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Stolen 1953 Triumph Tiger 100 Returned 46 Years Later

By Richard Backus

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Stolen 1953 Triumph Tiger 100 Returned

Donald DeVault reunites with his 1953 Triumph T100 Tiger in Omaha, Neb., Nov. 20, 2014, 46 years after it was stolen from his backyard.

Donald DeVault’s 1953 Triumph T100 Tiger is by now likely the most famous Triumph ever made. Not because it went the fastest or the farthest. Not because it was owned by anybody famous, and not because it’s the rarest Triumph made. It’s fame hinges on the amazing fact that 46 years after it was stolen from DeVault’s backyard in Omaha, Neb., it’s actually back in DeVault’s possession and running after being discovered at the Port of Los Angeles, where it was about to be shipped to Japan.

DeVault had owned the T100, which he’d named “Li’l Blue Bitch,” less than two years when it was stolen from his backyard in 1967. Not surprisingly, he figured he’d never see it again. Forty-six years later, DeVault’s Triumph was found during a routine VIN check by U.S. Customs officers. That was in early November, and on November 20 the Triumph – mildly bobbed and apparently mechanically restored by a previous “owner” – was returned to DeVault in Omaha.

Stolen 1953 Triumph Tiger 100 Returned

Donald DeVault with his 1953 Triumph T100.

There was a minor media circus surrounding the bike’s return, and DeVault, still an active rider at 73, seemed to be enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. DeVault climbed on the bike while it was still strapped down to a pallet and started it up for the assembled media and immigration officials on hand for its delivery, who included Lou Koven, an investigator with the National Insurance Crime Bureau in L.A. who first contacted DeVault upon the Triumph’s discovery. DeVault shook Koven’s hand, then gave him a hug before sitting on his Triumph again for the first time in almost 50 years.

Doug Manley, a mechanic friend, made a quick check of the bike before DeVault climbed on and swung the kickstarter through. It took a few kicks, but the Triumph finally burbled to life, settling down to an idle before DeVault unstrapped it from its pallet and took it for a ride in an adjoining parking lot.

Triumph made thousands of T100 Tigers, so DeVault’s bike, now valued at approximately $9,000, isn’t particularly rare. But the fact it made it back to DeVault at all, and especially after 46 years, makes this perhaps the rarest Triumph T100 Tiger ever. – Richard Backus