Curbside Classic: 1966 Triumph Herald – The First Aspirational Compact

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The Triumph Herald was arguably the first car to embody the spirit of the 1960s to come from Britain’s established manufacturers, and also one that led to the most intriguing range of spinoffs, before becoming a staple of the British classic car scene.

Standard-Triumph were a producer of sturdy, conservative cars like the Standard Vanguard and the smaller Ensign and Pennant (do you get the nautical theme in the names?) alongside the more glamorous Triumph TR2 roadster; crucially, volumes were lower than BMC or Ford and Standard-Triumph did not have secure or exclusive access to a body builder, as Ford did with Briggs in Dagenham and BMC had with Fisher and Ludlow or Pressed Steel. Standard-Triumph were actually very heavily reliant on contracts to build engines for and assemble Ferguson tractors.

 vanguard pennant

It was clear Standard-Triumph needed to do something to achieve a sustainable independent future, or absorption into a larger group, possibly to essentially obtain either the production capacity in the Midlands, as Jaguar did by buying Daimler, or the tractor contract, or both, was almost certainly inevitable.

 standard 10

Standard-Triumph’s future therefore depended on creating an attractive product that could be manufactured within a set of constraints that were tighter than its competitors, and for which the sales volume would be less than its main competitors’. It seems obvious now, but in the mid 1950s such a solution and ambition were innovative. A compact, but aspirational car. That’s something we’ve heard about many times since, including, of course, from Triumph’s successors.

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But the big issues remained – how to secure supplies of bodies for the new car, given the lack of options as Standard’s traditional supplier Fisher and Ludlow in Birmingham was now owned by BMC, and Pressed Steel at Cowley in Oxford had no available capacity? Standard opted for what seems now to be a surprising choice – reverting to a traditional chassis rather than a monocoque as used on the 1953 Standard 8, the predecessor of the 10 (my Dad’s first car, not that I ever saw it) and the later, slightly dressed up Ensign and Pennant. To accomplish this, Standard-Triumph purchased a company called Halls in Liverpool to produce many of the pressings, starting a 25 year link with Liverpool, culminating with the end of TR7 production, and final assembly was handled at the Canley facility in Coventry. In the event, every panel, including the roof, was bolted on.

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Standard looked for differentiation throughout the car – the chassis frames were arranged to allow a turning circle of less than 25ft, earning the Herald the strong reputation for manoeuvrability it kept many years – and the whole front of the car forward of the windscreen tipped forward in one piece for access, as there were no separate front wing pressings. The interior was better trimmed with more of the traditional wood and leather(-ette) feel than you would have got from BMC or Ford. Carpeting and a heater were standard, again more than BMC offered, and features like a genuine wood dashboard, leather trim and additional instrumentation were also available.

But the best demonstration of the aspirational nature and the ambition that Triumph had for the Herald was shown with styling. For the first time, Standard-Triumph went to an outside source for the styling and contracted Giovanni Michelotti of Italy to produce something as far removed from the Ensign and Pennant as could be imagined, and much more in line with emerging European styles, such as the Opel Kadett, Ford Anglia, Austin A40 and Farina saloon for example. Add the bright, often 2 tone colours and contemporary American styles were also hinted at. Key points are the large windows, the roof line which was later shared with the Triumph 2000, 1300 and Dolomite ranges and the truncated fins. The saloon was quite close to being pillar-less, and the door frames thin, so it was almost the closest the UK got to a hardtop, rather than a saloon, style

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Coil and double-wishbone front suspension was fitted, while the rear suspension was through a single transverse leaf-spring bolted to the top of the final drive unit and swing axles. This was a bit of a weak link, with the rear suspension leading to a lot of oversteer and unconventional behaviour in extremis. The car gained a reputation for being easy to drive within these limits, though.

The engine, taken from the Standard 10, was the 948cc 4 cylinder OHV, used in the Standard Pennant saloon, of around 35bhp and performance was not as brisk as the style might have suggested – 70 mph and 0-60 in 31 seconds. Incidentally, if you’ve ever wondered how cars are named, the Herald name was chosen by Standard-Triumph MD Alick Dick, after the name of his boat!

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The Herald was launched in the spring of 1959, and quickly made the Standard 10 look even more like a car of the 1950s than it was, and the Herald as the car of new decade, which were already expected to be a feel good period. The initial reaction to the Herald was positive, but not staggering. It wasn’t until Standard-Triumph had been absorbed by Leyland Motors (until then a pure bus and truck company) in 1961 that the Herald received any development, which was all about moving it more upmarket and away from a direct comparison with the Ford Anglia and Morris Minor, against which it appeared more expensive. A larger, more powerful, 1147cc, 39 bhp engine and more upmarket trim created the Herald 1200. In 1963, we had the Herald 12/50 – as it says a 50 bhp version of the 1147 cc engine, disc brakes and a fabric sunroof – perhaps the definitive Herald. By this time, Leyland had replaced all the old Standard cars with new Triumphs – the 1300 and 2000 saloons were successfully establishing the luxury/sports/executive saloon concept that was so successfully built on by others during the 1970s and 1980s.

 spitfire

Of course, one advantage of the chassis construction was the ability to easily develop alternative body styles from the same starting point. The convertible, coupe and estate were quickly added and their development matched the saloons. But the Herald had some surprises in store for us.  The first was the Spitfire sports car – Triumph had planned this but couldn’t afford to put it into production until after the Leyland takeover. The Spitfire was continually developed in that typical BL way, until production finally ended in 1980, 10 years after the Herald passed away

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In 1962, Triumph put a 1596cc 6 cylinder, derived from the old Standard Vanguard engine, into the Herald, with a revised front end featuring then fashionable 4 headlamp layout. This was Britain’s first compact sports saloon and convertible, and the idea of a 6 cylinder engine of this size was, and still is, a novelty. The Vitesse grew to 2000cc in 1966. The range of kit cars based on the Herald chassis and range of engines is seemingly never ending also.

 gt6

The Spitfire was developed to the GT6 – essentially a Spitfire with a 6 cylinder 2 litre engine and a mini Jaguar E-type body, to take on the MGB GT. This was probably the car that best showed the potential of the Herald chassis, and also its weaknesses. If you have to advertise like this, then the consumers know you know they know you’ve had an issue, as they say. This lasted until 1973.

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One disadvantage of the construction was the build quality. Bolting all those panels together offered many opportunities for tolerance build up and misalignment and the creation of rust traps. By the early 1970s, even British car buyers were turning away from good value used Heralds for that reason. On the flipside, they are relatively easy to restore and keep on the road, and parts supply seems plentiful still.

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The featured CC is a 1966 1200 convertible, which has clearly been resprayed in this non-period metallic lilac colour (I can’t place the colour but it looks 1990s to me) and fitted with the seats from (I think) a Rover 416 and what looks like a new hood as well. I see it occasionally around my village and it has recently been parked up outside through some English November weather. If you’re worried about speed or abslute driving fun, then you can do alot worse for an introduction tot he classic car scene.

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