THE VISORDOWN Marketplace classified section is packed with sweet wheels for every pocket, and every two-wheeled desire! Each week, our man Tony Middlehurst is going to pick out a bike for sale, and give it the once-over. This week - it's a Royal Wedding special edition Triumph Bonneville of all things...
IF YOU created a Venn diagram with ‘Bikers’ in one bubble and ‘Folk Who Buy Royal Memorabilia’ in another, the crossover point between those two bubbles would be pretty small.
Or, to put it another way, nobody in their right mind would think there might be any connection whatsoever between those two groups. But back in 1981, when Lady Di got hitched to Prince Charles, somebody at Triumph thought that there might be. Either that, or a member of the company’s upper management structure was angling to get a few letters put after his name. Why else would they release this hideous Royal Wedding T140LE Bonneville in a limited edition of 125 for the US and the same number for the UK?
As an apprentice scrote on SuperBike magazine in the early 1980s, I had various low-level interactions with Triumph (or the Meriden Motorcycle Co-operative as it was known then) in its dying years. On one occasion I pitching up at the Meriden factory to collect a Bonneville test bike. The place was a shadow of its former self, and largely empty, but they still had money to pay for a uniformed flunkey manning a pillbox on the gate.
Grumpy bugger, he was. I told him I’d come for the Bonneville. He grunted and gestured with his thumb to a filthy bike leant up against the wall, its drive chain practically dragging on the ground. It had been left there untouched after a Motorcycle Mechanics magazine 24-hour ‘endurance test’ around Snetterton.
I took the poor thing away, and after giving it some basic maintenance we tested it. The review was not positive. Hardly surprising really as the 744cc Bonneville was based on a parallel twin that had first seen the light of day in 1933.
Predictably, after the test we got some angry letters from Triumph diehards, but I reckon even they knew the writing was on the wall. It had been there since 1970 when the Japanese-beating revamp of the Tiger/Bonneville came out and was proved sorely wanting.
It’s a measure of Triumph’s desperation in the early 1980s that they had to appeal to Royalists to make a buck. In 1983, fifty years after that first twin came out, the Co-operative realised that even the Royal Wedding edition plus some orders from the Nigerian and Ghanaian police forces couldn’t save them, and admitted defeat.
Let’s say that unusual person, the biker with a liking for royal tat, actually existed. What would they have got for their £1,900 in the Royal Wedding Bonneville? Badges on the side panels, Morris seven-spoke alloy wheels, an identifying plate on the headstock, an owner’s certificate, and er, well that’s it.
Today, of course, the Bonneville is a not entirely different but rather more nicely engineered machine. Unless you were prepared to put in plenty of effort putting the factory’s wrongs right, the old one was a leaky, vibratory and generally nasty thing. Again, diehards will try and tell you different, especially when they’re all together in a group. That head in the sand attitude was what did for the company in the first place, so in one way it’s appropriate.
So, why are we featuring this one as our Marketplace star of the week? Because there’ll always be a buyer for it somewhere, for rarity and investment reasons if nothing else. If you’ve got £10,500 kicking around, buy it with our blessing. Just don’t ride it. Ever.
The demise of Triumph was a sad story, but one good thing came out of it. It saved us from a Princess Di Memorial Edition Bonneville in 1997.
If you’ve never tried a 1980s Triumph twin but think they are great anyway and want to carry on thinking that, don’t ride one.