Way of the Wedge: The Triumph TR7 and TR8

The Triumph TR7 emerged from the most tumultuous period in the history of the British auto industry — the last and most controversial of a long line of Triumph sports cars. In this installment of Ate Up With Motor, we examine the tangled history of the 1975-1981 Triumph TR7; its V8-powered sibling, the short-lived Triumph TR8; and Triumph itself.

1981 Triumph TR8 convertible blue headrest

FROM BICYCLES TO BRITISH LEYLAND

Although it is most known as a British carmaker and motorcycle manufacturer, Triumph was originally founded by a German immigrant, Nuremberg-born Siegfried Bettmann, as a reseller of imported bicycles and sewing machines. The firm was initially called the S. Bettmann & Co. Import Agency, but in 1886, Bettmann adopted the trade name Triumph and the company subsequently became the Triumph Cycle Co. Ltd. By the 1890s, Triumph was manufacturing its own bicycles in a factory in Coventry. Triumph offered its first motorcycle in 1902 and its first three-wheeler in 1903, but four-wheeled passenger cars didn’t follow until April 1923, about two years after Bettmann bought out the defunct Dawson Car Company works on Clay Lane in Stoke Heath, a northeastern suburb of Coventry.

By the 1930s, the Triumph Motor Co. Ltd. (as it had been registered since 1930) offered a variety of upscale four- and six-cylinder models, even dabbling briefly with an eight-cylinder sports car, the Dolomite, designed by experimental engineer Donald Healey. Despite its proliferation of products, however, Triumph’s volume was never large — total prewar production amounted to fewer than 50,000 units — and the Depression made slow sellers of expensive cars like the 16 HP Gloria Six, whose price would buy three Ford Model Y saloons.

The sale of the cycle business in 1936 provided only limited relief and by the summer of 1939, Triumph was in receivership. That September, it was purchased by Thomas W. Ward Ltd., a steel-making firm, but the outbreak of war stymied plans to resume production under the management of Donald Healey. Triumph’s Gloria Lane factory was sold to the government while the original Clay Lane works were leased to Armstrong Whitworth for the manufacture of military aircraft. The latter was decimated by the Luftwaffe in November 1940 and there was little left by the time the Standard Motor Company purchased the Triumph name and remaining assets in 1944.

1947 Triumph 1800 Roadster front 3q
The first Standard-built Triumphs were the razor-edged 1800 Town and Country saloon and 1800 Roadster, both launched in early 1946. The Roadster, designed by Standard’s Frank Callaby, had a wood-framed aluminum body on a tubular steel chassis, independent front suspension, and a 1,776 cc (108 cu. in.) OHV four with 63 horsepower (47 kW).

The initial postwar Triumphs, now built at the Standard works in Canley/Fletchamstead, a southwestern suburb of Coventry, were wholly unrelated to their prewar predecessors and used Standard engines and running gear. The early postwar cars were fairly expensive, aimed at the Jaguar 1½-Litre (which used the same engine), but they were supplemented from 1949 by the tiny and much cheaper Mayflower sedan, developed for a vain assault on the American market.

By 1950, Standard managing director Sir John Black was keen to add an MG-style sports car to the line. After a failed attempt to buy Morgan, Standard-Triumph developed its own in-house design, the Triumph TR2. Introduced in Geneva in early 1953, the TR2 was an eccentric-looking but rugged roadster powered by a well-massaged version of Standard’s big four. The TR2 was somewhat more expensive than an MG TF, but a good deal faster, capable of perhaps 103 mph (165 km/h) in stock form. With muscular performance and a reasonable price, the TR2 and its TR3 and TR3A successors found many fans in the U.K. and abroad.

Nonetheless, by 1960, Standard-Triumph’s finances were shaky, overextended by new model development costs and recent expansions, including additional assembly facilities in Canley and a new factory in Speke, in southeastern Liverpool. A sudden drop in export sales forced massive layoffs and production cuts, so in December, the board agreed to a merger with a better-funded partner: truck and bus manufacturer Leyland Motors. The merger was initially quite cordial, but as Standard-Triumph’s losses continued to mount, the new owners began to exert greater control. In August 1961, Leyland sacked hundreds of Standard-Triumph’s senior executives and replaced them with Leyland people like Donald Stokes, who would be appointed Standard-Triumph managing director in 1963.

1958 Triumph TR3A front 3q
The facelifted TR3 replaced the TR2 in August 1953, sporting a new grille and other minor changes. This is a Triumph TR3A, which superseded the TR3 in the fall of 1957. It can be distinguished from the earlier car by its wider grille and external door handles. Like late TR3s, it had standard Girling front disc brakes and a 1,991 cc (122 cu. in.) four with 100 hp (75 kW).

Under Leyland management, Standard-Triumph abandoned the Standard marque and introduced a range of new Triumph models, including the compact Herald and Vitesse, the Herald-based Spitfire roadster, the 2000 executive saloon, and the front-wheel-drive 1300, all developed by Triumph chief engineer Harry Webster and designed by Turin’s Giovanni Michelotti.

Leyland further bolstered its passenger car offerings with the acquisition of Rover in 1967. Although the 2000 and Rover P6 were direct rivals, Triumph and Rover each had models and expertise the other did not and together commanded a respectable 10.6% of the British market. Leyland also had ambitious plans to boost Triumph production to as many as 200,000 units per year.

By the autumn of 1967, an additional merger was in the works. The Wilson government was pushing for a consolidation of Leyland and British Motor Holdings, which included BMC (Austin/Morris/MG/Riley/Wolseley) and Jaguar. The merger was completed in the spring of 1968, with Donald Stokes becoming chairman of the new British Leyland Motor Corporation. Triumph managing director George Turnball was reassigned to run the new Volume Car and Light Commercial Division (Austin-Morris), with Harry Webster replacing Alec Issigonis as Austin-Morris chief engineer. Triumph, meanwhile, was grouped with Rover and Jaguar in a new Specialty Division, with Cliff Swindle replacing Turnball as managing director and Rover’s Spen King succeeding Harry Webster as technical director.

