In 1983, English property developer John Bloor was on the hunt for his next building site and visited the grounds of a derelict factory in Coventry. The factory turned out to be the former site of legendary Triumph motorcycles, which went into liquidation earlier in the year. After much consideration, Bloor decided not to buy the property; he bought the company instead.
And thus, the Triumph brand was resurrected.
<John Bloor. Image via Wikipedia>
Who is John Bloor?
John Bloor was born in 1943 in a small village in Derbyshire. He spent little time at school, suffering from numerous health issues which forced him to leave at the ripe age of 15. With few qualifications under his belt, Bloor secured his first job as a plasterer, and finding that he enjoyed this type of work, he started up his own business. By the time Bloor turned 20, he had already built his first house.
Along with his contribution to the motorcycling industry, Bloor is still recognised for his efforts within the property industry. His self-named company, Bloor Holdings, owns both Bloor homes and Triumph Motorcycles. Bloor Homes is one of the largest privately-owned house building firms in the UK.
Bloor and Triumph
Bloor bought Triumph (initially called Triumph Engineering) and the manufacturing rights from the Receiver in 1983. At the time of acquisition, the UK motorcycle industry was suffering one of its most difficult decades – the decade which forced the former Triumph to close its doors. Big Japanese manufacturers were entering the game, such as Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki, whose high-tech machines dominated the market.
With such fierce competition, it was likely that Triumph would fail again, especially after being bought by a man with no industry experience at all. But as it turned out, Bloor was Triumph’s most unlikely saviour.
<1977 Triumph Bonneville. Image by order_242 via Flickr>
Without experience of the industry, the two things Bloor could bring to the table was business-knowledge and of course, money. He immediately recognised that the brand needed to be re-launched in order for it to stand a chance against Japanese manufacturers. However, some previous models were still kept in production to bridge the gap between the old and new Triumph, like the classic Bonneville motorcycle.
It has been said that Bloor was planning the design and production of the new models for eight years before selling them to the public – and for a while it seemed like not much was going on behind closed doors. In actual fact, Bloor had hired a number of the company’s former designers and had even visited Japan to research the work of his rivals. The Japanese welcomed Bloor and his team with open arms, completely oblivious to the fact that he’d soon become their next rival.
Bloor realised that he needed to adopt the technology and techniques of Japanese manufacturers in order to stay competitive. Bloor started work on new prototype models in 1985, and in 1987 the company had manufactured its first motorbike.
It is estimated that Bloor initially channelled over £80 million into rebuilding the brand, and it was only in 2000 when the company started breaking even. Bloor invested millions of pounds into building a new factory in Hinckley, Leicestershire, which officially opened in 1991, packed with shiny-new manufacturing tools and tech.
The new bikes were first sold to markets in Germany and in the UK, with the 100-strong staff building just 1,200 motorbikes in 12 months. The following year, the company manufactured 5,000, and when Triumph decided to enter the US market, production numbers jumped to 8,000 per year.
The start of the millennium marked a significant marketing turn for Triumph, with Tom Cruise choosing the marque for the film Mission Impossible II. This was the best product placement push since Steve McQueen became synonymous with the brand back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In 2001, a year after the brand’s film appearance, the company manufactured a record 31,000 bikes and turned its first profit. Production was stopped in 2002 due to a fire that completely devastated the site, taking over 100 firefighters to tackle the flames. However, the factory was rebuilt in September that very same year, and is now one of the world’s most efficient factories.
<Triumph Triple Speed in Mission Impossible II. Image via Bull-It>
After the fire, Bloor realised that adopting the Japanese style of manufacturing had significantly compromised on the true Triumph identity. The big four-cylinder bikes were pretty dull to ride and didn’t seem to be turning any heads. After seeking some much needed advice, Bloor came to realise that success was in Triumph’s triples and twins, not Japanese-influenced fours. So he dropped production of the four-cylinder bikes, coming up instead with the 2,300cc Rocket III, which turned out to be the world’s largest capacity production bike.
Last year, annual sales hit the 50,000 milestone for the first time. A total of 52,089 bikes were sold, up from 48,957 in 2012. Triumph now enjoys strong sales across Asia, Europe and the US, and has recently entered the Indian market with its first standalone store opening in Hyderabad. Each year, the company invests millions of pounds in research and development strategies so that it can remain a strong competitor within the motorcycle industry.
This year, Triumph has refreshed its Easy-Rider style cruiser models, adding two new Thunderbird variants – the Commander and the LT – to its line-up. It has also revealed updates to the Bonneville America and Speedmaster bikes, as well as a special edition Tiger 800 XC.
Even though he features highly on many rich lists, John Bloor is a modest man – some would even say humble. Bloor was awarded an OBE in 1995 for his contribution to the motorcycling industry, and he is still dodging the limelight as much as he possibly can.
John Bloor is responsible for creating two successful empires and breathing life back into the UK motorcycling industry. He will be forever remembered as the man who saved Triumph – and for that we are eternally grateful.