The ex-Steve McQueen, 1938 Triumph 500cc 5T Speed Twin Frame no. T.H.5838 Engine no. 13084

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Lot 53
The ex-Steve McQueen, 1938 Triumph 500cc 5T Speed Twin
Frame no. T.H.5838 Engine no. 13084
Sold for US$ 175,500 inc. premium

Lot Details
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The ex-Steve McQueen
1938 Triumph 500cc 5T Speed Twin
Frame no. T.H.5838
Engine no. 13084
• Arguably the most 'collectible' of all Triumphs
• Restored by McQueen's buddy Dave Ekins in the late 1970s
• Beautiful patina remains

'Edward Turner's intention was always to produce a vertical twin, a design he had considered at Ariel after creating an experimental twin out of half the Square Four. Turner removed the front crankshaft to allow the engine to function as vertical twin, and both Val Page and Bert Hopwood were watching this experiment. While he considered it extremely sound from an engineering point of view, Turner didn't see it having a wide appeal. So he immediately embarked on creating the Speed Twin, which appeared in July 1937.' Ian Falloon, The Complete Book of Classic and Modern Triumph Motorcycles (Motorbooks, 2015.)

Although Edward Turner's Triumph Speed Twin caused a sensation when it first appeared at the London Motorcycle Show, few of its admirers can have guessed how influential the design would prove to be. True, there had been vertical twins before; indeed, Turner's predecessor at Meriden - Val Page - had designed one a few years previously, but Triumph's newcomer established a formula that would be adopted by all of Britain's major motorcycle manufacturers in the succeeding decade. And whereas previous vertical twins had suffered from excess bulk, Turner's was lighter and narrower across the crankcase than the contemporary single-cylinder Tiger 90, whose cycle parts it shared, and from certain angles looked just like a twin-port single. This was just what the conservatively minded motorcycling public wanted, and the Speed Twin proved an enormous success for Triumph, lifting the company out of the economic doldrums and setting it on the road to future prosperity.

Performance proved exemplary for a road-going 500, around 85mph being attainable by the Speed Twin while the Tiger 100 sports version could reach the 'ton' under favorable conditions.

The 1938 5T Speed Twin was a most handsome machine in its day weighing 355 pounds dry with a wheelbase of 54 inches. Its twin cylinder engine was a long-stroke 498cc from a 63mm bore and 80mm stroke which with an Amal 276/132 LN 15/16th inch bore carburetor, a Lucas Magdyno and a 7.0:1 compression ratio produced 26 horsepower at 6,000rpm. It used both a separate oil tank and a 4-speed transmission. A Girder front fork and a sprung saddle provided the suspension with drum brakes in both the 20-inch front wheel and 19-inch rear.

Triumph's success in the USA took off again in 1954 after the launch a year earlier of The Wild One, with Marlon Brando in the lead role. Back to Ian Falloon again, it was 'based on a 1951 short story, "The Cyclists' Raid," by Frank Rooney, loosely based on events occurring in Hollister, California, in July 1947. A small group of motorcyclists attending an AMA Gypsy Tour became drunk and disorderly, and the incident received wide national publicity.' Brando's character, Johnny, had ridden in on a 1950 Triumph twin, a 650 Thunderbird – not a million miles away from McQueen's Speed Twin, aesthetically and mechanically. Good or bad, the movie promoted Triumph as never before. Sales on the US West Coast went through Bill Johnson of Johnson Motors, set-up in 1940, and confirmed as the US distributor in post-war in 1945. During 1947 production at Meriden had reached 12,000 units, 60 per cent of which were exported, most of them coming to the US market. Clearly, Triumph was focused on this market.

Although 'McQueen was a long-time fan of the British motorcycle marque and raced them at events around the world' there are few Triumphs left that he actually rode. This lovely example of a Speed Twin was sold at the late Steve McQueen Estate Auction at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas in 1984 to motorcycle parts distributor Domi Racer located in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was subsequently bought by Ken Grzesiak of British Only Motorcycles & Parts of Garden City, Michigan, then sold again to landscape architect and Triumph aficionado - who had been born in the San Fernando Valley and once hung out in Bud Ekins' shop in North Hollywood - Mike Crone of Florida. The vendor acquired this bike last year, 2018. It was restored for Steve McQueen by friend and fellow ISDT team member Bud Ekins in the mid to late 1970s. The original Las Vegas sale bill/auction flyer, and Certificate of Authenticity (lot number 530) are signed by both Terry and Chad McQueen. There is an Ekins decal still on the bike. These documents go with the bike, of course. It would be a feel-good thing if we could prove that the pin striping had been done by Von Dutch, a friend of both McQueen and Ekins, but sadly there is no evidence although its style is his.

Rarely does such a Triumph of this much importance become available in a public sale. It's an opportunity not to be missed. Could there be a more desirable Speed Twin in existence?

Footnotes

  • As with all Lots in the Sale, this Lot is sold 'as is/where is' and Bidders must satisfy themselves as to the provenance, condition, age, completeness and originality prior to bidding.

Saleroom notices

  • The engine number is 8-5T 13084.
Activities
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  1. Craig Mallery
    Specialist - Motorcycles
    Bonhams
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