Fonzie’s 1952 Triumph TR5 motorcycle hasn’t lost an ounce of cool
Back in the 1970s, when Happy Days was the most popular show on TV, there was no one cooler than Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli, the lovable hoodlum with a knack for catchphrases and a way with the ladies. Being something of a badass—but not too bad, because we’re talking prime time TV here—he rode a motorcycle, of course. As motorcycles go, his Triumph Trophy TR5 500 remains a pop cultural icon second only to Captain America’s.
Mick Lynch loved that bike. He was 20 when Happy Days premiered in 1974. He related to the Fonz and his buddies Richie Cunningham, Potsie Weber, and Ralph Malph because, like them, he grew up in a middle-class neighborhood of a working class city, in his case, Kalamazoo. Like the Fonz, he had a knack for anything mechanical.
Lynch never considered the possibility he might one day ride a Triumph like the one Fonzie rode. Turns out he owns the Triumph Fonzie rode. Lynch bought it two decades ago after happening upon it at an auction. “If you had told me I would own Fonzie’s motorcycle someday, I would have had a heart attack and died right there,” he says.
Lynch, who is 65 and lives in Portage, Michigan, loved anything and everything with wheels from a young age. When he was 12, he and some friends pushed home a battered black Chevrolet coupe that had been painted with a brush. His mother took one look at it and asked him how the hell he’d gotten it back to the house. “She was worried I’d driven it illegally,” Lynch says. “I said, ‘My friends helped me push it.’ She said, ‘Well round up those little brat friends of yours and push it right back.’”
Lynch, a geologist whose company specializes in environmental cleanup, still loves tinkering with things. He’s passionate about restoring and preserving old buildings, and he and his wife, Lisa, make a point of furnishing them with period-correct furniture. They were at an auction in nearby Belding in 1996, looking for anything they could use and decided there wasn’t anything they couldn’t live without. Lisa asked if Mick wanted to check out the car auction. “I answered, ‘Is that even a question?’”
While surveying the vehicles, Lynch immediately recognized the 1952 Triumph TR5 parked in front of him. “I blurted out, ‘That’s the Happy Days motorcycle. Could that really be the real deal?’” Yes, it was. The fellow next to him had exhaustively researched the bike and even talked to Bud Ekins, who helped the show’s production team track it down all those years ago. “The guy asked me if I was going to bid on it, and I said, ‘Not until you’re out. If it goes beyond what you want to pay, I’ll jump in.’”
Sure enough, the bidding exceeded the guy’s budget. He nodded to Lynch, who raised his hand. After a bit of back and forth with other bidders, the auctioneer dropped the hammer. The bike was his.
Lynch declines to say how much he spent. For him, the cost wasn’t the point. “I’m a big fan of America and history, and this bike holds a significant place in American pop culture,” he says. “I don’t buy things as an investment, I buy things because I want to preserve them.”
At this point, you may be thinking, wait a sec—didn’t Fonzie’s Triumph sell for $179,200 at Julien’s Hollywood Legends Auction last year? Yes and no. Yes, a bike that Fonzie rode in the show sold, but not the bike Fonzie rode. Lynch says that motorcycle, a 1949 Triumph TR5, did indeed appear on Happy Days, but the ’52 is the primary bike that was used during the show’s 11-season run. “It’s the one in the opening credits, the one in 90 percent of the still shots,” he says. “It’s the bike on the posters, lunchboxes, and Thermoses.”
Lynch tucked the bike away in storage and dove into learning everything he could about it. He knows, for example, that Fonzie didn’t start out with the Triumph. He had Harley-Davidson, but Henry Winkler, who played the Fonz, struggled to keep it upright, so the show’s producers switched to a lighter bike (one that Elkins, a respected stuntman who made that epic jump in The Great Escape, helped to procure). Even the Triumph was a bit much for Winkler to handle, however. He crashed it at least once because the gas tanks shows signs of damage.
Lynch hasn’t bothered fixing or changing anything. The ape-hanger-style bars, bobbed rear fender, peashooter mufflers, and fictitious 7836 Wisconsin license plate are precisely as they were in the show, although somewhere along the line the bike lost its mirrors. “It’s exactly as I got it, dents and all,” Lynch says. The 33-horsepower 498-cc parallel twin and four-speed transmission haven’t been tested in a while. Lynch says they could use some work.
Not long after Lynch got the bike he discovered the great truth about Fonzie’s motorcycle: You can’t keep it squirreled away. Fans are still interested in it. “Everybody who sees it gets excited about it,” Lynch says. He’s taken the Triumph to a handful of events, including the Woodward Dream Cruise. Given the bike’s place in popular culture, Lynch decided to loan it to the Gilmore Museum in 2014. Lynch and the museum graciously lent it to Hagerty, and it has been on display at our headquarters in Traverse City, Michigan, since last month.
As for the Fonz, Lynch met him last summer at the Iola Old Car Show and Swap Meet, where the bike was on display and Winkler was working the crowd and signing autographs. Lynch thought better of saying hello. “I have the gift of gab,” he says, “but he was swamped by fans.” So was the bike.