1968 Triumph Vitesse 2-litre convertible front 3q
Although most American readers will be more familiar with Triumph’s sports cars, the company’s other models were its bread and butter in the home market. This is a 1968 Triumph Vitesse 2-litre Mk 2, a plusher six-cylinder version of the compact Herald that traded the Herald’s four-cylinder engine for the 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) six from the 2000 saloon. Some earlier Vitesse 1600 and Mk 1 2-litres were exported to the U.S. (as the Triumph Sports Six), but not the 1968-1971 Mk 2, which had more power and an improved rear suspension borrowed from the GT6 Mk 2/GT6+.

BULLET AND LYNX

Among the pressing issues for the new administration was determining the direction of Triumph’s new model development. While the saloons did well in the U.K., the company’s export business depended heavily on the sports cars, which by the late sixties included the popular four-cylinder Spitfire, the six-cylinder GT6 coupe, and the ‘big’ TR roadster. With the exception of the Michelotti-styled, V8-powered Stag, which was then in development for a 1970 debut, all of these models were becoming a bit gray at the temples. Even the new TR6, introduced in January 1969, was essentially a Karmann facelift of the TR5/TR250, itself a six-cylinder make-over of the 1961-vintage TR4. Their future was further complicated by emerging U.S. regulations, which the older models could not easily meet.

By the time the TR6 debuted, Triumph was working on two all-new sports car models, codenamed “Bullet” and “Lynx.” The Bullet, designed by Triumph styling chief Les Moore, was a roadster intended to replace the TR6; prototypes were tested with both four- and six-cylinder engines. The Lynx, designed by Les Moore and Michelotti, was a hatchback coupe with a fastback roofline and a Kamm tail, looking a bit like a foreshortened Lamborghini Espada. The Lynx was intended to succeed the GT6, but it would have been somewhat larger, providing room for 2+2 seating. Both cars were to have considerable structural commonality with one another and would likely have shared most of their running gear.

1969 Triumph GT6+ front 3q
The Triumph GT6 was essentially a fixed-head version of the Spitfire powered by the 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) six from the Vitesse 2-litre and 2000 saloons. With a modest 95 gross horsepower (71 kW) in federalized form, the GT6 wasn’t quite a muscle car, although it was quicker than the Spitfire. Early cars shared the roadster’s swing-axle rear suspension, but Mark 2 cars (known as GT6+ in the States) had a revised layout that used the transverse leaf spring as an upper control arm, adding additional lower wishbones to avoid the swing axle’s radical camber changes and jacking effect. Late Mark 3 cars reverted to the rear suspension layout of the Mark 4 Spitfire, probably for cost reasons.

In the wake of the merger, there was a new possibility to consider: the prospect of rationalizing the separate (and ferociously competitive) sports car offerings of Triumph and MG. In retrospect, that notion seems misguided — even the later use of Triumph engines and gearboxes in the Mk 4 Midget provoked outrage from the MG Faithful — but from a financial standpoint, an integration of the two lines appeared eminently reasonable. The sports cars represented a small percentage of British Leyland’s total production and the costs of developing all-new models that would meet U.S. safety and emissions standards would undoubtedly be very high.

Leyland management canceled development of the Lynx in 1969, but directed Triumph to continue work on the Bullet as a potential replacement for both the TR6 and the MGB. Around the same time, MG engineers in Abingdon were asked to develop a smaller, mid-engine car, codenamed ADO21, to succeed the MG Midget, Austin-Healey Sprite, and Spitfire. Developed by Harris Mann and Peter Hughes of the Austin-Morris studio in Longbridge, the ADO21 emerged as a low-slung, wedge-shaped coupe with ‘flying buttress’ sail panels, probably influenced by the Zanda concept car Mann’s team had developed for the 1969 London Motor Show. The ADO21 was designed to accommodate either the 1,275 cc (78 cu. in.) four from the Mini Cooper S or four- and six-cylinder versions of the newer E-series engine.

1975 Triumph TR6 front3q
Launched in January 1969, the Triumph TR6 had styling by the West German coachbuilder Karmann, essentially a facelift of the previous TR5PI/TR250. Like its predecessor, the TR6 was powered by a 2,498 cc (152 cu. in.) six-cylinder engine derived from the straight six in the Vitesse and 2000 saloons. In the U.K. and other markets, the TR6 had Lucas fuel injection, but U.S. cars had lower compression, a milder cam, and twin Zenith-Stromberg carburetors. By 1973, federalized cars were rated at 106 net horsepower (79 kW) and 133 lb-ft (180 lb-ft) of torque.

Over the next year, those plans shifted significantly. By mid-1970, corporate interest in replacing the Midget and Spitfire — which according to author David Knowles was never great — had faded almost completely. The ADO21 was instead repositioned as a potential MGB/MGC successor.

While British Leyland executives liked the ADO21’s looks, there were growing doubts about its mid-engine layout and complex De Dion rear suspension, which would have made it much more expensive to build and risked alienating U.S. dealers and customers, who had expressed a strong preference for conventional engineering. The Bullet’s more orthodox configuration was more to the tastes of American buyers, but its styling was not; J. Bruce McWilliams, head of Triumph’s U.S. organization, considered it hopelessly dated. Worse, it was incapable of meeting the stringent new federal roof crush standards that had just been announced.

While Triumph reworked the Bullet, the corporate sports car committee solicited an alternative proposal from Harris Mann’s team in Longbridge. Like the Bullet, the Longbridge proposal was to have a conventional front-engine/rear-drive layout with no exotic mechanical features, but it was to share some of the futuristic look of the ADO21, which the committee thought would help to mitigate the car’s mundane specifications. The ADO21 project itself was left to languish and was finally canceled in late December.

