The 2023 Barber Vintage Festival took place at the Barber Motorsports Museum from October 6 through 8, 2023, and Triumph Motorcycles was among the many in proud attendance. This year marked the brand’s first-ever Isle of Triumph, so it’s not at all surprising that a marque so steeped in history would choose the Barber Vintage Fest to reveal a part of its own history that was previously unknown.
For those motorcycle history fans who love a good mystery, Triumph’s revelation also includes a special piece of the story just for you. We’ll get to that in a moment, though, because first we have to all get on the same page with a little slice of Triumph history.
Elvis, Triumph, and the Memphis Mafia
It’s a well-known and established fact that Elvis Presley loved motorcycles. While he’s most closely been associated with Harley-Davidsons in the decades since his death, Triumph was also an important part of the history of the King. For some time, there was a myth floating around about Elvis gifting several Triumph motorcycles to all of his best friends—also referred to as the Memphis Mafia.
Like most myths, it was one of those stories that seemed like it could be cool if true, but no proof had been positively identified. That is, until now. At the 2023 Barber Vintage Festival, Triumph revealed that the original checks from Elvis’ purchase of those Triumph motorbikes for his friends were recently located in the Graceland archives. They were signed by Elvis, as you’d expect—and featured detailed notes about what they were for in the memo fields.
As Elvis’ close friend Jerry Schilling (a Memphis Mafia member) related, while Elvis was busy making the 31 movies that spanned his Hollywood film career, he liked to relax and unwind by going out riding with his buddies during his free time. He lived in Bel Air at the time he was filming a musical called Frankie and Johnny in June 1965.
Around that time, Schilling had just picked up a new Triumph T120 650 Bonneville and had put a down payment on it at a dealership called Bill Robertson & Sons on Santa Monica Boulevard. As buddies do, he showed up with his new bike to see his friend Elvis, and Elvis asked if he could try it out. He reportedly loved it so much that he told his transportation manager, a man named Alan Fortis, to “order one for all the guys, but...it has to be tonight!”
Thus, Bill Robertson & Sons delivered seven Triumphs to Elvis’ home later that night. Some were TR6 650s, and some were T120 650s. Elvis and his buddies immediately hopped on and went for a ride around the neighborhood, only stopping when the neighbors began to complain. A couple of days later, two more Triumphs were delivered; enough so that each member of the Memphis Mafia had one. Once the pack’s steeds were in order, they spent many a happy Sunday riding the iconic Pacific Coast Highway together.
Cool Story, But Where Are the Bikes?
1964 Triumph TR6
1964 Triumph T120
Here’s the mystery part of the story, and it’s one that Triumph Motorcycles is hoping that the public can help it solve in 2023. While Schilling’s recollections of the story and the recent discovery of the original checks tell us that these bikes did, in fact, exist—every single one has since been lost, with no indication of where any of them might be.
If anyone reading this knows anything about the whereabouts of any of the nine missing motorcycles ridden by the Memphis Mafia, Triumph requests that you please contact them at ElvisTriumph@triumphmotorcycles.com.
But Wait, There’s More
Gallery: Triumph, Elvis, and a Motorcycle Mystery
Finding the evidence to flesh out that long-held myth was a big deal for Triumph—so big that it had to celebrate in the way it knows best. In 2023, Triumph Motorcycles commissioned custom artist J Daar to encapsulate this newly discovered history, as well as Elvis’ 1968 Desert Sled as ridden in the film Stay Away Joe, into a modern custom design.
The one-of-a-kind bike was also unveiled at the 2023 Barber Vintage Fest, along with a Triumph and Gibson Les Paul guitar with a custom wrap designed to complement Daar’s custom 2023 Bonneville T120 design.
Both the Daar customized Elvis T120 Bonneville and the matching Gibson Les Paul were then donated to the Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation, where they’ll soon be auctioned off to raise money for Goodwill Homes. That’s a Memphis-based facility that provides services to abused children and their families.