149.315mph on a Tiger Cub

Incredibly in 1959, a one-way speed of 149.315 miles per hour was recorded by Triumph motorcycle dealer Bill Martin of Burbank, California riding his 200cc Tiger Cub powered streamliner at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. In doing so, he also set a new American Motorcycle Association two-way mile speed record of 139.82 miles per hour for Formula SC (streamlined Formula 'C' engine) 200cc machines.

Bill and his sons, Dale and Lonnie, with his record breaking Cub Streamliner outside his dealership in Burbank.


Engine preparation and tuning was done with the help of Bill's sons, Dale and Lonnie, and according to the reports of the day, the engine used was a 1959 Triumph Tiger Cub T20S as received from the Meriden factory.


Stock ignition, camshaft, piston and valves were used. The intake port was cleaned out, the rocker arms lightened, JoMo outer valve springs and Webco pushrods installed and a 1 7/32 inch Amal Grand Prix carburettor was fitted. No other engine changes were made.

A trial run was made at just over 114 miles per hour and the gas mixture was leaned down before a second run was made at 130.34 miles per hour.


The third and last run was made on a still leaner mixture at 149.315 miles per hour. RPM was in excess of 9100.


In the December 1959 edition of American Motorcyclist, Triumph USA importer Johnson Motors Inc. (JoMo) ran a special advert to celebrate Bill's success.


In fact it was Bill Johnson who helped establish Triumph Motorcycles in the United States when in 1938 he started British and American Motors (later to be re-named Johnson Motors or JoMo for short as it became known) in Pasadena.


Johnson worked tirelessly to promote Triumph, attending motorcycle races nearly every weekend in the early days of the company. But then WWII broke out and halted progress for a number of years.

Bill Johnson (centre) with Triumph’s Jack Sangster (left) and Edward Turner (right) at one of the Johnson Motors' warehouses.


Once hostilities had ended, Johnson purchased a former luxury car dealership showroom for the then princely sum of $85,000 to concentrate on promoting Triumph motorcycles. The new dealership was state-of-the-art in every way, featuring a tall glass façade, polished tile showroom floor, a spacious parts department and six hydraulic lifts in the fully equipped service department, and business flourished. So much so, Johnson Motors was named Triumph’s official U.S. distributor.


Johnson was quick to recognise the advantage of using movie stars to help promote Triumph motorcycles and a host of TV and movie stars, including Robert Taylor, Rita Hayworth, Robert Stack and Keenan Wynn, agreed to publicity photos for Triumph.

Some stars, like Wynn and Lee Marvin, raced Triumphs in amateur events and gladly repaid Johnson’s support with free publicity. A young Steve McQueen bought one of his first motorcycles from Johnson, who introduced McQueen to Bud Ekins. McQueen and Ekins became fast friends and later united to help put together an American ISDT team.

Bill Johnson (in coveralls) watches the Catalina Grand Prix. With him is Triumph chief engineer Edward Turner (in sunglasses), Bill Bagnall (of Motorcyclist magazine in the middle), Johnson Motors racing manager Pete Coleman (in JoMo sweater), and Triumph dealer Bill Martin.


Mass media proved to be an excellent way to promote the sport and with Johnson at the leading edge, his company sponsored the first-of-its-kind weekly radio program covering all aspects of motorcycling.

You may think that's the end of the story but Bill Martin's son, Dale, carries the Tiger Cub speed-breaking legend on.


Thanks to his dad Bill, Dale started riding Triumphs as a young boy and carried on working with Triumphs throughout the 1960s. He raced them in Europe before returning to work in the 1970s at a technical college in the San Fernando Valley.

Nowadays he is still racing Triumph Cubs at Bonneville and El Mirage Dry Lake (a large, open area located in the Mojave Desert, California) and has taken multiple records at Bonneville in the vintage and non-vintage 150, 200 and 250cc Classes with Cub engines of varying capacity.

Dale also competes with a Tiger Cub powered outfit in the three-wheeler class with one very special-looking Cub engine!