COAL: 1980 Triumph TR8 – Powerful Wedge

Unlike most people I have always admired the styling of Triumph TR7 both in fixed head coupe (hard top) and drop head coupe forms (convertible). I have, however, always viewed the four cylinder engine with suspicion as it does not have the best reputation as far as reliability and serviceability goes. There are plenty of engine swaps done in TR7s and they have a certain appeal but the quality is very variable depending on the builder. The V8 powered TR8 solves all these issues with a factory installed 3.5L Rover V8 engine along with a few other upgrades. I never suspected I would be able to afford one until I bought this example. Sadly the ending to this story is not entirely satisfactory.

I have covered the history of the TR8 in reasonable depth before but here is a quick primer. The TR7 was a less powerful and mechanically sophisticated replacement to the Triumph TR6. It was initially planned to replace the MG B as well but never fulfilled that destiny. British Leyland did envision a 16 valve and V8 engine upgrades from the start but only the V8 made it to market in TR8 form. The V8 engine started life as a Buick 215cid V8 introduced for the 1961 model year. The American market had less interest in smaller capacity engines and iron thin wall casting technology had evolved so the aluminum engine was discontinued by GM. The design was bought by the British and it had a long life in various products such as Triumph TR8, MG B GT V8, Rover SD1, various Range Rovers, and a few specialty cars like TVRs among others. The TR8 was introduced near the end of the TR7 line with improved brakes as well as the additional power provided by the V8 engine. Most TR8s are convertibles with a few pre-production coupes as well and was only officially sold in the Canadian and US markets. Despite rave reviews only around 2750 TR8s were produced making it rather rare.

While cheap as far as a V8 powered British convertible goes I have never viewed myself as a potential owner as they were usually a $10K+ Cdn car in reasonable condition. I generally play in the very bottom of the classic car market which makes any risk very small. I took a bigger financial bet this time but as per my usual operating procedures this TR8 had come home on the back of a trailer. Most of the time this is due to the fact that the car I have just bought does not run but for a change of pace this the TR8 ran very well but had many (many) electrical issues to fix. Luckily I bought it on the cheap in fall with the plan of having the whole of winter being available for resolving the issues. Even as a cheap TR8 it was by far the most expensive car I had ever bought for myself.

In assessing the car the body was in amazing shape with absolutely no rust. The only real flaw was some flaking point on the driver’s side headlight cover. The interior was all complete but the seats were a little tired looking. The top was functional but shabby looking. The engine ran well and the gearbox seemed to shift smoothly. The electrical system beyond the fuel injection and starter circuit did not function at all. There were no functioning brakes.

As an oddity this particular TR8 did not have power steering. According to the documentation on the internet all TR8s had both power steering and brakes. My car had the assisted brakes but lacked the power steering. It is possible that this was a quirk of the Canadian market or perhaps the power steering had failed and the rack had been replaced with an easier to source non-powered TR7 unit. There was no real evidence of this and the car had all of the more subtle TR8 equipment as well as a legit TR8 VIN making it very unlikely that someone had converted from TR7 to TR8 specification in the past. A mystery.

The previous owner had died and I had bought the car from his estate which meant the car had been sitting a while. The lack of brakes was quickly and easily solved by changing out the fluid and bleeding the system.

The electrical did not come easy … at all. I spent more time than I would like to admit understanding how the flip up headlights are supposed to work as well as puzzling over why they did not with a multimeter. The electrical system initially caused me a bit of confusion is it had a more modern approach over the other cars I had owned like my Triumph Spitfire or Reliant Scimitar but not quite fully modern. The relays were all unlabeled and extremely hard to access behind the fuse box inside of the glovebox. Very small hands certainly would have been an asset.

Perhaps surprisingly considering a lot of TR8 owners convert to carbs my fuel injection system worked perfectly. The engine sounded great and ran very strong. From what I understand the fuel injection is a Bosch system with a Lucas ECU. As a bonus this added 15hp over the earlier cars. The V8 was really stuffed into that engine compartment and with all the fuel injection components hanging off it was not easy to work on.

Eventually I did get all of the electrical systems working correctly with very minimal cost but lots of my labor. Getting the headlights, wipers, heater fan, turn signals all working was very satisfying. At this point our story starts to sour a bit as I went to register the car in my name. While the registration status had been clear when I bought it for reasons that are a mystery to me to this day this was no longer the case. The first time I went in the Registry they told me I would need an out of province inspection which was a big blow. This meant in practice that I would have to replace all the brake and suspension components with brand new ones including the tires regardless of their condition. So I was looking at a very large bill looming for work that really was not required. A second attempt lead to even more confusion as they declared that someone had maybe/sort of recently started using my VIN in Florida. I wondered if someone converting a TR8 clone from a TR7 had picked out my VIN number at random in the sequence to use as their own. Frustratingly I could not get any consistent answers and the previous owner was no longer alive to answer any questions. On the last attempt the Registry suggested registering it in another province then importing it back in Alberta as solution which was clear idiotic.

Around this time the family came knocking for money for some long forgotten by now desire. So I made the decision to sell on the TR8 to someone else to deal with. Obviously with the work I had done and the fact that it was now a fully functioning (but untested car) the value would have risen. But registration woes meant that the car’s value would take a significant hit. Eventually I found a buyer who seemed confident he could sort it all out and I sold it on for almost exactly what I paid. In the end I drove this TR8, one of my dream cars, exactly three times. Twice with no brakes on and off the trailer and a third time consisting of less than a minute down a back alley to test the brakes. Bummer.

My whole COAL series so far