Spirit of Adventure: The Legacy of the Triumph Tiger


The rich history of the iconic Tiger began in 1935 when Triumph decided to split the car and motorcycle businesses.  It was then that the owner of Ariel, Jack Sangster, purchased the Triumph motorcycle business and appointed Ed Turner, the designer of the Ariel Square Four, as the General Manager and Chief Designer of the newly named Triumph Engineering Company.

After setting up an office on the production floor, Turner’s first project was designing a new range of lightweight singles. These motorcycles were marketed as the Tiger 70 (250cc), 80 (350cc), and 90 (500cc) and in 1939 spawned the Tiger Twin, also known as the Tiger 100 because of its ability to reach speeds of up to 100 mph.

On November 14, 1940, shortly after the start of World War II, the Triumph factory was destroyed when the city of Coventry was demolished by a German air raid. The Tiger 80 was pressed into service and developed into the military Triumph 3HW model. Soldiers, including members of the Women’s Royal Navy Service (Wrens) and American servicemen, used the Tiger to deliver urgent orders and messages between headquarters and military units.

In 1946 the performance reputation of the Tiger was cemented when Ernie Lyons won the first Manx GP, the amateur version of the Isle of Man TT, on a Tiger 100. Turner, who was anti-racing, was away in America at the time and was furious when he found out about the race.  However, when he returned he threw a celebratory dinner for Lyons and small batch of replica T100s were produced for sale.

Triumph motorcycles have always been popular among celebrities. Singer-songwriter and Triumph enthusiast Bob Dylan brought notoriety to the brand by wearing a Triumph t-shirt on his acclaimed 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited. He was often photographed cruising the streets of Greenwich Village on his beloved Tiger 100.

In 1966, the Tiger 100 reached its greatest achievement when Buddy Elmore won the Daytona 200 on a “Works Special” Tiger 100. The feat inspired the production of the 500cc Tiger Daytona, which made its debut in 1967 and would remain in production until 1973.

During the 1950s, the Tiger became both larger and smaller. When the Thunderbird 650cc engine was introduced, it was seen as a low compression tourer but was subsequently developed into a high performance 650cc Tiger 110. The Tiger 110 would remain the Triumph performance model until the launch of the Bonneville later that decade.  The smaller version, the Tiger Cub, a 200cc single-cylinder motorcycle was introduced in 1954, and became hugely popular among beginning riders in both the U.K. and U.S.

The historic Tiger name was revived by the new Hinckley-based Triumph company in 1993 with the launch of the dual sport Tiger 900, also known as ‘the Steamer’, and lives on today in the current Tiger 800 and Explorer. Cycle World magazine named the Tiger 800 the ‘Best Dual-Sport’ motorcycle, proclaiming that, “The Tiger 800XC just makes you want to ride there. Wherever ‘there’ may be.”

Watch here to see the Tiger conquer the dunes.

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