Last Updated on 07/02/2021
With the release of the new Triumph Trident 660, I thought it would be good to look back at the original Triumph Trident 750 as it has an interesting (British bike fans might say sad) story.
The original Triumph Trident 750 was one of the most under-supported ventures Triumph ever started; however, a tidy original Trident today is not only sought after but a thumper of a machine, keep reading to find out why.
History of the Triumph Trident 750
The first co-operative venture between Triumph and BSA since they merged in 1951; was the Triumph Trident 750 and its sister bike the BSA Rocket 3.
The bike was the brain child of Engineer Bert Hopwood and Designer Doug Hele who thought there was room for a triple cylinder engine which would improve performance.
Up until this point Triumph had a solid engine in the 650 twin but it couldn’t be tweaked to go faster and still perform well. If they wanted to keep up with American market demands, they needed to produce a faster, higher performing motorcycle.
Bert and Doug set a goal of producing a 750cc vibration free machine without the bulk of a four cylinder layout. They realised that a triple cylinder may be the way to do this and discussions were in place in 1961 but it took 2 years before even the first sketches were drawn up.
According to the Triumph and Rocket 3 Owners Club “the first 750cc three-cylinder prototype was built in the Meriden Experimental Department in 1964.”
It was not without its issues such as overheating and a noisy primary drive. So, it was 1965 when another was built using a 650 Bonneville frame and 1966 before they had a finished prototype addressing the issues.
Triumph’s Managing Director at the time didn’t back the project from the inception and it was considered low priority. A triple cylinder was unheard of and far too radical to throw money and support into.
A change of management in 1966 and rumours of a new Honda performance bike was the prompt that kept the Trident in motion and led to moving it into production.
However, the drama was not over yet. BSA and Triumph were having issues internally between themselves and BSA were not about to let the Trident be released without having a new bike for them to use the new engine in too.
Enter the BSA Rocket 3. Production was once again postponed while designers worked on new engine casings, to make the Trident engine look different for the Rocket 3; as well as a new frame and other aesthetics.
The result for both bikes was that the stylings were not up to standard and in keeping with the current market, as BSA deliberately made the move away from the renowned and successful ‘Bonneville’ style.
The lack of support, priority, and BSA/Triumph rivalry meant that when the Honda CB750 was revealed at the Tokyo motorcycle show in 1968, the revolutionary Trident (and Rocket 3) was no longer that revolutionary at all, despite it actually being the faster machine.
It’s release in late 1968 (as a 1969 model) was eclipsed by its Japanese counterpart’s performance and popularity (the CB750 was dubbed the worlds first superbike).
Add to this the initial stylings which significantly fell short of what was expected by riders at the time and the Trident missed its opportunity to lead the way for performance bikes.
Low production figures (initially only about 2,500 units per year), and a high price (a 1971 Trident sold for $1,765US, while a ’71 Norton Commando sold for $1,490) doomed the Triumph Trident.Classic British Motorcycles
What cannot be overlooked however, is the bikes outstanding performance, the styling issues which were later addressed and it’s racing success. So, let’s not give up on the Trident just yet.
Trident 750 Performance and Style
Without a doubt the Triumph Trident was a revolutionary engine, the triple cylinder was the first of its kind and a stroke of genius. The first model was officially named the Triumph Trident T150 and later the final variation would be the Trident T160.
The motor was held vertically by a single down-tube frame and produced 58 horsepower at 7250rpm. It could cover the standard quarter-mile in under 13 seconds and reached a top speed of 117mph.
Additions and Variations:
- 1970: Original Styling replaced. Tank, Side Panels, Seat etc.
- 1971: Implementation of an optional 5-speed gearbox (became standard in 1972.)
- 1973: Front 10” Disk Brake replaces the original drum.
- 1975: New Steel frame inspired by Triumph’s winning racers
- The cylinders now were tilted at a 15 degree angle instead of vertical (The Rocket 3 cylinders were positioned this way to start with).
- Rear Disc Brake
- Electric Starter
- New exhaust system
- New stock styling
- Longer rear swing arm
These additions over the years meant that by 1975 the Trident finally matched the spec of the Honda CB750-4.
So, they nailed the performance side of things but the key for Triumph would have been to meet the American market’s needs with ‘Bonneville’ type styling in this bigger capacity and better performing machine.
Classic British Motorcycles state that both the Trident and Rocket 3 “hit the market with a clunky fuel tank so square that it became known as the “shoebox tank”, along with slab-like side covers & mufflers (silencers) so outlandish they were nicknamed “Flash Gordon” or “Ray Gun” mufflers.” Which was quite the opposite of what was needed and desired.
Triumph did address this in 1970 and released a beauty kit that would be stylistically more satisfying (made it look like a Bonneville); which customers could put on themselves or get their dealer too.
