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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.