For his proposal, Harris Mann took the ADO21’s wedge theme in a new direction, featuring a notchback profile whose substantial rake was emphasized by a dramatic sweep line through the body sides, curving upward from the front wheelhouses through the doors and rear fenders. From the start, the new design was conceived as a roomy two-seat coupe with a Targa-style lift-off roof panel. The full-size mockups, badged “MG Magna,” had large black bumpers (to suit U.S. crash standards), a tiny lip spoiler, and a bulged hood with five sets of rectangular cooling vents. Longbridge also prepared a clay model of a Triumph version, distinguished by the deletion of the bonnet bulge, a unique front bumper treatment, silver trim on the sail panels and roof, and different sweep line that began at the nose and traced a roughly horizontal arc through the fenders and doors.

1975 Triumph TR6 rear 3q
Although it had body-on-frame construction, the TR6 had fully independent suspension with double wishbones in front and semi-trailing arms in back. Front disc brakes and a four-speed gearbox were standard and most cars had the optional Laycock de Normanville overdrive. The TR6 remained in production after the launch of the TR7. The European TR6 was dropped in late 1975, but U.S. cars remained available into mid-1976.

Concurrently, Spen King commissioned Michelotti to help Triumph’s in-house designers revamp the Bullet. The revised design had bigger bumpers and pop-up headlights, giving it a superficial resemblance — at least from the front — to the Porsche 914. To deal with U.S. rollover and roof crush standards, it adopted fixed C-pillars and a wraparound glass backlight with lift-off T-tops. (Some sources suggest that this configuration was adopted much earlier in the Bullet’s development, apparently based on an undated factory photo showing scale models of the Bullet and Lynx with “1972” and “1973” number plates. However, David Knowles’ account, based on interviews with BL personnel and written with extensive access to corporate archives, implies that the T-top design was actually a later response to federal regulations.) As a backup, Les Moore asked freelance stylist William Towns, then a Triumph consultant, to prepare an alternative design, although it’s not clear if that concept ever reached the model stage.

In July 1971, both proposals were presented to BL management, which strongly preferred the MG Magna concept; the Bullet’s only proponents were Spen King, Triumph sales chief Lyndon Mills, and Jaguar’s Sir William Lyons. The Towns proposal also failed to make an impression on the board, so Harris Mann’s concept carried the day. However, Donald Stokes decided that the MG Magna version of the Longbridge proposal should be engineered and sold by Triumph, not MG. Longbridge’s proposed Triumph version was abandoned and plans to replace the MGB went on the shelf.

Few people at Triumph were pleased with the decision — Bruce McWilliams strongly disliked the Longbridge design and Spen King tried unsuccessfully to convince Lord Stokes to tone down its more radical elements — but they were now left to make the best of it.

THE TRIUMPH TR7 EMERGES

The Triumph TR7, as the new model was christened, was a significant departure from its predecessors in many respects. First, it was to have monocoque construction; while Triumph was no stranger to unit bodies, which had been used on many of its sedans since 1963, all of its previous sports cars except the Stag had been body-on-frame. Second, the TR7 would abandon independent rear suspension for a four-link live axle on coil springs. This was probably at least partly for cost reasons, but it also stemmed from Spen King’s oft-expressed mistrust of contemporary independent rear suspensions, many of which had an undesirable propensity for erratic camber changes.

In front, the TR7 would exchange the earlier TR’s double wishbones for MacPherson struts, probably in part to provide room for a V8 engine. The gearbox and rear axle, meanwhile, would be borrowed from the Triumph Dolomite, albeit without the sedan’s optional Laycock de Normanville overdrive. Steering was an Alford and Adler rack-and-pinion setup while brakes were 9.75-inch (248mm) solid discs in front matched with 8.0-inch (203mm) drums in back.

1977 Triumph TR7 side copyright 2009 John Catlow per
All Triumph TR7s rode an 85-inch (2,160mm) wheelbase; overall length of non-U.S. models was 160 inches (4,064 mm), but U.S. cars were 5.5 inches (140 mm) longer thanks to more prominent bumper covers with molded-in rear overriders. Curb weight was around 2,300 lb (1,045 kg). (Photo: “SEPTEMBER 1977 TRIUMPH TR7 1998cc DCW737S © 2009 John Catlow (Leichester-Vehicle-Photography); used with permission)

While it was designed to accommodate a V8, the TR7’s base engine would be a 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) version of Triumph’s slant four (see the sidebar below), shared with the Dolomite saloon. The V8 was originally slated for introduction a year or so after launch; there were also plans to offer the hotter 16-valve slant four from the Dolomite Sprint.

The MG Magna prototype’s lift-off roof was an early casualty of the development process. Harris Mann said later that its engineering had proved troublesome; even the large sunroofs later offered as options took a serious toll on the rigidity of the TR7’s body and we assume a Targa-style roof would have been even more problematic. As a result, the production TR7 was planned only as a fixed-head coupe.

SIDEBAR: Triumph’s “Saab Engine” and the Stag V8

The origins of Triumph’s OHC slant four and Stag V8 are convoluted. Back in 1962, Standard-Triumph engineer Lewis Dawtrey conceived the idea of a compact, 90-degree V8 that could also share its architecture and tooling with a 45-degree slant four, providing a common basis for all future Triumph engines. Both four and eight were to have iron blocks, aluminum heads, and chain-driven overhead camshafts.

Swedish automaker Saab learned about the project very early in its development and approached Standard-Triumph about purchasing the four-cylinder engine for the upcoming Saab 99 sedan. Triumph didn’t yet need the new engine for its own cars, but agreed to put the four into production for Saab at the rate of about 50,000 units a year. In the first Saab 99, which debuted in Sweden in mid-1968, the slant four displaced 1,709 cc (105 cu. in.) and made 87 hp (65 kW). A bored-out 1,854 cc (113 cu. in.) version followed in 1971.

Having granted Saab a short window of exclusivity on the four-cylinder engine, Standard-Triumph focused on the development of the V8, which was intended for the Triumph Stag and future versions of the big 2000/2.5 saloons. The V8 initially displaced about 2.5 liters (153 cu. in.), but when Spen King arrived following the BL merger, he decided to expand the engine to 2,997 cc (183 cu. in.) for additional low-end torque. In this form, the V8 went into production in early 1970.

