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1967 Triumph Bonneville: The Calm Before the Storm

by Richard Backus


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Triumph didn’t know it then, but 1967 would be its best year ever in the U.S., where sales had been soaring since the Bonneville’s 1959 introduction. The model’s name cashed in on the success of Triumph dealer and racer Johnny Allen’s twin-carb Triumph 650 streamliner, which hit 214.47mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1956. Ironically, American buyers — the new model’s core audience — were turned off by the new Bonnie, thanks to its fat fenders, large headlamp nacelle and gaudy Pearl Grey and Tangerine paint scheme. Those styling cues disappeared the next year, but U.S. revulsion to the 1959 Bonnie’s aesthetics was so strong that 1960 — and 1960 only — 120s carried a TR7 designation to separate them from the 1959 model.

1963 brought a major change with the introduction of the new “unit” 650 Bonneville, with a combined engine/transmission assembly versus the original’s separate units.

These were Triumph’s glory years, and the Bonneville was the bike that carried Triumph’s standard, winning races and drawing buyers to dealers. In 1967, Triumph sold close to 28,000 bikes in the U.S., the vast majority of them Bonnevilles. Here's a video clip from retrospective documentary "Story of the Triumph Bonneville:" 

 

Unfortunately, what goes up often comes down. Thanks in large measure to the bumbling of corporate parent BSA, Triumph managed to turn success into mediocrity, then failure. Triumph management arrogantly dismissed the rising threat from Japan, and by the time reality caught up it was too late. BSA went under in 1972, and Bonneville production came to a halt in 1973, following the take over of the Meriden factory by the Triumph Meriden Cooperative. The Cooperative resumed “normal” Bonneville production in 1975, and continued building them — sparingly — until 1983. Les Harris then took over for new owner John Bloor, building the last of the “original” Bonnevilles in very small numbers up to 1988.

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1967 Triumph T120 Bonneville