Triumph accelerates down long road to recovery: The famous British marque returns to create a growing waiting list and find that business is booming

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The Independent Online
TEN years ago the old factory was demolished to make way for a housing estate. The famous models, Bonneville and Daytona, became street names and the likely future of Triumph Motorcycles was in a theme park and industrial museum.

Compared with the rising tide of Japanese superbikes, the product from Meriden near Coventry, scene of a Seventies sit-in and home to a workers' co-operative, became something of a joke. Even a pounds 4.2m cash injection from Tony Benn's Department of Trade and Industry (which was dubbed Benn and the art of motorcycle maintenance) could not stave off the inevitable collapse in 1983.

A further attempt to keep Triumph alive in small-scale production in Devon also went under after a five-year struggle.

But now the faithful have been rewarded. A waiting list exists for bikes produced by a new company with modern techniques. The product is praised by press and riders alike.

Aficionados of the British motorcycle cannot believe it - a bike that goes like a bat out of hell but does not drip oil and is as reliable as a Honda or BMW.

The result has been a growing queue of those willing to part with up to pounds 8,150 for ownership of a Triumph from the new factory in Hinckley, Leicestershire. A backlog of more than 500 British orders has meant a wait of six to eight weeks for popular models.

Exports account for more than half the production of 130 bikes a week with Germany and France the largest markets. Two containers full of 64 bikes were shipped to Japan late last year and a further two are to leave next week.

Fast sports touring bikes with 750, 900 and 1,200cc engines, the new Triumphs have succeeded in creating a successful mix of nostalgia and technology.

Old badges, recalling vivid memories of Marlon Brando standing proudly astride a Triumph in The Wild One, are mixed with sophisticated multi-valve engines and Japanese disc brakes and suspension.

One in seven of the 140 Triumph workforce is involved in research and development, though the coachlines on fuel tanks are painted by hand.

Steve Lilley, owner of one of Triumph's largest dealers in Shepperton, Surrey, said the marque had bitten into the mass market for big motorcycles following its launch in 1991. 'We are finding that the people this year are converting from Japanese motorcycles to Triumph. A lot of customers have put in a lot of miles and there haven't been any serious problems. It really is a remarkable achievement. We can't believe it,' he said.

Squeezed between the higher priced BMWs and Moto-Guzzis, some costing more than pounds 9,000, and the slightly cheaper Japanese bikes, Triumph has found a popular market. Sales last year, the second of production, were 1,103 - 61 per cent up in a market for big bikes that was 10 per cent down.

In the first three months of 1993, traditionally a period of low demand for motorbikes, domestic sales accounted for 500 bikes compared with 179 in the first quarter of last year.

Despite the success, the management is cautious because of the succession of industry revivals that have petered out. 'There is a long, long way to go yet,' John Eastham, finance director, said. 'A start has been made and there has been a good response to the motorbikes.'

The initial investment of pounds 60m means Triumph is still some way from breakeven, but the company is beginning to see a decent cash-flow from its operations for the first time.

The investment came from John Bloor, a Derbyshire millionaire in his late forties who started his career as a plasterer before making his fortune in housebuilding. He bought the rights to the Triumph name following its earlier collapse.

His company, Bloor Holdings, made a profit of pounds 5.8m on a turnover of pounds 100m in its last audited accounts and the interest in Triumph is strictly business.

Ivor Davies, a former advertising manager who met his wife Doreen at the Meriden factory after starting work there in 1946, has been forced to rewrite the final chapter of his book Triumph: The Complete Story.

'There did not seem to be any way it could come back unless some magician appeared with a lot of money,' he said. 'That's what seems to have happened.'

Motoring, page 36

(Photograph omitted)