When British Leyland introduced the replacement for the much loved TR6 in 1975, all of America became a great big Missouri – The Show Me State. Buyers rightly wondered if Old Blighty could still build a decent car that was fun and reliable enough to drive every day, to work and play. The outgoing TR6 had set a high standard. Could its successor live up to it ? Well, yes and no. The TR7 was stunning in form, flawed in function and it’s failure signaled the end of the line for Triumph in the U.S. Let’s take a look at today’s turkey– The 1976-1981 Triumph TR7.
The decade of the 70’s was not kind to the British auto industry. Swept up into the maelstrom of inflation, recession and the decline of the manufacturing sector in England, the managers and engineers at British Leyland were desperate to rationalize the sports car lineup that the firm continued to produce after bringing MG, Alvis, Rover and even Jaguar into its corporate tent. The TR7 would be the first offering that the company would assign to the design teams that had so recently been rivals and its importance was hard to overstate. The new model would be a classic case of addition by subtraction. It made much more business sense to design and tool one successful car than try to squeeze a profit out of multiple low volume vehicle platforms.
The TR7 was introduced to the world with all of the urgency that a make or break model can have in mid January 1975 in Boca Raton, Florida. Actual showroom sales began April 2nd and buying interest was initially quite high. But as we will see, the product couldn’t sustain Triumph’s presence in the U.S. for much longer.
The predecessor TR6 had built a reputation as a hard nosed little flogger that could inject a little joie de vivre into the daily commute and still provide a fun weekend rally car or top down cruiser. It was attractive, reasonably well assembled and above all, fun. In short, a tough act to follow.
But Triumph flubbed its lines badly. The styling was/is controversial for its day. Advertising flummery touted the door stop profile as “The Shape Of things To Come” and in this, they were way off the mark. The wedge set no long term styling trends here or overseas. It was the Airflow of sports cars.
A contemporary of the 7 was the Fiat X/19 , which also had its own wedge body, but it was not really influenced by Triumph. And later, the Pontiac Fiero and Toyota MR 2 aped the shape and both proved to be short lived wonders. Ad hyperbole aside, what really did this car in was the intractable quality problems endemic to British cars in those years. To be sure, the 7 did sell well initially (even better than the TR6) , but like a soufflé, once fallen , sales could not be revived before BL gave up.
The TR7 was a car that could have never survived its first year if there had been an “internet” in ’75. Feedback on hardware faults and dealer/factory response is now instantaneous. When the facts of the TR7’s numerous quality problems finally emerged, sales slackened and never recovered. It just took years, not months, for word to spread. Leaks, overheating, doors that refused to open or close properly and the standard issue British Leyland electrical gremlins (available at no extra charge) contributed to the overall slipshod reputation that was destroying an entire industry, not just Triumph. One important factor that compromised quality was that the TR7 was assembled in three different factories during its production run. This was the result of constantly closing facilities in response to a hostile, unionized work force.
Another thing that hurt the 7 was the tardy introduction of a convertible in 1979. Had one been available at launch, already strong sales would probably have been considerably higher. By ’79, though , it was way too late in the game to save the car as a business proposition. Triumph was not entirely to blame for this. Federal crash and rollover regs had made the true factory convertible a near extinct species on the ground here, and BL had to work harder than expected to get a drop top that met standards. When finally available, the TR7 droptop was arresting to look at and the cars basic shape lent itself to an open body quite well. Today, well kept TR7 convertibles are prized fun machines.
Even with all of the invective later aimed at the TR7, just about everybody praised its handling and overall road manners at launch. With coils at all corners and a low center of gravity, handling was by far its strongest suit. Front discs and rear drums (a setup that was becoming the industry norm) meant that there was no drama on the skid pad and the buff magazines of the day gave the brakes a passing grade. Many enthusiast drivers,however, spend a few bob to upgrade the binders that they consider unworthy of the rest of the package.
