Vintage British Motorcycles
Excelsior Motor Company began motorcycle production in 1896. Two years later, English bicycle maker Triumph started designed motorcycles, offering their first model in 1902.
Other early British companies were Royal Enfield (1901), Norton (1902), and Birmingham Small Arms Company (1910).
British Parallel Twins
In 1937, Triumph introduced their 500cc Speed Twin. It was an instant success and would prove to be the definitive British bike. Designed by Edward Turner, the 27-horsepower parallel-twin was capable of speeds of 90 mph. In 1950, engine displacement was increased to 650cc.
Produced from 1948 to 1955, the Vincent Black Shadow was the superbike of its day. Each and every one was hand-built and used the highest quality materials. Fewer than 1,700 Black Shadows were produced.
Isle Of Man TT Race
Held on a small island off the west coast of England, The Isle of Man TT is recognized as one of the world's most challenging and dangerous road-race courses. Early photographs of these races highlight vintage bikes in all their prestige, adding to the Isle Of Man mystique.
British bikes dominated motorcycle performance and racing venues throughout the forties and fifties.
"The Wild One" Movie
Filmed in 1953, "The Wild One" starred Marlon Brando riding a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird 6T. The movie also starred Lee Marvin riding a Harley-Davidson. Loosely based on a real events, the movie was mostly fictitious.
Because of its brutality and sadism, the film was banned by the British Board of Film Censors until 1967. Many Triumph importers objected to the use of Triumph motorcycles in the film. The leather jacket worn by Marlon Brando is a Schott Perfecto 618 customized with stars.
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To better serve U.S. markets, Triumph set up a distributing company in Maryland in 1951. After 1950, more Triumphs would be sold in the USA than in any other country, including Britain.
The BSA Group purchased Triumph Motorcycles in 1951 to become the largest producer of motorcycles in the world. During the fifties and sixties, the motorcycle industry was Britain's third largest market.
Bert Hopwood engineered the first Norton twin in 1949, the 497cc Model 7. It grew into the 650cc Dominator, then the 750cc Atlas, lastly being launched in 1967 as the 750cc Norton Commando. From 1968 until the demise of the company in 1977, the Commando was the main bike in Norton's lineup. It was the last of the Norton parallel-twin machines.
The multi-cylinder motorcycle years started in 1968 with the three-cylinder Triumph Trident. Soon after, Japanese manufacturers were producing faster, cheaper, and more reliable motorcycles, severely cutting into the sales of both British and American-made bikes.
read 1974 Triumph Trident Restoration
Vintage British motorcycles were assembled from the factory with Whitworth-sized nuts and bolts. These are often confused for, and not the same as, fractional or metric sizes. This is why so many old British bikes have rounded-off nuts and bolts.
Many British motorcycles continued using Whitworth sizing into the late sixties, and some seventies British bikes had a combination of sizings. Consider investing in a set of Whitworth wrenches for your restoration project.
Positive Ground Electrical System
Vintage British motorcycles have had a reputation for having bad electrical systems. Truth is, the stock ignition system was designed to be inexpensive to manufacture, and works well if set up properly.
There was always a mystique about positive-ground bikes and there shouldn't be. The best way to diagnose a positive-ground system is to simply reverse any diagnostic procedure you would normally used on a negative-ground system. For example, instead of starting on the positive side of the battery and following the current that way, start at the negative side of the battery and follow the current the other way.
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The Steve McQueen Triumph is inspired by the Trophy TR6 from "The Great Escape" movie, and features a military-style Matte Khaki-Green finish, stencil-style Triumph decal on the tank and the actor's signature on the side covers.
Beginning in April of 2012, 1,100 Steve Mcqueen Special Edition Triumphs were produced and sold worldwide. Each motorcycle is individually numbered with a plaque placed on the handlebar clamp, with owners receiving a certificate of authenticity.