Now that we all know what Triumph’s new 1200 Thruxton and Thruxton R motorcycle look like, we thought it would be a great time to go back through the pages of history and bring you a low down on what made this name so iconic for Triumph.
The Thruxton has its humble beginnings in the 1960. The Thruxton was an idea that culminated over years of competition and was a bold statement of betterment of something existing rather than the creation of a entirely new platform. It can all be traced back to the post-war years of the 1950s when airfields that were used in the World Wars had become common place for civilians and teams to race. Once such was the Thruxton airfield, near Andover, Hampshire that had been turned into a 1.9 mile (3.05 km) circuit. By 1951, the airfield was quite well-established place that hosted a six-event motorcycle race program, part of the Festival of Britain. From World Champion Geoff Duke winning the first 12-lap invitational race to the 17-year newcomer John Surtees who would go ahead and win seven world championships were seen racing around the circuit.
Soon, the Thruxton airfield became host to endurance racing. It was here that club racers and factory teams turned up with their tuned BSAs (notably the Gold Star 500), Norton and 650 Triumphs motorcycles. In 1958, the race became 500 miles (804 kms) with the first winners none other than Mike “the bike” Hailwood and Dan Shorey, both aboard 650 Triumph motorcycles. It is here that Triumphs gain their racing reputation, becoming the default bikes to beat and challenge.
During the 50s and the 60s, endurance racing was the sport to look up to. Unlike Grand Prix or TT racing where most motorcycles used had very little resemblance to road-going motorcycles, endurance racing consisted of motorcycles that could be purchased from dealerships and modified. This gave many budding racers and enthusiasts to show their metal against the great of the sport back in the day. The Thruxton 500 was everyone’s favorite race, to watch and to participate.
Hailwood’s win in 1958 aboard the 650 Triumph was the start of eight outright victories for Triumph with only the Norton 500 “Domiracer” holding a candle with six wins under it’s belt. Over a period of 15 years of the Thruxton 500 races, Triumph was a dominating force, finishing 19 of the 45 races with podium places. In 1969, they took five out of the six places, including the top three.
The late 1950 was a time when Triumph used Bonnevilles that were modified with over-the-counter parts for racing. This meant that anyone who is a dealer or a mechanic, or an enthusiast could make something similar that had the same output as the factory team’s racing machines. In 1963 Doug Hele arrived at Triumph. With previous experience in developing Norton’s 500 Domiracer and the 650SS production racer, Hele set out to create a bespoke Triumph Bonneville that could be raced and was superior than the rest of the over-the-counter modified machines.
Hele’s new Bonneville placed second in the 1964 Thruxton 500. It as a hand-built Bonneville with unit-construction, a prototype created a Meriden, made specially for the Thruxton race. But as the rules went for production racing, Triumph had to homologate this new motorcycle to officially compete at Thruxton as well as other production racing competitions. The company was obligated to produce 52 of these machines that could be sold out of their showrooms. These machines were basically Bonnevilles taken off the production like at Meriden, stripped and hand build with Thruxton performance parts. These new machines produced 54 bhp, a modest 8 bhp more than the production Bonneville motorcycles but greatly improved in reliability.
It was simple really. The idea was that any average Joe who could put in 30 extra Pounds over the sticker price of a stock Bonneville could order himself a Bonneville Thruxton with special racing parts. While there wen’t many which sold outside the dealerships and their racing teams, Hele continued to develop the platform, making it more powerful, more reliable, more race worthy in short.
The ultimate Thruxton came out in 1969. Based on the Triumph T120, the motorcycle would claim 1-2-3 finish at the Thruxton 500 mile, finish second in Barcelona, win the Isle of Man production TT with a record average speed of over 100 mph. The motorcycle had become a legend and a centrepiece of the café racer era. With the arrival of the new 750 Triumph Trident in 1970, the Original Triumph Thruxton would be sidelined, untill 2004 when the re-instated Triumph Motorcycle Company would once again commemorate the iconic motorcycle, launching the new Thruxton 900.