The Triumph 2000 was a hit, giving the Rover 2000 a run for its money and demonstrating that there was a lucrative market for affordable premium sedans. The Mk 2 edition, introduced in the fall of 1969, seemed set to continue that success, but with Triumph now part of the British Leyland Motor Corporation, the 2000’s future would soon be in doubt. In part 2 of our story, we look at the later history of the big Triumph 2000, 2.5 PI, and 2500TC/2500S sedans.
THE LEYLAND SHUFFLE
In our first installment, we talked about the protracted development of the car that became the Triumph 2000 and the success the Mk 1 car found in the British marketplace. To understand all of what came next, it’s important to have at least a general understanding of the corporate machinations taking place during the same period. (Regular readers will probably already be familiar with this part of the story, but it bears recapping for those just joining us.)
As previously discussed, back in 1960, Standard-Triumph International had been acquired by Leyland Motors, a successful British truck and bus manufacturer. The new Leyland management, including Donald Stokes, who became Standard-Triumph’s managing director in 1963, brought a needed infusion of cash and financial rigor that soon restored Standard-Triumph to prosperity. In early 1967, Leyland also acquired the Rover Company, with which Standard had flirted on and off for the better part of 15 years, giving Leyland a solid minority share of the British car market. In the bargain, Leyland also picked up Alvis, a smaller maker of prestigious cars and less prestigious but profitable military vehicles that had merged with Rover in 1965.
If that had been the end of Leyland’s merger spree, the future of Triumph (and for that matter Rover) might have been very different. However, there was a further merger in the works: The British government was pushing for a union between Leyland and the massive but ailing British Motor Corporation (BMC) — or, more properly, British Motor Holdings, a holding company created in 1966 by the merger of BMC and Jaguar. BMC (the BMH designation was a legal one and little-used outside formal business documents) encompassed many of the U.K.’s major automotive brands, including Austin, Morris, MG, Riley, and Wolseley, although the latter two were on their way out, having long since succumbed to badge-engineering expedience.
Despite its sizable market share, BMC was beset by serious financial problems and ongoing labor disputes, compounded by an aging product line that was too often flawed, dull, unprofitable, or some combination of the three. The Labour government of Prime Minister Harold Wilson was fearful that BMC would end up in receivership and/or become a satellite of some foreign company. The Rootes Group (encompassing Hillman, Humber, Singer, and Sunbeam-Talbot) was already being absorbed by Chrysler and the Wilson government had no desire to see Britain’s largest automaker end up as another subsidiary of one of the American giants. The government’s solution was to broker a marriage between BMH and Leyland, putting Leyland management in charge in the hopes that they could repeat Standard-Triumph’s revitalization on a much larger scale.
The upshot of all this was the formation in May 1968 of the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC), with Donald Stokes (shortly to become Lord Stokes, a life peer) as its chairman. One of Stokes’ early decisions was to send Triumph’s technical director, Harry Webster, to Austin Morris to replace Alec Issigonis (designer of the Mini) and sort out the mess of BMC’s product plans. To take Webster’s place at Triumph, Spencer King was transferred from Rover, where he’d been involved in the development of Rover’s P6, the Triumph 2000’s arch-rival in the prestige 2-liter market.
Even before the formation of BLMC, Leyland had envisioned a unified, multi-brand lineup with Triumph, Rover, and Alvis. Now, future Triumph and Rover models would have to be weighed against (and compete for corporate attention and funds with) not only one another, but also Jaguar and some of the very same middle-class brands whose lunch money the P6 and Triumph 2000 had been stealing — an awkward situation, to say the least.
STAG AND INNSBRUCK
Months earlier, before the merger, Triumph management had decided that the 2000 was in need of a stylistic freshening up. At that time, Triumph was still busily developing the Stag, a new drophead grand tourer based on the 2000 and also designed by Italian freelance stylist Giovanni Michelotti. Although the structural relationship between the 2000 and the Stag was becoming ever more slender as development proceeded, Triumph decided the 2000 should at least look like the Stag, whose new SOHC V-8 the sedan was intended to one day share. Around mid-1967, Triumph commissioned Michelotti to handle the facelift of the sedan, which was codenamed Innsbruck. Michelotti’s proposal was approved by the board that fall.
Innsbruck’s key feature was a new front end treatment with a broad, horizontally slatted grille and indicator lights similar to those of the Stag. The rear clip was new, too, with a semi-recessed cove for the taillights that also recalled the Stag, albeit not quite as loudly as did the nose. The tail was extended and the rear track widened to the same 52-inch (1,320mm) width as the front, eliminating the Mk 1 car’s “crab-toed” stance. The longer tail allowed the trunk to be enlarged, answering persistent complaints about the sedan’s limited luggage space.
While the body shells for the Mk 1 sedans had been produced by Pressed Steel Ltd. in Swindon, the tooling for Innsbruck was entrusted to the West German company Karmann, which had already impressed Triumph management by turning the TR5 into the new-looking but structurally carryover TR6. The main reason for going to Karmann was time: Triumph wanted Innsbruck done as soon as possible, presumably so that its launch could be as close as possible to the debut of the Stag, which was originally supposed to bow in 1968. Pressed Steel couldn’t accommodate that schedule, but Karmann could. The Stag’s debut ended up being delayed until June 1970, but the Mk 2 sedans bowed at the Geneva Auto Show in March 1969.
As we mentioned in our previous installment, despite the Mk 2’s cosmetic resemblance to the Stag, the chances of the sedan receiving the Stag’s V-8 engine were already disappearing. Spen King ordered the V-8 enlarged from about 2.5 liters (153 cu. in. or near enough) to 2,997 cc (183 cu. in.) in search of more torque, which required upgrading the Stag’s body structure, running gear, brakes, wheels, and tires accordingly. Using the enlarged V-8 in the sedan would mean making similar changes, which threatened to make the project prohibitively expensive.
Beyond that, the rationale for a V-8 sedan was no longer obvious, since its main effect would have been to cut into sales of the Rover 3500 and Jaguar XJ6. That had of course been precisely the idea, but in the wake of the BLMC merger, it represented a level of cannibalization British Leyland couldn’t afford. In the end, the only sedans to receive the V-8 were a half dozen or so development mules and a single finished car used for a time by sales director Linden Mills. Considering the V-8’s subsequent reliability problems, it was probably just as well.