The engine in the TR7 was the 2.0 L “ Slant 4” that was bolted to a 4 speed manual that had lately seen duty in the Dolomite /Marina models and was considered quite unsatisfactory for a modern car. Later models got the robust Rover SDI 5 speed box and these units were generally agreed to be a vast improvement. (A three autobox was also available, but not popular). In essence, the engine was half of the Triumph V-8 found in the Stag and a very close relative to Saab’s new four.
It may seem dangerously underpowered by the standards of today, but the 90 Hp that the car produced was considered adequate by the diminished expectations of the late 70’s. Forty nine state Zenith Stromberg carbs delivered fuel. But with only 90 HP to move an almost 2300 pound car, performance was middling. The TR8 derivative made the car a proper sporting machine, but by then it was way too late in the game to entice customers back to Triumph showrooms.
Endgame– After the TR7 was taken off life support, the Triumph name had outlived its time and would lose its place in the BL lineup. The marque expired sadly in 1984, as a hastily rebadged Honda Civic dubbed the Acclaim. After that, the Triumph brand eventually became just another balance sheet asset to be bartered in boardrooms around the world. BMW currently owns the rights to the marque, but as of this writing, has no plans to revive it.
Today, the TR7 is far from forgotten, and several associations exist worldwide to ensure that the cars that have survived will stay on the road for a long time to come. Aftermarket parts are still being produced and enthusiastic clubs still hold rallies and provide valuable restoration advice.
After packing it in with the Triumph in early 1981, times looked grim indeed for motor sports enthusiasts that had come to love their jaunty, open air fun machines. Sporting roadsters in the early / mid 80’s meant weak-tea, uninspired transport appliances with their tops sometimes sheared off in a cynical pursuit of easy money. Nobody that had driven a TR6 , MGB or any “real” sports roadster would look twice at a Le Baron K- Car drop top or a Renault Alliance without a roof. But even then, when things looked their worst, there was a revival of the proper “British” sporting machine on the drawing board- just not in Britain. When it finally hit the market later in the decade, the flame that had been thought extinct was rekindled and went on to burn brighter than ever. It was from Mazda. It was called Miata.
Interesting article on an interesting car. Certainly a bit odd looking, but I guess daring to be different is to be commended. There was a fascinating one for sale here earlier this year, modified by a retired engineer. He lopped the roof off and turned it into a T-top, transplanted the tail-lights and rear bumper from a 1986 Mazda 323 sedan, and inserted the complete engine, running gear and interior from an early 90s Nissan Cima V8. Sounds like a strange conglomeration I know, but it actually looked pretty cool – and with the Nissan’s entire wiring loom, he’d never have to suffer from the British Leyland wiring leprechauns.
As always, Skyliner,thank you for a good picture !
You’re welcome! Here are the rest:
Amazin what turns up on TM
And #3. The engineer who did it died, he’d done it as a retirement project and the car was offered for sale by his estate. They had no idea what it would be worth, and I don’t know if it sold or not. But I thought it was an outstandingly good job on an unusual base!
Is the engine crammed in sideways? How does that function?
I believe that is the same engine used in the first generation Infiniti Q45, which was a conventional longitudinally oriented V8 with a bizarre intake manifold that mounted the throttle on one side and ran from right to left rather than front to back.
Correct. I believe this is the VH41DE version (4.1L), rather than the VH45 which was in the Q45.
They didnt exactly take the world by storm and like most BL products are not very common today the 4 pot mill was ok it was only when it was turned into an eight that it caused trouble in the Stag. Given BLs quality problems this was a brave attempt to keep a storied brand alive bit of a shame what happened in the end.
wot were british leyland thinking,lol to offer such a heap,an ugly grim crummy car when you think how cool the tr6 and spitfire were..and they offer this heap..lol i mean for gods sake not offering a convertable v8 to america at launch,lol,lol,lol..madness,i think triumph peaked in the 60s with there last great cars ie,the fwd 1300 ,2000,and spitfire they were up there with bmw ,those cars were that good.
