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A 1955 Triumph Thunderbird with "Big Ben" in the background.
Always a step ahead of their rivals, Triumph followed up the trend-setting Speed Twin 500 of pre-war days by being first in the field with a 650cc parallel twin. Announced in September 1949, the 650 Thunderbird was Triumph's response to demands for more power emanating from American racers and British sidecarists alike. A spectacular launch stunt saw three Thunderbirds lap the banked Montlhery circuit in France at over 90mph for 500 miles, after which they each achieved a flying lap of 100mph-plus and were ridden back to the Meriden factory, a quite outstanding achievement. When displayed at the Earls Court Show in October, the new 650cc twin featured the headlamp nacelle and fuel tank with luggage grid first seen on Triumphs the previous year. An interesting change to the Thunderbird for 1952 was the adoption of an SU carburettor in place of the original Amal, a specially prepared machine managing a staggering 155mpg at a steady 30mph on a factory organised economy run.
The model remained in production in fundamentally its original form, though with progressively updated cycle parts, until the arrival of the unitary construction 650 range in 1962. One of the most significant developments along the way was the introduction of a swinging arm frame for 1955, but prior to that time Triumph twins could be ordered with the optional 'sprung hub' - designed by the Speed Twin's creator Edward Turner - that offered a limited amount of rear suspension movement.
May 6th, 2013
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