Tiger Cub and Terrier History

Tiger Cub and Terrier History

Britain was still in the throes of post-war austerity as Edward Turner brought together a design team consisting of himself, chief draughtsman Harry Summers and styling engineer Jack Wickes to develop a brand new small capacity Triumph motorcycle. Not since the 1930s had Triumph had such a model in its line up.

The first anyone outside Triumph knew about the Terrier was in November 1952 when the company suddenly announced the first week of that same month, the new machine would be on their stand at the Earls Court Motorcycle and Cycle Show taking place in just a few day's time. The tag line was "A true Triumph in miniature" and with its Red Amaranth paint and nacelle it did indeed look like a smaller version of one of the company's most famous machines of the time, the Speed Twin.

Importantly, the four-stroke 149cc engine of the new Terrier dropped nicely inside the 150cc capacity road tax bracket of 17/6d (87.5 pence) per year and yet was powerful enough to transport both a rider and passenger (when fitted with the optional extra of a dual seat) whilst at the same time being extremely economical on fuel.

Interest in the new machine from the public attending the Earls Court show was such that a second Terrier had to be brought onto the display to help eager show-goers get close enough for a good look.

The model was so new, no production machinery had yet been installed in the Meriden factory and as such deliveries were not promised to eager buyers until the spring of 1953. The price of the popular new machine being set at £98 plus the obligatory purchase tax.

Publicity material released for dealers to display contained the slogan 'The Triumph Terrier 150 OHV - The Lightweight with All the "Big Motorcycle" Features'.


To further publicise the new machine and to demonstrate its reliability and show its miserly fuel consumption, a publicity stunt that soon earned the nickname "The Gaffers' Gallop" was dreamt up. Three people from the factory were to ride new Terriers taken straight off the production line from Land's End to John o'Groats, calling in at as many Triumph Dealers as possible on the 1000 mile journey whilst at the same time averaging 30mph and 100mpg! Those riders were to be Triumph Directors Edward Turner, Bob Fearon (Works Director) and Alex Masters (Service Manager). The resulting press handout declaring "The man who designed it, the man who made it and the man who will service it".

Accompanied by an ACU observer the test officially started on Tuesday 6th October 1953 with the three riders successfully arriving at John o'Groats on Saturday 10th October. Performance figures for the trip (remember no motorways in those days) showed an average speed of 36.68mph and 108.6 miles per gallon over the total of 1008 miles!


Once the machines were returned to the Triumph factory, and in front of the same ACU observer who had followed "The Gallop", they were stripped and inspected. The demonstration certainly demonstrating Triumph's new Terrier was capable of astonishing performance and fuel consumption. As a result, dealer's order books for the machine were full to overflowing for the next 12 months.

At the 1953 Earls Court Motorcycle Show the first Tiger Cub machine appeared. It was basically the same machine with the exception of its larger 199cc engine, a new 80mph speedometer, larger section tyres, mudguards with a raised centre rib, overall gearing and machine colour. The Tiger Cub's striking new colour scheme being Triumph 'Shell Blue'. Alongside those differences, the new machine also came with a high level exhaust and dual seat as standard (although a low level exhaust and single seat saddle was listed as an option).

The larger engine gave around a 10mph increase in top speed with no noticeable loss of economy and the factory press release stated:


'The "Tiger Cub" answers the demand of the lightweight enthusiast for a high performance model which will more than hold its own in any company, yet at the same time be economical to maintain and run. Beautifully finished in Shell-Blue sheen and glossy black.'

One thing the new Terrier and Tiger Cub machines had exclusively, certainly from a Triumph perspective, was the plunger rear suspension. The company had championed their sprung hub design on a number of their bigger twin-cylinder machines but the weight of the assembly was simply just too heavy to be employed on the new lightweight models.

If looked after correctly the system worked extremely well on such a lightweight machine. After all Triumph's new 'tiddlers' weighed in at less than 220 lbs (100 kg). If a regime of regular greasing to the units was maintained, then everything worked as it was designed to do. Woe betide though those who neglected this servicing as they would soon find their nicely suspended rear end had turned into a rigid! Saviour for those neglectful ones came in the form of a new design frame with swing-arm suspension for the 1957 season.

Production of the Terrier came to an end with the closing of the 1956 year. From now on it was to be the Tiger Cub in its many forms that would be the backbone of Triumph's small capacity machines.

Before the 1957 machines had been released, a swing-arm Cub had been built at Meriden for George Fisher to ride in the 1956 Scottish Six Days Trial along with an ISDT machine for Ken Heanes to take a gold medal that same year.

New also for 1957 was a Tiger Cub competition model based on the Ken Heanes ISDT bike and described in that year's sales brochure as:


'It will appeal immediately as an efficient mount for the job. Light in weight, with ample power and superb handling characteristics.'


Its livery being in Crystal grey and black.

This model was the first to really emphasise the sporting pretentions of the Tiger Cub and set a trend that was to stay with Triumph's lightweight machine until the end of production in 1967.

During those years, Tiger Cubs were despatch to over 143 countries around the world, with the most important market undoubtedly being that of the USA. A fact also true for the larger Triumph machines, and by the end of 1964 the company was struggling to keep up enough production to satisfy the market. In order to increase capacity for the manufacture of the larger twin-cylinder models Triumph's parent company BSA, made the decision to move Tiger Cub production from Meriden to its Small Heath plant in Birmingham and by February of 1965 the whole Tiger Cub production line had been moved there.

To say this was an unpopular move would be a massive understatement. Triumph/BSA rivalry was rife between the factories, something the BSA management appeared unable (or didn't want) to understand. Engines, frames and cycle parts continued to be built at Meriden before being transported over to the BSA plant and by the August of 1965, Tiger Cubs were rolling off the ex-Meriden/now Small Heath production line.

Exactly when production of each of the different models finally ceased, the T20 Tiger Cub, T20SH Sports Cub, T20SM and T20M Mountain Cub and the T20M WD military model is unclear as available Factory records show the engine number column changes from being the engine number to being a date. This may indicate either the engine being manufactured or the machine itself being manufactured. There are a significant number of entries with dates 30th July 1968, 31st July 1968, or 15th August 1968 (and around that). There are also a significant number of entries with date 9th September 1969. All these are T20M WDs for the French Army.

And BSA had other plans for the Tiger Cub...

Announced in December 1965 was the T20B Bantam Cub. Basically a Tiger Cub engine in a modified BSA D7 Bantam rolling chassis whose frame had the addition of an oil tank to supply lubricant to the four-stroke, dry sump, Cub engine. The new machine's colour scheme was Nutley Blue and Alaskan White. Needless to say it was not popular with neither Triumph nor BSA enthusiasts. Something the BSA management still refused to understand as yet another announcement followed for the 1967 season. A Super Cub utilising modified D10 Bantam frame and cycle parts.

'Super Value from the very centre of England', shouted the advert. 'The new Triumph Super Cub 200 - £184.2s.1d' resplendent in its Bushfire/Firecracker Red, black and chrome. But neither the Bantam Cub or Super Cub had the style of the Meriden designed machine and their days were numbered.

Although limited production continued until 1967 for the former and 1969 for the latter, BSA's version of the Cub finally disappeared from Triumph showrooms.