The Pre-1941 Triumph Motor Cycle Pages


From Peter Cornelius - Triumph Specialist for the VMCC - of Britain.


The Pre-Triumph Engined Models



                         A 1902 Minerva

1903 Minerva-engined Triumph

1903 JAP-engined Triumph
                     1903 JAP-engined Triumph


Siegfried Bettmann, the founder of the Triumph Cycle Company, was not a cycling or motor cycling enthusiast. He was 'just' a very astute businessman. He wished to start a business of his own, rather than forever being the overseas representative for the White Sewing Machine Company, and he saw his opportunity with the introduction and growing popularity of the 'safety bicycle' (velocipede). He first sold other manufacturers' bicycles under his own name in 1887. After many failures he decided that the only way forward was to manufacture for himself.
Thus, to cut a long story short (read my 'Triumph Story' booklets for the unabridged version), he purchased property in Coventry and having obtained a reputation for quality and reliability he realised further potential with the introduction of the cycle with an engine.

Knowing nothing about internal combustion engines, and neither did his partner, Mauritz Schulte, despite what other books might tell you (he spent two months with cycle manufacturer William Andrews in order to learn how to assemble cycles), so the obvious way forward was to do as so many other early manufacturers did - use a well known engine (the Belgian Minerva) in a frame, which was something they did know how to do!
In fact, unsure of the requirements of a frame to support an engine and for a rider to be able to control it, he simply copied the motor bicycle which Minerva were selling under their own name. (And also marketing as a kit of parts.)
No pictures exist of Triumph's first, 1902, motor bicycle (it was simply advertised by the name), although one actual machine has survived, but due to a fire very early in its existance it was rebuilt with later fuel tank, etcetera.
The picture of the 1902 Minerva above would have been very much as Bettmann's first Triumphs would have looked, and simply with a different name on the tank.

For 1903 Bettmann, most likely guided by his Workshop Manager, Charles Hathaway, added a JAP (J.A. Prestwick) engined model, while the Minerva-engined model became increased in capacity. (The 1903 Minerva-engined model pictured above is the picture declared in many Triumph books to be a 1902 machine, but as I've explained, no picture of a 1902 model exists.)
The Minerva engine was dropped for 1904. The JAP-engined model continued, but Triumph put another hp on it in their advertisements, and a German designed Fafnir engine was added to bring the choice back to two different models.

Brief Specifications and Variations

1902 - Minerva engine, 211cc 1 hp. 62mm bore X 70mm stroke.
1903 - Minerva engine, 239cc 2hp. 66mm bore X 70mm stroke.
1903 - JAP engine, 293cc 2 hp. 70mm bore X 76mm stroke.
1904 - JAP engine, 293cc 2 hp. 70mm bore X 76mm stroke. (Advertised as 2 hp for 1904.)
1904 - Fafnir engine, 376cc 3hp. 75mm bore X 80mm stroke.
............There was also a 3hp Fafnir engined three-wheeled Forecar model for 1904. (Passenger seat at the front.)

Triumph, along with other early manufacturers, were 'feeling their way', trying different engines before deciding the best way to go. Triumph knew by 1905!

Belt drive, no gears. Pedal, or run and jump, and hope that the controls were set so that the engine would start.

A 1902 advertisement for a machine bought earlier in the year showed that for some people the engined cycle was too fast!

Any identification would have been a Triumph crest on the headstock, as the cycles, and an "Imperial Triumph" transfer on the fuel tank.

No roadside garages and fuel could be purchased from chemists. If attempting to travel for any distance it was necessary to order supplies ahead.

I have no idea of production or sales figures, but they set Triumph off on the road to manufacture motor cycles more seriously.

I only have knowledge of Triumphs from this period surviving in Australia and Britain.

For more details you really need to refer to the booklets I have written covering the Early Models and Part 1 of The Triumph Story.

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