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09/05/2014

High Performance: The Legacy of the Triumph Rocket III

Originally developed by Triumph Engineering at Meriden as a high performance, smooth vibration engine, the BSA Rocket 3 and Triumph Trident featured Triumph’s first inline triple. The motorcycle press immediately labeled it “the World’s First Superbike” upon its 1968 American debut.

Developed by Bert Hopwood and Doug Hele, the Rocket 3 was created to surpass the performance of Triumph’s race-winning 650cc parallel twins. Prior to their collaboration. Hopwood, the protégé of Triumph general manager Edward Turner, aided in the development of the influential Triumph Speed Twin. Hele was one of the masterminds behind the Manx Norton single-cylinder racing motorcycles that won world championships in the early 1950s. Together, they created a racing machine that dominated U.S. and European competitions throughout the 1970s. 

The bike debuted in the US and immediately swept the top three qualifying spots for the 1970 Daytona 200. In the 1971 event, BSA/Triumph competitors swept the podium. Paul Smart took the pole position on a Triumph, Dick Mann won on a Rocket 3, Gene Romero finished second on a Trident, and Don Emde took third on another Rocket 3.

In Europe, perhaps the most famous racing bike of the day, known as ‘Slippery Sam,’ was a Triumph Trident that won five consecutive production class Isle of Man TT races from 1971-1975.

While the original Rocket 3 prototypes had the traditional Triumph tear drop tank, Ogle Design, an avant-garde firm, was commissioned to create the production motorcycle and delivered a controversial square tank. BSA’s U.S. Vice President Don Brown, was convinced the motorcycle needed a different look to succeed in America and commissioned Craig Vetter to customize the Rocket 3 in the summer of 1969. Vetter created the Triumph X-75 Hurricane, one of the most noted and recognized Triumph’s in history.

After a 33 year hiatus, the Rocket reappeared in 2004 with a 2,300cc inline triple engine that is the world’s largest production motorcycle engine. According to Ultimate Motorcycling the Rocket III “accelerates with more authority than any production motorcycle. Its muscularity is exhilarating and liberating.”

In 2012, Daytona 200 winner Jason DiSalvo set a class land-speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats on the Rocket III, with an average speed of nearly 175mph. Following that effort, aerodynamicist Matt Markstaller, engine builder Bob Carpenter, and DiSalvo assembled a team to restore Triumph’s legacy in landspeed racing.

The 2013 Castrol Rocket features Carbon Kevlar monocoque construction with two turbocharged Triumph Rocket III engines that produce a combined 1,000+ HP. 

Watch Triumph’s introduction to the world’s most advanced streamlined motorcycle, the Castrol Rocket.


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