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Triumph TR6 Trophy – The Original Desert Sled

The TR6 Trophy was built by Triumph Motorcycles between 1956-1973. In 1973 it was superseded by the 5-speed 750cc Triumph Tiger.

During it’s reign the TR6 Trophy was one of Triumph’s best selling models particularly in the US which was the target market.

TR6 History

The TR6 can be traced back to 1950 with the 650cc Thunderbird. This model had been released to fulfill the desire of US riders for larger capacity engines. The TR5 Trophy 500cc model had done well and this is what eventually convinced Triumph to develop the bigger TR6.

Triumph had been having some success in the desert racing scene that had blown up in southern California and it was here the TR6 would be targeting.

Pre-1963 the TR6 was produced with a pre-unit construction like other models of the time. In 1963 it received a unit construction.

There is quite a lot to delve into with the TR6 so let’s get to it.

Triumph TR6 Trophy Review

Engine and Transmission

It was initially named the TR6 Trophy Bird, as it shared many similarities with the previous Thunderbird T110 models. Most notably the Trophy shared the same engine as the Thunderbird with the exception of being fitted with the new ‘Delta’ cylinder head.

The all new alloy head had bigger valves which made for better flow and more fins for better cooling, it was also lighter and allowed for higher compression ratio.

Still breathing through a single carburetor though as opposed to the two carburetors later found on the Bonnie.

By 1961 it was renamed, dropping the ‘Bird’ to become the ‘Trophy’ and in 1963 as with other motorcycles in the lineup it received unit construction.

The new engine set up was lighter, stronger, more compact, stiffer and cheaper to produce.

Triumph engineering at the time under Edward Turners instruction meant that from the engine to the chassis and everything in between, new models would recycle parts from other motorcycles and incorporate them where possible to avoid paying out on new designs.

The early unit construction models therefore shared a lot of parts from the pre-unit models.

The later motorcycles received a new slick shift gearbox to accompany the new engine.

Chassis and Handling

In 1963 the TR6 also received a new duplex frame, replacing the original, this was stronger, more rigid and more compact for better performance.

In 1960 Ed Turner had witnessed the death of a young racer due to frame failure and this prompted an immediate design of a stronger steering head. However, the new frame took things further and was more impressive.

Since it’s inception the TR6 had been designed with California desert racers in mind, to be lightweight, stripped back, it had slim and lightweight alloy fenders and detachable headlight.

These features, including extras like high pipes on the off road competition models in the US meant the motorcycles were perfect for off-road racing. Many owners just preferred having a motorcycle that was lighter and more stripped back than the heavier Triumph bikes on offer.

Initially the TR6 shared the primary chaincase, detachable dyno, oil tank and slim dual seat with the smaller 500cc TR5. This filtered out as the TR6 production continued and it eventually got all new original parts.

The front brake was increased to 8″ from 7″ in 1957 and by 1968 this was switched to a twin-leading shoe brake.

The TR6 is easy to ride, a bike that breezes through the bends, turns the pace up when needed and has smooth power delivery. The riding position is upright, natural and allows for riders to be as sporty as they want to be.

It was one of the best off-road racers for a reason, and when used on the road these race features made for a lively, bright, fast riding experience.

The 1969 and 1970 models are considered the best TR6 models of all time from Triumph and this is also applicable to the Bonneville too. It was peak Triumph era.

After 1970 there was an issue known as the oil-in-frame fiasco. BSA were now in charge and instead of opting to add components to both the TR6 and Bonnie that they could have benefited from; such as a 5-speed transmission, disc brakes or improved electrics and electric start, BSA decided that the motorcycles needed to be able to hold the oil in the frame itself.

The focus therefore was put into research and development for the oil bearing frame, however, this was a long process. By the time the frame was ready the engine couldn’t be installed in it without removing the rocker boxes so this require new boxes and bolts to be built.

On it’s release in 1971 the seat height was a high 34.5″ before being lowered to 32″ later on. The new bike was stronger and handled much better but it was a long time coming.

The TR6 survived until 1973 when it was then replaced by the TR7 Tiger.

Performance

The TR6 Trophy was the best selling Triumph in the US and was one of the stand out motorcycles of the 1950’s for the British marquee. The biggest compliment a motorcycle can receive is to have a high sales rate and the Trophy had just that.

Steve McQueen and Off-road Racing

Many bikers are familiar with the The Great Escape movie in which Steve McQueen jumps a fence, this was done on TR6 Trophy; although we now know that officially the stunt was performed by Bud Ekins.

Rumour has it, that off-camera Steve McQueen did actually jump the fence on the bike. However, we will never know this for sure, it is one of Hollywood’s legendary tales.

