In 1965, Elvis Presley took his friend’s brand-new Triumph T120 650 Bonneville out for a test ride. He was so impressed with the bike that he immediately bought nine similar motorcycles for his entire friend group, known as the Memphis Mafia.
That’s how the story goes, at least, but there’s been no hard evidence to support it. We know the King loved his motorcycles, but with no preserved bikes or documents, this has just been one of the many myths and tall tales surrounding Elvis.
Until now, that is.
Recently, nine Elvis-signed checks for Triumph motorcycles were discovered in the archives of Graceland. Combined with the testimony of Jerry Schilling—a surviving member of the Memphis Mafia—they appear to confirm the veracity of this story.
Why else would Elvis have bought a bunch of Bonnevilles at one time?
But if the tale is true, one question remains: What happened to the bikes? Where did they go, and do any remain forgotten in some dusty garage?
To find out, Triumph is asking the motorcyclist community for help. Anyone who might know anything about the Memphis Mafia Triumphs is encouraged to get in touch with the moto maker.
Additionally, in light of the revelation, Triumph and Elvis Presley Enterprises partnered to produce a one-off custom motorcycle to commemorate the joyrides the King and his Mafia had in the summer of ‘65 and raise money for charity.
A Generous Gift
In case you’re unfamiliar with the story of the Memphis Mafia’s Triumphs, it’s a good one. It highlights Elvis’ generosity toward his friends—and the incredible wealth his rock ‘n’ roll success brought him.
Let’s roll the clock back to the June of 1965.
Elvis was making the musical Frankie and Johnny at the Samual Goldwyn Studios in Hollywood. One day, during a break from the filming, he invited his Memphis Mafia to his home in Bel Air to relax and buddy around.
Jerry Schilling, according to his account, had just purchased a Triumph T120 650 Bonneville at Robertson & Sons on Santa Monica Blvd. The gear-headed King, interested in the motorcycle, asked to take it for a test ride.
Schilling obliged and Elvis spent some time zooming around the streets of Bel Air. When he returned, he was convinced that he had to have the same motorcycle.
Scratch that, he and all his friends had to have the same bike!
“Elvis loved to ride and I knew that when he saw my new Bonneville he’d want to try it ... and when he did, he wanted all the guys to have one so we could ride them together!” Schilling recalls the events.
Elvis rushed to his transportation manager, Alan Fortis, and told him to “order one for all the guys, but it has to be tonight!”
Robertson & Sons didn’t have enough bikes in stock, but the dealership did what it could. By the end of the day, Elvis had acquired seven motorcycles—a mix of Schilling’s TR120s and TR6s.
For what remained of the day, Elvis and his buddies ripped through Bel Air until the neighbors filed a noise complaint with the cops. The remaining two motorcycles arrived a couple of days later and became the focus of the Memphis Mafia’s downtime for the rest of the summer.
Where Are the Bikes?
With Schilling’s testimony and the newly recovered checks, there seems to be no doubt that Elvis really did purchase motorbikes for his friends. As further proof, the checks bear notes in the King’s handwriting like, “For payment in full of Jerry Schilling’s Triumph motorcycle as gift from Elvis during Frankie and Johnny.”
Learning about the development, Triumph looked through its historical catalog to discover the exact types of motorcycles Elvis bought. According to the company, the bikes were most likely the 1964 model year T120 Bonnevilles and T6s.
These models were basically the same bike, with the only mechanical difference being that the T120 came with two carburetors and a different tuning. The paint job was different, as well—the Bonneville bore a Gold/Alaskan White colorway, whereas the T6 sported a Hifi Scarlet/Silver Sheen suit.
But what happened to the bikes? That’s a great question, and no one knows.
All nine bikes have disappeared, with their current status and possible whereabouts unknown. That’s why Triumph is now appealing to all motorcycle enthusiasts around the globe to track down even one of the bikes.
If you have even a shred of information about the Memphis Mafia bikes, you can email Triumph at email@example.com.
Inspiring a New Creation
Following this new revelation, Triumph teamed up with Elvis Presley Enterprises to create a unique motorcycle. With the one-of-a-kind bike, they wanted to commemorate Elvis, his love of riding, and the friendships between the Memphis Mafia, while also raising money for a good cause.
The motorcycle ended up being a custom Bonneville, based on the current T120 model. Its custom paint scheme, created by Georgian motorcycle artist J. Daar, drew inspiration from the Memphis Mafia bikes’, red, silver, and gold colors, as well as the motorcycle Elvis rode in 1968’s Stay Away, Joe.
On the tank, there are also graphics recalling the King’s 1968 Comeback Special.
The custom Bonneville was unveiled at the 2023 Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival in Birmingham, AL. It was afterward donated to the Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation to raise money for Goodwill Homes, a Memphis organization providing counseling and services for abused children.
In addition to the motorcycle, a custom Les Paul acoustic guitar—complementing the bike’s look—was shown off and donated at the show.