Triumph Bonneville: A stylish classic

 

From the magical motorcycle ridden by Hagrid in the opening sequence of the original Harry Potter film to Steve McQueen’s famous chase scenes in The Great Escape, the Thunderbird Marlon Brando’s rebellious character Johnny rode in the The Wild One or flanked by Velociraptors in Jurassic World, the Triumph has had staring roles in the movies.

‘The Motorcycle’ exhibition was in Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 28 November 2020 until 26 April 2021.

‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’, Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

Triumph Bonneville 1961

The origins of Triumph date back to the 1880s, and the company established a long and proud tradition of building powerful and rapid motorcycles. In 1959, the Triumph Bonneville arrived at a time when young motorcycle enthusiasts wanted style as well as substance and had the money to pay for it.

Updates to this model were minimal after its introduction in 1959 but looks mattered: the ‘Bonnie’ had a new colour scheme of Sky Blue on top and Silver Sheen on the bottom, separated by a gold pinstripe. The ‘Bonnie’ established itself as the fastest production motorcycle of the era and went on to become an all-time classic.

DELVE DEEPER: Browse the FULL LIST OF MOTORCYCLES: From humble origins to cutting-edge prototypes

RELATED: Read more about the bikes in ‘THE MOTORCYCLE’ exhibition

Triumph Bonneville 1961 / The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, Birmingham, Alabama, USA / Photograph: Marc Bondarenko

Specifications

Country: United Kingdom
Power:
40 hp

Engine: 649 cc OHV vertical twin
Designer: Edward Turner
Production: 1959-83

Interesting facts

  • On 14 November 1940, German bombs destroyed the Triumph factory in Coventry, United Kingdom, all of Triumph’s technical records, drawings and designs were destroyed.
  • The Bonneville was marketed as the ‘World’s Fastest Motorcycle’ based on records set on modified Triumphs at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
  • While the Bonneville T120 was produced from 1959-75, the name was revived in 2016 for a new machine with a larger engine and updated specifications.
  • The name ‘Bonneville’ was a clever marketing move for Triumph. The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, United States, is the one of the flattest surfaces on Earth and has been witness to numerous world land-speed records. The name also honours Texas-born racer Johnny Allen, and his record-breaking Triumph-powered Cee-Gar streamliner, which in 1956 set the first of many land-speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats with a two-way average of 214.4 mph (345 km/h).

Triumphs in the movies

The magical motorcycle ridden by Rubeus Hagrid in the opening sequence of Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, was a 1959 Triumph Bonneville 649cc T120, otherwise known as Hagrid’s flying Motorbike. The motorcycle plays a key role in the series, our first glimpse when Hagrid brings Harry to his new home at 4 Privet Drive, used to rescue Potter from the scene of his parent’s murder, however it can also carry a sidecar and fly fast enough to compete with a broomstick… ‘A low rumbling sound had broken the silence around them. It grew steadily louder as they looked up and down the street for some sign of a headlight; it swelled to a roar as they both looked up at the sky — and a huge motorcycle fell out of the air…’

Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone (2001)

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows (2010-11)

The Wild One is the original outlaw biker film that spawned a whole genre with an iconic performance by Marlon Brando as antihero Johnny Strabler, the leader of The Black Rebels Motorcycle Club. The motorcycle Johnny rode was a 1950 Triumph Thunderbird 6T.

Production still from The Wild One 1953 / Director:László Benedek / Image courtesy: Park Circus

The modified motorcycle used for Steve McQueen’s famous chase scenes across the countryside and 12ft barbed-wire fence jump escaping a German POW camp during WWII in The Great Escape is a 1961 Triumph 650cc TR6 Trophy model, disguised as a German BMW R75 motorcycle by pin-striper and artist Von Dutch. The German military used various BMW motorcycles throughout the war, but none had survived in good enough condition to be used in the film. The modifications were limited to replacing the front and rear suspension along with new paint.

The Great Escape (1963)

Who can forget that during filming of Jurassic World, a custom Triumph Scrambler was built for use by Chris Pratt, one of the most memorable scenes where Pratt’s character rides through the jungle flanked by Velociraptors while hunting the Indominus Rex. The Scrambler 1200 is the ultimate combination of 1200cc Bonneville twin power, and off-road focused technology.

Jurassic World (2015)

Motorcycles on Screen

In association with ‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’, the Australian Cinémathèque at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) presents the free program ‘Motorcycles on Screen’, which explores the rich history of the vehicle in cinema, from the silent era to today. ‘Motorcycles on Screen’ runs until 25 April 2021.

The Great Escape

One of the most exciting adventure tales ever told, The Great Escape recounts the planning, execution, and aftermath of a daring true-life escape from a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. In the role that cemented his superstar status, Steve McQueen plays the motorcycle-racing daredevil who sets out to foil the Nazis, alongside an all-star cast that includes Charles Bronson, James Coburn, James Garner, and Donald Pleasence. Direction by John Sturges, score by Elmer Bernstein.

Production still from The Great Escape 1953 / Director: John Sturges / Image courtesy: Park Circus

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