By the time the Trident T160 was released the bike was meeting the requirements style wise for the market.
However, production only lasted until 1976 which suggests that it was all too little too late for the Trident to be a true success story for Triumph with one crucial exception – the track.
A British Racing Icon
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Trident as despite its slow burn it is still regarded by many as the definitive British superbike.
Why? Well, for a start, at the first Daytona outing the Trident took first, second and third place in qualifying speeds, with a top speed of 165.44mph. In the following year they took all three podium positions.
Slippery Sam, a race prepared Triumph Trident, won 5 consecutive Isle of Man TT Races from 1971.
A production bike based on the racing Trident was suggested with 84 horsepower but again Triumph shot themselves in the foot and the idea was never pursued.
Perhaps the most notable success story for the Trident 750 is that of Tom Mellor and his 1969 T150 on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2008.
Tom’s T150 went on to set four new World speed records including reaching just over 180mph on the flying mile. A 40-year old home-built and race prepared Triumph Trident set four new records… does it get any cooler? Not in my book.
Buying an original Triumph Trident 750
The Triumph Trident is a coveted classic bike now and with its turbulent history and race winning performance it is no wonder why. So, like me you might be wandering are there any on the market? Are they expensive to restore and what is the investment potential? Let’s find out.
The Car and Classic Website in the UK has many prime examples for sale in excellent condition in both of the main variants, T150 and T160. The average price seems to be around the £10,000 mark but there is quite a wide range between £7000 and £15,000.
The T160 tends to sit at the top of the price range, I would suggest that is due to them being later complete models with all the extra’s that Triumph introduced by 1975. Worth noting also is that the excellent examples of the bikes seem to be original US imports.
In the US the best quality bikes seem to be sitting at $8000 and above, the average sale price around $6000.
What to look for if considering making a purchase?
- Look for oil leaking from the engine. External tubes hold the push rods, they tend to be a little temperamental and require some finesse to keep them sealed.
- Also, the shape of the engine casings made them particularly challenging to fit together, so look for gaps and make sure everything is flush.
- The crank has 5 plain shell bearings and they like clean oil. So, change your oil filter regularly!
- It is worth thinking about fitting a double disc conversion on the front brake. The bikes weigh about 502lbs and are fast so it is a lot for 2 1970’s disc brakes to stop, the cost of adding a conversion is worth it.
- It is said the bike still carries some vibration at certain rev ranges (despite the purpose of the triple engine being to avoid this) so rubber foot mounts are a cheap addition to help with this.
The bikes are pretty solid all round and there are plenty of parts on the market to really tinker and make it your own, so it all comes down to what you want to spend and what you want to do with it. Keep in mind however, parts are plentiful but not particularly cheap.
It is possible that if a buyer spent less on the bike with the intention of buying parts to do it up cheaply; that they could end up spending more than if the initial outlay had been higher on a finished high spec bike. This is particularly true for those in the UK, mainly down to more bikes being sold Stateside than on British soil.
Restoring a Triumph Trident 750
eBay is littered with parts for a Trident restoration/build. Here are a few price examples:
- $350 for a US spec tank
- $95 for an Oil Pump
- $30 Clutch Adjustment Cover
- $225 Intake and Exhaust Rocker Boxes
- $44.95 Replacement Air Filter Element
Classic British Spares has a large collection of spare parts for the Tridents and well worth looking up if taking on a project.
Is The Triumph Trident 750 a good investment?
There was a maximum of 33,000 Triumph Tridents sold while in production. 50 years on it is unlikely for a high percentage of those units to still be alive and kicking. They are not as common as other Triumph classics and so they have become more valued over the years.
Tom Mellor’s speed records in 2008 also reminded people why the Trident was a beast and brought it back into the sights of collectors. It’s likely the new Triumph Trident 660 will have a similar effect.
The T160 Tridents have held the same value in the market now for quite a while, you could buy one, love it, ride it and sell it without any loss at all. It is unlikely that this is to change in either direction from an investment standpoint so it is a fairly safe bet.
The downside is that good examples sit at the highest end of the price range, so the decision as to whether the initial layout is worth it is really subjective as to how much a buyer wants to own a piece of British motorcycling history.
Throughout the process of digging into the Trident 750 and its tumultuous history I have developed a bit of a soft spot for the Triumph underdog. It wasn’t given a fighting chance from its inception but it has stood the test of time.
Performance wise the triple cylinder still stands on its own pedestal defining the movement for British performance bikes and defending its position with a vengeance in 2008.
If I was looking for a classic the Triumph Trident 750 would be at the top of my list. I can guarantee it would outshine (and out perform) any of the British 650 twins that are still running from the same time frame, even if it is a bit ugly or should I say quirky?