COMING TO AUCTION SOON! One owner from new, 1972 Triumph X75 Hurricane Prototype

One owner from new
1972 Triumph X75 Hurricane Prototype

Prototype Triumph Hurricanes 

A Tale of Two Triples 

By Robert Smith, Motorcycle Classics magazine (Edited)

On April 14, 1972, the last BSA motorcycles to be built at the once mighty Small Heath factory in Birmingham, England, were completed: 11 Rocket 3s and seven B50SS Gold Stars. From then on, “BSAs” would be badged as Triumphs and built by new owners Norton-Villiers-Triumph. That should have meant the end of the production line for BSA’s Rocket 3. Though surprisingly, it reappeared in 1973, disguised in an outlandish new livery and with a Triumph badge. It was also given an appropriately attention-grabbing name: Hurricane.

Essentially, underneath the Hurricane’s swooping, Craig Vetter-designed bodywork was a BSA Rocket 3 with its three cylinders canted forward, unlike the Triumph Trident’s upright arrangement. The drivetrain went into a mildly modified Rocket 3 chassis with a Ceriani-style fork and the NVT-Group conical hub brakes running on Borrani rims. But the star of the show was Vetter’s one-piece fiberglass bodywork, with its voluptuous curves, containing the fuel tank and forming the “one-and-a-half” seat. Equally unsubtle was the exhaust arrangement of three chrome pipes sweeping up the right side of the bike. Regardless, the Hurricane’s out-there styling earned it a place in the Guggenheim Museum’s Art of the Motorcycle exhibition of 1998.

But where did the Hurricane come from? And why?

Triple trouble

The history of the BSA-Triumph triples has been documented many times but is worth a review in the present context.

In the early 1960s, anticipating bigger capacity bikes from Japan, Bert Hopwood, Doug Hele and Jack Wicks at Triumph produced a prototype triple that looked like a slightly chubby Bonneville. With swift development, it could have been on the market years ahead of the Honda 750. But BSA Group management, feeling secure in their dominant market share in the big capacity classes, procrastinated.

So, when news broke of a multi-cylinder bike from Honda, BSA was obliged to react, and fast. They could still have been well ahead of the competition but for a hold-up at the Group’s bureaucratic R&D facility, Umberslade Hall.

Response to the BSA-Triumph triples as they arrived in 1969 was lukewarm in the U.K. and decidedly negative in the U.S. “The bike looked like it couldn’t decide whether it was a dray-horse or a spaceship,” wrote Steve Wilson in his book BSA Motorcycles since 1950. Styling aside, the Rocket 3 and Trident were up against the new Honda 750 Four, with its front disc brake, 5-speed transmission, and — critically — electric start. It was also significantly cheaper…

So BSA-Triumph entered the Seventies with their premier products, the Bonneville, A65 Lightning, and the new 750 triples, all beset by aging technology, questionable styling and indifferent quality. BSA U.S. Vice-President Don Brown was not amused. In spite of the triples’ recording new endurance and speed records at Daytona and Bonneville and Dick Mann winning the 1971 Daytona 200 on a Rocket 3, sales still slumped. Brown went into action.

Craig Vetter

In early 1969, Brown had become aware of a creative yet practical young industrial designer called Craig Vetter. He contacted Vetter in April and offered to provide a donor Rocket 3 for him to use as a development mule, subject to a satisfactory meeting at BSA in New Jersey. (BSA Group management in the U.K. knew nothing of this.) The June meeting went well, and Vetter left with a production Rocket 3 to experiment on, with the stipulation that the work would be paid for only if the bike went into production!

Vetter had previously produced custom bodywork for the Suzuki Titan and learned much in the process. His new bodywork would use its voluptuous shape to capture attention and hold it there. The one-and-a-half-inch over front fork and short seat echoed chopper styling, while the right-side stacked exhaust screamed flat-track. And larger fins on the cylinder head implied higher power. Subtle it was not.

