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Triumph: the value of a British icon. Major motorcycle brands in the UK are trying to regain the splendor of yesteryear

Automotive News

Steve McQueen flees from the Germans to the handlebars of a Triumph 650 TT Special in The Great Escape. A symbol of the hegemony of the British motorcycle industry in the decades following World War II, the splendor of companies that were born at the dawn of the twentieth century and marked an entire era until its extinction in the 1970s. However, the prestige of these brands, their contribution to the history of the motorcycle, has maintained a value over time that has led to the resurgence of names such as that of Triumph itself.

It was in the late nineteenth century when British companies mainly engaged in the production of bicycles decided to make the leap to motorization. Thus began the manufacture of this revolutionary vehicle brands like Royal Enfield (1893), Villiers (1888), Triumph (1889), Norton (1902), Velocette (1904), AJS (1911), Matchless (1899) or Brough Superior (1919 ). After a timid beginning, typical of a still incipient market, World War I was an impulse for many of them thanks to the orders of the Government for warlike purposes.

As it also happened on the other side of the Atlantic with Indian and, above all, Harley-Davidson, the second world race turned out to be for the British a source of income necessary to overcome the effects of the depression of 1929, with military supplies that became Of 100,000 units in the Norton case. A bellows that gave renewed vigor to brands that were ready to live their golden age during the fifties and sixties, with the emergence of the racecar motorbikes, sports-inspired machines prepared that caused a furor among young people, including the phenomenon of Fashion rocker.

However, certain immobility of these traditional brands prevented them from being prepared in the face of a threat that loomed over the entire European motorcycle industry: the Japanese manufacturers. With them came more sophisticated and powerful machines, which led to the disappearance during the seventies of most companies in the sector in the United Kingdom. Expelled from a market in which they could not compete (despite public aid and government attempts to save them), it was not until well into the 1980s that certain movements to revive some of these brands began to be identified. The most consistent of them all has been the recovery of Triumph from John Bloor, a real estate developer who was able to make it the second European company in the sector, only behind the giant BMW and ahead of another myth such as the Italian Ducati.

It was not the only attempt in this sense, although the only one really consistent today. The value of legendary names is set among a generation of users who grew up or met these exceptional motorcycles, a nostalgia that has driven the upward trend of products of classic inspiration. Leaving aside Royal Enfield (which became an Indian company), the other projects are timid and in many cases symbolic, although they evidence that the land they left in this industry continues to enjoy a sizable potential sooner or later.

Market requirements

Manufacturing in series, however, is not easy task with the current demands of the market. That is why the great part of the attempts point to artisanal companies, with very small runs and that are adapted to the demand of the clientele, without assuming more financial risks of the essential ones. Stuart Garner, current owner of Norton, proposes a range of five models of retro inspiration whose production does not finish to materialize, something that hopes that can obtain with new aid of the British Government. Meanwhile, he bases his economic survival on a clothing line with the brand’s stamp and made in collaboration with Pepe Jeans.

In the case of AJS, its new owner, Nick Brown, decided to take advantage of the weight of the brand to manufacture motor scooters and scooters in China; Matchless has also focused on a fashion line under the tutelage of Italian Franco Malenotti, the man who has resurrected Belstaff; Brough Superior wanted, without success, to launch in 2013 a motorcycle replica of the one used by Lawrence of Arabia. Handicraft is also the manufacture of the Hesketh, the project of a millionaire who tries since 1982 to make sense of an equally minor motorcycle brand and with three models in its catalog.

Elpais.es – Raúl Romojaro – Madrid – MAY 13 2017 (Translation Soft)

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