The Shape of Things to Come

Okay, so I guess I’ve probably extoled the virtues of enough Italian rustbuckets to last my five faithful readers a lifetime, so this week I’ll pop my patriotic hat on and spend my regulatory union tea break having a look at another wedge-shaped marvel,one originally hailing from the balmy Mersey Riviera, and one which proved to be the last hurrah for one of Britain’s great manufacturers: the Triumph TR7.


Now I’ve no desire to offend anyone, so given the troubled history of the TR7, and the love it or loathe it nature of the beast, I’ll tread carefully and try not to dwell on the more negative aspects, though it’s impossible to avoid them entirely. Firstly, there was the styling which, though clearly inspired by the R.W. ‘Kas’ Kastner and Peter Brock’s incredible 1968 TR250 project, somehow managed to appear hefty and oversized, not a million miles away from designer Harris Mann’s lumbering Leyland Princess. It wasn’t helped by the obtrusive and inelegant bumpers, a concession to the US 5 mph zero-damage laws. Amazingly Triumph’s design had trumped MG’s in a competition aimed at creating a successor to the TR6, GT6 and MGB, predominantly for the American market, where strong competition from the Datsun 240Z and Porsche 914 was hurting sales. Whilst the MG proposal looked to the future with a mid-engined configuration, Leyland were happier keeping things traditional with the engine up-front, and for the most part that conservatism would be the story of the car, if not those who built it…


Needless to say, the TR7 would be mechanically refined by way of the Leyland parts bin, taking the 4 cylinder, SOHC engine from the Dolomite, uprated from 1854 to 1988 cc (no 16 valve Dolly Sprint unit thanks to US emissions regs), the standard Triumph four-speed ‘box with Marina trimmings, and drum brakes at the rear hardly constituted groundbreaking innovations. Mechanicals aside however, the spacious interior and boot were strong selling points, as for many was the styling, and performance was by no means woeful, for with independent suspension all-round and rack and pinion steering there was the promise of good, precise handling. Such promise would be cemented by the biggest change in philosophy: the monocoque structure finally delivered the rigidity expected of a modern sports car, and was rightly praised – with a little development work it seemed that Triumph’s latest might just be a contender.


Sadly the developments – as effective as they were – would ultimately be overshadowed by the usual union actions and build-quality issues, most infamous of which would be the four month closure of the Speke factory over the winter of 1977/78, which resulted in the cancellation of the planned ‘Sprint’ and ‘Lynx’ (hatchback) versions and an inability to keep up with export orders. Unveiled in January 1975 the car had proved to be an overwhelming success in the US, which unfortunately meant that UK customers would have to wait until May ’76 to get their hands on it. With the closure of the Speke factory in May ’78, production relocated to Canley (Coventry), only resuming five months later, happily with a marked improvement in quality control.


The TR7 would ultimately never be replaced, its proposed successor, the TR8 entering production at the same time as a convertible became available, in 1979, but lasting only until October ’81, by which time they were being built at Solihull. With the 3528 cc Rover V8, optional fuel-injection and a five-speed ‘box, the TR8 had the makings of an instant classic, but only 2,815 were built before production ended, the majority dispatched to the US. It was a sad end to a great line of Triumph sports cars, and sadder still, the end proved nigh for the marque itself.


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