This is an original 1968 Triumph TR6C Trophy, it’s one of the most consequential motorcycles ever made by the British manufacturer and for a time in the 1960s it was the single most successful off-road racing bikes in the world.
Steve McQueen is likely the most famous TR6C Trophy rider in history, he had a few of them and rode them in competition in the 1960s including on the official USA team at the 1964 International Six Days Trial. It would be one of these TR6s that would be modified and used in the famous jump scene in the 1963 film The Great Escape.
Fast Facts – The Triumph TR6C Trophy
- Today the Triumph TR6C Trophy is almost ubiquitously referred to as the “Desert Sled,” a nickname it acquired in the 1960s when it was the motorcycle of choice for the majority of competitors in the hotly contested Southern California desert racing scene.
- The Triumph TR6 series first appeared in 1956, it was based on the revolutionary Triumph Thunderbird which had debuted in 1950. It was powered by a parallel twin cylinder engine producing 42 bhp and the bike weighed in at 166 kgs (365 lbs).
- The desert racing scene in California was exploding in popularity in the 1950s and the TR6 arrived at the perfect time. It was arguably the quickest production bike on the dirt at the time and they sold like hotcakes, both to prospective competitors and to those who found the race heritage appealing.
- The motorcycle you see in this article is a 1968 Triumph TR6C Trophy Special, it remains in largely original condition throughout and it remained with its original owner from 1968 until 2022. It’s now being offered for sale out of Livonia, Michigan after a servicing.
The Creation Of The Desert Sled
Despite the fact that it was made in England, the Triumph TR6 was never designed for use in Britain. It was developed specifically for the United States, for California to be more specific, and the wildly popular desert racing scene.
Above Image: This is original footage of Southern California “Hare and Hound” desert racing from the 1960s. The narrator is Bruce Brown, a legendary director best known for On Any Sunday and The Endless Summer.
Originally called the Trophybird, as an homage to the Thunderbird on which it was based, the Triumph TR6 started out as an air-cooled 650cc parallel twin with overhead valves, a single carburetor, and pre-unit construction which necessitated the use of a separate 4-speed transmission.
Truth be told the engine was largely the same as the one used on the Thunderbird, the revisions included a new Delta alloy head, a single carburetor in place of the twin carbs used on the Thunderbird, a quickly detachable headlamp, and it was tuned more for low end torque rather than horsepower due to its intended off-road use.
The TR6 model family was developed rapidly over the late 1950s and into the early 1960s. The brakes were improved, the frame strengthened, and the engine design was changed over to unit construction in 1963, incorporating a 4-speed gearbox.
Over the course of production a number of sub-variants were developed including the TR6R or Roadster model with low exhaust pipes intended for road use. There was also the TR6C or Competition with high pipes for off-road use, and later the TR6SR, TR6SC, and TR6SS were added.
The mid-1960s was the time when the Triumph TR6 Trophy peaked, the majority of desert racers seemed to be using them and the nickname “desert sled” was more common than the model’s actual name.
After this time the two-stroke enduro bikes rose to prominence thanks to their lower weight and more off-road oriented design. The TR6 had already won all of the big desert races, usually more than once and usually finishing in a few of the top places to boot.
Many original TR6s were scrapped after the two-stroke revolution, and those that weren’t often fell into disrepair. Surviving matching-number examples are now sought after by collectors – some of whom still race them in vintage off-road competition.
The 1968 Triumph TR6C Trophy Shown Here
The motorcycle you see here is an original 1968 Triumph TR6C Trophy, the TR6C variant had the high exhaust pipes and was intended for off-road racing, so it’s typically more in demand now than its low-pipe TR6R sibling.
This period of the 1960s was when the more desirable TR6s were made, they had stronger frames, larger brakes, and unit construction engines unlike the earlier models, and it was before the unpopular switch to the oil-in-frame design which came a couple of years later.
This TR6C was kept by its original owner from 1968 right the way through to 2022 when it was bought by the current owner. In his ownership it’s been given a servicing which included cleaning and adjusting the carburetor, cleaning and gapping the spark plugs, and adjusting the valves.
It’s finished in blue with silver and gold center stripes and features black rubber knee grips and white-enameled eyebrow badges, and most importantly it’s a matching-numbers example. It’s now being offered out of Livonia, Michigan on Bring a Trailer with a service record and a clean Michigan title.
If you’d like to read more about this piece of desert racing history you can visit the listing here.
Images courtesy of Bring a Trailer
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