Class Acts, Part 1: The Triumph 2000 and 2.5 PI Mk 1

THE TRIUMPH 2000 DEBUTS

The debut of the 2000 in October 1963 returned Triumph to territory into which it hadn’t ventured in nearly a decade. Triumph had the Herald and Vitesse, of course, and prior to the launch of the Herald some markets had received a Triumph-badged version of the Standard 10, but Triumph’s last big sedan had been the Renown (née 2000), which expired in 1954.

1967 Triumph 2000 front 3q © 2013 Aaron Severson
The Triumph 2000 Mk 1, seen here in U.S.-spec LHD form, was 173.8 inches (4,413 mm) long, 65 inches (1,651 mm) wide, and 56 inches (1,422 mm) high on a 106-inch (2,694mm) wheelbase. Curb weight with a full tank of fuel was around 2,600 lb (1,180 kg), a bit heavier with overdrive or automatic. (author photo)

While the Triumph 2000 was about the same size as the Vanguard Six and used a similar engine, the new car was decidedly more upmarket. Basic price at launch was £905 (£1,094 2s 1d with purchase tax, about $3,065 at the contemporary exchange rate), about 25% more than the Vanguard, and that didn’t include overdrive, a highly desirable £54 7s 6d ($152) option for manual-shift cars. (The automatic added £95 5s., equivalent to about $265.) In compensation, the 2000 had much fresher styling than the old Vanguard and had a luxurious cabin with walnut trim, plush carpeting, and optional leather upholstery.

Naturally, the Triumph drove better than the elderly Vanguard as well. That admittedly wasn’t saying much, but the 2000 was solidly competent in most dynamic aspects. With the four-speed gearbox, 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) took around 14 seconds and the factory’s claimed top speed was a realistic 95 mph (153 km/h), not bad for a mid-sixties family car. Fast turns were accompanied by considerable body lean, but the 2000 gripped well (at least with the optional radial tires) and had no alarming habits other than the occasional tendency of the sliding halfshaft splines to bind under power. The brakes were good and the steering accurate if rather heavy at low speeds. The ride was excellent and interior noise was well suppressed, adding to the luxurious ambiance.

1967 Triumph 2000 seats © 2013 Aaron Severson
The Triumph 2000 had most of the luxuries buyers expected of a contemporary high-end British car, including genuine walnut paneling on the dash and doors. Upholstery was originally vinyl, with actual leather available at extra cost, but leather became standard for the 1967 model year along with better-contoured seats. (author photo)

The 2000’s price and appointments put it in an interesting position in the British marketplace. The Triumph cost about as much as traditional 2.5- and 3-liter sedans like the Austin A110 Westminster and Ford Zodiac, which were substantially bigger and had larger engines with more power. However, the 2000 felt both more upscale and more sophisticated than any of these cars. By comparison, the Austin felt cumbersome and a Zodiac or Cresta seemed plebeian; whatever the cylinder count, you were still driving a Ford or a Vauxhall, which had considerably less snob appeal than Triumph. A Mk 2 Jaguar could beat the Triumph on many of these points, but even the underpowered 2.4 cost hundreds more, as did foreign alternatives like the BMW Neue Klasse or the big Citroën, which in DW or DS form listed for a hefty £1,568 19s 7d (about $4,400) in the U.K.

British buyers who liked the idea of a medium-size, 2-liter luxury car really had only one direct alternative to the Triumph, that being of course the new Rover P6, also called 2000 in its initial 1,978 cc (121 cu. in.) four-cylinder form. Even factoring in its standard leather upholstery and radial tires, for which Triumph buyers paid extra, the Rover was the more expensive of the two, starting at £1,264 9s 7d (about $3,550) with tax. Still, in this class, the price difference between the two cars was probably not enough to discourage someone interested in these cars from considering the other.

1967 Triumph 2000 rear 3q © 2013 Aaron Severson
Unlike the Rover P6, which had a De Dion rear suspension, the Triumph had fully independent rear suspension with coil springs and large aluminum semi-trailing arms on a detachable subframe. That suspension was borrowed for the TR4A, TR5/TR250, and TR6, although for space reasons, the sports cars had lever-action shocks rather than the sedan’s tubular dampers. All production sedans and estates had front disc/rear drum brakes and all Mk 1s had 13-inch wheels, although some models had wider wheels and fatter tires. (author photo)

Despite their substantial technical differences, the Rover and the Triumph had very similar performance by most objective measurements. With the same power output as the Triumph, taller gearing, and some 235 lb (106 kg) more weight, the Rover lagged behind the Triumph by about a second to 60 mph (97 km/h), but had a higher top speed. The Triumph had the edge in rear seat room, but neither had a surplus of luggage space and there wasn’t much to choose between them in terms of fuel economy. Both offered a high standard of ride, handling, and overall refinement.

