Just as The Wicker Man eventually gained cult status thanks to late night BBC TV screenings, many wide-eyed youngsters will have entered adulthood with Steve McQueen firmly etched in their minds thanks to numerous Sunday afternoon TV screenings of the 1963 classic, The Great Escape. Before we had too many channels to cope with, movies became household names thanks to television.
In fact, The Great Escape was voted third (behind It’s a Wonderful Life and Wizard of Oz) in a poll which asked people to name the films that they would most like to sit down and enjoy together over Christmas. Most likely, if you were to ask any of those pollsters what they remember most about that film, they would undoubtedly say ‘the motorbike scene’ and especially the moment where Captain Virgil Hilts – nicknamed the ‘Cooler King’ due to his many foiled escape attempts leading to a night in the cooler – jumps that barbed wire fence on the Triumph (though this scene was actually performed by McQueen’s stunt double, Bud Ekins). For the film, renowned motorcycle mechanic and pinstriper, Von Dutch, disguised the TR6 Trophy as a German BMW R75.
So what a major coup it is for Triumph to get hold of that actual motorbike to put on display at their Triumph Factory Visitor Experience. The fully restored Triumph 650cc TR6 Trophy can now be seen at the visitor centre which opened its doors on November 1. It joins the Speed Triple ridden by Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible II and three Scramblers from Jurassic World, but surely overshadows them all.
Actually getting the motorbike to what might be seen as its rightful home required a bit of luck too, as is often the case when retrieving classic film based modes of transport. The TR6 Trophy languished for decades in the wilderness before being fully restored. Rumour has it that the bike was used by a farmer to herd his cows before being left to gather dust in a barn for many years.
This isn’t just any old restoration though, 95 per cent of the bike’s original parts have remained as the restoration project sought to bring the Triumph back to its full 1962 spec – though wisely, the dents and dings from filming have been left alone.
The bike’s restorer, Dick Shepherd, said that the TR6 Trophy is actually in full working order too. Shepherd bought the bike from a farm hand that had inherited the now priceless machine following the death of the farmer, before embarking on what is a very impressive restoration project.
The lengths that Shepherd went to in an effort to maintain the bike’s authenticity are admirable, even managing to keep the original rear tyre. Shepherd did admit though, that repairing the original front mudguard was ‘a challenge’ due to the amount of rot present after so many years of neglect.
If you want to go and see this piece of cinematic history (and why wouldn’t you) then you can visit the Triumph Factory Visitor Experience for free in Hinckley, Leicestershire. While you’re there, you may also want to take advantage of a Triumph Factory Tour for £15.