A Modern History of Hinckley Triumph Motorcycles – Rideable Classics

Triumph Trident 900
Triumph Trident 900. Photo: Triumph

Spoiler Alert! I’ve lost count of the number of makes and models of bikes I’ve owned over the years, but one brand kept me going back for more. Thanks to their modular design John Bloor’s early Triumphs are the most flexible range of bikes ever built. Better yet 30 years on, they’re still affordable and fun to ride. You could say I’m a fan.

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When thinking of Triumph motorcycles, enthusiasts of a certain age conjure up visions of noisy parallel twins roaring around London’s North Circular. Sadly, the pride of British motorcycle manufacturing sank beneath the waves in 1980 after a 78-year long ride.

Triumph Motorcycles as we know it today was the brainchild of British businessman John Bloor. Bloor, a builder by profession, attended the auction sale of the original company’s assets. In 1983 he beat Harley-Davidson and Cagiva to the punch, buying the Triumph manufacturing rights for a mere £150,000.

For the following seven years, it appeared Bloor had slipped off the radar. Thus, dashing dreams of a phoenix-like rise of the Triumph brand. In reality, his secretly assembled team of engineers and designers had spent the time touring the best motorcycle manufacturers throughout Europe and Japan.

The ideas they formulated covered a new range of motorcycles along with the production process and assembly line equipment needed for manufacture. These plans would stay under wraps until 1988 when John Bloor personally invested £80m to build the now-famous Hinckley plant.

On the 29th of June 1990, the cream of European motorcycle journalists received an invitation to the Hinckley factory. They saw state-of-the-art computer-operated assembly machinery used to produce a range of modern, large-bore multi-cylinder bikes. Motorcycles capable of taking on the Japanese.

In March 1991, the first 1200cc four-cylinder Triumph Trophy rolled off the production line. Production stood at around ten bikes per day. Yet, two years later, this number increased to a colossal 10,000 bikes.

World Class Motorcycles

John Bloor has always taken a backseat in Triumph’s rise to fame. But, the farsighted businessman is solely responsible for resurrecting the legendary brand to create a world-class motorcycle manufacturer.

Triumph now produces a diverse range of high-tech street and adventure models capable of going toe to toe with any of their rivals. The bikes we are most interested in today are the original lineup of Triumphs produced between 1991 and 2004.

Some models are fast becoming collectible. However, there are still enough numbers to create ride-able, affordable classics, and here’s why.

While working behind the scenes, the Triumph team realized that to compete technologically and cost-wise, they needed to use a modular design process.

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Modular Makes Sense

The automotive industry was an early adopter of the modular concept and this means creating parts to use on different models. This concept was popular with Ford and their Panther platform, where for over 30 years, they used one basic chassis for coupes, sedans, and station wagons.

In Triumph’s case, the large diameter backbone, tubular frame formed the foundation for every bike. This design ran from the 1991 Trophy right through to the 2004 Thunderbird Sport.

The same idea went for the engines, with the 1200cc 4-cylinder DOHC unit providing the power plant for the Trophy-4, Daytona 1000, and Daytona 1200. This process was made possible by reducing the stroke with shorter cylinders for the 1000 Daytona, raising compression, and adding sportier cams for the Daytona 1200.

If the 1200-4 was versatile, the 900 Triple was the company’s Swiss Army knife. Reducing the cylinder height and mixing up the carb/cam and compression ratios produced a 750cc unit that would power the Trident, Daytona, and ultra-rare Speed triple.

In 900cc form, Triumph gave us the Trident, Daytona, Speed Triple, Super III, Trophy, Sprint, Thunderbird, and Tiger models. Each of the 14 variations based on the same chassis and engine. Now that’s what I call embracing the modular concept to the max.

Hinckley Triumphs Produced Between 1991 and 2004

Year 1991-2004: Trophy 1200-4

Looking back at the original 1200 Trophy, it’s easy to write it off as being a little agricultural in terms of size and shape. Yet, consider its opposition at the time.

1990 Triumph Trophy 1200
1990 Triumph Trophy 1200. Photo: Triumph

The Kawasaki ZZR1100, although faster, was the size of a bulldozer. Meanwhile, the Honda CBR1000 with its enclosed fairing resembled a jelly mold. The Suzuki GSX1100F was also hefty and shapeless, leaving only the Yamaha FJ1200 as a serious contender.

The original 1200 Trophy, despite not being either the fastest (Kawasaki was), the best handling (Honda CBR1000 takes the place), or most versatile (Yamaha FJ1200) of the big sports tourers, had the most character.

The first 1200 Trophies churned out an incredible 141bhp, but by the time the fairing and seat unit got a facelift in 1995, power got reduced to around 108bhp.