Following the end of Saab’s exclusivity period, Triumph installed the 1,854 cc (113 cu. in.) slant four in the compact Triumph Toledo saloon to create the first postwar Dolomite. Dawtrey subsequently developed a 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) version with a 16-valve head, a rarity for production cars of that era. Although the 16V engine was primarily intended for competition use, it also went into the sporty Dolomite Sprint, Triumph’s answer to the BMW 2002tii. In production form, the Sprint engine was rated 127 hp DIN (93 kW) and 124 lb-ft (168 N-m) of torque, a healthy improvement on the 91 hp DIN (67 kW) and 105 lb-ft (142 N-m) for the standard Dolomite. An additional version of the engine was developed for the TR7 by combining the 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) block with the standard Dolomite’s eight-valve heads.

1979 Triumph TR7 engine (c) 2010 Murilee Martin (per)
The 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) Triumph slant four, seen here in what we believe is a federalized 1979 Triumph TR7. At launch, federalized cars had 90 SAE net horsepower (67 kW) and 105 lb-ft (142 N-m) of torque with 8.00:1 compression and two Zenith-Stromberg carburetors; California cars had a single carburetor and only 76 hp (57 kW). By 1980, stricter federal emissions standards had reduced non-California cars to 86 hp (64 kW), prompting all U.S. cars to adopt Bosch L-Jetronic injection for 1981, good for 89 hp (66 kW). (Photo © 2010 Murilee Martin; used with permission)

Other than a single prototype 2.5 saloon, the Triumph V8 was used only in the Stag, where it quickly developed a very poor reputation. Its warranty costs were extremely high and by most accounts BL was glad to be rid of it when production finally ended in the fall of 1977. Triumph’s slant four, which the factory often called “the Saab engine,” died with the TR7 in late 1981, but Saab continued to use improved derivatives of it into the 21st century.

SPEKE NO. 2 AND A SECOND LYNX

The Triumph TR7 was to be built at British Leyland’s Speke No. 2 plant in southeastern Liverpool. Standard-Triumph had acquired its first factory in Speke in 1959 and had purchased space for a second plant a year later, although financial problems delayed the latter’s opening until 1969. Speke No. 2 was one of the only integrated factories in the Leyland empire, with its own welding, painting, sewing, and assembly facilities. It was only about a mile (1.6 km) from No. 1’s stamping presses, which meant that everything but engines and transmissions could be produced in Liverpool.

1977 Triumph TR7 rear 3q copyright 2009 John Catlow (per)
Early Triumph TR7s sat relatively high on their suspensions for greater wheel travel, but in early 1977, the springs were shortened to lower ride height about an inch (25 mm), probably as much for appearances as anything else. This car appears to have the factory alloy wheels, which did not become available until a year or so after this one was built and thus may be a later retrofit. We’re not sure if the sunroof is the factory item or one of the many dealer or aftermarket add-ons. Note the position of the fuel filler on the rear deck, just ahead of the boot lid. (Photo: “SEPTEMBER 1977 TRIUMPH TR7 1998cc DCW737S” © 2009 John Catlow (Leichester-Vehicle-Photography); used with permission)

When TR7 development began, Speke No. 2 was assembling Stags and building the compact Toledo, both of which used stampings produced at the No. 1 plant. However, No. 2 was still operating well below its nominal capacity, a money-losing proposition. In April 1972, British Leyland decided the solution was to make the Speke plant into BL’s sports car specialist, building the TR7 and a family of TR derivatives.

While the idea of an MG version had been at least temporarily shelved, there was strong interest in a new 2+2 coupe, which resurrected the Lynx codename. This was not the earlier Michelotti-designed car, but a new proposal sharing the TR7’s running gear and much of its inner body structure. Development of the Lynx began in late 1971. Its styling went through several iterations before returning to more or less its original form, which had been the work of Triumph stylist John Ashford. British Leyland management was very optimistic about the Lynx, even transferring Toledo production to Coventry in order to accommodate the 2+2 coupe’s anticipated volume.

Combined with the Sprint and V8 versions, BL projected that the combined volume of the TR7 family could reach 80,000 units a year, enough to put Speke No. 2 firmly in the black. Further economies of scale were expected to accrue from commonality between the TR7 and the forthcoming SD2 sedan, the planned replacement for the Toledo and Dolomite, which was to share the TR7’s front suspension. To finance all this development, Leyland promised to invest some £50 million (about $122 million) a year into Rover-Triumph over the next four years.

1977 Triumph Lynx prototype front 3q copyright 2009 Mark Brown per
Although the Triumph Lynx never made it to production (and we don’t know what it would have been called if it did), various prototypes were built, including this one, seen at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon. To provide extra passenger and cargo space, the Lynx had a significantly longer wheelbase than the TR7: 96 inches (2,438 mm) to the TR7’s 85 inches (2,160 mm). (Photo © 2009 Mark Brown; used with permission)

It all sounded good on paper — although Bruce McWilliams strenuously disliked the Lynx, insisting it was wrong for the U.S. market — but those plans soon began to slip. First, the TR7’s development proved unexpectedly protracted, thanks in part to management changes (including the merger of Triumph and Rover in early 1973) and British Leyland’s ongoing financial problems.

Triumph had originally hoped to have the TR7 ready quickly enough to replace the TR6 before the enactment of the new U.S. federal bumper standards, but the new model didn’t enter pilot production until mid-1974. By then, Leyland was teetering, due in part to the OPEC embargo’s chilling effect on new car sales. The Lynx program was frozen due to lack of funds and the SD2 project was first scaled back and then canceled entirely. By the end of 1974, the British government had commissioned economic adviser Sir Donald Ryder to study the prospects for a massive bailout: the de facto nationalization of British Leyland, which would be completed by the following August.

TR7 LAUNCH

Since the ramp-up of Triumph TR7 was slow and fraught with problems, British Leyland decided to concentrate on cars for the U.S., which was expected to be the new car’s biggest market. The TR7 finally had its American press introduction in January 1975 and went on sale in April.

