Most U.S. gearheads know the name Triumph thanks to Hollywood in the 1950s and 60s.
That’s because Triumph motorcycles were popular on-screen rides in many famous films—Marlon Brando rode a Triumph Thunderbird in “The Wild Ones” and Steve McQueen scrambled through the German countryside in “The Great Escape” on a Triumph Trophy.
But Triumph had been cranking out bikes long before they got immortalized on the silver screen.
In fact, 2022 marks Triumph’s 120th anniversary. And to celebrate, it’s showcasing the very first motorbike it ever built.
Officially dubbed a prototype, this particular bike pre-dates any production model and was built to gauge public interest in a motor-powered bicycle—which makes perfect sense, as Triumph actually started off as a bicycle company in the 1880s.
The pivot towards engine power began in 1901 with the prototype you see here. In many ways, this bike is a bit of a “missing link” between Triumph’s bicycles and the actual motorbikes that began leaving the Triumph Factory in Coventry, England in 1902—it’s little more than a Triumph bicycle fitted with a gasoline-powered engine sourced from the Belgian company Minerva.
But the actual production motorbike model, simply dubbed “No. 1,” wasn’t much fancier. It too used the same recipe of a Triumph bicycle outfitted with a motor sourced from Minerva, and it still featured foot-powered pedals to supplement the engine’s modest two horsepower.
It wasn’t until 1905 that Triumph moved production completely in-house, and began assembling its own motorcycle engines. A decade later in 1915, the Model H was introduced that would do away with the vestigial foot pedals and become Triumph’s first “true” motorcycle.
In a curious twist, this prototype went missing for several decades, only to resurface recently in the hands of a private collector. It was discovered along with some historical Triumph documentation to corroborate its provenance and the stamping marks on the bike’s Minerva engine also confirm that this prototype pre-dates all other Triumph motorbikes.
The prototype underwent a detailed restoration and was retuned to running, riding condition late in 2021. It is currently on display at Triumph’s HQ in Hinckley, England.