Rolling back the years – Triumph Bonneville
No matter what your status in the motorcycling fraternity and no matter what your age, you will have at least heard of the legendary Triumph Bonneville, the name given to three distinct model lines of this notable British motorcycle.
The original Triumph Bonneville was named after the Bonneville Salt Flats in the state of Utah, USA, where Triumph and other motorcycle companies made attempts on the world motorcycle speed records. It was popular (particularly in its early years) for its performance, compared to other bikes available at the time.
The original 'Bonny' was a 650cc parallel-twin (two-cylinder) motorcycle manufactured by Triumph Engineering Co Ltd and later by Norton-Villiers-Triumph between 1959 and 1974. It was based on the company's Tiger 110, and was fitted with the Tiger's optional twin 1 3/16 in Amal monobloc carburettors as standard, along with that model's high-performance inlet camshaft.
In the 1970s the Triumph Bonneville was closely connected to the actor Henry Winkler and his role as the Fonz on the hit show Happy Days, while in 1968, the stunt man Evel Knievel chose the Triumph Bonneville for his attempt at jumping the Caesars Palace fountain.
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Probably the most enduring image of the bike is in the much-loved 1963 movie, The Great Escape', starring Steve McQueen.
Although McQueen was an expert motorcyclist, the major stunt of jumping the barbed wire fence was considered too risky for a star of his calibre, so a friend of his, Bud Ekins, was hired to perform the shot. Before leaving for Germany, Ekins bought two Triumph Bonneville motorcycles and converted them to look like authentic German bikes of the period.
Ekins did the jump scene, but McQueen did all the rest, including playing his own German pursuers when it turned out the hired German stunt riders couldn't keep up with him.
The scene would be shot first with McQueen fleeing the Nazis on his bike. Then he would change costume and shoot again as a pursuer with his face obscured.