Reaction was decidedly mixed. On the positive side, the TR7’s handling was quite good, with sharp steering and a tight turning circle. It was more comfortable than the TR6, with a roomier cabin and available air conditioning, and it returned reasonable fuel economy, a good thing in the wake of the OPEC embargo. On the negative side, the brakes were unimpressive, the four-speed’s gearing was too short for unstressed freeway cruising (particularly since overdrive was not available), and the federalized 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) four-cylinder engine couldn’t match the muscle of the TR6’s 2,498 cc (152 cu. in.) six. Straight-line performance was adequate but not inspiring: 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 11 seconds and a top speed of about 107 mph (172 km/h).

1977 Triumph TR7 front copyright 2009 John Catlow (per)
The five small grilles on the trailing edge of the Triumph TR7’s bonnet are a vestige of the more prominent grilles featured on the original MG Magna concept in 1971; here, they feed air into the ventilation system. Most, if not all, Speke-built TR7s shared this bonnet, with its single prominent central bulge, but later cars had a new bonnet with a second, inset bulge to provide clearance for the carburetors of the Rover V8. Four-cylinder cars used the same bonnet, presumably for reasons of production economy. (Photo: “SEPTEMBER 1977 TRIUMPH TR7 1998cc DCW737S” © 2009 John Catlow (Leichester-Vehicle-Photography); used with permission)

The harshest criticisms were of the TR7’s styling. Leyland advertising trumpeted the wedge as “the Shape of Things to Come,” but many critics and some BL dealers thought it rather ghastly. The most notorious response was that of designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, who, according to legend, was horrified to discover that the side sweep was on both sides of the body. When he first saw the TR7 at the 1975 Geneva show, he allegedly thought (or hoped) that it was only a styling concept, not a production car.

With a starting price of around $5,100, the TR7 was over $700 more expensive than an MGB tourer — the MGB GT was dropped in North America in December 1974, probably to avoid competing with the TR7 — but about $200 cheaper than the TR6, which remained available into the 1976 model year. Early TR7 sales were promising, although to Leyland’s surprise, the new car’s edge over the MGB was never very great.

Unfortunately, many early TR7 customers were soon grumbling about the new car’s fit and finish and mechanical reliability. Commonly cited complaints included overheating, head gasket failure (with an attendant risk of warping the aluminum head), timing chain failure, and various electrical problems. Warranty costs averaged more than $500 per car and contemporary U.S. owner surveys revealed considerable dissatisfaction with dealer service.

Automotive historians frequently lay the blame for the early TR7’s woes on the supposed inexperience and poor attitudes of the Liverpool workforce, quite a few of whom were new to the auto industry. However, former Speke workers interviewed for a union-sponsored publication in 1978 complained of a litany of issues beyond their control, including constant engineering and specification changes (numbering in the thousands), frequent shortages of tools and equipment, and serious organizational problems such as sending parts down the line in the wrong order for the cars that were to receive them. Workers also contended that management pressure to speed up production effectively discouraged shop foremen from stopping the line to address problems. The workers felt that quality control didn’t seem to be a high priority for factory management.

1977 Triumph TR7 rear copyright 2009 John Catlow (per)
Fixed-head Triumph TR7s had a nominal 10.3 cu. ft. (292 L) of cargo space, reduced somewhat on the TR8, which had its battery in the boot. The taillights are not one of the TR7’s more attractive aspects (although the use of a body-colored molding on later cars helps somewhat), and a number of facelift proposals included substituting the units from the Rover SD1 saloon. All TR7s had provision for rear side marker lights, but they weren’t always fitted in markets that didn’t require them; cars without them had black plastic inserts to fill the space. (Photo: “SEPTEMBER 1977 TRIUMPH TR7 1998cc DCW737S” © 2009 John Catlow (Leichester-Vehicle-Photography); used with permission)

Many of the TR7’s reliability issues were eventually rectified, but that took about two years and did little to restore lost buyer confidence. In 1977, consumer advocate Ralph Nader and the Center for Automotive Safety filed a complaint with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) alleging that the TR7 had more than two dozen serious defects. In July 1978, owners filed a $15.5 million class-action lawsuit against British Leyland.

The non-U.S. Triumph TR7 debuted at the Geneva show in March 1976 and went on sale in Great Britain and Europe in May. Externally, the only major difference between those cars and the ones sold in North America was revised bumper covers with no built-in overriders, which reduced overall length by 5.5 inches (140 mm). Under the hood, the eight-valve engine had higher compression, no emissions controls, and two S.U. carburetors, giving 105 hp DIN (77 kW) and 119 lb-ft (161 N-m) of torque, enough to trim 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) times to less than 10 seconds and raise top speed to 110-112 mph (177-180 km/h). The TR7 was still no match for a V6 Ford Capri, but with a starting price of £2,999 (around $5,400), the Triumph was usefully cheaper. To help its case, Leyland terminated European sales of the MGB and Midget in June.

All TR7s received several important new options for the 1976 model year. The first was automatic transmission — the three-speed Borg-Warner Model 65 — which was offered in most markets except California. Second was a five-speed gearbox, borrowed from the Rover SD1. In addition to its overdrive top gear, the five-speed was accompanied by a sturdier rear axle with a shorter (higher numerical) 3.90 ratio, larger drum brakes, and wider H-rated tires. The combination provided calmer high-speed cruising while benefiting performance, fuel economy, and (as it turned out) durability. Demand was so strong that Triumph standardized the five-speed for all markets in 1978.

