Top 10 Triumph Bonnevilles of all time! | Including current values

With a brand new line of Bonnies being released, we've taken a look back at the 10 best Triumph Bonneville motorcycles to ever grace the roads.

Triumph Bonneville T120 Diamond Edition 2019

The unveiling of Triumph’s new, improved Bonnevilles for 2021 is great news – after all, what’s not to like about a class-leading retro that’s been made even better still? 

But it also raises an obvious question: Is the new version the best ‘Bonnie’ ever? And, if not, which other models through the great British icon’s long, 60-year-plus history, have shone brightest of all?

So we decided to find out, by going right back to the launch of the original in 1959 then trawling through the Bonneville’s history ever since, all to identify what made which models great – or not, as the case may be. 

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The result is our pick of the 10 best overall, both from the original Meriden Triumph concern and from John Bloor’s revived Hinckley Triumph from 2001. The choice, of course, is subjective. But there’s also no doubt that the bikes we’ve picked, if not THE greatest, are certainly up there with the best and make great classics, or modern ‘runarounds’, and all for prices to suit every budget, from £3000 to £20K.

Here’s that pick of the best Bonnies, in chronological order…

1959 Triumph T120 Bonneville –  £20-25,000

In the classic bike world original, first editions are always the most desirable even if they’re not actually the best bikes. We’ve told the story of how the first ‘Bonnie’ came about before, so we’ll be brief here: Basically a twin carb version of the then single carb 650cc T110 Tiger, the first model was built at the request of Triumph’s US importer to provide a more powerful, performance machine for the American market and rode on the back of Triumph USA’s successful 1956 Bonneville Salt Flats world speed record, hence the name. The T120 bit, meanwhile, referred to Triumph’s claimed top speed for the new Bonneville, as a result of being more powerful and faster than the T110 Tiger.

In truth, although being the ‘fastest motorcycle in the world’, the first Bonneville wasn’t universally well received. Triumph themselves were so unconvinced it wasn’t even included in its 1960 brochure while, expediently produced with Tiger bodywork, Americans didn’t like the skirted mudguards and tangerine/blue paintjob.

However, with these soon changed the new Bonneville’s popularity slowly grew, particularly after an updated frame and then unit construction from 1963 and by the mid-1960s the Bonneville, including performance spin-offs including the 1965 Thruxton production racer and 1966 T120R US-only flat track racer, were widely regarded as the most potent bikes of the day. The first 1959 ‘Tangerine Dream’, however, despite being disliked at the time, is the most collectable of all due to its originality and rarity.

1968-1970 Triumph T120 Bonneville –  £10-15,000

Although not the first, the 1968-1970 T120 Bonneville is generally considered as the best, purist incarnation of the original 650cc twin before things started to go ‘south’ with the controversial ‘oil-in-frame’ 1971 model. (It’s also, incidentally, the model which most inspired the revived, Hinckley Bonneville 800 of 2001.)

Benefitting from a raft of updates since the 1959 original (unit construction, improved reliability, performance and brakes etc) it also had arguably the best styling of any Bonnie and that year was also improved with new Amal Concentric carbs and an uprated front brake. But although the peak year for the original 650 Bonneville, with hindsight it was also clearly the beginning of the end: after 1968, with the arrival of Honda’s new CB750, the Bonneville was clearly no longer the ‘world’s fastest’; while subsequent models, although generally improved, were actually falling further and further behind the Japanese.

As a classic Bonneville, however, they don’t come much better than a 1968-70 650 T120, in fact it’s arguably the most definitive classic British bike of all.

1977 Triumph T140J Bonneville ‘Silver Jubilee’ – £7-10,000

The 1970s, despite the Bonneville receiving a whole series of updates, was generally a period of slow, tortured decline for Triumph, by now rife with commercial and industrial problems, and for the now conspicuously aging Bonneville itself. 1971’s new ‘oil-holding’ frame was poorly received, in 1972 a five-speed gearbox was introduced, while in 1973 a front disc brake came in, alongside the new, bigger bore 750 T140.

But although the latter additions were an improvement they were still four years after the CB750 and the Bonnie still didn’t have either an electric starter or a left-foot gearchange. Worse, strikes and more at Meriden meant very few bikes were built in 1974 and none in 1975. By 1976, with the Trident dropped, the Bonneville was Triumph’s last surviving model and cash-strapped Meriden increasingly turned to gimmicky limited editions to try to shift bike.

The most famous (and desirable) of these was the 1977 T140J ‘Silver Jubilee’ in honour of the Queen’s 25th anniversary. Built in UK and US variants, just 1000 of each were built boasting special silver livery, chromed engine cases and red piped seats and were a big success, so much so that Meriden built 400 more. Today they remain arguably the best – and most collectable – 1970s Bonnevilles of all.

1979-80 Triumph T140D Bonneville – £6-8,000

Although by 1979 Triumph was a shadow of its former self and its Bonnevilles were completely outperformed and largely ridiculed, a few models still stand out. That year’s T140D, for example, was certainly not the fastest, best or most valuable, but it still stands out for being one of the best-looking Bonnevilles of all.

Born on the back of the late 1970s trend for factory customs (remember Yamaha’s black ‘Midnight Specials’?), particularly in the US, Triumph’s offering was the T140D ‘Special’ and although mechanically little different, styling changes including using the US-style ‘peanut’ tank, polished Lester cast alloy wheels, a new 2:1 exhaust and new chrome mudguards, made it really stand out.