Part of the answer to your question is the same answer to the Vega: Despite being badged a Triumph (Chevrolet), it was not designed by the Triumph (Chevrolet) division, but rather by British Leyland (General Motors). And then it was assigned to the selling division without any chance for said division to make sure the car was something that could live up to the badge on the nose.
I’ve read somewhere (short memory, my apologies) that the car was almost badged an Austin prior to introduction, and was later considered for badge engineering as an MG.
So, you start with a vehicle that the selling division has little to no input about, disoganized management and accountancy has too much input into, then build it using the most insane unions in the history of organized labo(u)r. These guys actually believed that they didn’t owe management or the customer anything. It was just “I’m all right, jack”, (watch the movie if you can ever get hold of it – although set in the 50’s it’s a wonderful explanation of the attitude that was growing) and “I’m going to strike if I don’t like the colo(u)r of my coveralls.”
its funny that we ended up with a rebadged honda accord when in the early 60s triumph had litteraly been..right on the beam..with the launch of the fwd 13000 styled by michalottie a very modern and innovative little car very stylish great handling and very well made ,i mean the window winders are allmost works of art,lol a great car whitch evolved into the dolomite sprint a real pocket rocket and best seller .the 2000 was also a ground breaking car fast affordable stylish well made executive car whitch had a long sucsesfull life,the stag was doomed by its engine but with therover v8 under there …could..have been a winner as it was so pretty i have to say british leyland screwed it all up helped by the british government of course i have to say the cars we produced in the 70s were dare i say it…SHIT…they were thay were SHIT..and its a real shame..becouse we have here in the uk produced so incredable cars..real world beaters ..just look at the mini…..
Err, doesn’t that engine shot show SU carbs, not Strombergs?
My co-worker has one for a project. Go Al !!!!
Yes it does…But the hood on the TR7 that I shot was so rusty that it wouldn’t open! I didn’t want to do any damage because the car is for sale…
That’s the rustiest car I’ve seen in a long time! For sale?! That would be a tough one to get parts off of, let alone restore.
Yes- The guy wants (gulp) $2500 for it.
I think I need a tetnus shot from looking at it.
I saw one of these in Socorro last week (not that far from you, Dan). It was pristine. Unfortunately, my camera was unavailable.
Yes I have realized I’m spolied by being in New Mexico. For example, I likely won’t see a Grand Marquis as rusty as the example JP dug up unless it’s been in a severe accident. Thank god for a state that uses crushed rock on the roadways and not salt.
That first print ad speaks volumes. If those are the best quotes from reviews that British Leyland could come up with, they must have known they were in trouble with this turkey.
The two from Car & Driver amount to “damning with faint praise”. The “instruments don’t reflect in the windshield”? Wow! The TR7’s “strong suit is comfort”? Not usually a reason to buy a sports car.
Road & Track’s comment that the TR7 is “the most important new British sports car in 14 years”? Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it the only new British sports car in 14 years?
The Fiat X/19, Toyota MR2 and Pontiac Fiero may have been wedge designs, but unlike the TR7, they weren’t high in the a**.
Your comment on the buff magazines raises an important point. Its crystal clear that these monthlies were trying to sell expensive ad space. Hence, their criticism of the worst features of these cars (and every other one) is watered down to the point that it is useless. They can deny it till the cows come home, but they hope to sell ads to the very companies whose products they review. This makes them conflicted, and since good intentions don’t put food on the table,they dissemble.That’s why until the internet became ubiquitous, carmakers could get away with selling cars like the Vega, Pinto,TR7 and others that were deficient. Today, sites like TTAC or even this one will be all over the lemons like white on rice. This is a good , no, make that GREAT, thing.
I remember reading, as a car addled teen, the Car and Driver review of the convertible, which was introduced in 1979. The article featured a blonde on roller-blades and went on to talk about girls, sports cars and sunny weather.