1979 Triumph TR7 Tartan interior copyright 2010 Murilee Martin (per)
Most of the earliest TR7s had all-black interiors (sometimes including the headliner!), which made for a rather gloomy ambiance. In the spring of 1977, Triumph added an optional Tartan interior, with red, blue, or green plaid cloth inserts in the seats and door panels. These were usually but not always combined with color-keyed carpets; it’s hard to tell if this particular car has mismatched carpets or if they’ve just faded badly from the original dark red. More subdued color combinations were offered later in the model run. (Photo © 2010 Murilee Martin; used with permission)

In mid-1976, the U.S. market also got the first of what would be an assortment of special editions, including a regional Southern Skies package and a Victory Edition, commemorating the TR7’s achievements on the racetrack (see sidebar below).

SIDEBAR: Triumph TR7 in Competition

Whatever critics thought of its looks, the fixed-head Triumph TR7 had a sturdy structure and a competent chassis capable of handling considerably more power than the stock engine produced. In 1976, British Leyland’s Competitions Department [sic] began campaigning the TR7 in European rally events. The rally cars were powered by the 16-valve engine from the racing Dolomite, making 200 to 220 hp DIN (147-162 kW). (Although the 16-valve engine had still not been installed in production TR7s, we assume that BL was able to homologate the cars and engines separately.)

The works rally team got off to a slow start due to mechanical problems, but in August, drivers Tony Pond and Dave Richards managed a respectable third place at the Manx Trophy Rally, followed by another third-place finish at the Castrol 76 Rally two months later. In February 1977, Pond and Richards won Belgium’s Boucles de Spa Rally, the TR7’s first European victory.

In 1978, the works team discarded the four-cylinder engine for the 3,528 cc (215 cu. in.) Rover V8. Dubbed “TR7 V8,” the new cars were far more powerful than the four-cylinder TR7s, initially making about 260 hp (191 kW), later increased to as much as 320 hp (235 kW) with fuel injection. The V8 cars were more challenging to drive than the fours, but proved quite formidable in competition, enabling Tony Pond to win the 24 Hours of Ypres and Manx International in 1978. Pond briefly parted ways with British Leyland in 1979, but returned in 1980 for another string of victories at Ypres, the Manx International, Rothmans Manx, and the Eaton Yale Rally Sprint.

Starting in 1977, British Leyland’s U.S. and Canadian organizations also campaigned TR7s in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and Canadian Auto Sports Club (CASC) rallies, racking up eight victories in their first season alone. Seven of those went to American driver John Buffum, earning him the SCCA Pro Rally Championship and the North American Rally Cup. Buffum went on to win the SCCA Pro Rally cup in 1978, 1979, and 1980.

Racing TR7s also competed in SCCA road racing events, with Bob Tullius of the Virginia-based Group 44 team achieving five consecutive D-Production victories in the 1976 season. Group 44 subsequently turned their attention to the Jaguar XJ-S, but later ran two TR7 V8 cars in the 1979-1980 SCCA Trans Am and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) GTO series, with great success. In 1979, Lee Mueller also took the SCCA D-Production championship in a four-cylinder TR7 prepared by Huffaker Engineering.

British Leyland withdrew factory racing support after the 1980 season, but privately owned TR7s and TR8s continued to compete for several years afterward. In 1981, for instance, Ken Slagle won the C-Production title in a TR8 convertible.

THE FALL OF SPEKE

The introduction of non-U.S. cars brought TR7 production to almost 33,000 units for the 1976 calendar year, which was decent for a two-seat sports car, but still short of break-even. Demand was also cooling, perhaps in part because of the TR7’s warranty issues, which prompted price cuts and incentives to pep up sales. With no convertible body style, the TR7 remained a harder sell than the MGB roadster, which was now a novelty in the U.S. According to former Triumph advertising director Michael Cook, U.S. dealers were also frustrated by the many special editions, which cut into dealer profit margins by offering extra equipment at discounted prices.

To make the TR7 and the Speke plant economically viable, Triumph desperately needed more spin-offs. The Lynx, which had been revived in 1975, shortly after nationalization, was still a going concern, but was somewhat behind schedule; by 1977, tooling had finally begun for a planned 1978 introduction. Through the first half of 1977, Speke also built a few dozen preproduction TR7 Sprints, with 16-valve fours, and between 145 and 200 preproduction V8 cars. Most of the latter went to U.S. dealers for evaluation.

1974 Triumph Dolomite Sprint front 3q copyright 2010 The Car Spy CC-BY 2.0 Generic
The abortive Triumph TR7 Sprint would have borrowed the 16-valve engine from the Triumph Dolomite Sprint saloon. Introduced in 1971, the Dolomite was an upscale version of the compact RWD Toledo (itself based on the FWD Triumph 1300) with the 1,854 cc (113 cu. in.) slant four. The Dolomite Sprint, added in June 1973, had a new 1,998 cc (122 cu. in.) version with four valves per cylinder; output was 127 hp DIN (93 kW) and 124 lb-ft (167 N-m) of torque. Aimed at the BMW 2002tii, the Sprint combined compact dimensions with a luxurious interior and brisk performance: 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in less than nine seconds and a top speed of around 116 mph (187 km/h). About 23,000 Sprints were sold between 1973 and 1980. (Photo: “1974 Triumph Dolomite Sprint” © 2010 The Car Spy; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

All of these projects were complicated by a series of production stoppages that left Speke No. 2 idle for much of March, September, and October, the result of industrial action at suppliers and other BL subsidiaries. In November, just as Michael Edwardes replaced Lord Ryder as chairman of British Leyland, the Speke workforce itself declared the first strike in that plant’s history.

According to the union, the principal cause of the strike was Leyland management’s decision to terminate the “Mutuality Agreement” that had been part of the Speke workforce’s contract since November 1973, when both plants had switched from piecework pay to fixed day rates. The day rate system was unpopular with workers because it made it possible for management to greatly increase the expected pace and volume of work — potentially to unrealistic levels — for no additional pay. To alleviate those concerns, the contract had included a clause requiring management to consult shop stewards on any proposed changes to schedules and job timings (i.e., the expected duration of each job and how many operations workers were expected to complete per hour or per day).

