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Triumph's Origins

Today, the Triumph brand is known for its motorcycles, but at one point, they owned an automotive division. Before motorcycles or cars, Triumph's first products were actually bicycles. The company's founder, Siegfried Bettmann, started the S. Bettman & Co. Import Export Agency to build bicycles when the safety bicycle started to replace the penny-farthing or high wheel bicycle. Two years later, in 1886, the company adopted a more memorable name as the Triumph Cycle Company. The first bicycles built under the Triumph name were produced in 1889.

The First Triumph Motorcycle & WWI

Triumph released their own motorized bicycle in 1902.  It ran on a single-cylinder engine fitted to a Triumph bicycle frame. In 1905, the first authentic all-Triumph motorcycle was produced with a side-valve engine. The bike was belt-driven and could reach up to 3 horsepower and 50 mph.

Triumph continued to improve its models, offering their first bike with a clutch that allowed riders to accelerate from start up without having to run beside it. Before WWI, Triumph developed a few more models such as the Roadster and the C-3 Roadster. They even saw a few successes on the race track, getting second in the first Isle of Man TT Races.  

Triumph contributed to the war effort t in WWI by manufacturing Type H motorcycles for the British Armed Forces in 1915. The Type H earned the nickname "the Trusty Triumph" for its durability and reliability. It came with a relaxed handle and a three-speed, chain-driven gearbox that attached a belt to the rear wheel. It was also the first Triumph to be featured without a pedal.

After the war, the company bought the Dawson Car Company's factory in Coventry in 1921 to establish an automotive division. Out of it, came their first model, known as the 10/20, that was produced for the 1923 model year.

The Birth of Triumph Motor Company

The 10/20 was produced from 1923 to 1926 and featured a 4-cylinder engine. A year later Triumph released the 13/35, which was the first British car with hydraulic brakes. It was a slightly larger model than the 10/20. Then Triumph released the Super 7.  It came with a 4-cylinder engine, two doors, and four seats, and featured a compact and sporty look. Over 31,000 were produced.

When the Great Depression hit, Triumph changed its name in 1930 to the Triumph Motor Company. The company started moving in a new direction, which surprisingly involved upscale sporty models. This was evident in the Gloria, which featured a more defined and lavish look. The curved body was laced in chrome with a two-tone color and came with leather seats covered by a soft or hard top. On the tip was the Triumph's chrome winged goddess. It sported a four or six-cylinder engine boasting 46 horsepower and could reach 75 mph. Eventually the Gloria came in all types of styles like the sporty Monte Carlo, the Southern Cross two-seater, and the Coupe. A second sporty model, the Dolomite, was released in 1934. Made in similar style to the Gloria, the Dolomite had a small success in rally racing. In the 1936 Monte Carlo Rally it placed in eighth, but that was still a feat.  It finished ahead of any other British car.  

Unfortunately, the new direction would be short lived. The 1930s brought on a hard time for all of the Triumph companies. In 1936, the bicycle and motorcycle operation was sold. In 1939, the Triumph Motor Company went into receivership. It was purchased by Thomas W. Ward Ltd., but any production was halted in the onset of WWII.

The Formation of Standard-Triumph

When the War ended, the Standard Motor Company purchased the remains of Triumph, which was really no more than a brand name.  Triumph officially became a subsidiary of Standard in 1945. The first car produced under the new Triumph name was the 1800 Roadster. Standard continued Triumph's tradition of building sporty cars, and the Roadster was a strong representation of that. The style was just as gaudy as the Gloria.

By the early ‘50s fascination with the sports car grew, and Triumph developed several prototypes. The 20TS, their first prototype, also known as the TR1, was developed in 1952.  The car could reach up to 90 mph, but it still needed dire improvements.

The result was the TR2. After a number of changes, the car was deemed successful enough to put into production. It was released for the 1953 model year. Under the hood sat a 4-cylinder engine that could kick 90 horsepower and could take the car to 105 mph. With the help of that engine, the TR2 lead to a successful stint in rally racing with a victory in the French Alpine. This eventually lead to further models such as the TR3 in 1956 that featured an all new addition of front disc brakes. Modifications such as the TR3A and TR3B showed just how popular Triumph sports cars were becoming. Triumph seemed to have finally found its niche in the automotive market.

Leyland Motors, the TR Series, & the Spitfire

Leyland Motors acquired Standard-Triumph Motors in 1960 and continued the tradition. 1962 saw two releases. The TR4's design was much smoother than the previous TR models, and it maintained Triumph's distinctive look. The Spitfire Mark I was seen as a cheaper alternative to the typical sports car and was small. It was built to compete with other compact sport cars like the Austin-Healey Sprite and the MG Midget. Featuring an independent suspension, wind-down windows, added interior space, and an engine that produced 63 horsepower, the car was a hit in the US. 

Next came the TR5, which was the first TR powered with a 6-cylinder engine. A carbureted version known as the TR250 was made for sale in the US. Shortly after came the TR6 in 1969. The TR6 was a powerful car both on and off the track. It  won the President's Cup with Paul Newman behind the wheel in 1976.

Later Years

By the late 1970s, Triumph was lumped into the Jaguar Rover Triumph division of the British Leyland Limited company and was labeled under the specialist division of Leyland Motor. When the division renamed to the Austin Rover Group, it was apparent that the Triumph name was being phased out. Final production ended for Triumph in 1984.

Though it's been long gone, the Triumph name is now owned by the BMW group after their acquisition of the Rover Group in 1994.

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