The main difference between the 2000s was one of personality. The Rover felt more overtly sporting, with crisper handling and stronger brakes while the Triumph lent itself more to unhurried cruising, abetted by a notably smoother engine than the slightly frenetic Rover four. Ironically, the Rover felt more like what one would have expected of a big Triumph and the Triumph’s relaxed character was closer to traditional expectations of Rover. Which you preferred was mostly a matter of taste and whether you considered the greater prestige of the Rover name to be worth the price premium.

1965 Rover 2000 front 3q © 2007 Rudolf Stricker (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)
The Rover 2000 looks similar to the Triumph, but the two are quite different mechanically: The Rover has unstressed exterior panels on a monocoque “base unit,” four-wheel disc brakes, De Dion rear suspension (with inboard brakes), and an unusual double wishbone front suspension with horizontally mounted coil springs. The early Rover P6 was 178.5 inches (4,534 mm) long and 66.5 inches (1,689 mm) wide — 4.8 inches (121 mm) longer and 1.5 inches (38 mm) wider than the Triumph — on a 103.4-inch (2,626mm) wheelbase (2.6 inches (66mm) shorter than the Triumph). (Photo: “Rover P6 front 20070831” © 2007 Rudolf Stricker; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

THE 2-LITER TRIUMPHANT

Despite their prices and implied challenge to the existing size/price hierarchy, both the Triumph and Rover 2000s were immediate successes. Except for a few dozen early production cars released to favored customers, Triumph 2000 wasn’t really available until January 1964, but sold well thereafter. The Triumph generally outsold the Rover, but between them they were soon taking more than 80 percent of the U.K.’s 2-liter-and-above segment. It must be said that this was not a vast sum — combined Triumph/Rover 2000 production was something under 50,000 units a year — but sales were limited more by production capacity than demand. It was clear that Standard-Triumph and Rover had caught the opposition off-guard.

1967 Triumph 2000 front © 2013 Aaron Severson
Since the 2000’s power-to-weight ratio was unexceptional, best performance was obtained with the lighter sedan with four-speed and overdrive. With either automatic or the heavier estate body, reaching 60 mph (97 km/h) took more than 15 seconds. We’ve found no road tests of a 2000 estate with automatic, but we presume it would be the slowest of the bunch; we’d estimate closer to 17 seconds for the 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) sprint. Fuel economy for sedans with overdrive typically averaged between 19 to 25 miles per U.S. gallon (12.4 to 10.6 L/100 km) depending on conditions. Estates, automatics, or cars without overdrive were naturally somewhat thirstier. (author photo)

That fact was not lost on said opposition, which hastened to respond. In 1965, BMC contrived de-contented editions of its 3-liter sedans that undercut the luxury 2-liter cars in price. Later that year Ford of Britain essayed its own variation on the Rover/Triumph formula by installing the 1,996 cc (122 cu. in.) Essex V-4 in the Corsair GT. However, many of these early ripostes were either ill-considered or too little too late and had little effect on the popularity of the Rover and Triumph.

Triumph bolstered the 2000’s image by making the saloon the focus of the factory rally team, starting in 1964. The rally 2000s initially ran in Group 3, with bigger-than-stock wheels and brakes, various drivetrain changes, and race-tuned engines with three Weber carburetors. In that form, the six was good for about 150 hp (112 kW), although the hotter cam and additional carburetion took a serious toll on both flexibility and fuel economy. The works team got off to a disappointing start at the 1964 Spa-Sofia-Liège Rally that August, with all three cars DNF due to a structural failing in the rear floorpan, but that problem was soon resolved. In 1965, a 2000 modified to Group 2 specification (with standard brakes and a milder engine) took a class victory in the RAC Rally, while Jean-Jacques Thuner scored another class win at the Tulip Rally.

