Triumph T20B Bantam Cub History

A Brief History of the Triumph Bantam Cub and Super Cub

Introduced in 1954, the 199cc Triumph Tiger Cub T20 quickly established itself as a popular, lightweight machine. A variety of models were released over the coming years including sports and off-road versions.

Triumph had been owned by BSA since 1951 and for some time the two companies had shared components across their models to reduce costs. In particular the Triumph Tiger Cub and BSA Bantam had used common parts such as forks, wheels, brakes, etc.

However, it wasn't until the mid-60's that a closer merger of the BSA Bantam and Triumph Tiger Cub models was considered to further improve efficiencies and reduce costs.

Promotional photo for T20 Tiger Cub., circa 1959.
1959 Promotional photo of
an early T20 Tiger Cub

BSA's factory at Small Heath in 1968
BSA's factory at Small Heath in 1968

Creative Commons License Photo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic License.

During the 1960s Triumph and BSA were under huge commercial pressures as their traditional market was squeezed by the increasing popularity of Japanese machines and a general move away from motorbikes towards low-cost family cars.

In 1966 the company made a desperate attempt to maintain a share of the market and moved production of the Tiger Cub from the Triumph factory in Meriden, Coventry, to the BSA plant at Armoury Road in Small Heath, Birmingham. The Cub engines continued to be built at Meriden, but they were transported to Small Heath where they were fitted into Bantam frames.

So, using the latest 199cc Cub engine in a Bantam D7 frame, the Triumph T20B 'Bantam Cub' was born. Later versions were based on the Bantam D10 and branded the 'Super Cub'. However, these models are often still referred to as Bantam Cubs.

For many people the Bantam Cub provided the best of both worlds. The Cub engine was a powerful unit for it's size with plenty of torque. The Bantam frame offered superior handling with it's longer wheel-base and stronger frame.

However, brand-loyalty meant that both Triumph and BSA followers shunned the bikes as not true to either marque. There were also problems with reliability as the BSA workforce resented the arrival of the Triumph engines and badges in their factory. Many of the early problems could be traced back to what was at best lack of care and at worse out and out sabotage.

So, the great little bike that was technically a perfect combination turned out to be a commercial flop. Dwindling sales meant that the factory and the dealers were left carrying huge stocks and by 1968 a decision had been made to end production.

From 1966 when the first Bantam Cub was built until 1969 when the last bike left the factory, just over 1,700 Bantam Cubs and less than 2,500 Super Cubs were built. This is a startling contrast with 1960 when over 13,000 Tiger Cubs were built in that one year alone.

Advert for T20B Super Cub. Note the price of £184.
1967 T20B Super Cub Advert

All that now remains of
Triumph's Meriden factory

A couple of years after Cub production stopped, the company went through a major re-organisation to try and stay afloat, but in 1973 it was taken over and subsequently all bike production was moved to Triumph's Meriden plant. BSA's historic factory at Small Heath was demolished in 1975. Triumph struggled on making larger machines, mostly for export, but in 1983 the Meriden factory was finally forced to close and in 1984 it too was demolished. The site is now a housing estate.

However, times have changed. A successful new company in Hinckley, Leicestershire now builds modern machines bearing the Triumph name. Attitudes to Cubs have also changed! Bantam Cubs may have been shunned in the 60's, but the T20B is now one of the rarest and most desirable models of Triumph Tiger Cub.

For a more detailed history of all the Triumph Tiger Cubs, including the Bantam Cub, I recommend Mike Estall's superb book, 'The Tiger Cub Bible' published by Veloce Publishing plc, (ISBN13: 9781904788096, ISBN10: 1904788092.)

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