Curbside Classic: 1975 Triumph Stag: A Handsome Failure

Remember the Triumph Stag? You could be forgiven if you don’t, since a perfect storm of limited production, the propensity to rust in North American climes and an engine prone to overheating did in the few that landed on our shores. I don’t recall ever seeing one in person, but thanks to our down under Cohort contributor Bryce, we can revisit these attractive drop tops that looked good on paper but failed a bit in execution. Let’s take a closer look.

The Stag started its troubled life as a styling experiment based on a pre-production Michelotti-styled 1963 Triumph 2000 MK I saloon (above). Harry Webster, Triumph’s Director of Engineering, loved the prototype and shepherded its development into a luxury/sports tourer intended to compete with the likes of the Mercedes SL. The Stag protoype’s styling, especially up front, represented a new direction for both Michelotti and Triumph.

The Stag’s basic front end design was also used on the MK II version of the Triumph 2.0 and 2.5, which arrived a year before the Stag. Although some small parts may be interchangeable, the Stag and the Triumph saloon did not share basic structural body components, but did use identical fully-independent suspensions.

Unlike the two-seat TR6 and Spitfire, the Stag was not meant to be a sports car. With its long, 100″ wheelbase and rear seat, it was instead a grand tourer in the spirit of the contemporary Mercedes 450SL. It utilized a monocoque chassis, a fact that might have necessitated a T-shaped roll bar that was covered when the convertible top was up. It really marred the top-down look of what was otherwise a very nicely styled vehicle. Initially, an optional hardtop was available; it was made standard later in the production run.

image: britishv8.org

As Rover’s corporate cousin since BL’s 1968 formation, it would have been easy for Triumph to use the Rover V8. Instead, they designed their own, an overhead-cam 2.5-liter V8 powerplant with fuel injection. Although essentially a twin-bank version of the Triumph slant-four first used in the Saab 99, their major components, such as heads, did not interchange. After the original Bosch FI turned out to be problematic, the engine, now enlarged to three liters, received two Zenith-Stromberg carburetors. This 3.0L V8 produced 127 hp and 142 lb-ft of torque. A four-speed manual transmission was standard, and a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic was optional.

The interior was very clubby, with a wood dash, full instrumentation, electric windows and leather buckets–all of which were expected in a proper grand tourer.

The Stag V8 had serious design deficiencies that went well beyond stereotypical British issues involving Lucas electrics and such. For instance, the camshaft roller link chains had an extremely short lifespan, sometimes of less than 25,000 miles. Main bearings were undersized. Heads were prone to warping, thanks to poor castings and insufficient cooling flow. Water pumps failed prematurely. Many have had their engines replaced with the Rover V8 (ex-Buick), Ford Essex V6, Buick V6, or others. The Stag made many “worst cars” lists, but die hard Stag lovers have learned how to mitigate the Triumph V8’s issues, and original-engined Stags are sought after by collectors.

In total, just shy of 26,000 Stags were made; 1977 was the end of the line. Very few remain today, but many, many car enthusiasts love them (just look at these three at a show–yet another photo by Bryce), and there are several dedicated Stag clubs in the United States and around the world.

These are quite handsome cars, in my opinion. I’m glad such a pristine example crossed a CC reader’s path, because I don’t know if I’ll ever run across one in Illinois. Has anyone else seen one lately?