Bud Ekins during filming for the Great Escape, also won the Gold Medal in the 1962 International Six Days Trial on his TR6 which he later kept as an important addition to his famous collection.

In 1964 Bud Ekins and Steve McQueen went to East Germany for ISDT and both crashed their bikes on the third day with Ekins breaking his ankle.

The TR6 had quickly gained the title ‘Desert Sled’ and became the go to choice for off-road riders. Competition wins came in quick succession.

Machines like the original Ducati Scrambler started to appear in the early sixties but these were more road bike than dirt and there were not that many dedicated off-road racers in production, so the TR6 slotted right in.

Much like Bud Ekin, the TR6 won just about everything including multiple wins in the Big Bear Run, the Catalina Grand Prix, the International Six Days Trial (ISDT), the California State Hare and Hound Championship, the Barstow to Vegas 150 mile (240 km) desert race, the Greenhorn Enduro, and many more.

Silodrome

All of this success in the competition world solidified the Trophy as a top model and one that sold very well.

Triumph TR6 Trophy specs list

Engine and Transmission

  • Engine – Four-stroke, parallel twin

  • Capacity – 649cc

  • Bore x Stroke – 71 x 82mm

  • Compression Ratio – 8.5:1

  • Cooling System – Air-cooled

  • Starting – Kick

  • Induction – Single carburetor, Amal Monobloc

  • Transmission – 4-speed

  • Final Drive – Chain

  • Clutch – Wet, multi-plate

  • Max Power – 42 horsepower at 6,500rpm

Chassis and Dimensions

  • Frame – Tubular twin cradle

  • Front Suspension – Telescopic fork with hydraulic damping

  • Rear Suspension – Swingarm with 2 x Girling dampers

  • Front Brakes – 7″ drum

  • Rear Brakes – 7″ drum

  • Dry Weight – 365lbs

  • Wet Weight – 380lbs

  • Wheelbase – 55″

  • Width – 27.5″

  • Length – 84″

  • Seat Height – 30.5″

  • Fuel Capacity – 13.6 liters

Triumph TR6 Trophy Variants

The best way to look at the TR6 Trophy variants is to think about the model in two era’s. The pre-unit construction models and the unit construction models.

Pre-unit

UK versions – TR6/A and TR6/B. The ‘A’ was a roadster model with low pipes and the ‘B’ had high pipes, Scrambler bike style.

Export models mainly for the US – TR6/C and TR6/R with the ‘C’ being the competition off road version and the ‘R’ being the road model.

By 1962 the US renamed the two key models to TR6SC and TR6SR. A TR6SS model was also introduced which had a sporty exhaust but was otherwise the same as the ‘SR’ version.

In 1969 the TR6 and TR6R were renamed as the TR6 Tiger and the competition version was left with the TR6 designation.

Buying an original Triumph TR6 Trophy

In the UK you can buy a TR6 Trophy from anywhere between £6,500-£18,000.

In the US you can buy a TR6 between $6,000-$12,000.

There are not loads of original models around as the TR6 leant itself to be modified for amateur racers.

You may need to take your time to find a model in good condition that hasn’t been messed with too much.

Anthony Godin are currently advertising a 1960 TR6 that was originally sent to the US as an export model but found it’s way back to the UK. It has had a motor rebuild, a new service, new battery but is largely original and in good condition.

Look out for matching motor and frame numbers.

There is a completely original Trophy SC for sale in Norway with an asking price of £16,500. This is a rare opportunity to own an original rare Competition TR6 at a pretty good price.

Restoring a Triumph TR6 Trophy

A TR6 Trophy is a great choice for a restoration project. Many people go straight for an early Bonneville for their restorations of 50’s/60’s Triumph’s, so the TR6 is often overlooked.

While there are arguably fewer TR6 donor bikes and parts available than the inconic Bonnie, a really good restoration can fetch good money and is a worthy endeavour.

Is the Triumph TR6 Trophy a good investment?

The TR6 Trophy is a classic scrambler and has a good sized following. Quality models hold their value, the rarer they become the more they will increase in value.

I think the TR6 is an excellent investment choice providing you choose a largely original bike with matching numbers. Investing in one for a restoration project is also a potentially profitable move.

Verdict

Over and above a Bonneville from the 60’s, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a TR6 as a restoration project to do it up to former glory and then keep it. They are great bikes to ride even today, they look the business and are one of the original stars of the British motorcycle industry.

Plus at this point at bike meets everyone knows about Bonnie’s, if I rolled up on a TR6 it would be a new point of conversation, standing out from the crowd.

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