Year 1991-1992: Daytona 1000cc

1990 Triumph Daytona 1000
1990 Triumph Daytona 1000. Photo: Triumph

This bike is a short-stroke, rev-happy sports bike with tricked-out adjustable suspension and sticky tires. It was a bit too big and heavy to mix with such motorcycles as the GSXR 1100, and as for the 1992 Honda Fireblade, don’t even go there!

Year 1992-1998: Daytona 1200cc

With the 1-liter Daytona failing to stir the emotions, Triumph dumped it in favor of a 1200cc version. This bike was a massive slab of British beef at its best, cranking out 147bhp and a stump-pulling 84-ft/lb of torque.

Video: Triumph Daytona 1200cc walk around

Triumph Daytona 1200cc

The 1200 Daytona’s endless spread of power was addictive. It’s handling, predictable and planted, and its brakes are awesome. Unfortunately, carrying a lot of weight high up prevented it from rocking the super sports class.

If James Bond were to have a motorcycle parked alongside his Aston Martin though, it would have to be a jet black 1200 Daytona like the one shown in the video above.

Year 1991-1998: Trident 750cc & 900cc

The 750 version being a modular design, was identical in every way to the 900, even down to the 212-kg weight. The only way to tell the difference is by riding one, as this is when the 10-bhp and 20-ft/lb drop on the shorter stroke 750 can be felt.

1990 Triumph Trident 900
1990 Triumph Trident 900. Photo: Triumph

Although the 750 was silky smooth, production stopped after one year due to the popularity of its bigger brother. The 900 Trident was a go anywhere do anything bike happy to chug around town or tear along the motorway.

The triple-cylinder engine provided the best of both worlds. It offered the rev of a four and the torque of a twin, winning the Trident many fans.

Year 1991-1992: Daytona 750cc and 1993-1996: Daytona 900cc

The 750’s reign was over before it began, making it a rare beast. But there’s plenty of 900 Daytona’s around for those who prefer the wail of a sporty triple.

1990 Daytona 750 Sports
1990 Triumph Daytona 750 Sports. Photo: Triumph

Once again, although the Daytona was willing enough, its sheer bulk worked against it during its golden years. Today, they make great fast tourers. Despite a large radiator and oil cooler, the big plastic fairing means they can get hot and bothered when stuck in traffic.

Year 1993-1996: Daytona Super III 900cc

A limited-edition Daytona, the Super III, escaped silently from the Triumph factory without fuss or fanfare. A total of 805 bikes were built and became one of Triumph’s best-kept secrets.

Daytona Super III 900cc
Daytona Super III 900cc. Photo: Triumph

What made the Super III special were carbon fiber inserts, a set of fabulous six-piston front brakes, and best of all, a power plant re-worked by legendary engine tuners, Cosworth.

The Super III, with its lumpy cams, stretched-out riding position, and curved seat, was a pain to live with when bogged down in summer traffic. On the flip side, find a long winding country road, and everything clicked into place, rewarding the rider with an experience like no other.

Year 1994-1996: Speed Triple 750cc and 900cc

The café racer mentality is genetically ingrained in British riders. When the Speed Triple hit the streets in 1994, it at once grabbed attention, which is ironic as the model was more or less a blacked-out, unfaired Daytona.

1994 Triumph Speed Triple
1994 Triumph Speed Triple. Photo: Triumph

Yet, there was something about the Speed Triple that just looked right. Their appearance made them highly sought after and led to them having a factory-backed race series. It’s fair to say that the Speed Triple was the first factory-built streetfighter. Before the end of its production, a limited number of motorcycles were fitted with a 750cc engine, giving them rarity value.

Year 1991-2001: Trophy-3 900cc and Sprint 900cc from year 1991-1998

Some riders love the unique blend of revs and torque that only a good triple engine can supply. For them, the Trophy-3, a touring version of the Trident, made perfect sense. Even loaded with gear and a passenger, the Trophy-3 felt unflustered on long hauls.

Video: 1994 Triumph Trophy 3 900cc walk around

Triumph Trophy 3 - Walk Around

The Sprint is yet another perfect example of the flexibility of modular design. Once again, based on the Trident engine and rolling chassis, the half fairing was the flexible answer for those needing a daily commuter and weekend blaster.

The Sprint was also seen in Sport (better suspension, higher footpegs, and lower handlebars) and Executive (factory hard luggage) versions.

Year 1994-2003: Thunderbird 900cc

With an entire back catalog of classic Triumph models to choose from, it was just a matter of time before Hinckley resurrected the Thunderbird name. The 900cc Trident engine, re-tuned for more torque and less top end, was used, but this time with a more decorative exterior.

Thunderbird 900cc
Thunderbird 900cc. Photo: Triumph

Alterations were made to the subframe of the chassis to make it appear old school. The bike also had some nice additions that gave a nod to T’birds of the past. Most notable of these features are the petrol tank, complete with a vintage tank badge and pea-shooter silencers.