1967 Triumph 2000 rear © 2013 Aaron Severson
One of the shortcomings (literally) of the Mk 1 2000, at least in sedan form, was a shortage of cargo space. On early cars, this was exacerbated by the bulky spare, which sat more or less upright in the boot. In the fall of 1966, Standard-Triumph revised the rear floorpan to provide a well for the spare under the boot floor, allowing more of the available space to be used for cargo. (author photo)

Such achievements didn’t help the 2000 in the U.S., where the new car was a resounding flop. The 2000 made its Stateside debut at the New York Auto Show in April 1965, priced at $2,875 POE, but Triumph’s northeastern distributor, Genser-Forman (who had also opposed making the 2000’s independent rear suspension standard on North American TR4As), predicted glumly that the sedan wouldn’t sell at all. They turned out to be quite correct: The Baby Boomers who would later snap up compact imported cars like this were then still teenagers more interested in Supercars, while the Spitfire and TR4 buyers who kept U.S. Triumph dealers in business were not shopping for four-door sedans. Compared to American compacts like the Plymouth Valiant or Ford Falcon, the 2000 was rather small and quite expensive, listing for more than $3,000 with automatic. The big sedan’s service record in the U.S. was not encouraging either. We have no figures for U.S. sales, which sputtered along into 1968, but we assume they fell somewhere between “bleak” and “dreary.”

The 2000 did better in other export markets, with CKD assembly in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and several other countries. In all, the addition of the 2000 improved Standard-Triumph’s total sales by about 20% to a healthy 120,000 or so units for both the 1964 and 1965 model years, the company’s best since before 1960’s financial crisis.

1967 Triumph 2000 dashboard © 2013 Aaron Severson
This is a U.S.-spec 1967 Triumph 2000 sedan, but it retains the original dashboard design. Given the very poor U.S. sales of this model, we wouldn’t be surprised if some ’67s were actually re-serialed ’66 leftovers. Note the black-on-white instrument faces and the lack of center dash vents. (The instrument to the immediate left of the steering wheel is an aftermarket oil pressure gauge.) Not visible at this angle is another much-criticized feature of the Mk 1: the organ pedal throttle, which required an uncomfortable amount of ankle motion and contrasted oddly with the conventionally suspended brake and clutch pedals. (author photo)

2000 ESTATE

With the 2000 doing very well, Standard-Triumph soon gave thought to expanding the range. One strong possibility was the 2000GT, a peculiar-looking five-door fastback that would have used an hotter version of the 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) six with about 115 hp (86 kW); this engine would have also been offered on the sedan as a new 2000TS model. The other possibility was an estate, something that Rover didn’t offer on the P6.

Even with Leyland’s backing, Standard-Triumph’s resources were not unlimited and the company couldn’t easily afford both the estate and the GT. The latter was abandoned because the estate seemed the more salable proposition, although Pressed Steel’s tooling estimate was so exorbitant that Standard-Triumph decided to simply send completed sedan bodies to Coventry’s Carbodies Ltd. for conversion.

1967 Triumph 2000 auto shifter © 2013 Aaron Severson
The Triumph 2000’s optional automatic was the ubiquitous British-made Borg-Warner 35, a three-speed torque converter transmission. Although the automatic could not be combined with the Laycock de Normanville overdrive, automatic cars had a taller 3.70 axle ratio, sacrificing some pickup for more relaxed cruising (the standard 4.10 axle gave fewer than 17 mph/1,000 rpm in top, which is why period testers inevitably recommended overdrive). 1967 models received a part-throttle kickdown feature and a new shift pattern allowing manual selection of second. This car doesn’t have it, again suggesting this may have been a ’66 leftover reserialed as a 1967 car. (author photo)

The 2000 estate, introduced in October 1965 as a 1966 model, did answer complaints about the sedan’s mediocre luggage space, but was not otherwise a notably practical choice. An extra 135 lb (61 kg) eroded acceleration and fuel economy, while a smaller fuel tank further reduced driving range. The rear seat folded to expand the load floor, but the rear wheel arches cut into the available width and the cargo area was really too nicely trimmed for hauling sod or lumber. On top of that, the estate cost about £250 (including purchase tax) more than the sedan. The estate was catalogued for the rest of the model run, but sales were always modest.