Best of all was the optional F1 JPS Lotus-alike black with gold pinstripes paint job (although others were available) – Bonnevilles, in our subjective view, simply don’t get much better looking…

1983 Triumph T140V TSS – £8-11,000

Strictly speaking the TSS and TSX weren’t Bonnevilles at all as Triumph actually never named them as such. To all intents and purposes, however, they certainly were, being based on the T140 but with new barrels and 4v heads. As such, with bankruptcy looming larger than ever, they were not only Meriden Triumph’s last roll of the dice but also, arguably, among the best performing and high-tech Bonnevilles of all and also among the rarest.

In a final bid to improve the aging Bonneville’s performance Triumph acquired the rights to Weslake’s 8-valve head conversion, which had been proven in racing, added a new crank and more widely-spaced cylinders (hence the different-looking barrels) and the result was the TSS, the most powerful (nearly 60bhp), smoothest Bonneville yet.

In truth, however, it was still a long way behind the Japanese bikes of the day, was comparatively expensive and was all a case of too little, tool late. Just 438 TSSs were built today making them one of the rarest Bonnevilles of all…

2001 Triumph Bonneville 800 – £3-5000

After the collapse of Meriden Triumph in 1983 John Bloor famously bought the rights to the Triumph name for a reported £250,000 before the Midlands entrepreneur spent the next seven years developing an all-new facility in Hinckley and range of modern machines. Conspicuous by its absence, a new Bonneville didn’t join the new Trophy, Trident and Daytona, despite the name being arguably its most famous model of all.

But after a period of consolidation and increasingly more characterful models such as the 1993 Speed Triple and 1994 Thunderbird, an all-new, retro-styled ‘Bonnie’ was unveiled at the 2000 Cologne Show and has gone on to be one of new Triumph’s most successful models, eventually spawning a whole family of bikes which form’s Triumph’s backbone today.

That first 790cc bike had few frills and, to be honest, was more significant for its existence than its performance. In terms of importance, however, few Bonnevilles are greater.

2009 Triumph Bonneville T100 ‘50th anniversary’ – £6-8000

Although the very first Hinckley Bonnevilles were largely unremarkable, their popular success led to an increasing number of up-specced spin-off models, among them bikes like the more 1950s style T100 and café racer Thruxton (both in 2003) and limited edition variants such as the Ace and Newchurch.

One of the first of the latter type, and among the best examples of all ‘first generation’ Hinckley Bonnevilles, was the T100 ‘50th Anniversary’, built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the original T120 Bonneville in 1959. Based on the already upspecced T100 including things like chromed engine cases and twin dials and benefitted from 2008 revisions including a larger 865 capacity and fuel injection, the ‘50th’ also got the best accessories and individualization then available.

Paint, naturally, was tangerine and blue, there was hand-applied pin striping, lots of chrome details, knee pads, white piped seat and unique badging. Just 650 were built, each coming with a certificate of authenticity.

2012 Triumph Bonneville T100 ‘Steve McQueen’ edition – £9-11,000

Another of the very best limited edition versions of the Hinckley Bonneville T100 came just three years later and was built to commemorate another 50th anniversary – that of the filming in 1962 of The Great Escape in which Steve McQueen made the most famous cinematic motorcycle jump of all, aboard a Triumph.

In truth, the bike actually used back then was a single carb TR6 but Hinckley Triumph did a pretty good job of replicating it nevertheless. Based on the T100, the ‘Steve McQueen’ edition, which was limited to just 1100 examples, got military-style matt khaki paint, special tank motif, single seat and luggage rack, black headlamp, wheels, bars and more and this time also got an individually-numbered limited edition plaque on the top yoke.

The result was one of the most successful Bonneville ‘limited editions’ of all, selling out virtually instantly with used examples today commanding a premium of up to £11K.

2016 Triumph Thruxton 1200 – £7-12,000

When Triumph introduced an all-new Bonneville family of machines in 2016 with equally all-new 900cc and 1200cc parallel twin engines, two bikes in particular stood out: the all-new T120 Bonneville, now more powerful, better braked, more substantial and better equipped all-round and the café racer version, the Thruxton 1200.

Larger, more powerful, with electronic riding modes and a longer, dedicated fuel tank, the Thruxton was now the convincing, quality café racer it had never quite been before. Better still, there was also an upspecced ‘R’ version with uprated suspension (including Ohlins rear shocks), brakes (radial Brembos), improved detailing (polished top yoke, Monza fuel cap etc) and more.

It went as well as it looked, too, its grunty 96bhp now more than ample for a bike of this type with handling the match of most pure sportsters. While, despite its dropped café racer bars and rearsets, nor was its riding position too extreme for day-to-day use. Gorgeous to look at and invigorating to ride, the Thruxton R remains one of the very best Bonnevilles of all…

2019 Triumph Bonneville T120 ‘Diamond Edition’ – £9-11,000

Hinckley Triumph may have upgraded their latest Bonnevilles all round – most recently for 2021 – but that hasn’t stopped them coming out with a series of high-spec, limited edition models of the type that has proved so successful throughout the Bonneville’s history. One of the most recent and best, appropriately enough, is, following 2009’s ‘50th Anniversary’ version of the old 865cc Bonnie, the ‘Diamond Edition’ of the latest one.

‘Diamond’, of course, marke the Bonnie’s 60th anniversary and, as with previous editions, it’s effectively the highest spec and best Bonnie of its type. This time round it was based on the top spec 1200cc T120 but also received chromed engine covers, unique badging, special white/silver paint job, special badging and, again, certificate of authenticity. Just 900 were built.

If you want the best, most exclusive and well-equipped version of the latest 1200 Bonneville, this is it – if you can find one.

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