The ex-Steve McQueen
1951 Triumph 650cc Thunderbird
Engine no. 6T 15662N
Always a step ahead of their rivals, Triumph followed up the trend-setting Speed Twin 500 of pre-war days by being first in the field with a 650cc parallel twin. Announced in September 1949, the 650 Thunderbird was Triumphs response to demands for more power emanating from American racers and British sidecars alike. A spectacular launch stunt saw three Thunderbirds lap the banked Montlhéry circuit in France at over 90mph for 500 miles, after which they each achieved a flying lap of 100mph-plus and were ridden back to the Meriden factory, a quite outstanding achievement. When displayed at the Earls Court Show in October, the new 650cc twin featured the headlamp nacelle and fuel tank with luggage grid first seen on Triumphs the previous year. An interesting change to the Thunderbird for 1952 was the adoption of an SU carburetor in place of the original Amal, a specially prepared machine managing a staggering 155mpg at a steady 30mph on a factory organized economy run.
The model remained in production in fundamentally its original form, though with progressively updated cycle parts, until the arrival of the unit-construction 650 range in 1962. One of the most significant developments along the way was the introduction of a swinging-arm frame for 1955, but prior to that time Triumph twins could be ordered with the optional sprung hub - designed by the Speed Twins creator Edward Turner - that offered a limited amount of rear suspension movement.
Steve McQueen purchased this sprung hub-equipped Thunderbird in the UK after he had completed the filming of the motion picture, The Great Escape in 1963, and is believed to have ridden the machine around England accompanied by his friend and stunt double, Bud Ekins. The Tbird was sold from the Steve McQueen Sale at The Imperial Palace Hotel to the immediately preceding owner, from whom the vendor purchased it four years ago. We are advised that since acquisition the machine has been checked, adjusted and ridden on a quarterly basis. It is offered with bill of sale dated November 21st 1984 and signed by Kenneth Ziffren, Co-Trustee of the McQueen Childrens Trust.