Top 5: Motoring's favourite Triumph motorcycles

You can't be in the motorcycle business for 109 years and not have at least a few icons roll out of the factory. Here's our favourite Triumphs.

The Thunderbird.
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1938-1966 Speed Twin

Edward Turner became chief engineer of Triumph Engineering in 1936 and designed a bike that not only changed the English company - known for bicycles with engines - but the entire motorcycle world. His 500cc twin-cylinder design was lighter and ran smoother than the single-cylinder bikes of that era, and the Speed Twin became a sales sensation as well as the template for modern motorcycles. Soon after the Second World War, every manufacturer began offering a similar twin-cylinder design.

1949-1966 Thunderbird

Turner was on a tour of the US and stayed in a place in South Carolina that inspired the name of this bike: the Thunderbird Motel. Basically a revamped Speed Twin, the Thunderbird was designed more for the American market and was advertised at being capable of 160kph speeds. In a marketing coup for the company, Marlon Brando rode his own personal 1952 Thunderbird in the film The Wild One. Soon after, the US became the biggest market for Triumph bikes.

1956-1973 Trophy

The Trophy started as a 500cc TR5 twin, aimed at the off-road market. It was such a success in that role a British team used it to win four consecutive International Six-Day Trials, a gruelling, off-road endurance race of the day. It grew to 650cc for the TR6, which will always be tied with the legendary actor Steve McQueen: he rode it himself in the Six-Day Trials, and a stuntman standing in for McQueen used it for the unforgettable fence jump sequence in the 1963 film The Great Escape.

1959-1980 Bonneville T120

In 1956, Johnny Allen reached 345kph on a streamlined Triumph 650 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, US. Triumph hailed this achievement with the Bonneville 650cc twin, which went on to become iconic around the world. It grew to 750cc and was in production until 1980 but, by then, it was outclassed - and outsold - by superior Japanese bikes, marking the beginning of the end for the motorcycle manufacturer. Triumph closed its doors soon after, in 1983.

1994-present Speed Triple

When Triumph folded in 1983, Englishman John Bloor bought the rights and revived the brand officially in 1990 with six new bikes. But a later design that would make people take note was the Speed Triple, which created a new niche of motorcycles called the Streetfighter. It took the stance and power of a sport bike but shed all the plastic fairing for a tough, rugged look; so rugged, in fact, that the actor Tom Cruise used it to enhance his image as a spy in the 2000 film Mission Impossible II.