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.
That’s I think BY FAR the best condition TR8 (or TR7 for that matter) that I’ve ever seen that’s actually driven anywhere (even if it was only onto and off a trailer and down an alley). The interior especially looks great. What a shame about the registration difficulties. A great color as well!
It was in beautiful shape. A lot of TR7s suffer from neglect.
Comment déprimant! As they say, it’s better to have loved and lost…
Ohh yeah! The best of British Leyland right here! The personality of the last Triumph was completely changed once that 3.5 litre Rover V8 was shoved in there. For the better I might add.
I can’t think of any car whose appearance was so improved by chopping the top off. Though the V8 didn’t hurt. I found these cars very appealing, and I still do; at least to look at, if not actually think of owning, and yours is a gorgeous color. Sorry the Registry snafu prevented a longer ownership adventure, but maybe it was meant to be. I remember going to register my new-used 1979 Yamaha RD400 into the DMV and it showed up on their system as a Harley. Some data entry goof two or three years earlier. Fortunately I had ridden the bike there and a quick check of the VIN and other info and it was straightened out easily. A perhaps rare example of California DMV customer service.
This one reads a lot like my Volvo 1800ES COAL here:
Although the circumstances were quite a bit different, we both owned cars we never really drove, learned something along the way, and didn’t take too much of a financial hit. Maybe not the ultimate success story either of us was looking for, but a win nonetheless.
Wow DS, with these cheap old cars if not for bad luck you wouldn’t have any at all.
Your out of province inspection does seem rather bizarre, particularly when the car’s status changed behind the curtain.
It did look like it was in marvelous condition though. Highly unfortunate…
Well both good and poor luck. This one was poor luck with the registry changing its mind on what was required. What you get I guess when each registry is run independently as a for profit business.
I had a similar experience with my MGBGT. I bought it impulsively, and it had some issues including a burnt valve. It was just before I was promoted to General Manager, and became to busy to deal with it. It sat in the covered parking space in our apartment building for about a year or more. We were going to move, so I had to deal with. A guy at the station wanted it, but fixed. Finally took off the head and had the valves done. Put it back together, and drove it once, and then to him at the station.
Frankly, I was a bit underwhelmed anyway, so not too great a loss. But at least I made some money on it.
I owned a MG B roadster and while it nice car it was now where near as “special” or fun as the Triumph Spitfire I owned earlier.
Seems like a really nice car. A shame it had to go.
BTW, what’s with the door gaps? They seem awful wide, no?
The cautionary tale here is clear title and provenance. This is a serious issue that can derail the best of intentions. I once gave away a Honda trail 90 cc motorcycle as despite all attempts, the goons at ICBC threw so many roadblocks in titling and registering the damn thing, as it had no papers, I finally gave up.
A different issue arose with a car I took with me to Ontario from bc as a project. It had papers, from bc, and on completion of the restoration, I had to get insurance. And registration. But couldn’t get it registered without a out of province safety inspection. And couldn’t get that without insurance. And couldn’t get insurance without registration and safety. And so it went. Had eventually to flat deck it for a safety. Then to get title registered. Then insurance and plates. All at my extra cost and risk, although I was grateful to the shop for taking pity on me and bending the rules.
Since then I won’t bother with anything without proper local and current registration and title.
Unless it’s a model A. Then maybe I’ll bend my rules.
“In the end I drove this TR8, one of my dream cars, exactly three times… Bummer.”
Wow — to come that close to enjoy your dream car, only to have the dream thwarted by bureaucracy. That’s tough to take.
You’ve mentioned Alberta’s out-of-province registration quirks in the past; I’ve never heard of a registration system that’s so picky — oh, and the suggestion that you register the TR8 in another province and then “import” it back to Alberta has got to go down as one of the most ridiculous suggestions ever made by a gov’t official. It would have been amusing to ask for that suggestion in writing!
Out of curiosity, did you ever find out what ever became of this car? I wonder how many more times it changed hands before someone could get the registration sorted out?
Out of province status is the kiss of death for a lot of lower cars (especially classics) which is a shame. A cracked windshield is all it can take to make something like an old Austin almost impossible to re-register.
I was living in California and and bought a used car in Connecticut. I had to start out with insurance to get it temporarily registered in Connecticut. I still owned my old car registered in California. They wanted some Connecticut insurance form which obviously I didn’t have but would have been able to get from a Connecticut insurer if my old car was registered there. Calling my insurance agent in California and having them fax something didn’t help. They stared at me and at each other for several hours and made long phone calls to somewhere with staring and ignoring in between. Eventually several hours later I was out of there. I have no idea how that happened.
I registered that car in California and a year later I moved to Colorado. Then I was in Massachusetts with the car in question (the fabled TransSport) which by then was suffering from terminal suspension rust that could easily have resulted in a collapse at any moment, among other things.
I traded it in for a new Subaru. I was kinda surprised that they would take it since it was going to the junk yard next, but I guess that’s what dealers do to make a sale. Anyway, it turned out I had years of annual registration stuff but no title even though I had a file of every scrap of everything. When I left off no one had figured out what state had the actual title.
