Way of the Wedge: The Triumph TR7 and TR8

FROM SEVEN TO ZERO

For all the production issues and complaints about the Triumph TR7’s styling, performance, and reliability, it actually sold rather well. Calculating an exact production total is complicated by ambiguities and contradictions in the official records, but the TR7 accounted for about 112,000 units between 1975 and 1981, the Triumph TR8 a further 2,700 or so. By comparison, TR6 production amounted to fewer than 95,000 units over a similar period of time.

Nonetheless, it appears that British Leyland never made a profit on either the TR7 or TR8. Production and demand were frequently short of expectations and we assume that the expense of repeatedly transferring production to different factories drove up the TR7’s per-car costs, as did having to ship body stampings for later cars some 60-odd miles (~100 km) from Swindon to Canley or Solihull. Many Triumph experts maintain that the later cars were better built, but from an economic standpoint, the integrated production facilities in Liverpool made much more sense. (Former Speke workers lamented that they had finally gotten the bugs out just as the No. 2 plant was closed.)

1981 Triumph TR8 convertible blue side
The Triumph TR8 convertible is widely considered the best of the breed, being rarer, faster, better-looking, and generally better sorted than its four-cylinder, fixed-head counterparts.

Although the TR7 still regularly appears on lists of the worst cars ever made, it has gradually become more collectible. The polarizing styling no longer looks as strange as it once did, overshadowed by far more confrontational subsequent designs, and most of the original mechanical shortcomings can be rectified. Quite a few survivors have been modified over the years, including an abundance of Sprint and V8 conversions.

If nothing else, the TR7 stands as a unique artifact of its time; had it been designed a few years earlier or a few years later, we suspect it would have been a very different car. It was also the last ‘real’ Triumph to date and marked the end of an era for mass-market British sports cars. The latter would eventually return, but as of this writing, we’ve heard of no plans to revive the Triumph marque, which we believe is now owned by BMW. We’re not holding our breath for a TR9, but the Triumph brand was originally created to help a German businessman market his wares to an English-speaking audience, so in that sense, at least, history may yet repeat itself.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The author would like to extend special thanks to John Catlow, Murilee Martin, and Mark Brown for the use of their photos and Professor Huw Beynon of Cardiff University’s Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods for his kind help in better understanding the Speke No. 2 strike.


AUTHOR’S NOTE

In 2012, we licensed a condensed version of this story to the Angie’s List classic cars channel. However, Angie’s List had no connection with the original article.


