The Great Escape

Guy Martin's Scrambler XE 1200

The Film…

The Great Escape’s headline star – Hollywood idol Steve McQueen – insisted that the storyline for his character Captain Virgil Hilts be re-written on location to include a bike chase with what was then the leading modern Triumph scrambler and a thrilling jump: an attempt to clear the national border fence while being pursued by German soldiers as part of the film’s gripping finale.

A motorcycle obsessive, McQueen’s bike of choice was a contemporary 650cc Triumph TR6, similar to the bike he famously rode while desert racing in western America.  McQueen was forbidden from performing the stunt by the movie’s insurers, so his good friend Bud Ekins made the jump.

The result was one of the most recognisable and iconic motorcycle stunts ever seen on film.  But, of course, in the film Hilts only manages to clear the first of two barbed wire fences before being recaptured and so the big question posed by movie lovers for almost 60 years has been… “is it possible to jump both fences”?

The Show…

Channel 4 are showing Guy Martin’s Great Escape.

Four years in the planning, this compelling new programme has almost become an obsession for Guy Martin; one of television’s most dynamic, unique and popular characters, who put in hours of work and made hundreds of practice jumps in preparation for this attempt.

For maximum authenticity Guy wanted to recreate The Great Escape jump using a Triumph motorcycle in the exact same field that the original jump was filmed and, after months of careful negotiation, the owner of that field, Josef Kern, finally agreed.

This is how Guy found himself attempting to recreate movie history on a grassy field near Füssen right on the Germany/Austrian border on a custom-built Triumph motorcycle. Ahead of him: two imposing 8-foot high fences.

The Bike…

Guy consulted Triumph’s special vehicle workshop in Hinckley and worked closely with Triumph chief engineer Stuart Wood to build together two Scrambler 1200 XE motorcycles, each customised with dedicated suspension and unique contemporary green and gold paint scheme by Guy himself; one to jump, and one as a back-up.

While the Scrambler 1200 XE is Triumph’s top-of-the-range category-leading off-road motorcycle, modifications were still required to make it suitable for this jump sequence; including the practical removal of road components, simplification of electronics and upgraded suspension and tyres.

A one-off modern Triumph scrambler green paint scheme was selected as a contemporary twist on the British army green paintwork of the original 1963 Triumph TR6 bike ridden by Steve McQueen, and was finished with hand painted gold coach lining.