T120 production soldiered on but a 750cc T140 version arrived to steal some thunder in 1972 – this was Triumph’s hopeful answer to the onslaught of the larger-capacity competition. Production of the T120 and T140 ran alongside each other until 1973 when striking workers staged a go-slow sit-in that lasted until 1975. Fewer than 1 000 650cc versions left the factory in this period and when the strike ended, only T140 production resumed. In this guise, the Bonneville story ambled on until 1983 when Triumph Engineering, now owned by its workers, went into liquidation and the doors shut.
How, then, can I walk into a Triumph dealership and buy a new Bonneville? We can thank British billionaire John Bloor for stepping in and buying the business. Registered as Triumph Motorcycles Ltd, his plan was to re-engineer the old bikes, but he soon abandoned that idea in favour of a whole new bike. While the planning of this took place, he licensed the rights and tooling to Les Harris, who released a number of limited-edition classic 750 Bonnevilles between 1985 and ’88.
By this time, Bloor had put together a formidable team, hired several of the group’s former designers to work on some all-new models and funded the building of a new factory at a 40 000m2 site in Hinckley, Leicestershire. A major portion of the focus and strategy was on a new line of three- and four-cylinder bikes built around 250cc and 300cc component sets – the maths reveals a bunch of 750cc and 900cc triples as well as 1000cc and 1200cc fours. These rocked the roads from 1991 and it took another 10 years until the much-loved Bonneville returned. It was more than just a name though, sporting an aesthetic not too far off the original and seeing a twin as the power source – this time a modern 800cc DOHC four-valve-per-cylinder, good for 65 horses.
Today, a new Bonneville T120 will set you back about R165 000 and comes with a 1200cc water-cooled parallel twin producing 79bhp. Transmission is now a slick six-speed gearbox, braking is done by discs with ABS and fuelling comes courtesy of a multipoint sequential electronic injection that not only means easier cold starts but also seriously improved fuel economy. There’s a 900cc Bonneville T100 too, as well as some other iconic-named modern classics like the Speed Twin, Thruxton, Bobber and Scrambler that sell alongside various sporting, touring and adventure offerings from the British hero. Like the 1960s Bonneville heyday, the vast majority are made for the export market – something like 85% leave the UK for other regions, and thankfully South Africa is one of those.