However it occurs to me that I once rolled my car on ice in a national park site in northern California where I was working. It didn’t look that bad but was definitely done for. I called some place in a nearby town about getting it out of there. To my surprise they said they’d take it for nothing. I expected to have to pay a couple hundred bucks. I said what about the title. They said they’d take care of it. It disappeared.
Whew. You never know.
They probably had a TR7 with a Kaphlooey bad drive train. Perfect for drop and swap. Get all Teflon hose stuff. Drop sub frame and drop and swap.
Wow, getting a favorite car, working on it all winter then having to sell it for peanuts because of registration difficulties. Yuck. Paying the bureaucracy tax is never fun.
David, is it not still the case that Alberta is chock full of vehicles with cracked windshields? (Lots of dirt/gravel roads, pickup trucks, etc) When my sister lived there in the eighties, no one cared about damaged windshields…. Block heaters for the minus-40 nights in winter, sure, but not windshields.
It is still the case. Alberta generally uses gravel instead of salt on winter roads as salt is not as effective with our lower temperatures. This leads to many rock chips and cracks. People generally only replace them when they get really bad because your new one will likely get dinged right away.
Regular safety inspections will likely let you get away with a cracked window if it isn’t in the driver’s line of sight. But the stricter out of province requires a perfect windshield.
I think the TR8 you bought was a “Bitsa” of several years, perhaps even one built up from a wrecked TR7 or TR8. That might explain the dubious VIN number issue you discovered. I bought a brand new 1980 TR8 from the Jaguar-Rover-Triumph dealer’s left over inventory in Rapid City, South Dakota, sometime in the Summer of 1982.
All of the 1980 model year cars had twin Zenith-Stromberg carbs; only the 1980 cars sold in the California market had fuel injection due to that state’s stricter exhaust emission regulations. In addition, I doubt that your car was a 1980, because it lacks the vinyl and plaid upholstery design of the 1980 cars, as well as lacking the big TR8 decal on its nose. Instead it has the smaller “Triumph” badge on the nose, as well as solid cloth upholstery, which was found only on the 1981 cars. It also has the 1981 style of trunk lock. All of the 1980 and earlier cars (both TR8’s and TR7’s) had a different style of trunk lock with a small built-in handle you turned to open the trunk. On yours you simply turn the key; there is no small handle one must turn to open the trunk. The fuel injection also makes it a 1981 model year car, because all the 1981’s were upgraded with the Bosch-Lucas fuel injection system. All TR8’s came with power steering, as well as a small Moto-Lita black leather wrapped steering wheel with the actual horn button on the steering column mounted wiper switch. TR8’s needed power steering not because of the weight of the V8 engine, but because the number of steering wheel turns lock-to-lock was significantly reduced on the TR8, giving it almost Formula One car quick steering. The picture of your car shows a TR7 style of steering wheel with a center horn button. Your car also looks like it did not have air conditioning, which all USA models had as standard equipment. Perhaps the Canadian market did not have A/C because of the cooler climate up there in the Great White North. Your car is also missing the black pressed steel shelf below the windshield cowling that sealed off the air intakes for the heater and A/C from the heat of the engine compartment. That is another item that people who converted TR7’s into TR8’s usually left off.
In my opinion, the 1981 model year was the best one for TR8’s, as well as TR7’s, because they all had Bosch designed fuel injection systems that were far more powerful and more drivable than the earlier cars with the Zenith-Stromberg carbs. That said, my TR8 was nonetheless one of the most enjoyable sports cars I ever owned. The handling was fun and forgiving; it was powerful, comfortable, and had an excellent heating and air conditioning system. Too bad that it was killed off by the poor US Dollar/British Pound exchange rate and the incredibly bad build quality of the earlier TR7 cars. By the time British Leyland turned the oddly styled TR7 coupe into a convertible, they had a real potential winner on their hands with the TR8 convertibles.
That is very possible. Even if it was a bits and pieces car it was very nice.
I always liked the TR7. Don’t know if I’ve seen a TR8 or not.
The other day I saw, in my rear view mirror, an extremely clean TR7 convertible. It was some kind of beige-y color. In the driver’s seat, I saw the unmistakable face of a former coworker of mine from many years ago. He was a middle aged man who always dated teenagers, or tried to. He was hygienically challenged, never washed his hands, rarely showered, and had a creepy personality and a greasy porn-stash. Nobody liked him, but he was good at maintaining the plant equipment, and wasn’t afraid of getting, and staying, dirty. He had a creepy grin and talked like Sling Blade. “Mm,hmm. Gonna rebuild dat pump ‘der. Mmm.” So seeing him behind the wheel of such an immaculate and classic car was very surprising. I briefly thought about flagging him down and checking out his ride, but I don’t like any car that much. But the TR7 is close.
Has anyone seen a Comic/Mohito Green TR8 sitting/for sale? I wish I had bought the race car in California that was going back to street.