1674407866 Do you remember the Triumph T and TR8

Do you remember the… Triumph T and TR8?

Management failures, management hesitations, strikes, reliability problems, the oil crisis, new safety standards: everything seems to have come together, leaving the TR7 and TR8 as the last representatives of a prestigious English roadster line.

The TR prefix first appeared at Triumph with the presentation of the TR-X concept at the 1950 Paris Motor Show. It was a small roadster with aluminum body and folding headlights. Only three prototypes will be built. Another prototype followed, the 20TS Roadster, which was displayed at the 1952 London Motor Show. It served as the basis for the TR2, exhibited at the 1953 Geneva Motor Show and later unofficially renamed the TR1.

The TR2 evolved into the TR3 in 1955 and was produced until 1962. In 1961 the TR4 was introduced, designed by Italian Michelotti and manufactured until 1967 (including the TR4A). It will in turn serve as the basis for the TR250 (North America) and TR5 (rest of the world) by receiving a 2.5-litre 6-cylinder in 1967. Redesigned by the German Karmann, the TR5/TR250 becomes the TR6. marketed from 1969 to 1976.

Do you remember the Triumph T and TR8

Photo: Triumph

English Imbroglio

In order to understand the difficulties in the development of the TR7, it is necessary to understand what situation Triumph found itself in at the end of the 60s: take your head in both hands, it will tremble! Triumph was acquired by Standard Motor in 1944 and this set was purchased by Leyland Motors in 1960. Leyland added Rover to its portfolio in 1967.

In parallel, you have the British Motor Corporation (BMC), formed in 1952 by the merger of Austin and Morris (including the MG, Riley, and Wolseley brands). BMC became BMH (British Motor Holdings) after acquiring Jaguar in 1966. In January 1968, under pressure from the British government, Leyland and BMH merged to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC): a huge company with multiple brands producing duplicates. And yes, MG and Triumph, which have always been in direct competition in the roadster market, must become the best friends in the world overnight. That can only go well, right?

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Photo: Triumph

At the time of the merger, Triumph and MG were each working separately on their new sports cars. MG polishes the ADO21 project with a rear center position engine and hydroelastic suspensions. Triumph is working on the Bullet project, with front engine and rear wheel drive and classic chassis. BLMC planners believe that only one program can meet market expectations… and in any case, they have the resources to develop only one. Two factors will turn the tide in the Bullet’s favour.

First, the visit of Mike Carver, planner, and Spen King, Triumph’s chief engineer, to the United States in 1970 underscores the fact that Americans preferred the front-engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration, more reliable and, in their eyes, easier to repair. Second, Spen King and several members of BLMC management are Triumph and will favor that brand even if MG is more popular. Since the North American market has absolute priority for the company, the Bullet project is continued in early 1971. The motto of Donald Stokes, President of the Group, is: launch in 1975!

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Photo: Triumph

The first pencil sketches by the Triumph designers reveal a certain resemblance to the Porsche 914. BLMC’s management feels they lack character. Harris Man, who returned to BMC in 1967 after a stint at Ford, was called to help. It will introduce the wedge shape and elegantly integrate the “federalized” bumpers for future American safety standards. The wide rear pillar is also due to these same standards to resist rollovers.

Finally, the planners decide that there will be no convertible version, since the American government is currently planning to ban this type of bodywork completely in the coming years (which will not happen). The style was almost complete by the end of 1971. Sketches of a TR7-based MG called Magna were made, but nothing really went further. Despite the lack of love on the part of BLMC executives for MG, Midget and MGB held out valiantly through the 1980 vintage.

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Photo: Triumph

Spen King is the chief engineer of the TR7 project. This program has been the basis of a vehicle family from the start. A Sprint version with the 2-liter 16-valve engine (a rarity at the time) with 127 hp from the Dolomite Sprint, as well as a version with a V8 engine are immediately considered. Engineers considered fitting the 3 liter Stag launched in 1970, but the latter quickly became notorious for its major reliability issues. They then settled on the Rover 3.5-litre V8 (ex-Buick), which is said to be virtually indestructible. A hatchback 2+2 variant (to compete with the Ford Capris and replace the problematic stay), christened the Lynx, also went into development in 1972. We’ll come back to that.

Automotive technology is progressing well. However, there is one last point to mention that will be important for the rest of the story: the choice of the factory. It is the Speke site number 2 near Liverpool that will ensure the assembly of the TR7. Unfortunately, factory personnel will prove to be poorly qualified, both clerical and manual, and very assertive. Add in the fact that the testing cycle has been shortened to get it started as quickly as possible and you can already imagine the result.

