Triumph was established by a 20 Year old named Siegfried Bettmann, in the year 1885. The Company began by importing bicycles to England from Germany and re-badging them as ‘Triumph’, and that lead to the company changing its name to ‘Triumph Cycle Company’. In 1902 the first Triumph motorcycle was launched and by 1907 Triumph established itself in the racing world by winning the second and third podium places of the Motorcycle TT races.
The Triumph we know today is an evolution churned by 2 World Wars, bankruptcies, and a lot of mergers, but all these difficulties have helped take the British motorcycle manufacturer from its humble beginnings to a global icon.
Between 1902 and 1949, Triumph produces a series of motorcycles but it was in 1949 that they first released the Thunderbird. Their first 650cc motorbike, the Thunderbird was made for the export market, focusing on the U.S. market. This powerful bike could easily maintain speeds of 100mph, making it the the perfect combination for the big American roads and long distance riding. In the U.S, Triumph received good publicity when a Thunderbird 6T got featured in the movie “The Wild One” in the year 1953.
The Thunderbird 6T used a variant of the modified Triumphs’ Speed Twin engines which were bored from 500cc to a 650cc. The 2 cylinder engine was a Pre-Unit construction where the engine crankcase, the Primary Case and the Transmission were all separate components held together by brackets.
From 1960 onwards, the Triumph Thunderbird acquired the ‘Bathtub rear fender fairing’ which was nicknamed to its odd shape. This feature was vastly unpopular amongst the U.S customers therefore it was quickly dropped in the American market and later by the home market as well. However, classic bike collectors now admire and appreciate the shape which with time has grown into a classic.
Apparently, two such “bathtub” Thunderbirds exist in Sri Lanka, one of which we got to check out. Owned by a renowned lawyer, this 1961 Triumph Thunderbird 6T (US Version) was the very bike very bike used as the pilot bike for the first female Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike, where it served in the Sri Lankan police as a VIP Pilot bike.
The current owner of this Thunderbird has restored the motorcycle from Scratch. It was restored by the former champion bike racer Mr. Kumar Rajapreyar and his son Dinesh Rajapreyar, with the father son duo spent one year putting it back together. While it may not look like much compared to the massive machines of today, this Thunderbird can still take on a majority of the puffed up motorbikes on Sri Lankan roads. A classic, a legend, a beast, the Thunderbird still roars down Sri Lankan roads on occasion, so keep an eye out.