The original 1968 Triumph Trophy now listed on eBay conjures up a storied history. After all, if your heart doesn’t race faster at the sound of a Triumph Trophy roaring to life, you might not be alive.
A Star Is Born
Triumph named its “desert sled” after three specials the company produced to compete in the Italian International Six Day Trials in 1948, winning the manufacturer’s cup. The production model introduced the following year became the hottest ride in Southern California’s burgeoning British bike community: a favorite among riders at desert scrambles.
During the filming of the 1955 film “Rebel Without A Cause,” James Dean, picked up a 500 cc Trophy at Ted Evans Motorcycles in Culver City. He set the bike up “Wild One” style, replacing the stock seat with an aftermarket one, adding a Flanders handlebar and flipping the buddy seat on the rear fender backwards.
Bud Ekins rode a 1961 Triumph Trophy as Steve McQueen’s double in “The Great Escape,” performing the famous fence jump. Ekins had been recruited after producers expressed concerns about McQueen getting injured.
McQueen, known to have considerable riding skills, used a Trophy TR6 to compete alongside Dave and Bud Ekins, Cliff Coleman, and John Steen as Team USA in the 1964 Six-Day Trials Enduro race. Bud Ekins and Steve McQueen both crashed on the third day, but Dave Ekins and Cliff Coleman placed in the 500 and 750 cc classes respectively.
Although the Trophy was best known as an off-road bike, Triumph made a touring version as well, called the TR6R Trophy Sports. Enthusiasts will note the BSA Group tail lamp: a result of Triumph’s wildly unpopular merger with ‘the other British bike company.’
Sexy But Unreliable
The 1968 model was unit constructed, reducing its weight, the engine updated a year prior with a higher compression ratio and different exhaust valves. Other updates included an Amal concentric carburetor, Zener diode under the headlamp and eight-inch leading shoe front brake. Unlike the TR6C, the TR6R did not get the high-mounted twin pipes on the bike’s left side.
Although the Trophy was one of the sexiest bikes on the road, it was also one of the least reliable, known for electrical failures and oil leaks. Triumph’s efforts to regain confidence weren’t helped by Japan’s entry into the US market with more reliable products.
Triumph renamed the TR6R the Tiger the following year, dropping the signature parcel grid and modifying the front brake assembly to avoid snagging the cable on the front mudguard. In 1971, the bike’s frame was replaced with the more durable Bonneville version.
But the writing was on the wall. Triumph stopped making the Bonneville in 1983 and went into receivership. John Bloor bought the rights to the name and built a new assembly plant that continues to produce bikes today.
While new Triumphs are stylish, more reliable versions of their namesakes, the magic of the original is gone. Looking at a photo of James Dean riding across the Warner Brothers lot with a cigarette dangling from his lips we are reminded that rebels are born outside the showroom. Some things are best left untamed.