Thunderbird owner – at the time of our photoshoot – Glynn Jerram was clear on the reasons he’d sought out an early 50s Thunderbird to restore. “Aesthetics,” the 52-year-old printer from Walsall explained briefly and concisely.
One of the all time classic motorcycle silhouettes, the rigid-framed ‘T-bird’ achieved global fame – and indeed notoriety – when it was the mount of choice for Marlon Brando’s voice of disaffected youth, Johnny, in 1953’s The Wild One.
The film provoked outrage across America and was denied a release in the UK, such was the level of fear and loathing it provoked. Of course, the youth of the day loved it and sales of black leather jackets and motorcycles boomed.
Tagged by some as the ‘first teen movie’ The Wild One seems, by the standards of today, quite tame though its understandable how its portrayal of displaced youths and ambivalent morality must have shocked in its day.
However, the Thunderbird (named after a mythical native American creature) was already well known in the world of motorcycling without any need for film publicity.
In September 1949 a team of three of the brand new Thunderbirds – ridden by a squad of six riders; factory testers (and experienced competition riders) Alex Scobie, Len Bayliss and Bob Manns, ex-Rudge star and Triumph experimental department manager HG Tyrell Smith plus works riders Allan Jefferies and Jim Alves – had covered 500 miles per machine at the Montlhery circuit south of Paris at an average speed of over 92mph.
The achievement was made all the more noteworthy by the fact that the machines – plus a fourth as backup and transport – had been taken straight off the production line, then ridden from Meridan to London, on to Folkstone for the ferry, then on docking in France, to the Montlhery track. It was a fantastic achievement – and one that set the Thunderbird on the course to success. The Thunderbird remained in the Triumph range until 1965.
Triumph enthusiast Glynn, who is a member of the Birmingham and Wolverhampton branch of the Triumph OC, decided to restore his Thunderbird in the more unusual all-black finish, as applied to some US machine, for no other reason than: “I just fancied doing it in black.”
Glynn, who in 2007 celebrated holding a motorcycle licence for 25 years, is a prodigious restorer who aims to do ‘one every couple of years.’ He reckons the cost of the restoration alone was around £4000. Before the Thunderbird Glynn renovated a Speed Twin, while there’s also one of the unusual 350cc 3Ts to do, which shares garage space with a couple of modern classics, a Triumph Rocket II and an MV Agusta SPR.