In practice, neither side had been especially happy with how the agreement had worked out. Workers complained that management had repeatedly cut the time allotted for each job while doing little to address the plant’s operational and organizational problems. Shop stewards claimed they were rarely consulted and when they were, their input was usually ignored. BL management, meanwhile, charged that the stewards had not offered any constructive input. The company finally announced that it was abrogating the agreement entirely, which proved to be the final straw for the union local.

1977 Triumph Lynx prototype rear 3q copyright 2009 Mark Brown (per)
Another view of the surviving Triumph Lynx prototype. It is reportedly very close to John Ashford’s original concept, although its final shape also shows the influence of Rover designer David Bache, who became head of Rover-Triumph styling in 1972. Note the lift-up rear window, the unique taillights, and the absence of the TR7’s upward side sweep. Rover-Triumph seriously considered deleting the sweep lines from the TR7 when the Lynx was launched, but that possibility was eventually abandoned as too expensive. (Photo © 2009 Mark Brown; used with permission)

The strike lasted four months, bringing TR7 production to a complete halt. Striking workers received little public sympathy; since the publication of the Ryder Report in March 1975, British popular opinion had tended to blame the ‘militancy’ of Leyland workers for the company’s problems. (It’s worth noting that while Lord Ryder’s report was not overly sympathetic to the unions, that report actually attributed most of BL’s productivity shortfalls to limited capital investment. Indeed, Michael Edwardes later publicly lamented the primitive conditions of most Leyland factories.)

Even the national Transportation and General Workers Union organization was slow to officially recognize the Speke strike, something the union local attributed to fear of spoiling relations with Britain’s majority Labour government, which had appointed the right-wing Edwardes to rein in Leyland’s losses. About a year earlier, catastrophic inflation and a harrowing decline in the value of the British pound had forced the government to request a substantial loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which had in turn demanded cuts in public spending — a category that now included the ailing automaker.

Edwardes’ response to the Speke action, announced in February 1978, was to order the closure of the No. 2 plant. The ostensible rationale was to reduce British Leyland’s unused excess capacity (which would be a major theme of Edwardes’ tenure as chairman), but Eddie Loyden, Labour MP for Liverpool Garston, alleged that BL executives had told members of Parliament that the plant would have been shut down even if it had been operating at full capacity. Union officials believed that the closure was intended to send a message; closing plants rather than negotiating with strikers was a tactic that British industry would use repeatedly over the coming decade. In any case, the workers in Speke finally agreed to end the strike and eventually accepted a company severance package in exchange for their cooperation with the closure of the plant in late May. (The No. 1 plant would remain in operation.)

1981 Triumph TR7 convertible dash
The basic design of the Triumph TR7’s dashboard changed little during the production run, but there were a variety of trim changes, including several different steering wheel designs and the adoption of more subdued color combinations, like the tan velour and vinyl upholstery seen in this 1981 TR7 convertible. (We believe the steering wheel is an aftermarket piece.)

The demise of Speke No. 2 did not mean the end of the TR7, whose assembly shifted later that year to the older Triumph works in Canley, using body stampings now sourced from Pressed Steel Fisher in Swindon. However, the Lynx project died with the Speke plant, even though much of the 2+2’s tooling had already been purchased. It’s not clear how much of a role the plant closure actually had on the fate of the Lynx. Bruce McWilliams later told David Knowles that the decision to cancel the 2+2 coupe came in an executive meeting in which McWilliams reiterated his conviction that the Lynx would not sell in the U.S. The decision to close Speke may have forced the issue, but if BL management had felt there was a market for the Lynx, we assume the project could have been moved to Canley along with the TR7. Workers in Speke suspected that the company simply didn’t have the money for the new model, noting the frequent stops and starts in the Lynx’s development over the previous four years. The same issue may have doomed the Sprint, which was canceled at the same time.

Nearly 6,000 cars were built in Speke in the spring of 1978, but the lengthy strike made 1978-model TR7s rather scarce and the situation did not help the TR7’s popularity. To keep sales alive, Triumph needed something new.

THE TR7 CONVERTIBLE AND THE TRIUMPH TR8

Throughout its life, the TR7’s failure to consistently outsell the much older MGB had caused Rover-Triumph officials a great deal of consternation. The federalized Mark IV MGB was certainly no faster than the TR7 and calling the late rubber-bumpered MG better-looking was a stretch, but the MGB’s folding top was a strong advantage in the U.S. market. The federal roof crush standards that would have outlawed convertibles had failed a court challenge in 1972 — the regulation was revised to include an explicit exemption for convertibles — but the threat of those regulations had helped to make open cars rather thin on the ground by 1975. The fact that the MGB, Midget, and Triumph Spitfire were among the remaining holdouts was undoubtedly a major factor in their continued popularity.

1981 Triumph TR7 convertible front 3q
The Triumph badge on the nose (replacing the earlier decals) and 2.0 Litre emblems on the fenders mark this TR7 convertible as a late Solihull-built car; this is a 1981 model. If you look closely, you can also see the front spoiler fitted to most (if not all) U.S. cars.

The obvious solution was a TR7 convertible, development of which began not long after the launch of the fixed-head car. Designed by Michelotti, the convertible was almost universally considered better-looking than the coupe, although the drophead required extensive structural modifications to maintain the car’s torsional rigidity, including the addition of harmonic balancing weights in the front bumpers. Surprisingly, the convertible was only slightly heavier than the coupe and was stiff enough to avoid compromising the TR7’s handling.

While dealers undoubtedly would have liked the convertible as soon as possible, production didn’t begin until after the TR7 moved to Canley and the first cars didn’t go on sale in the U.S. until late in the 1979 model year. The convertible was very well received and it was clear that it would be more popular than the coupe despite a higher price. Company officials told the press they anticipated more than three-quarters of future production would be convertibles.

1981 Triumph TR7 convertible rear 3q
The Triumph TR7 convertible’s canvas top was a neat installation, with prominent quarter lights providing better-than-average visibility when erected. When lowered, the top stowed into a well behind the seats so that cargo space was not affected. Note the molded overriders on the rear bumper cover, standard on all U.S. TR7s.