1969 Triumph 2.5 PI interior © 2012 Akela NDE (CC BY-SA 2.0 France)
This is a 1969 Triumph 2.5 PI sedan (with LHD), but the revised interior was common to 1967–69 2000s. The big changes, other than the adoption of standard leather upholstery and new seats, were the addition of the two vents in the center of the dash and the substitution of more legible white-on-black gauges for the original black-on-white instruments. Barely visible at this scale is the overdrive switch in the top of the shift lever. (Photo: “Triumph 2.5 PI Mk1 interior in Morges 2012” © 2012 Akela NDE; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 France license)

Standard-Triumph briefly considered developing a convertible version of the 2000, but, as with the GT, decided that the drophead probably wouldn’t sell well enough to be worth the investment. However, Michelotti asked for a 2000 he could convert himself, intending to exhibit the results at the 1966 Turin Auto Show. This wasn’t intended as a production car, but Harry Webster was so taken with it that he convinced the board to acquire the design, which became the basis of the Triumph Stag.

All 2000s were upgraded for the 1967 model year with standard leather upholstery and a new dashboard with flow-through ventilation and face-level vents. The automatic was also revised to allow part-throttle kickdown and make it easier to manually hold the lower gears. The changes were worthwhile, but they weren’t free, bringing the sedan’s price to about £1,200 (about $3,360) and the estate to £1,456 (around $4,080). The price increases didn’t hurt 2000 sales, but did leave more room for rivals looking to chip away at the bottom end of the 2-liter market, including Vauxhall’s FD Victor 2000 and the new Ford Corsair 2000E, which were priced closer to the £1,000 ($2,800) mark.

1967 Ford Corsair 2000E front 3q © 2013 Iain Cameron (CC BY 2.0 Generic - modified by Aaron Severson)
Ford tried to carve out its own piece of the posh 2-liter market with the Corsair 2000E (for Executive). The Corsair was roughly the same size as the Rover P6 — the Ford was a bit longer overall on a shorter wheelbase and somewhat lighter — and was powered by a 1,996 cc (122 cu. in.) Essex V-4 with 97 hp (72 kW). The Ford was well-equipped, notably quicker than either the Triumph 2000 or Rover 2000SC, and cheaper than either, at £1,039 tax paid (about $2,500). However, the Corsair couldn’t match the more expensive cars for ambiance or refinement. (Photo: “Ford Corsair” © 2013 Iain Cameron; resized and modified 2014 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license with modifications offered under the same license)

A MERGER AND A V-8

In early 1967, there was a new and unexpected development in the rivalry between the Rover and Triumph 2000s: The two became corporate siblings. In late 1966, Standard-Triumph chairman Donald Stokes initiated yet another round of merger talks with Rover’s Sir George Farmer, leading to Leyland acquiring Rover in early 1967. The impetus for the merger was the latest developments at BMC, which had merged with Jaguar in mid-1966 after having acquired Pressed Steel the previous summer.

In the wake of the merger, Leyland planned to leave Triumph and Rover more or less alone, at least for the immediate future. Down the road, Leyland management envisioned rationalizing the conglomerate’s automotive offerings into a three-division structure, with Triumph taking the smaller and cheaper end of the market, Rover the upper-middle class, and Alvis (which Rover had acquired in 1965) the high end, but the implementation of those ideas was still some way off.

Shorter-term goals for the Triumph 2000 included more finding more power. The 2000TS had been shelved after the GT project was canceled, and while it would have been straightforward enough to give the sedan the higher-compression 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) six from the latest Vitesse or GT6, which had 95 and later 104 hp (71 and 78 kW), Triumph appears to have made no move to do so. The problem was that the six’s basic architecture was already close to 15 years old and the usual performance tuning tricks (bigger valves, larger carburetors, hotter valve timing) did nothing for low-speed flexibility. What the 2000 really needed was more torque.

