Triumph Motorcycles has uncovered the truth behind a famous motorcycle myth that involves Elvis Presley.
With the launch of the all-new Triumph motocross machines any day now, Triumph Motorcycles has uncovered the truth behind a famous motorcycle myth: Elvis Presley gave an extraordinary biker gift to every member of his Memphis Mafia in 1965.
With the discovery of the original cheques in the Graceland archives, signed by the man himself, as well as recollections from Jerry Shilling, Elvis’ close friend, it can be confirmed that Elvis bought nine Triumph motorcycles as gifts, so he and his closest friends could ride together in the hills of Los Angeles.
Elvis Presley is an enduring music legend and a cultural icon. The best-selling solo artist in history and a genuine movie star, making 31 films during his career in Hollywood. He was also a passionate biker, riding bikes in several of his films including a red and silver Triumph 650 Bonneville ‘Desert Sled’ in the 1968 comedy western Stay Away Joe.
But Elvis’ introduction to Triumph motorcycles came several years earlier, with this story, which is as rock and roll as the man himself.
In June 1965, Elvis had been on the set of the musical Frankie and Johnny at Samuel Goldwyn Studios, Hollywood. Taking a break from filming, Elvis spent his down time with his closest friends, known as ‘The Memphis Mafia’ at his Bel Air home.
Jerry Schilling, Elvis’ friend and member of his famous ‘Memphis Mafia’, put a down payment on a new Triumph T120 650 Bonneville at Robertson & Sons on Santa Monica Boulevard. When he brought the bike home, Elvis asked to take it for a ride around the Bel Air neighbourhood. Jerry, of course, obliged and Elvis jumped on the bike. He was impressed, in fact when he returned, he told his transportation manager, Alan Fortis, to “order one for all the guys, but… it has to be tonight!”
Robertson & Sons managed to deliver seven Triumphs that night, a combination of 650 TR6s and high-performance, twin-carburetted 650 T120s. They rode together around Bel Air, riding late into the evening, only stopping when neighbours called the police to complain. The remaining bikes arrived two days later, and the nine of them made sure they made the most of down time from filming, riding the Pacific Coast Highway together on Sundays.
Jerry Shilling, a close friend of Elvis recalls: “Elvis loved to ride, and I knew that when he saw my new Bonneville he’d want to try it … and when he did, he wanted all the guys to have one so we could ride them together!”
THE 1964 TRIUMPH 650 TR6 AND BONNEVILLE T120
The bikes that Elvis bought are considered most likely to be 1964 models of Triumph’s game-changing performance roadster, the 650 TR6 and 650 Bonneville T120 – essentially the same bike with one or two carburettors and different states of tune. The ’64 Bonneville came in the sophisticated Gold and Alaskan White and the TR6 in the distinctive ‘Hifi Scarlet and Silver Sheen’ with gold pinstriping, black frame and forks.
Named after Triumph’s multiple land speed records at the Bonneville salt flats, the Bonneville T120 is recognised across the motorcycling world as a genuine design icon, responsible for establishing Triumph as number one in the ’60s for performance, handling and style and the 1964 US-spec ‘Bonnie’, with its higher bars is considered a classic.
HELP FIND THE MEMPHIS MAFIA TRIUMPHS
All nine of the original bikes are currently lost to time, with no formal record of where they went after the summer of ’65. Triumph is now launching an appeal to fans around the world to help track down or uncover the fate of these bikes.
Triumph’s researchers are keen to hear from anyone who has a lead on what happened to one of these bikes, or perhaps a last known location.
With the collective eyes of the Triumph and Elvis communities on the look-out, it is hoped that one of these historic bikes will one day come to light and make history by being placed on display alongside other historic Triumphs.