Sixty years down the road and the Triumph Bonneville motorcycle is as trendy and popular as ever among riders including celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Pink, Tom Hardy, George Clooney, Bruce Springsteen and David Beckham.
To mark the model’s 60th anniversary, this year’s RACQ Motorfest on July 14 at Eagle Farm Racecourse, Brisbane, will honour the enduring charm of the British bike with a special display.
The RACQ is calling on owners to bring in their old and new Bonnevilles.
“Bonne ville” may be French for good city but the model is actually named after the Triumph motorcycles that set speed records on the famous Bonneville salt flats of Utah.
The Triumph Bonneville legend began in 1959 with a bike based on the Tiger 100. It was powered by a 650cc parallel twin with twin carburettors and a separate gearbox, and was capable of 115mph in standard form.
From 1963, the gearbox was included in the engine in the one unit which made the bike stiffer and the T120 model even included oil in the frame.
These bikes were rockets in standard trim, but were often stripped down, tuned up and raced around the cafes of London by young leather-clad “rockers” who referred to them as “cafe racers”.
In the 1960s, Bonnevilles were so popular it became hip to be photographed on one.
They were the favourite ride of movie stars such as Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, James Dean and Paul Newman as well as rock stars Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Elvis.
Bob Dylan even famously crashed his Bonneville in 1966.
Despite updates to a 750cc engine, disc brakes and electric start, the Bonnevilles faded in popularity in the 1970s as the more reliable and smoother four-cylinder Japanese motorcycles took over.
In fact, one of the selling tools to get people off Bonnevilles and on to Japanese bikes was to place a glass of water on the seat and start the engine. A Bonneville’s 360-degree unbalanced parallel twin would shake the glass off the seat while the water in the glass would hardly stir on the Japanese bikes.
Triumph suffered a subsequent sales slump through the late ‘70s and went into receivership in 1983 when it was saved by wealthy property developer John Bloor.
He restructured the company, learning from the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, yet the Bonnevilles struggled on for several years with largely unchanged technology.
Bloor relaunched the Bonneville brand in 2001 with improved technology but with the same retro styling that had made the bike so popular over the decades.
In fact, when the bikes made the quantum leap from carburettors to electronic fuel injection in 2008, they housed the injectors inside dummy carbies to retain the traditional look.
The next major leap in technology was in 2015 when the Bonnevilles became liquid cooled to meet stringent European emissions targets.
Today’s Bonnevilles are a far cry from the raw and rattly 1959 model, featuring traction control, ABS, selectable engine maps, heated grips, keyless ignition and LED lighting.