NOTES ON SOURCES

Information on the development and history of the TR7 and TR8 came from Keith Adams, “Feature: Triumph TRs, 30 years on — The end of the line,” Octane, October 2011, www.classicandperformancecar.com, accessed 3 January 2012, “In-house designs: Triumph SD2,” AROnline, 14 June 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 4 January 2012, “People: Spen King,” AROnline, 13 December 2002, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 11 January 2012, “Sports car projects: Triumph,” AROnline, 25 June 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 4 January 2012, and “The cars: Triumph TR7/TR8,” AROnline, 6 August 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 4 January 2012; Andy’s TR7 Website, www.andys-tr7.co.uk, accessed 4 January 2012; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1962-1976 Triumph TR,” HowStuffWorks.com, 4 September 2007, auto.howstuffworks.com/ 1962-1976-triumph-tr.htm, accessed 5 January 2012; “Buffum’s TR7 Wins 1977 Pro Rally Championship,” Triumph Newsletter, Triumph Sports Owners Association Vol. 23, No. 6 (December 1977), pp. 31-35; Marcus Chambers, Stuart Turner, and Peter Browning, BMC Competitions Department Secrets (Dorchester, Dorset: Veloce Publishing Ltd., 2005); Michael Cook, Triumph Cars in America (St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing Co., 2001); Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002 Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Mark Dixon, “Triumph or disaster?” Popular Classics April 1993, pp. 43-46; Jim Dunne, “Detroit Report: TR7 convertible and TR8,” Popular Science Vol. 216, No. 1 (July 1979), p. 26; Jim Dunne and Ray Hill, “Small sports cars: big on handling and economy,” Popular Science Vol. 209, No. 4 (October 1976), pp. 32-38; Jim Dunne and Ed Jacobs, “Mid-price sports cars–six exciting performers,” Popular Science Vol. 215, No. 5 (November 1979), pp. 43-50; “Early TR7 Sprint Competition Cars,” TR Drivers Club, 2003, www.trdrivers.com, accessed 23 January 2012; “Five is alive! Triumph TR7” Hot Car March 1977, pp. 50-51; Graham Fountain, “TR7 Sprint Report,” TR Driver, 1991, www.trdrivers.com, accessed 4 January 2012; “Group Test: Two plus twos and a TR,” Motor Road Tests 1979, pp. 94–99; Richard Gunn, “People: Harris Mann,” AROnline, 28 August 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 10 January 2012; Bill Hartford, “Imports & Motorsports: Automatic TR7,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 147, No. 5 (May 1977), pp. 68-69;Ed Jacobs, “Sleek English convertible – V8 power for new TR8,” Popular Science Vol. 217, No. 1 (July 1980), p. 28; Jonkka’s World Rally Archive, www.juwra.com, accessed 23 January 2012; David Knowles, MG: The Untold Story (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1997); Michael Lamm, “Driving the Rover 3500 and Triumph TR8,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 154, No. 1 (July 1980), pp. 68-69, 145; F. Wilson McComb, MG by McComb, Second Edition (Colchester, Essex: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 1978); “Motor Road Test No. 22/80: Triumph TR7 Drophead,” The Motor Road Test Annual, pp. 210-212; Dan Neil, “The 50 Worst Cars of All Time,” TIME, 9 September 2007, www.time.com, accessed 5 January 2012; Bill Piggott, Original Triumph TR7 & TR8: The Restorer’s Guide (Osceola, WI: Bay View Books/MBI Publishing Company, 2000); David Price, “Triumph TR8,” AROnline, 1 April 2003, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 4 January 2012; Chris Rees, Fantasy Cars: An A–Z of the World’s Best Contemporary Classics (New York: Hermes House, 1999); Graham Robson and Richard Langworth, Triumph Cars: The Complete Story, Second Edition (Pitlake, Croydon: Motor Racing Publications Ltd., 1988); Neil Sawyer, “TR7 V8 Rally Car,” TR Drivers Club, 2003, www.trdrivers.com/ tr7_v8_rally_car.html, accessed 4 January 2012; LJK Setright, “TR7: Lousy Icing: Lovely Cake,” CAR June 1976, pp. 50-52, 57; Will Shiers, “The Magnificent 7?” Real Classics May 1998 pp. 6-11; “The Design Council Award Went to the Triumph Marketing Department’s Head,” Unique Cars and Parts, www.uniquecarsand parts. com.au, accessed 6 January 2012; “The Last Waltz,” Classic Motorsports July 2008, classicmotorsports.net, accessed 4 January 2012; The Wedge Shop, TR8.com, www.tr8.com, accessed 9 January 2012; Triumph TR7.com, www.triumphtr7.com/, accessed 4 January 2012; Richard Truett, “Head-to-Head: Ford Capri vs. Triumph TR8,” AROnline, 29 May 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 4 January 2012 and “The life and times of a Stateside TR7,” AROnline, 1 January 2008, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 4 January 2012; Tjeerd van der Zee, “Walter Boyce,” RallyBase.nl, n.d., www.rallybase.nl, accessed 23 January 2012; Paul Williams, “History of the Shape,” Team.net, 1995-2011, www.team.net/ TR8/ TR7-TR8-History.html, accessed 4 January 2012; Roger Williams, The Essential Buyer’s Guide: Triumph TR7 & TR8 (Dorchester, Dorset: Veloce Publishing Ltd., 2010); www.triumph-cars. co.uk/, accessed 23 January 2012; and the Wikipedia® entries “Triumph TR7” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_TR7, accessed 4 January 2012); and “Triumph TR8” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_TR8, accessed 4 January 2012).

Additional information on the Speke No. 2 strike and British labor issues in the seventies came from Huw Benyon, “Engaging Labour: British Sociology 1945-2010,” Global Labour Journal Vol. 2, No. 1 (2011), pp. 5-26, and What Happened at Speke? (Liverpool: TGWU 6-612 Branch, 1978); Brian Marren, “Closure of the Triumph Tr7 Factory in Speke, Merseyside, 1978: ‘The Shape of Things to Come’? 11 June 2009, University of Liverpool Department of History, liverpool.academia.edu /BrianMarren/, accessed 4 January 2012; Theo Nichols, The British Worker Question: A New Look at Workers and Productivity in Manufacturing (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986); and “Obituary: Eddie Loyden: Hard-left MP not afraid to rebel,” The Guardian 4 May 2003, www.guardian. co.uk, accessed 17 January 2012.

Additional information on the history of Standard-Triumph and British Leyland came from Keith Adams, “History: Timeline 1952-2005,” AROnline, 25 August 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 10 January 2012, “Marques: Triumph Story, part one,” and “Marques: Triumph Story, part two,” AROnline, 26 July 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 3 January 2012, “News: It was 30 years ago…” AROnline, 14 October 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 3 January 2012, “The whole story – Chapter 3: British Leyland, turbulent time,” AROnline, 25 August 201, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 10 January 2012; David Traver Adolphus, “Visionaries: Henry George Webster,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #22 (June 2007), p. 60; “Archive: Standard-Triumph ‘Saved from Bankruptcy,'” 23 January 1963, reproduced at AROnline, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 3 January 2012; Serge Bellu, “People in history: Giovanni Michelotti, a great free-spirited designer,” Auto & Design No. 154 (2005), p. 50; Mike Cook, “Passing of a Pioneer,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #20 (April 2007); Ian Elliott, “The road to perdition: Part two” and “The road to perdition: Part three,” AROnline, 25 August 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 10 January 2012; “Obituary: Lord Stokes,” The Guardian 21 July 2008, www.guardian. co.uk, accessed 10 January 2012; and the following Wikipedia entries: “British Leyland” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Leyland, accessed 6 January 2012); “Donald Stokes, Baron Stokes (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Stokes,_Baron_Stokes, accessed 10 January 2012); “Sir Michael Edwardes” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Edwardes, accessed 6 January 2012); “Siegfried Bettmann” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siegfried_Bettmann, accessed 9 January 2012); “Triumph Cycle” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_Cycle_Co._Ltd., accessed 9 January 2012); and Triumph Motor Company, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_Motor_Company, accessed 9 January 2012.

