COAL #5: The Lovely Herald – With Or Without Its Roof

Ever since I started reading British classic car magazines in the 70s, I loved Triumph. It seems they had it all: nice styling, open sports cars, closed sports cars, cheap sports cars, expensive sports cars, tiny sedans, medium sedans, large sedans, wagons. I went to the local Triumph dealer and got brochures for the whole range (Spitfire, Dolomite, 2500). When my father’s old rotten Peugeot 404 needed replacing, my brother and myself managed to persuade him in buying a four year old Triumph 2500 (another COAL).


Before I even had a drivers’ license, I went to Triumph club meetings where I saw all the types – many of which were convertibles. It was a dream to own an open car but I knew realistically that these would be outside my world (poor starting student) for years to come. Apart from the Herald convertible, I discovered every run of the mill Herald sedan had its metal top bolted to the windscreen, B posts and rear deck. Which meant the roof would be possible to remove without disastrous weakening of the car because it has a separate chassis.


A 13/60 I saved from the scrapyard on the right

The Triumph Herald was produced from 1959 to 1971. It started with a tiny engine (948 cc) which was enlarged to 1200 cc in 1961. The Herald was available as a sedan, coupe, convertible, wagon and van, all two doors. This was possible because all Heralds had a separate chassis, with the body bolted on. A 12/50 with a bit more power was added to the range, only available as a sedan with a sliding vinyl roof and a different grille. The last 4 years the 13/60 was added, this had a different bonnet (hood), taken from the 6 cylinder Vitesse but with only two headlamps (the Vitesse had four). It also had a slightly larger engine.

If I would have the choice now again, I still would select a 1200 sedan. Not a convertible because I prefer the lines of the sedan (that quirky roof). Not a 948 because it did not have the white rubber strip bumpers and the 948 was really a bit too low on power. And not a 13/60 because I think the original bonnet (hood) looks better, friendlier, not angry.

A Triumph Herald is a happy car. Just the right size and power. It looks like nothing else, but its proportions are good and the lines sharp. A typical 60s (when everything was possible) characterful out of the ordinary design, and that for just a cheap family car!


My old Chamois at the rear. Plus a Peugeot 205, Ford Escort and Opel Kadett. Typical cheap cars in the late 80s.

Because the Herald was the bottom of the Triumph range, I reckoned there should be some available cheap. But Triumph Heralds were pretty rare, just too old to be still on the roads. In those days (mid 80s) you seldom would see a car over 10 years on the road. They existed because I saw them at club meetings, and very nice examples were advertised in the club magazine for too much money (for me). Like my Imp, I never actually saw a Herald on the road.

Then I saw an ad in a Dutch classic car monthly. It was advertised by a Belgian owner. I wondered why that would be, there were almost no Belgian ads. Then it dawned on me that there were no classic car magazines in Belgium! The ad was for a 1969 Herald 1200 Saloon. Wow, exactly the car I wanted! I guess I was lucky, I was the only person that phoned him two weeks later. Not many people wanted to travel far (car was in the south of Belgium) just to inspect a humble Herald. And then having the trouble to import it? For most people that would be too much hassle. Not for me though. Should not be too difficult I thought.



On a sunny Saturday Sylvia and I took the trip to go there for a look, in her black Mini. The Herald was parked in a garage in the back of the garden, it did not look like the garage was used much. The car looked very dusty but also great in my eyes. Just some rust on the doors! The paint was a little shinier on the bonnet than the rest of the car, it probably had received a replacement long ago. The engine started up, using the choke, and I was able to drive in the garden (it was not insured so I could not road test it). There were even brakes. I managed to get some off the asking price because it was so far away and I needed to come back with a trailer, adding to the costs.

So the week after I again traveled to the south of Belgium, around 350 kms (210 miles) or 4 hours away. Now with the Mitsubishi Galant of my father which did what it had to do admirably. It was not fast with a laden trailer but it did not need to be. I delivered the Herald to my friend’s place. He had a big shed where I could work on the car and repair what was needed.


Fitting brake lines. On the left the Hillman Minx which would be mine about 15 years later

In the shed I was happy to see almost rust free floors and chassis. I replaced the flexible and metal brake lines and fitted new tires, and the complete exhaust. It was surprising to see the exhaust was still available cheap at a local Car Parts shop (it really is a very simple system: one long pipe from the exhaust manifold to the single silencer, then a pipe to the rear).