It was only in the counterpoint that Don Sherman said something to the effect, “Do you remember snap together models? They looked good but they never quite fit as well as the real thing. This is a snap together sports car.” I guess BL’s ad budget wasn’t enough to pull the piece.
My cousin bought one shortly after she married and in the Toronto salt, it was rusted into a heap of red and black goo in three years, before the loan on it was paid off.
I know TR7s are a bit crap – the coupes in particular but I still like them. I don’t know why exactly. I’ll probably even own one at some point. The problem is they are worth nothing so it is hard to justify dumping any money into one. TR8s on the other hand are fantastic and one of the few affordable, British V8 powered cars. Rather like a quarter price Sunbeam Tiger.
A friend of mine has a TR7 coupe with a Ford V6 swapped into it. First time he drove it he floored it to test out the acceleration. Steering column dropped into his lap! Been parked ever since. Of course I’d like to buy it from him …
The TR8 is, however, very hard to find. Might take a long time an the price won’t be low.
Many british magazing stories on the V8 swap its easy apparently.
These cars made an impression on me as a young teenager. To my midwestern eye, there was nothing (except the Fiat X-1/9) that looked like that. To me, all of the Spitfires and TR-6’s still looked like leftovers from the 50’s and 60’s. The dismal 70’s begged for new cars with (allegedly) bright futures, my 13 year old self thought this could be it.
By the time I was old enough to drive, much less buy a car, there were no Triumph dealers anywhere near me. There may have still been one in Cleveland, but by then I was in full Fox lust. I could get/afford/maintain a Fox-body Capri with relative ease, especially compared to a British car that had a rapidly shrinking support base. That the Fox I chose was a turkey, was another issue altogether.
In my MM garage, I’d like to have one of these, but with a SBC shoehorned in there somehow. Maybe a nice LSx motor. But the reality is, I’ll only ever experience these things at British marque shows.
These look so much like Fiat X-1/9s that I rarely get close enough to either to tell the difference. Down at the local Chamber of Commerce a red TR7/X-1/9 (don’t know I haven’t gotten close enough to see) sits in the parking lot a few days a week, alternating with an late 40s early 50s Plymouth and a some other GT style 60s British Car (looks like a shrunken E-type to me.) Guess I should start carrying my camera more often. 🙂 Sounds like a guy who should be a member of this site.
If you can’t tell the difference, you’ve definitely only seen them at a distance. The X-1/9 is a 7/8ths (at best) version of the TR-7. A much smaller car. You can actually get into a TR-7. You put on an X-1/9.
I can vouch for that. My sister’s friend’s dad got a ’79 X1/9 in about 1995, and it was really small. It was black and silver two-tone if I remember right. It ran, and looked decent, but he didn’t have it long.
TR7 history on Top Gear, pre-Clarkson-
OK, TG TR7 with Clarkson-
Yes, the TR7 did get better with a different engine, transmission & rear axle, along with a different factory.
I remember that one of the car magazines attempted a cross-country test of the new TR7; driver made it to Arkansas (?)until the first head gasket let go.
He then made it to Amarillo, Texas, when the head gasket let go, again. The dealer declared it unrepairable. I don’t remember how he got home.
The re-badge was technically a Honda Ballade, which was a derivative of the Civic. Pedantic automotive lecture over.
One thing they thought of that was nice from a mechanic’s prespective was how they handled the timing chain set up. There is actually a piece of sheet metal in the front cover that you bolt the cam gear to which keeps everything in place when you fix the inevitable head gasket failure. It is even set up so that the bolts required to do so are bolts that you had to remove earlier in the process, don’t remember now what their normal duty was.
AAAAAUUUUUGGGGGHHHH!!!!!- TR7 HEAD GASKETS!!!!!
It’s so disappoointing to replace the head gasket, finish up & start the engine to warm it up for the 2nd torque & see the thing leaking.
BTW- Bottom of the head was held on by 2 lengths of bolts; the top was studs @ an angle, with washers & nuts. The studs were @ an angle.