1974 Triumph Stag engine © 2011 The Car Spy (CC BY 2.0 Generic)
Standard-Triumph originally intended to use the new SOHC V-8, seen here in a 1974 Mk 2 Stag, in the big sedan and estate to compete with the Rover 3500. For various reasons, that never happened; discounting Stag development mules, only one V-8 sedan was actually built for the use of Triumph’s sales director. As actually installed in the Stag, the V-8 displaced 2,997 cc (183 cu. in.) rather than 2.5 liters (152 cu. in.) and traded the planned Lucas injection system for twin Zenith-Stromberg carburetors much like those of the U.S. Triumph TR250 and TR6 (and selected for much the same reason: easier compliance with federal emissions standards). (Photo: “1974 Triumph Stag” © 2011 The Car Spy; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

The plan at this stage was for the 2000 to eventually receive the new OHC V-8 then under development for the Stag, which was originally slated for a 1968 introduction. Closely related to the slant four Triumph would shortly supply to Saab (and later use in its own products, including the Dolomite), the V-8 then displaced about 2.5 liters (152 cu. in.) and made around 120 hp (90 kW). However, Leyland preferred to introduce the V-8 on the Stag — which among other things would provide useful real-world service experience before putting the new engine into a volume product — and its development was already lagging.

We don’t know if there was any serious discussion of installing Rover’s new ex-Buick aluminum V-8, although we doubt it would have been practical to do so. Rover didn’t have unlimited capacity and already planned to use the V-8 in the P5 (3-Litre) and P6, as well as the forthcoming Range Rover and the flagship P8 sedan (although the latter was canceled in 1971). Furthermore, Leyland management was not keen to abandon the investment it had already made in the Triumph V-8. In the meantime, though, they needed an interim solution.

9 Comments

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  1. That rev limiter on the injected engine can be negated without much trouble and without that a Rover V8 can be easily outrun

  2. Wow, I can detect traces of each and every one of the many styling themes one got on an American Ford of the era crammed onto that tiny little car. There’s the proto Galaxie (the show car Galaxie, that is) roof. The surprised double headlights. The horizontal fin. The stars in the grill. Hysterical.

    1. What works on 18 feet land yachts never quite translates to smaller platforms- eg the Vauxhall Victor.

      Another fine, enlightening article too. Thank you for your efforts.

    2. The Zebu wasn’t quite that OTT, but it had its own oddities, like a split scoop at the leading edge of the bonnet. Take a mid-50s Mercury, add a sloping hood between the headlight pods, graft on the roofline from a ’63 or ’64 Breezeway four-door hardtop, reduce it to about three-fifths scale and you get a rough approximation. I think if Standard-Triumph had produced it that way, by 1964 it would have looked painfully old-fashioned, especially next to the Rover 2000.

  3. Thanks for yet another fascinating article.
    I know this is nitpicking, but “occasional tendency of the sliding driveshaft splines to bind under power” Don’t you mean halfshafts? TR4A, 5, 250 & 6 had a reputation for halfshafts binding under hard cornering and considering that the 2000 uses a similar IRS setup, would probably exhibit like behavior. It seems to me there’s a good reason other makers used rotoflex or CV joints back there instead of U-joints & splines. Also, since the diff is mounted to the body / chassis structure in an IRS, the driveshaft splines shouldn’t see much movement anyway.

    1. Oops, that should have been halfshafts; I fixed it in the text. Yes, the IRS TRs and 2000 had basically the same rear suspension (the big difference being that the TRs had lever-action shocks in back because there wasn’t room for tubular shock absorbers) and the same issue with the driveshaft splines and their tendency to bind, which on the sedans tended to happen if you jumped on and off the throttle suddenly (e.g., to make a quick shift).

      The reason the sliding splines were used was that the rear suspension geometry would allow the track width to change as the wheels went from full jounce to full rebound; the splines accommodated those track changes. I assume STI decided CV joints were too expensive. Interestingly, when Ford went to semi-trailing arm independent suspension on the Mk IV Zephyr in 1966, they were determined not to use splines and so concocted an odd little arrangement wherein the inner bearing closest to the differential would actually move on a little swing shackle instead.

  4. We are dealing with vocabulary differences here. in the UK, what they call the propeller shaft, or ‘propshaft’ is what we Americans call the driveshaft. What we Americans call a halfshaft is what the Brits call a driveshaft.

  5. The availability (or not)of the various driveshaft / halfshaft techniques and their manufacturing technologies has been a strong influence on car design, a study of it’s own even.
    I expect Triumph would have used C.V. joints if they had been available in the right size at the right price. From about the same date, the first Porsche 911s used what now seems an odd arrangement of Hooke joint + double Hooke joint as another solution to the same problem. Then there were Rotoflex and other fabric/rubber joints. None of these techniques are in common car use today.

  6. Good, interesting article.

    One little point; the engine was tilted at 7 degrees to avoid the dynamo touching the battery.

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