The Legend Begins
On a bright September morning in 1956, Texan racer Johnny Allen, multiple land speed record-breaking racer, arrived at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA, and lowered his slender frame into the cockpit of a streamlined, two-wheeled missile - The Texas Cee-Gar.
A union of American and British technology, with the star of Texas on it nose and Triumph name on its side, this aerodynamic land speed bullet was inspired by the fuel 'drop tanks' of a Mustang fighter plane. With power supplied by a methanol-burning 650cc Triumph Thunderbird parallel twin, as ridden by Brando in the Wild One, the cigar-shaped Triumph tore across the salt flats at an average of 214.7mph.
Setting an outright world land speed record that Triumph would go on to hold 14 years - thanks to efforts the Dudek Streamliner in 62 and Gyronaut X1 in 66. Igniting controversy over the time recording used and authenticity of the claim and establishing Triumph THE brand to choose.
Meanwhile in Britain, at the Triumph Factory in Meriden, a new sporting flag ship was in development - a direct evolution of a succession of high performance Triumph legends; from 1937 Speed Twin through the seasonal 1949 6T Thunderbird and the raucous Tiger T110 'Ton Ten' of 1953.
The new bike like its predecessor, was to be a 650cc parallel twin. Built to answer the American market demand for more power, more performance and more speed, it targeted 120mph plus from new twin carb set-up.
The name for this new machine model was obvious. And so, in 1958, the first Triumph Bonneville was Born.
The Bonneville T120 was showcased at Earls Court Bike Show in 1958, and the first production machines were made available for sale to the general public the following year billed as offering "the highest performance from a standard production motorcycle".
Following a tweak to the design in 1960, it was a massive hit in both the UK and America, the T120 was essentially a high performance, twin carburettor version of Triumphs T110 Tiger model. Thanks to its racing success, it spawned the Bonneville Thruxton that, in turn, inspired a generation of cafe racer machines.
The combination of extra performance with a fine-handling, lightweight chassis and beautiful design proved a winning format - which propelled the Bonneville on to become one of the most desirable and successful motorcycles of the time.