With the leaky head gasket, coolant would get up between the studs & the head & they would STICK REAL HARD.
There was a slot on the top of the stud & the book said to remove them with a large screwdriver. BL later came up with a tool that was a variation of 2 nuts threaded against each other (no room to really use 2 nuts).
It was a common thing to spend a few days sawing off the studs. Book paid a few hours for head gasket replacement.
Also- head was not to be shaved more than .012.
Dealer policy was 1 head gasket & next time, replace the head & try again.
Good choice for turkey.
Somehow four of us fit in a TR-6 one afternoon, catching a ride to town from base. It was British racing green, of course, and it was one of the coolest cars I ever rode in, a plus was its reported reliability relative to what came out of Britain in recent years. When the TR-7 came out, someone in my apartment complex bought one – again, British racing green. I did see these in red and yellow, too. I heard they weren’t such a good car, but I didn’t know, as I drove a Chevy pickup at the time and didn’t care. Not so revolutionary a design after all, it turned out. Bye bye, British car industry.
nice article on an interesting car.
first off, i don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the styling. the obvious thing to do would have been design another british roadster cliche. the brits deserve credit for trying something new. i think if they hadn’t screwed up the execution so badly it might have evolved into a classic.
secondly, it was not comparable to the x1/9 which is a classic design. the fiat was smaller and mid-engine. it would be quite a pi**ng match to determine which one car was the most unreliable.
lastly, i’d love to get more info about the tr8. if i remember correctly, they stuffed a mopar v8 into the thing. that has to be interesting.
No it was the 3.5L Rover V8, much the same as the Range Rover used. They can be built up into a pretty formidable road-rally car as the basic pieces are there (V8, light weight & reasonable balance)
They implanted the powertrain from the Rover SD1
Nothing quite gives you the intelligence to pass on the TR7 like owning an MGB. I decided there was nothing to be gained by makeing the same mistake twice. I think the best thing my exwife ever did for me was to wreck that thing.
OTOH I did learn far more about automotive electricity and cleaning/readjusting carbs than I would otherwise probably ever have known.
the thing thats so sad about the british moter industry [rip] is that at times we have or did produce some of the greatest cars in the world
“The shape of things that break” is how we used to describe the TR-7. One friend bought a used one for his 21 year old daughter as her first car. He had no clue. It looked good and was cheap. The 4-speed was a terrible transmission in an era when most US and European 4-speeds were excellent. At least the trans went before the head gasket.
That 4spd was adapted from the Marina. Ugh.
Triumph sold every TR7 they could get the drunk commies at Speke to approximately assemble the first couple years. People find all sorts of faults with the design now, but at the time it had looks, performance, and value in spades. Until it broke. Had the engineering been a little better and the assembly been infinitely better, this wouldn’t have been the last mass-market British sports car.
My father-in-law owned FIVE of these: one to restore, and the other four to provide parts. Why? His excuse: “When I went to buy it, I thought it was one of the other Triumphs, then I bought it anyway.” And, let’s face it, the TR-7 was MUCH uglier than a TR-4 or a TR-6… bummer… He attempted a Buick V-6 conversion (popular at one time), got overwhelmed by the electrical compatibility problems, and ended up basically giving away all five vehicles… Oh, and he offered the TR-7 to me, free, but one of my buddies (a former MGB owner) said “Don’t do it!”, so I declined, thus avoiding spending thousands of dollars, restoring a car with zero value (at least, zero value, here in California).
My carpool driver and her husband had one of these, a 1980 with a 5-speed. New, it was a nice car. When it got a year or two old, it became a typical limey-car piece of crap. To me the epitome of British-car electrical problems was sitting there watching the headlights repeatedly open and close, left, right, left, right, when she pulled the headlight switch. The headlight motors were wired through the headlight switch without even a relay. Even my Rover 2000 never pulled a stunt like that.