Thunderbird variants included the Legend (lower seat height), Adventurer (high bars and a custom rear fender), and Sport (better suspension and twin front discs).

Year 1993-1998: Tiger 900cc

With long-travel forks and suspension, a humongous fiberglass tank, and an integral cockpit fairing, the Tiger was a go anywhere do anything workhorse.

Triumph Tiger 900
Triumph Tiger 900. Photo: Triumph.

Off-road, it was an unwieldy lump. While on the street, the forks would dive like an overpaid center-forward. Even still, it was a great bike.

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Which are the Best Hinckley Triumph Years?

The original lineup of Hinckley Triumph triples and fours ran from their first model, the 1200cc Trophy-4, right through to the 900cc Thunderbird Sport of 2004.

The years of specific interest for this article are between 1991-1993. Why so specific? There are many reasons, but primarily because of the Triumph’s one Achilles heel, the sprag clutch.

The sprag or starter clutch sits between the starter motor and alternator shaft. Although made by Bosch, it’s one of the biggest fails on what is otherwise a bulletproof engine.

On the first production models of triples and fours (91-93), a trap door was built into the top of the crankcase above the clutch housing. Although not a five minute job, the trapdoor allows the sprag to be replaced with the engine in the frame.

Later models had to have the engine removed, and the crankcases split, turning it into a nightmare job of epic proportions.

Over-engineering at its Best

The sprag is one of the only recurring problems on an otherwise beautiful over-engineered motor. By now, most bikes still in circulation will have replaced the part with an upgraded version, and so this shouldn’t be an issue.

You can choose between a number of models during these years. These include Tridents, Trophies, and Daytona’s. Large production numbers mean availability isn’t a problem, and decent examples offer great bang for buck.

Although a three-year production run may seem focused, don’t be put off if you’re concerned about spare parts. Thanks to modular construction, you can mix and match parts from a gene pool of bikes spanning over a decade.

Perfect examples of this are the Hinckley Triumph hybrids I have built over the years. The bikes have included a Super III Speed Triple, a Thunderbird with Sprint engine and Daytona running gear, a 1200 Quadrant, and a 1200 Daytona Speed Four.

My all-time favorite is a 1991 141-bhp 1200cc Triumph Trophy engine in a 1996 Thunderbird rolling chassis complete with 4-4 short megaphones.


Some may say that desecrating such classics is sacrilege. From a personal perspective, this is a perfect example of the flexibility of interchangeable parts and solid build quality that makes early Triumphs affordable and fun to own.

Nothing is perfect, of course, and when it comes to motorcycles and Triumph’s modular build concept, it has its downsides. Due to their frame construction and over-engineering of the engine, all of the early Triumphs carried their considerable weight, high up.

This configuration means that all of the bikes from the Trident to the Tiger are tall and top-heavy and it is this that makes them an acquired taste. Furthermore, this top-heaviness in sport models means they can never truly go head to head with Fireblades and Gixers of the same era.

Motorcycles such as the 750 Daytona and 900 Speed Triple are now collectibles and attract higher prices. Yet, the rest of the early range is ignored, which means spares and the purchase cost remain sensible. Both pluses result in a win-win for a rideable classic.

Are Triumphs still made in England?

The Speed Triple, Tiger Sport, Explorer, Rocket III and Daytona are currently made in the UK. Every other model in the line up is manufacturer in one of three plants in Thailand owned by Triumph. Currently camshafts and crankshafts for all models are also still machined at Triumph UK.

Triumphs Owned by me

Meriden Triumph:
T110, T120, T140V x 2.

Hinckley Triumph:
Trident 750, Trident 900, Daytona 1200, Super III, Sprint x 2, Trophy 1200 x 3, Thunderbird x 2, Tiger 855i, Sprint ST 955i, Rocket III.

Here are a few images of some of them.

Triumph Sprint Thunderbird

Triumph Sprint Thunderbird
Sprint T’bird – 900cc Sprint engine in a Thunderbird chassis with Daytona running gear. Photo: Malcolm Lee, Old News Club

1200 T’bird

Triumph 1200 T-bird
141bhp 1991 1200 Trophy engine in a Thunderbird chassis with 4-4 megas. Photo: Malcolm Lee, Old News Club.

1200 Daytona (went for the Speed Triple look)

1200 Triumph Daytona Speed 4 customized
1200 Daytona- stripped down to look like a Speed Triple- the silencers are genuine ‘rayguns’ from a 1973 BSA Rocket III. Photo: Malcolm Lee, Old News Club.

Super III Streetfighter and 900 Thunderbird

Triumph Super III
Super III – Another classic bites the dust, my Super III streetfighter. Photo: Malcolm Lee, Old News Club.
Triumph Thunderbird bobber
T’bird Bobber – 900 Thunderbird bobbed. Photo: Malcolm Lee, Old News Club.