America first

It’s 1975 and BLMC is in dire straits. The 1973 oil crisis, social movements and dubious strategic decisions brought the English giant to its knees. In April, the government nationalized the company. At the same time, marketing of the TR7 began, albeit only in North America (it was presented to the press in January 1975). This decision was made to ensure a good production ramp-up and to adequately respond to the demand of the most lucrative market. The accompanying slogan is “The shape of things to come” (roughly the trend of the future, a forward-looking message, but not in the way BLMC intended at the time).

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Photo: Triumph

The TR7 is equipped with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that produces 90 hp (76 in California) and a 4-speed manual transmission. The press is divided on its original lines but generally appreciates its handling, braking, livability and several testers find it well built (!). Everyone agrees that the engine, on the other hand, is a bit tight on performance. In Canada it retails for $6,395 compared to $5,975 for an MGB (1977 figures). Sales started off quite well, but very quickly the first concerns about reliability were heard: various problems with engines, gearboxes, electrics, rust… When Speke’s staff works, the quality of control is the last priority.

The TR7 finally appeared on the domestic market and in Europe in May 1976. Without emission control, the engine spits out 105 hp. In 1976, the options catalog was expanded to include a 5-speed manual (with a reinforced axle) and a 3-speed Borg Warner automatic transmission. In 1977 the interior was revised. Box 5 will be standard in 1978.

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Photo: Triumph

It is moving!

The nationalization of BLMC (which simply became British Leyland or BL) did not go smoothly. In November 1977 a new President was appointed: Michael Edwardes. Shortly thereafter, Speke’s worker #2 stops working. It will be a horrific 14-week strike, at the end of which Edwardes will announce the total closure of the factory.

This strike will also result in the last-minute cancellation of the Lynx project, for which the tooling was ordered and which was due to go into production, as well as the Sprint, some pre-production units of which had been manufactured. The site closed permanently in May 1978 and production moved to Canley near Coventry in October 1978. During this entire period no TR7 was built. On the other hand, the good impact of this move will be that the cars released by Canley will be of better quality.

Important developments… but late

With the dark clouds hanging over the future of convertibles in the United States cleared, Triumph began designing a convertible version. The body received many reinforcements, especially behind the seats, but managed the feat of weighing little more than its fixed-roof sister. In addition, the style adapts particularly well to this roof loss. This model was introduced in North America in July 1979 and in Europe in March 1980. Ours is $10,895 versus $10,615 for the coupe (1980 figures). It quickly proved very popular, and Triumph figured it would account for nearly two-thirds of future sales.

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Photo: Triumph

That’s not all! The brand finally launches the V8 version in North America in June 1980 (officially it’s not sold elsewhere, but unofficially it’s a bit more complicated than that…). Proposed as a coupe and cabriolet, it gets an engine with two Stromberg carburetors developing 133 hp (except in California, where a Lucas/Bosch L-Jetronic injection is installed, giving an additional 4 hp). In Canada, the TR8 Convertible is priced at $15,995. But Triumph is still unlucky.

The 1979 Iranian revolution led to a second oil shock and the TR8 will have great difficulty finding its customers. The press, however, was enthusiastic, and the Car Guide concluded its essay in its 1981 edition with the words: “If outdoor and high performance are among your requirements, it is really difficult to find anything better than this Cabriolet TR8.” 1981 were all TR8 converted to injection.

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Photo: Triumph

It’s moving… again!

Second oil crisis, disastrous reorganization, the British Leyland ship flees from all sides. In order to streamline production facilities, it is decided to close the Canley plant. Production of the TR7/TR8 ceased in August 1980 and moved to Solihull near Coventry. The factory that also produces the Rover SD1 immediately restarts the line. In May 1981, BL announced the future end of the TR7…unless demand increased significantly. Apparently the ax fell in October 1981. It must be said that the economic environment was not yet bright and that a new generation of models, the GTI or Gulf-facing Hot Hatch, was beginning to make the roadsters of antiquity obsolete.

MG hasn’t been in better shape since the last MGB was made in October 1980 and the brand was shelved for several years. Triumph will try various developments for the TR7 (Broadside and Boxer projects) which are being abandoned due to lack of funds. Edwardes then has to launch important models for the company’s survival: the Austin Metro (1980) and the future Maestro (1983) and Montego (1984). In 1981 Triumph inherited a facelifted version of the Honda Ballade (a four-door variant of the Civic) before dying of almost universal indifference in 1984…

How many?

As far as the production figures go, absolutely no one agrees (which also reflects the joyful carefreeness of Triumph at the time)! With the TR7, they vary between around 111,000 and 115,000 copies. The numbers that appear frequently are 86,784 coupes and 24,684 convertibles (111,468 total), while the annual breakdown gives the total of 114,477 units.

When it comes to the TR8, we’re talking about 2,700 to 2,800 units, most of them convertibles. Imagine that! The TR7 obviously sold better than its predecessors, but all the accumulated problems mean it could have done much better. Obviously it never brought any money back to its parent company, which unfortunately was the case with many English cars of the time…

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