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R.A:S.H: The Triumph TR7

Chris Haining February 12, 2013 All Things Hoon, Cars You Should Know 16 Comments

It’s time to remove the Whitworth bolts, let the water drain from the distributor cap and blow-dry the Lucas electrics of Rusty’s Archive:- Showroom Hyperbole, the feature that inspired the Style Council lyric “You’re The Best Thing”.

No particular theme, this week, just a random handful of literature from the vault to discuss. Our first stop for the week came from atop my British Leyland Pile, which is handily enough not a bad phrase with which to describe many of their 1970s products.

Not this one, though. This one was an absolute Triumph.

Yep, I’ve already used the pun. You can read on in safety.

Triumph had been producing Triumph Roadster models from 1946 onwards and had gained a creditable reputation for producing gentlemanly open-topped touring cars. Notables include the most hairy-chested of all; the TR6 which was fine so long as you didn’t even contemplate buying the castrated North American market version. Clearly, developing a successor wouldn’t be easy.

“Some years ago we decided it was time for a new sports model to continue the successful TR line.”

In fact, the decision to release a new TR was somewhat encouraged by the threat that the US were, post Nader and vehemently pro-safety, going to prevent the sale of sports cars sans roof. Leyland needed he security of knowing that one of their export markets wasn’t going to be cut off all of a sudden.

Everybody has heard the urban legend about the TR7s launch, you know, the one where Giugiaro
says “holy f**k, they’ve done the same on this side, too” (I hate this story. I hate the way that everybody immediately quotes it as soon as the subject of TR7s comes up, and they state it as if they think they’re in some special, enlightened minority who can share this wonderful anecdote with an appreciative audience, a bit like the way that “you know Princess Anne drove one of these” is trotted out the moment Reliant Scimitars are mentioned…but I digress. Sorry….) but the TR7 genuinely must have been a difficult thing to design. Obviously, the recipe of the TR6 was way too dated to be rehashed now Star Wars was on the horizon, and the SD1 had been released elsewhere in BL-land, so traditional just wouldn’t do.

Fortunately, British Leyland’s visionary Harris Mann was on hand to sort thing out. I mean, he’d already given us the Allegro, and that turned out wonderfully, didn’t it?

“The early sketches were fascinating. It was obvious from the beginning that this was going to be an exceptional car.”

“It had the look of the car of tomorrow”.

Just what kind of dystopian nightmare did Leyland have in mind for us? The TR7 looked handsome enough from head on, acceptable from the rear (although the tail lights were a bit AMC Gremlin) but, most people agreed, wrong on all counts when viewed from the side. As if the strange roofline and window / shut-line treatment wasn’t odd enough, there was that bizarre and unnecessary “styling” line that came in after the front wheel aperture and disappeared again before reaching the rear end.

The thing is; this brochure actually shows what the car was supposed to look like, and then has a contrasting image not three inches away of the aberration that was to actually get the green light. Ahem:

“Stylish and purposeful. Now what about an engine to match its sleekness and power?”

Triumph were pretty well sorted in terms of engine choices available. There was a choice of V8s; the Rover unit (which would later turn up in the US-only TR8, for which I don’t have a brochure, boo hoo) or the once unreliable, later fixed and hugely more characterful Triumph Stag eight. There was also the clever and powerful sixteen-valve, single cam Dolomite Sprint engine.

They chose none of the above. Instead they used an enlarged version of the 1850cc Dolomite 8-valve engine, now two-litres in swept volume and putting out 105 hp, which isn’t all that many, really. Yet Triumph were still rather pleased with themselves:

“It has a top speed of 109 mph. It’s engine is 20% smaller than its predecessor, the TR6, without losing any of the performance”.

Lying buggers.

In performance terms it was more competitive than a MGB, but a far cry from the hirsute six-cylinder TRs of yore. But it did at least handle and hold the road well, thanks no small part to a McPherson strut front and multilink rear-end setup, advanced compared to what went before.

“All in all it’s an amazing piece of design and engineering. Outwardly, the futuristic design conceals some very ingenious thinking”.

One thing that was universally agreed was in the TR7s favour was its comfort. For starters it rode rather well thanks to the surprisingly long suspension travel, but there was also sufficient interior space to accommodate two human beings, a feat that “sports” cars had hitherto struggled with somewhat. The decision to make the TR7 a strict two-seater had been a wise one.

