When Dick Shepherd’s wife suggested that he took up a hobby to provide some light relief from his daily routine as the owner of a business specialising in the import and export of heavy machinery, he didn’t need to think long before deciding to dedicate his free time to expanding his motorcycle collection, having owned his first – a tiny Brockhouse Corgi runabout – at the age of 10.
But his true love has always been the evocative Triumphs built in the marque’s “golden era” between the 1930s and the 1960s, when chief designer Edward Turner created legendary models such as the Thunderbird and the Speed Twin (on which Ivan Wicksteed set the Brooklands circuit record). And now, after more than 45 years of buying and refining – and a great deal of detective work to track down rarities – Shepherd is the proud owner of what is probably the greatest collection of Triumph bikes in the world: more than 320 of them.
While the collection contains at least one example of every Turner-designed Triumph ever made, it is also replete with rare and unique machines – the quest for one of which resulted in Shepherd meeting his long-standing “finder” Mike Jackson, a former director of Norton Motorcycles and a respected doyen of the vintage-bike world. “I met Mike during the 1990s when he worked as a consultant to the now-defunct Sotheby’s car and motorcycle department,” recalls Shepherd. “Within a very short space of time I realised that he was incredibly well connected in the classic-motorcycle world, a fact that was soon proved to me when I mentioned in passing that, for many years, I had been trying without success to find the only car Triumph Motorcycles ever made, which was called the Ladybird.”
“Mike knew precisely where it was and introduced me to the owner, who also happened to have the single-cylinder prototype bike that was the first machine to be raced at the Isle of Man TT by Triumph’s senior road tester, Percy Tait. The owner didn’t want to sell either of them at first – but then called me a few months later to say I could buy the car. I agreed, but only on condition that I could also buy the Tait bike. So I got them both.”
On another occasion, Jackson tracked down a 350cc Tiger 90 – now worth around £100,000 and the most famous machine ever to compete in the International Six Days Trial (ISDT). “It is undoubtedly the most important motorcycle in the history of the ISDT, being the only one to have won five gold medals,” explains Shepherd. “I have since gone on to find the other three team bikes that competed alongside it in 1964, and so now have the full set.”
Shepherd also counts among his collection the actual TR6 machine famously ridden by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape; the supercharged, twin-engined Cyclotron on which tuning ace Fred Cooper became the first person to officially exceed 200mph on British soil in 1972; the TR5 ridden by Henry Winkler’s The Fonz in the television series Happy Days; the Bonneville ridden by Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III (bought at auction in 2012 for £13,800); and the T100 that won the celebrated 1966 race at Daytona International Speedway when Buddy Elmore came from a seemingly impossible 54th place to take the chequered flag.
“The very first time I met Dick I simply liked the cut of his jib,” says Jackson (affectionately known as “Old Mike Jackson” to fellow biking buffs), who began his commercial motorcycle career more than 50 years ago as a sales representative for the British manufacturer Greeves, before moving to the US with Norton in 1970, where he spent his working days selling the famous Commando machines and his weekends in the desert, racing dirt bikes with his fellow enthusiasts.
“I think our relationship has been helped by the fact that he tends to focus on Triumphs from the Turner era onwards, and that is the same period that interests me,” says Jackson. “I still remember being amazed, at the age of nine, when a master at boarding school showed me a newspaper photograph of the newly launched Thunderbird – it was a real milestone machine with a streamlined headlight. I carried that cutting about with me for months.”
Among the finds Jackson has made for Shepherd of which he is most proud is the Triumph Tiger Cub trials bike, valued at around £15,000, that was owned by the late, great motoring journalist Denis Jenkinson. He famously navigated for Stirling Moss during his record-breaking victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia, when the pair covered the 1,000-mile course in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR at a still-remarkable average speed of 97.9mph.
“Jenks used to ride in off-road motorcycle trials during the winter, when there was no grand-prix racing to report on,” recalls Jackson. “The bike was a converted road model given to him in the 1950s by Triumph agents from Stroud. Although he was already famous for his journalism, he was rarely recognised when competing. He kept the Tiger Cub until he died; a few years later, I recommended that Dick bought it.”
Jenkinson’s 40-year ownership of the machine makes it historically important – something, according to Jackson, that Shepherd invariably looks for when making a new purchase, whether from auction, a private owner or a specialist event such as Staffordshire’s annual Classic Motorcycle Mechanics Show. “I feed Dick a few details about a machine and off he goes – he is a detective with an enthusiasm that some would call an obsession,” says Jackson.
“His eye for detail is remarkable and he researches everything meticulously – he is not in the least bit motivated by profit or capital growth. His buying is purely about the love of the marque, the history behind the bikes and the people who rode them. In an era when most people seem fixated with ‘tangible assets’, to find someone who still collects out of a genuine love of the subject is really quite refreshing.”