Additional background on other Triumph models came from “A brief history of Triumph Gloria models – 1933 to 1938,” Pre-1940 Triumph Motor Club, www.pre-1940 triumphmotorclub. org, accessed 9 January 2012; Keith Adams, “The cars: Triumph Herald/Vitesse,” AROnline, 4 July 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 4 January 2012, “The cars: Triumph 2000/2500 development history,” AROnline, 29 August 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 10 January 2012, “The cars: Triumph 1300/Toledo/Dolomite,” AROnline, 14 July 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 4 January 2012; Keith Adams and Dale Turley, “Triumph 1300>Dolomite timeline,” AROnline, 28 July 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 4 January 2012; Peter Cahill, “History of the Dolomite Sprint,” CMM No. 77 (August 1995), www.triumphdolomite. co.uk, accessed 4 January 2012; Jamie Kitman, “Triumph Dolomite Sprint vs. BMW 2002tii – The 2002 We Never Knew,” Automobile April 2010, www.automobilemag.com, accessed 6 January 2012; “Model specs: 1973-1980 Triumph Dolomite Sprint,” Classic and Performance Car, n.d., www.classicandperformancecar. com, accessed 6 January 2012; “Triumph Dolomite Sprint,” Classic Cars for Sale, 13 May 2011, www.classiccars4sale. net, accessed 6 January 2012; “Triumph Dolomite Sprint,” Unique Cars and Parts, n.d., www.uniquecarsandparts.com. au, accessed 6 January 2012; Bill Vance, “Triumph TR2 (1953-1955),” Reflections on Automotive History (Rockwood, Ontario: Eramosa Valley Publishing, 2000), reprinted on the web (with the permission of the author) at the TR Registry, www.trregistry.com, accessed 9 January 2012; and the following Wikipedia entries: “Triumph Dolomite” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_Dolomite, accessed 4 January 2012); “Triumph 1300” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_1300, accessed 6 January 2012); “Triumph Toledo” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_Toledo, accessed 6 January 2012); and “Triumph TR6” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_TR6, accessed 4 January 2012).

Additional background came from Kit Dawnay, “A history of sterling,” The Telegraph 8 October 2001, www.telegraph. co.uk, accessed 5 January 2012; “IMF crisis forced Labour to consider scrapping Polaris,” The Guardian 28 December 2006, www.guardian. co.uk, accessed 5 January 2012; “Sterling devalued and the IMF loan,” National Archives, www.nationalarchives. gov.uk, accessed 5 January 2012; and the Wikipedia article “Fiat X1/9” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiat_X1/9, accessed 10 January 2012.

Exchange rates for the dollar and British pound were estimated based on Lawrence H. Officer, “Exchange Rates Between the United States Dollar and Forty-one Currencies,” Measuring Worth, 2012, http://www.measuringworth.org/exchangeglobal/, used with permission. Exchange rate values cited in the text represent the approximate equivalency of British and U.S. currency at the time, not contemporary U.S. suggested retail prices, which are listed separately. Please note that all exchange rate equivalencies cited in the text are approximate, provided solely for general reference; this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!


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6 Comments

  1. I enjoy your articles. Please note that of the 2 spellings you have used, “Herald” is correct, as in “one who brings news”. “Harold” is incorrect. My sister had one in the Bahamas and it was notable for its “backbone” frame with outriggers to support the body. Not very rigid but no small British cars were at the time and the Herald wasn’t the worst.

    1. Eek — how embarrassing. The perils of putting something up late at night. I’ve fixed that…thanks!

  2. Aaron,
    The text of the initial Triumph article appears to be cut off on the right side.
    JJD

    1. Sorry about that. It was a word wrap issue in the bibliography, which I believe I’ve now fixed. (I didn’t notice it immediately because it doesn’t happen in all browsers.)

  3. I had a silver 1979/80 TR7 convertable with the red Tartan interior like the picture on page 3. The red carpet did indeed fade to orange then yellow after only a few days worth of parking at the beach (northern CA) with the top down. Pretty pathetic but representative overall of the materials and workmanship of the whole car.

    I bought it new thinking with proper care and maintenance, it would be a decent ride. In 26K miles over 2 years it went through 3 head gaskets, the ignition system, brakes, clutch and pretty much any seal that came into contact with any liquid – oil, coolant etc.

    When it did run it was fun to drive, especially up and down the coast highway. Such extravagances were usually punished by a trip to the dealer for more $$$ of repairs.

    About the only good thing about it was that it was a chick magnet. One chick picked me up and dropped me off at the repair shop often enough eventually married me – probably out of sheer pity.

  4. Drove my TR-7 Victory Edition almost 100,000 miles with no problems, and often drove at 90 mph on Louisiana highways for extended periods. Guess I was lucky, but the car was great, except the paint did fade.

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