“Impressed? Only one thing will impress you more.”

“A test drive. Why not arrange one soon? It’ll be an experience you won’t forget. Until you own one”

To be honest, the TR7 didn’t make sense until the convertible variant (Drop-Head) was wheeled out several years later. Shorn of the ridiculous roof treatment the TR7 was a car transformed, and by that time it had become clear that the US weren’t about to legislate open-top cars out of existence, so there actually hadn’t been the need to go coupe-only in the first place.

Today, a well preserved TR7 (or TR8) drop-head is a nice thing to have, so long as you perform the wise and logical updates prudent to making the thing operable on a daily basis; i.e tearing out a lot of the stuff with “Lucas” written on it. V8 engine conversions are common and easy to do, or if you’re feeling creative a T-Series turbocharged Rover engine might well find an enjoyable home under the hood.

<Disclaimer:- All photos were taken by the author, (a guy called Chris Haining) and are of genuine original manufacturer publicity material, on his bathroom floor again due to British Weather.  All copyright rights remain in the possession of the manufacturer.>

  • Plagued with technical glitches when it was introduced, one could argue that the TR7 was the shape of things that come too soon.

    • Yeah, they tried that strap-line but it was vetoed at the last minute.

    • JayP2112

      Once production moved from the Liverpool plant to Coventry, they weren't as bad as they had been.
      And having the guys on the line sabotaging cars didn't help ether.

  • So I wonder exactly how compatible that engine is with the Saab 4 cylinder. I've heard they were developed together. 900 Turbo engine swap?

  • A family in the town where I went to high school had anywhere from three to six of these around their house at a time, among which typically a single specimen ran. This was back when even the earliest TR7 was no more than twelve years old. I found this inspiring.

    • Metric Wrench

      They were that way new. The factory they were born in was perennially on strike. The apple falls not far from the tree.

  • Vavon

    If I really had to pick a wedge-shaped car, I think I would prefer trouble with Tony than with Lucas.
    So Fiat X1/9 it is, despite the weird / ridiculous name… Why? Was it only one-ninth of a car?

    <img src="http://www.autowp.ru/pictures/b/bertone/fiat/x1_9/bertone_x1_9_6.jpg&quot; width=650>

    • Maymar

      Well, solve for X to find out how much car it is.

    • This is the same debate I'm having with Junior, who has his heart set on an MGB as his first car. I keep telling him that an Alfa Spider is technically superior in almost every way (in a debate reminiscent of DAF vs. FAF), a vehicle I am much more familiar with and we have most of a full car worth of spares in the garage. Oh well, one man's trash is another man's slightly less stinky trash.

    • Vairship

      That is a sexy looking car. More so than other X1/9s, but I don't know why.

      • Vavon

        It's probably because of those wheels, I had never seen those before either!

  • Maymar

    I quite like the TR7, but stylistically, it needs a longer wheelbase. I'm pretty certain you could fit a couch under those overhangs.

  • Garland

    I actually have my mother's old TR7. It's currently sitting behind a barn.

  • Yuck. My first car. I wrote up it's short life and sticky end on my virtually unused blog, link below.

    Although mine had either no starter motor or a disconnected one, it always bump started, and ran like a champ. The fit and finish of the bodywork wasn't that bad, either IIRC. Never going near one again.

  • <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5b/Joes8Coupe.jpg/800px-Joes8Coupe.jpg&quot; width="512">
    I'm sorry, but I like the TR7/TR8's looks. A lot. Always have, probably always will. (And no, not just the convertible.)
    Yes, it's mechanically crap, but I would love to use the shell as a starting point and stuff another drive train and electrical system under there. (Alternatively, a buffed-and-coddled late TR8 roadster. I've been told the final Solihull-built examples were actually fairly well sorted, mechanically speaking, and were marketed as collectable effectively enough that there are still low-mileage creampuffs out there.)

    By way of explanation — or excuse, depending on your perspective — I was a few months shy of 12 years old when the TR7 was introduced to America in the spring of 1975. Thus, the attraction has been developmentally hardwired into my neural pathways.

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