheeled ver­sion of the Austin Seven. Somebody for­got to tell them that people who wanted cars bought cars, and people who wanted motorcycles wanted sport.

The American dealers were aghast. When Coventry began putting the bath­tub on the Thunderbird and the Tiger 110, it was quickly taken off at U.S. dealers. A breath of fresh air came in 1961 when Hopwood returned to Triumph, only to find that Turner was pushing hard for the enclosed Tina motorscooter— which was a sales flop. Even the sporting T100 suffered some enclosure of the rear wheel, though to a lesser degree than the 5TA. By 1962 Sangster had resigned his BSA chair­manship, and his successor had his own ideas; Turner was well aware that he was being none-too-gracefully squeezed out, and when he retired in 1964 the skirts went with him.

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