Black Bird: ’56 Triumph Thunderbird Desert Sled

Triumph Thunderbird Desert Sled

A Triumph 6T Thunderbird desert sled from Japan! 

On one of his trips to oversee Triumph operations in the States, Edward Turner — the legendary designer and director of Triumph Motorcycles — had the idea to enlarge his Speed Twin for the US market, boring the 500cc twin to 650cc for horsepower-hungry American riders. The result was the 6T Thunderbird, a 34-hp machine that made quite the debut at the famed Montlhéry circuit outside Paris in 1949:

“For its public launch, three production bikes were ridden from the Meriden plant to a circuit near Paris where they were then ridden over 500 miles at an average of 92 miles per hour. The bikes were then ridden back to Meriden.” –Iconic Motorbikes

Edward Turner and his Triumph Thunderbirds at Montlhéry [Triumph Owners Club Netherlands / The Vintagent]
The 650cc T-Bird soon found its way to the silver screen, where Marlon Brando rode a 1950 6T Thunderbird in 1953’s The Wild One, which remains one of the great motorcycle films of all time. Interestingly enough, the American importer objected to the use of the bikes in the film, saying in a letter to the producers:

“You cannot deny that the general impression will be left with those who see the film that a motorcycle is a drunken, irresponsible individual, just not nice to know!” –Triumph Motorcycles in America

In the end, The Wild One would help make Triumph a household name in the States, and secure the Thunderbird’s place as one of the most iconic bikes of the era.

Triumph Thunderbird Desert Sled

Recently, we got in touch with garage builder Nobuyasu (@no_bys67) from Fukuoka, Japan, who bought the 1956 Triumph Thunderbird you see here when he was just 20 years old.

“At first it was an original style, but I like customs, so I built it up little by little.”

Triumph Thunderbird Desert Sled

The bike obviously has a desert sled style, but Nobuyasu is also a fan of choppers — in fact, his other bike is a 1967 Triumph TR6C chopper — so he incorporated parts from both styles.

Triumph Thunderbird Desert Sled

Most everything on the bike is custom — tank, fenders, seats, lights, etc. — and yet the bike has a very complete look, as if it were destined to take its current shape.

Triumph Thunderbird Desert Sled

That’s the upshot of a lot of effort and thought on Nobuyasu’s part, and the long process of tweaking and modifying the bike:

“I was obsessed with a beautiful silhouette.”

Triumph Thunderbird Desert Sled

You nailed it, man! Below, we talk to Nobuyasu for more details on his T-Bird sled.

Triumph 6T Desert Sled: Builder Interview

• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?

1956 Triumph Thunderbird.

Triumph Thunderbird Desert Sled

• Why was this bike built?

My name is Nobuyasu. I am a garage builder. I own two Triumphs. I got this one when I was 20. At 30, I got a Triumph chopper. I couldn’t run it off-road because it was a chopper, so I built up this one.

Nobuyasu’s 1967 Triumph TR6C Chopper

At first it was an original style, but I like customs, so I built it up little by little.

Triumph Thunderbird Desert Sled

• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?

The concept is a desert sled. However, I also like choppers, so I also used a lot of old chopper parts.

Triumph Thunderbird Desert Sled

• What custom work was done to the bike?

Tank, fenders, seats, lights, etc.

Triumph Thunderbird Desert Sled

• How would you classify this bike?

I dare say, desert sled.

Triumph Thunderbird Desert Sled

• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?

I was obsessed with a beautiful silhouette.

Follow the Builder: @no_bys67



    Those Triumphs remind me of my high school years (1958-62) when I had a 1956 TR6. I’m almost 80 years old now and still ride. I’ve ridden motorcycles since I was 12 years old. I started on a 1950 125 CZ.

  2. Good on you John, keep riding mate.

  3. Rod Callaghan

    What a dreadful waste of a nice bike.

  4. Sweet machine!!!!
    I am going to build one!

  5. Sharp bike, although don’t agree with the seat style and the huge gap from seat to tank, looks like it was something just lying around and happened to just bolt up ?
    Wouldn’t call it a Thunderbird, as no longer any resemblance to one. I would say, used to be a Brit bike ?
    Still, looks like worth giving it good beating in the dirt after closing up the openings on the front brake drum !!! Imagine the dirt and sand in there between the shoes and drum !!!

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