I suppose it's the historian's who determine whether one man's name should be remembered when another's forgotten, sadly for Siegfried Bettmann and his partner Mauritz Schulte, only the knowledgeable now recall that they were the brains behind the Triumph Cycle Company of Coventry; the saviours of the British motorcycle industry in the first decade of the Twentieth Century.
They pulled off that feat by building a product that proved so reliable that it earned the nickname 'Trusty' and gave the public faith in the motorcycle, at a time when such faith was badly needed.
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By the mid 20s Bettmann needed another type of quality product, this time one that would save Triumph itself let alone the rest of the industry. That's where his affinity with Ford and Morris comes in, for like them with their cheap mass produced cars, his answer to the poor trading conditions of the time was an unbelievably cheap motorcycle; the model P.
Leaning too heavily on their past good name, Triumph hadn't introduced a completely new motorcycle design since 1915; that is if you exclude the advanced unit construction 350cc, model LS of 1924 which failed to find a market at all.
So, by the end of '24, they were offering the two stroke Junior, the chain-cum-belt side valve 550cc model H, its all-chain partner the model SD and that famous Overhead 4 valver, the Ricardo; the latter having little more than a hot-stuff top end in`H’ and 'SD' cycle parts. All were pricey and all very dated indeed.
The post World War I slump was biting hard and urgent action was needed, if the company was to continue trading.
The answer came at the Show, where the 1925 ranges were being unveiled, it was nothing adventurous, but it was 'cheap' in the best sense of that word – inexpensive, but of merchantable quality.
The new model P had been designed for maximum flow production, it was built to do a job, but not necessarily to last forever! The price of this 3 speed, all-chain-drive, side valver of 494cc, was set at just £42.17.6d (42.8214p) and it knocked the other makers for six.
Judging such prices in today's world isn't easy, but by way of comparison Triumph's own `SD' of the same year was on sale at £66.10.0 and both models of course needed a carb, tyres, magneto, saddle, wheels and all the rest; so it had to be cut to the bone somewhere.
It was, the front brake was a joke (leather washers were threaded over a cable, which in turn was pulled into the groove of a pulley fixed to the hub), a tin cover replaced the handsome cast primary drivecase of the 'SD', the valve guides were bored directly into the barrel casing and the clutch might best be described as diabolical.
A single toolbox saved on the cost of fitting a pair, the beaded-edge tyres were of skimpy size and plating was kept to a bare minimum, but it all worked and it sold. Sold so well indeed, that Triumph had moved almost 30,000 of them by 1927 and, during one week in May 1925, they actually turned out over a thousand of the one model.
A little more than the purchase price was needed to get onto the road though, because a horn was an extra and so were the lights; acetylene gas for the impecunious, electric for the swells.
As with all successful economy products, it wasn't long before some built-in sophistication was demanded, the front brake became a small, but more efficient, internal expanding drum and, in 1927 a Pilgrim mechanical oil pump was standardised, to save on the need for hand-pumping down a supply to the engine, every few miles. Yes, it really was that basic!
Then, through the models `NP', 'N deluxe' (Triumph's first saddle tanker in 1928), NU and the 550cc `NSD', the 'P' grew up and served its public until the end of 1930.
There was a sports variant too, the model Q, this one had an aluminium piston instead of the standard cast iron one, but it lost its rear carrier; it merited a plated exhaust, chainguard and a burnished crankcase; in excess of 65 mph was said to be on tap, all for £48.10.0 (£48.50).
The true '13' was listed for just three years, the 1925 bikes being easily identified by that infamous front brake and non-detachable valve guides. For 1926 the internal expanding front brake arrived, the guides were removeable, an improved clutch was specified and an extra 15/(75p) bought chunkier 26" x3" beaded edge wheels and tyres.
Still clinging to that 'cheap' image, the 1927 models standardised on the 26"x3" tyres while all about them were onto the newly fashionable wired on type, Pilgrim mechanical oiling was introduced though and yet, unbelievably, the selling price dropped to £41.10.0 (£41.50).
If you really want to distinguish model P frames and engines from other Triumph components of the time, then look for six figure numbers stamped on both; the frames always began with a 9 (commencing at 900000) and the engines with a 2 (commencing at 200000).
The model P was a true sales success story for the Coventry firm and to stay with them, their major competitors, Douglas, BSA and Matchless all had to join in the cost-slashing models themselves; but it was Triumph who grabbed the lion’s share of the sales.
They even exported over 1000 of them to Japan; seems ironic, doesn't it?
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