At the same time, BL finally announced the much-delayed V8 version, now called Triumph TR8, which finally went on sale in the U.S. later in 1979. Early federalized cars had 8.1:1 compression and two Zenith-Stromberg carburetors, good for 133 hp (99 kW) and 174 lb-ft (236 N-m) of torque; California-bound TR8s substituted Bosch L-Jetronic electronic fuel injection, raising output to 137 hp (102 kW) and 180 lb-ft (244 N-m). (Fuel injection was standardized on all U.S. cars for the 1981 model year.) Since the 3,528 cc (215 cu. in.) Rover engine was somewhat heavier than the slant four, the battery was moved to the boot to maintain weight balance and power steering, never offered on the four-cylinder car, was added as standard equipment.

Although the TR8 was heavier than the four-cylinder car and had a taller 3.08 axle ratio, it was decisively faster than the TR7. Five-speed cars were capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in a bit over 8 seconds and a top speed of around 125 mph (201 km/h); even with automatic, the TR8 was a fast car by the standards of its time. Handling remained quite good, aided by a quicker steering ratio, although the brakes still left something to be desired.

1981 Triumph TR8 convertible blue front 3q
The Triumph TR8 was nominally available as either a convertible or a fixed-head coupe, but except for the early preproduction models (which were not badged as TR8s), it appears that all or nearly all were convertibles. A TR8 convertible weighed 2,660 lb (1,205 kg) all up, around 175 lb (80 kg) more than a drophead TR7, but other dimensions were identical. Note the second, inset bulge in the bonnet and the passenger-side mirror, which became standard for the 1981 model year.

The American press was ecstatic about the Triumph TR8, saying it was what the TR7 should have been from the start. Unfortunately, the V8 arrived in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, which sent oil prices soaring and once again made buyers wary of thirsty cars. The TR8 was also expensive: The convertible started just under $12,000, $2,000 more than a TR7 or Datsun 280ZX and $4,000 more than an MGB. Sales were disappointing and by the 1981 model year, BL was offering substantial rebates on new TR7s and TR8s.

The TR7 convertible was introduced in Great Britain and other markets in the spring of 1980. BL also announced the non-U.S. TR8, but only a few were actually built. These featured higher compression and two S.U. carburetors, giving the same 155 hp DIN (114 kW) and 198 lb-ft (268 N-m) of torque as in the Rover 3500. Sources disagree on whether the cars ever officially went on sale (the consensus appears to be no), although some later ended up in private hands.

1981 Triumph TR8 convertible blue rear 3q
Alloy wheels were standard on the Triumph TR8, although this car appears to have aftermarket Minilites; the stock wheels were the same 13 x 5.5 inch (330 x 140 mm) size as used on the TR7. The TR8 had stiffer springs and different damping rates than the TR7 (and in fact has a unique front subframe) along with thicker front discs and front brake pads. Contrary to some reports, the TR8 did not have ventilated front discs, although they would have been a useful addition.

BROADSIDE AND BOXER

The demise of Speke No. 2 was only the first salvo in Michael Edwardes’ campaign to reduce BL’s costs, capacity, and headcount. The closure of the MG plant in Abingdon was announced in September 1979. A few months later, the company announced that the Canley Triumph Works would also be closed by the fall of 1980, with TR7/TR8 production then moving to the Rover plant in Solihull.

Around the same time, BL once again broached the possibility of introducing an MG-badged TR7 as a replacement for the MGB, which was slated to die with Abingdon. According to David Knowles, he MG version, known internally the MG Boxer, was intended as a cheap interim model with tooling costs of no more than £1 million (around $2.2 million). In mid-1983, both the Boxer and existing TR7/TR8 were to be replaced with a more extensively redesigned model, codenamed Broadside. Originally intended as a cheaper version of the defunct Lynx, the Broadside was close to the TR7 in structure, but rode a stretched 89-inch (2,260mm) wheelbase to accommodate the Lynx’s larger doors, tooling for which had been purchased prior to that project’s cancellation.

Like the Lynx, the Broadside was supposed to offer nominal 2+2 seating, while power would be from either the Rover V8 or the 1,994 cc (122 cu. in.) O-series engine, which was supposed to replace the Triumph slant four in mid-1981. Later iterations of the Broadside concept tidied up the TR7’s styling, eliminating the side crease and adding body-colored bumpers, hopefully keeping the design fresh enough to survive until an all-new car could be fielded in the late eighties.

1981 Triumph TR8 convertible blue dash
The Triumph TR8’s interior was largely the same as that of late TR7s, although air conditioning and automatic transmission were more commonly specified on the TR8 than on four-cylinder cars. (This car’s wood steering wheel is not stock.) Radios were not standard equipment even on the TR8, although many cars had them fitted by dealers. The Broadside redesign would have brought a fairly extensive interior makeover, including a new instrument panel.

Neither the Boxer nor the Broadside ever got past the prototype stage. A marketing study suggested that Boxer sales would be dismal and its potential to offend MG fans very high, so the project was canceled by mid-1980. The Broadside died after the latest corporate reorganization integrated Rover and Triumph with Austin-Morris in a new Light Medium Cars division. The company was still trying to focus its limited resources on mainstream family cars, so the specialty divisions were seen as secondary concerns.

In May 1981, BL announced the imminent termination of passenger car production in Solihull. This time, there would be no reprieve for the TR7, the last example of which rolled off the line in October. (TR8 production had apparently ended in mid-summer.) The Triumph marque was not long for the world, either: The Spitfire and Dolomite were already gone and with the demise of the TR7 and TR8, the only remaining model to wear the Triumph nameplate was the Acclaim, based on the FWD Honda Ballade. Even that would expire in June 1984; its replacement, still Honda-based, would be badged as the Rover 200. (You can read more about Rover’s relationship with Honda in our article on the Rover 800 and Honda/Acura Legend)

FROM SEVEN TO ZERO

For all the production issues and complaints about the Triumph TR7’s styling, performance, and reliability, the car 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 of the TR7 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.

# # #

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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