The Triumph Motor Company had its origins in 1885 when Siegfried Bettmann of Nürnberg formed the S. Bettmann & Co Import Export Agency in London and started importing bicycles and selling them under his own name. Bettmann also sold sewing machines imported from Germany. The trade name became “New Triumph Co. Ltd.” the following year and in 1889 production of the company’s own bicycles started in Coventry, England with the help of funding from the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company.
In 1897 the company was renamed The Triumph Cycle Co. Ltd. and in 1902 began producing Triumph motorcycles at their works in Coventry. At first, these machines used engines from other manufacturers (the first machine was a bicycle fitted with a Belgian Minerva engine) but the business prospered and in 1905 the company started making their own 3hp engines.
In 1903, after selling more than 500 motorcycles, Triumph also began motorcycle production at factory in Nürnberg in Bavaria, Germany. Confusion between motorcycles produced by the British and German Triumph companies later resulted in the latter’s products being renamed ‘Orial’ for certain export markets. However, a company named Orial already existed in France, so the Nürnberg motorcycles were renamed once again as “TWN” standing for Triumph Werke Nürnberg. The British and German factories separated in 1913, however the German factory continued to make motorcycles under the Triumph and TWN brands until the mid 1950s.
In 1907 Triumph purchased the premises of a spinning mill on Priory Street in Coventry to develop a new factory. Large orders for the 550 cc Model H were placed by the British Army during the First World War and by 1918 Triumph had become Britain’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles.
In 1921 they acquired the assets and premises of the Dawson Car Company and started producing a car with a 1.4-litre engine designed by Lea-Francis, named the Triumph 10/20. Initially production of this car and its immediate successors was on a relatively small scale, but this changed in 1927 with the introduction of the Triumph Super Seven which sold in large numbers until 1934.
In 1930 the company’s name was changed again, this time to The Triumph Motor Company. Managers realised they could not compete with the larger manufacturers for the mass market, so decided to focus on the production of more expensive cars and introduced the Southern Cross and Gloria models. At first these used engines designed by Coventry Climax but in 1937 Triumph started to produce engines to the designs of Donald Healey, who had become the company’s Experimental Manager in 1934.
The bicycle arm of the company was sold to Raleigh in 1932 but in the second half of the decade the company started to encounter financial problems and in 1936 the Triumph motorcycle business was sold to Jack Sangster of Ariel to become The Triumph Engineering Co Ltd. Arial became part of BSA in 1951. In the early Thirties Healey developed a new car, powered by an Alfa-inspired straight-8 engine, named the Triumph Dolomite. Three of these cars were made in 1934, one of which was used in competition and unfortunately destroyed in an accident. The later Dolomites manufactured from 1937 to 1940 were unrelated to these prototypes.
In July 1939, brought down by the escalating costs of producing increasingly costly cars that failed to sell well and economic uncertainty in the lead-up to the Second World War, the Triumph Motor Company went into receivership and the factory, equipment and goodwill were purchased by Thomas W. Ward Ltd., a Sheffield based engineering firm, who placed Healey in charge as General Manager; but the effects of the war stopped the production of cars and the Holbrook Lane works were completely destroyed by bombing in 1940.
In November 1944 what was left of the Triumph Motor Company and the Triumph trade name were bought by the Standard Motor Company; a subsidiary “Triumph Motor Company (1945) Limited” was formed and production transferred to Standard’s factory at Canley on the outskirts of Coventry.
In 1946 a new range of Triumphs was announced, starting with the Triumph Roadster, which had an aluminium body because steel was in short supply and surplus aluminium from aircraft production was plentiful. The same engine was used for the 1800 Town and Country saloon, later named the Triumph Renown, which was notable for the so-called ‘razoredge’ styling chosen by Standard-Triumph’s managing director Sir John Black. A similar style was also used for the subsequent Triumph Mayflower light saloon. All three of these models sported the “globe” badge that had been used on pre-war models. When Sir John was forced into retirement this range of cars was discontinued without being replaced directly, sheet aluminium having become a prohibitively expensive alternative to sheet steel for most auto-industry purposes.
In the early 1950s it was decided to use the Triumph name for sporting cars and the Standard name for saloons and in 1953 the Triumph TR2 was initiated, the first of the TR series of sports cars that would be produced until 1981.
Standard had been making a range of small saloons named the Standard Eight and Ten and had been working on a replacement for these. The success of the TR range meant that Triumph was considered as a more marketable name than Standard and the Triumph Herald was introduced in 1959. The last Standard car to be made in the UK, the Phase3 Vanguard, was replaced in 1963 by the Triumph 2000.
In December 1960 Standard-Triumph was bought by Leyland Motors Ltd. and further mergers resulted in the formation of the British Leyland Motor Corporation in 1968. In 1959 Triumph set up an assembly facility in Speke, Liverpool, gradually increasing the size of the factory to the point where it was capable of producing 100,000 cars per year. However, a maximum of only 30,000 cars was ever produced as the plant was never put to full production use, being used largely as an assembly plant. During the 1960s and ’70s Triumph produced a succession of Michelotti-styled saloons and sports cars, including the Herald-derived Vitesse, Spitfire, GT6, Stag, TR3, TR4, TR5 and 2000/2500 models. For most of its time under Leyland and BL ownership the Triumph marque belonged in the Specialist Division of the company, which went by the names of ‘Rover Triumph’ and later ‘Jaguar Rover Triumph’, except for a brief period during the mid-1970s when all BL’s car marques or brands were grouped together under the name of Leyland Cars.
The only all-new Triumph model initiated under the ‘Rover Triumph’ banner was the TR7, which had the misfortune to be in production successively at three factories that were closed: Speke, the original Standard works at Canley, Coventry and finally the Rover works in Solihull. Plans for an extended range based on the TR7 were dropped when the Speke factory closed. Production of the four-cylinder TR7 and its short-lived eight-cylindered TR8 derivative was terminated when the road car section of the Solihull plant was closed.
The last Triumph model was the Acclaim, introduced in 1981 and essentially a rebadged Honda Ballade built under licence from the Japanese company at the former Morris works in Cowley. The Triumph name disappeared in 1984 when the Acclaim was replaced by the Rover 200. The Triumph trademark is owned currently by BMW which acquired Triumph when it bought the Rover Group in 1994. The Standard marque was transferred to British Motor Heritage Limited.