Curbside Classic: 1974 Triumph Toledo–The Only Car Ever To Be Switched From FWD To RWD?

(first posted 12/11/2012)     Here’s a little number I’d never heard of until I noticed these photos, posted to the Cohort by Down- Under cameraman Bryce. Triumph Toledo? Did they sell these in Ohio? I’m sure I would have heard about it if they had…

Actually, these were based on the familiar “Ajax” line of Triumph saloons, which included the 1300, 1500 and Dolomite/Dolomite Sprint. But where did the Toledo fit in?


For those of us in the States, Triumph generally means sports cars like the TR series, Spitfire ,and that mini-Jag E-Type coupe, the GT6. But Triumph also built a number of well-regarded sporting saloons. The Ajax series launched in October 1965, when the initial 1300 saloon was unveiled at the London Motor Show.


It was modern both stylistically and mechanically, with smooth Michelotti styling, front-wheel drive and synchronized four-speed transmission. Not everything was new, though: The 61-hp OHV 1,296cc inline four was a longitudinally-mounted unit that had debuted, in 803cc form, in the 1953 Standard Eight. Interiors were suitably clubby, with leather buckets, full instrumentation, wood dash and wood door cappings.

The 1300 had a pretty good run from late 1965 to 1970, with sales of some 113,000 regular versions and about 35,000 twin-carburetor “TC” variants; later in 1970, Triumph introduced the Toledo as its de facto replacement. Deeming the rather complex front-wheel drive configuration too expensive to produce, British Leyland–that cost-cutting darling of the U.K. in the ’70s–changed the car over to rear-wheel drive. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, they actually changed a FWD car into a RWD car. They also applied the same treatment to the bigger FWD Triumph 1500, which served a brief stint as the RWD 1500TC before ultimately morphing into the RWD Dolomite / Dolomite Sprint. New to the lineup was a two-door sedan, a body style the 1300 had not offered.

Basically, the Toledo was a decontented, rear-wheel drive 1300, which was evident inside and out. Inside, the new instrument panel offered far fewer gauges and the only wood trim in the cabin. The body was essentially a carry-over from the 1300, albeit stretched three inches in length, to 156 inches, and one-quarter inch in width, to 62 inches. The 54-inch height was unchanged from the 1300. Despite such nickel-and-diming, it still maintained a very traditional British appearance.

Also carried over was the very same 1,296cc engine from the 1300, now modified to accept the rear-drive configuration and rated at 58 hp. Starting in March 1971, “export” versions were fitted with the 1,496 “1500” four in either 61-hp, single-barrel carburetor or 64-hp twin-carb “TC” form. As with the 1300, a four-speed manual transmission was the sole option.

Although the Toledo started out as a cut-rate 1300, it received additional standard equipment over the years, including front disc brakes in 1972 and a rear-window defroster in late 1973/early 1974. However, the cute little two-door was dropped in March 1975.

I couldn’t resist including this vintage shot, taken by Charles01, that I found on Wikipedia. It’s hard to appreciate the lines of the white one Bryce found, what with its roof-mounted billboard and full-body advertising. In a dark color like this, the Toledo makes a smart-looking compact saloon. I like it.

Up front was where the Toledo’s appearance changed most, with unique-for-the-time rectangular headlights, a split eggcrate grille and below-bumper parking/signal lights. While the 1300’s nose had been handsome in its own right, it looked a bit dated by 1970. The nose job made the Toledo look a lot more current without totally changing its overall appearance.

Ah, but this is a British Leyland car, is it not? Of course there were issues, most of which sprung from indifferent assembly. The biggest malady surfaced in August of 1973, when the Toledo, 1500 and Dolomite were the objects of the then-largest recall (of over 103,000 cars) in the U.K. The culprit was a front-suspension strut that was prone to failure; its failure rendered the car unsteerable, which could be a slight problem. Although BL officials claimed that failure could result only from abuse, their implementation of the recall suggested otherwise.

The last Toledos came off the line in 1976, but its big brother, the BMW-like Dolomite, lasted all the way to 1980, when it was succeeded by a first-gen Honda Accord clone named the Acclaim (Blue ribbon for ironic names, eh? Anyone? Hey, is this microphone on?). It may have been a great Honda, and even a fine runabout in Triumph form, but it’s hard to compare an Acclaim to the sporty, wood-dashed Dolomite that it replaced.

Indeed, 1980 more or less marked the death of the real Triumph motor car, as the Dolomite and Spitfire went into the great beyond. The doorstop-styled TR7 and TR8, the last of the true British Triumphs, bowed in 1981. The Accord-clone Ballade would last through 1984, after when the Triumph name would disappear. Well, it was fun while it lasted. Who could forget the classic Triumph sports cars of the ’60s? No one who lived in the U.S. at the time, that’s for sure. I’m sure most of us at CC can find a little love for the Toledo, too.

Special thanks to Bryce, for shooting this Toledo billboard. Nice catch!

(brochure pictures are from