Any pre-unit Triumph is a machine worth owning, and this beautifully restored 1956 6T Thunderbird is an absolute classic. It’s clean and correct, an early swingarm model and among the first to use an alternator. The Thunderbird was the first Triumph specifically designed to appeal to the American market and its apparently insatiable hunger for more power and bigger engines. By the late 1940s, on one of his many trips to the U.S., Edward Turner concluded that Americans were ready for larger models that directly competed with Harley-Davidson and Indian for all-out performance. His answer was enlarging the engines of his parallel-twin to 650cc and using a name poached from Native American legends: the Thunderbird.
The new model 6T (tourer) was launched on a publicity stunt at the Montlhéry speed bowl. Three Thunderbirds were chosen at random from the Triumph production line, ridden to Paris and then around the circuit at an average speed of 92 MPH for 500 miles, and then ridden back to the Triumph factory in Meriden with no harm done. The new model was clearly fast and reliable, and beautiful, too, with a gray-blue finish, four styling bars of chrome across the gas tank, ribbed fenders, striped wheel rims, a chrome parcel rack and sweeping exhausts. The 650cc engine produced great torque and could be ridden very quickly, and it sounded excellent to boot. The model was given a big boost when Marlon Brando was filmed riding one in the 1953 film “The Wild One,” although the American importers objected to their beautiful new model being used in a film about rowdy bikers.
This 1956 Triumph 6T Thunderbird was nicely restored some years ago and has held up very well. Fresh from service, including a new battery, the bike starts easily, runs well and is sure to bring a smile to the face of the next custodian.