“The function of my design was to say, look at me because I’m special,” Vetter is reported to have said while admitting that it was also designed to make its rider noticed by women. This sentiment was apparently echoed by BSA-Triumph U.S.A. president Peter Thornton when he first saw it, exclaiming, “It’s a bloody phallus!” but slyly adding, “Wrap it up and send it to England.”

The other prototype:  “399”

The story surrounding the other pre-production machine known as “399” is a little less clear. It should be the other pre-production Hurricane, but its provenance is confusing.

The BSA-badged machine stayed in the U.K. and was acquired, presumably on the closure of the Meriden factory around 1983, by John Simmonds of the Trident & Rocket 3 Owners’ Club, who owned it until his own passing in 2023.

Part of the mystery is around the engine/frame numbers stamped on the Simmonds Hurricane. There are no markings referring to “399”: The frame and engine are both stamped with BSA-Group production markings of NE00198 A75R, indicating a four-speed Rocket 3 with a build date of October 1970 (1971 model year). The U.K. license attached to the bike is EBW172J for the 1971 model year. (Note that U.K. license plates typically stay with the vehicle for life.) According to Triumph Owners Motorcycle Club President Roy Shilling, 399 was sent to Triumph in Meriden, England, for their experimental team to evaluate.

So, were there three?

Is NE00198 the missing “399” or not? Regardless, its provenance as the missing mule has been verified by the BSA Owners’ Club with evidence that only two pre-production prototypes were built. This is further supported by personal correspondence and other published stories.

H&H Auctions subsequently listed NE00198 for sale in 2023, and it was purchased by Britain’s National Motorcycle Museum.

The motorbike offered

“476”

There is no report extant as to how the Vetter-BSA was received at Umberslade Hall, but in 1971, drawings and moldings based on Vetter’s design were produced, leading eventually to two pre-production prototypes, identified as “476” and “399,” according to Triumph Owners Motorcycle Club President Roy Shilling. BSA factory records show that 476 was dispatched to BSA East Coast in Baltimore, Maryland, on Dec. 22, 1971, then taken to a trade show in Houston, where Craig Vetter was photographed sitting on it on Feb. 12, 1972. At this time, it was still badged BSA and bore the frame and engine numbers “V7V 00476” on a BSA-stamped background.

476 was discovered by our vendor, when in 1972 he was riding his BSA past the Long Beach dealer and saw this orange delight out front. A deal was struck, and he rode the beauty home. Two weeks later, he received a call from the dealer: “Um… we shouldn’t have sold you that bike… it’s a prototype and has a proprietary clutch. We need it back”. He flatly refused to trade the bike, but agreed to trade the clutch (apparently it was awful). He rode back to the dealer and peered over the shoulder of the tech while he replaced the clutch and then rode his bike away. He has owned it ever since. In 1981 it was retired to the garage and there it languished.

Recently liberated, 476 has undergone some tidying and fettling and made to run again. In “Preservation Class” original condition, and with only original 6,000 miles on the odometer, the bike sports all its original body, paint, finishes and parts, including the unique headlight mounting, cage over the exhaust, seat cover, and even tires!

This unique and fantastic piece of Triumph history, sold in its pure, unmolested, condition with unrivalled, verified and unquestionable provenance has to be a star of any discerning collection.

The unique headlight mounting brackets

The “cage” exhaust heatshield

Engine and Frame numbers

From A Hurricane named Vetter, by Joe Parkhurst

Phil Pick says: “By BSA despatch records held on microfiche by TR3OC was sent on 14thJanuary 1972 to Triumph Development.The second “Next V75V was XG 00476, sent 22/12/71 to USA, to the East Coast distributorXG represents December 1972, so made December 1971. I feel that this is the bike in the photograph in the Joe Parkhurst book, page 59, that is entitled ‘Craig Vetter astride the first pre-production Hurricane at the Houston, Texas, BSA dealers meeting in February 1972. Note the BSA label on the tank.’ ”

Also note the cage on the exhaust.

00476 pictured by our vendor soon after purchase:

Photoshoot by Evan Klein

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