Cute car! With its one-day-valid registration (to drive to the test station)


A first registration test failed but only on a few small things. The Rules stated that hinged front seats needed a catch. These were never fitted to any Herald, not even to the ones sold new in our country. So I made simple brackets from sheet metal. Also the Rules said the drivers outside mirror should be adjustable from the drivers seat, which meant I had to relocate the one outside mirror from the fender to the door. Two weeks later the test was successful and I received a special classic car registration. These were just introduced and it meant I could order old fashioned dark blue number plates (instead of modern yellow plates).


During this time we moved from a students’ flat to a rented new build house, with a garage. What a luxury! I managed to find out how to remove the roof: unscrew two bolts/nuts above the front windscreen, two at the B posts, and four or five (I do not remember) at the rear deck. The rear side windows would fall out if you were not careful. To store the roof, I had nailed ropes to the roof girders of my garage with hooks. So, if I drove the car carefully in the garage to the correct spot I could remove the roof and hang it to the ropes! After some practice this was possible in about 15 minutes. I now had a convertible car! Always with one eye on the weather reports of course because when it would start raining, there just was no roof.

Even with the roof attached, the Herald is a great car to drive. In the UK it was one of the cheapest car you could buy when new (alongside the Austin Mini and Hillman Imp). The Herald always looked a more expensive car. It had a beautiful high gloss wooden dashboard. The seats looked substantial and were comfortable. It was not fast at all but was sporty with its nice exhaust rumble, low seating position, it all had the feeling of a sports car.

Just the feeling of course because the engine was a tad less than 1200 cc and not at all a great performer with its 48 HP. But it made the right noises. Road holding was fine, it had a simple swing axle rear suspension but I never experienced the dangerous-looking pictures you see of Herald or Spitfires going too fast through an corner and the car being jacked up. If fact I believe the one transverse rear leaf spring was maybe set too much, meaning the car sat lower and with a little negative camber. Probably this had an effect on the drive shafts universal joints though, it seemed they needed changing twice per year or so.

I loved its old fashioned details like the big steering wheel, the caps around the head lights, that wooden dashboard, the typical rear lamps. It was also practical, 5 students would fit and a couple of beer crates.

Overall the Herald was pretty reliable, later I used it every day getting to work 10 miles away.



Sylvia and I used the Herald on many holidays in the UK and France. Steep mountain roads were a problem when it was fully laden. But it was nice to have a big luggage compartment, something I was not used to in my Imp. Bulky camping gear was no problem.

Like other British cars, they seem to be made for the gentle flowing hills and bends of smooth UK roads. It liked those roads much better than motorways where it coped but was too noisy, to keep up with the faster modern machinery. I never forget us driving on the outside lane of the M25 around London when a similar Herald 1200, filled with two older couples, flew past us! Heralds were a rare sight in the UK too so we really were surprised to see that. Maybe it got a Vitesse or a Spitfire 1500 engine, who knows, for sure not a standard tune 1200 engine!


At a friend’s house


We once really suffered on a long motorway hill in the Belgian Ardennes. The type where the slow lorries use an extra lane. And Triumph Heralds because our car had a difficult time going up. It was hard to even keep it in third gear, lorries began to overtake us!
During a holiday in Wales, I noticed the clutch needed an extra pump of the pedal. I parked with two wheels on a kerb and looked underneath. A leak presented itself at the clutch slave cylinder. As a precaution for the holiday I had taken new rubbers for wheel cylinders, master cylinders and slave cylinder! In a Herald you can unbolt the gearbox cover from inside the car, and then removing the slave cylinder is easy. With some emery paper I sanded the inside of the cylinder and fitted new rubber to the piston. Sylvia got to the pedal while I made sure no air bubbles came out. Job done! Of course it took most of a midday but we were happy to do a good repair on a sunny day. I remember the town, Aberysthwyth on the West Coast.

Then suddenly it was the nineties. We were expecting our first child and a bigger car would be welcome. There would be no real use for the trusty Herald anymore so it was put up for sale.

As with some other cars I regret selling the car. It served us well and was a really nice car overall. However I am happy to say it is still registered (March 2023) and on the road, owned by someone unknown. If it ever comes up for sale again…