Drunk commies!! Great description of the kind of a******s we had working in the motor industry back in the ’70s in the UK. I’d have arrested many of them and executed them for being traitors. What a pity though, the shape of the TR7 has rather grown on me of late, though I don’t think a V8 would be appropriate- how about sticking a 2 litre Fiat twin cam and box in one? Anyone ever tried it?
Thanks to the anesthesia of age, not even all these reminders of the agony I once lived can dim my affection for the TR7, my first car. Growing up as the son of a Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealer, North American cars bored me, and long before I got my license, I was pining for a TR6. Alas, two years before the blessed date, production of the TR6 ended and my attention was transferred to its radical, wedge-shaped successor.
As you can imagine, my father was none too pleased at the prospect of his son driving a competitor’s car, much less one from a notoriously unreliable manufacturer like BL. But I eventually prevailed–partly because I was leaving our hometown for school within months of getting my license and partly from being able to demonstrate what utter crap the cars he was selling were too. And so, in advance of my birthday, I curbside sold several used cars of increasing value until I had enough money to order the Triumph.
Yes it was an education … and a trial by fire for a 16yo. Even compared to the malaise era GMs I was used to, this car was a nightmare. First up were the individual electric motors for the pop up headlights. Three sets (six motors) in the first two years, before I finally gave up and blocked the housings in the upright position. The Lucas troubles continued with a coil that was mounted inches off the road and inside a housing that was seemingly purpose-built to capture water from splashes and time release it onto the coil during subsequent days of fine weather. When the car was only months old, a sharp old mechanic noticed this, relocated the coil higher up on the firewall and fabricated a cover designed to keep it dry, not wet. The car’s reliability gained an order of magnitude instantly. However, to keep the warranty valid I was still having the scheduled maintenance done by the BL dealer, and on my next visit they noticed this unauthorized improvement and promptly restored the coil to its original position (and charged me for their “help”).
I could go on and on, but I’ll skip to the end. In my third year of ownership–and still shy of 50,000 miles–after doing a full respray to halt the advancing rust and a complete transmission rebuild, I finally saw the writing on the wall and put my beloved wedge up for sale. The only buyer I could scare up wouldn’t close without a 60 day, 50/50 powertrain warranty to sweeten the deal … and of course two weeks later I gave him back much of the purchase price to pay for my half of the engine job.
Today I don’t remember any of that without being prompted though. What I do remember is being 16, free and mobile (at least some of the time) and driving something most folks in my small Canadian province had never seen before. The car was a looker and attracted attention everywhere. It was also comfortable, thrifty on gas and handled extremely well (in the twisties I could outrun my Dad’s friend in his malaise Corvette).
Many years later I bought a mostly-restored Triumph Spitfire as a toy. I finished the job, played with it for a couple of years and sold it at a profit when I got back into motorcycles. As a droptop it had its charms, but it didn’t perform nearly as well as the 7. Someday I hope to scratch my Triumph itch once more and finally get that TR6.
Affordable, unusual classic. Hp is over rated, these cars are fun to drive. Both the fiat X/19 and TR7 were over looked. But in a world of expensive old cars these are real values and are very stylish when compared to the modern cars of our time.
Triumph TR7 you won’t see many at the car shows. Those who drive them enjoy them, including the fix and repair of old electronics. The youth of today seem to enjoy them, even ones like mine, running but not restored. Tomorrows Rat just might be a wedge getting 30 mph while enjoying every corner in the road.
Hello from France
The tr7 convertible : the last one of range of the seven Triumph TR but with all clever classic developpement BL = full pleasure to drive. iN 2014 Becoming the rarest TR convertible of all TR produced . The Michelotti Art in fact enjoyed the youth and Lady Gaga in her Fame part one.
For me it’s the Poétic car of the last minute of a forgotten World.
These cars still get attention!
I now find myself seeking out classic car books titled ‘the worst cars ever built ‘and the like,tr7 aren’t always there.