McQueen Triumph TR6R

McQueen’s Triumph

Bikes Culture

The iconic Triumph TR6R is now fully restored and in, er, Hinckley.

It’s one of the iconic partnerships in cinema history – Steve McQueen and the Triumph TR6R.

There’s a value in nostalgia that no amount of engineering, testing, marketing or endorsement can mimic. It’s the reason a perfect replica of an original is worth so much less than the true original – used by the idols we adore.

It’s this value that means such objects are often priceless. When they’ve been faithfully and accurately restored and now have the backing of the original manufacturer, you’re looking at something truly special. For that reason, we have a lot to thank Dick Shepherd for. The Triumph collector and restorer managed to get hold of the actual Triumph TR6R used in the film The Great Escape, and set about restoring it back to the machine we all want to see – the one which McQueen rode as “The Cooler King” in this ’60s smash hit film.

Commissioned by the film’s official stunt rider, Bud Eakins, it was originally built by Triumph dealer and off-road racer Ken Heanes, and due to the iconic ‘jump’ scene the bike had to be altered to accommodate stronger forks at the front. Amazingly, those original forks – and even the original tyres and exhaust (often things to wear pretty rapidly in a performance machine) are still present. Triumph claim 95% of the bike is original, and by any stretch of the imagination that’s pretty near perfect.

In the interim decades, it worked hard, being used to herd farm animals and then being stored in a barn, just waiting for the right person to come along and reawaken it. That person was an employee of the late farmer and, luckily for the rest of us, it was a ‘Shepherd’ he sold it to, rather than a shepherd.

McQueen motorbike

Shepherd thankfully left the dents and scratches from the filming process, which is so much nicer, and more valuable, than repairing them. The original engine had to be stripped down and rebuilt, but it is the same engine. Fuel can still flow through the same veins as did in the ’60s, when McQueen nonchalantly chucked the bike around. The paintwork was outsourced to a specialist – and it’s a strange one. The bike should have been grey, the colour of the German army, but as the bike in the film was incorrectly painted as British Army Green, that’s how it stayed.

Whether anyone could, or would want to, try and perform a stunt jump on this bike now is a moot point. Its value is no longer simply in its 650cc Twin performance, rideability and such, it’s the connection to McQueen, the film and its faithful restoration backed by Triumph which are scoring all the points.

The bike now takes centre stage at the Triumph Factory Visitor Experience, in Hinckley, Leics. and features alongside other iconic and landmark vehicles for the company. It’s free to enter, too, so if you’re near the factory at any point, it’s worth taking a few moments of your time to transport yourself back 50 years or so. You can also get tickets online, here.

Is there a more iconic motorcycle in the world of film?