(first posted 11/21/2013) The Triumph Herald was arguably the first car to embody the spirit of the 1960s to come from Britain’s established manufacturers, and also one that led to the most intriguing range of spinoffs, before becoming a staple of the British classic car scene.
Standard-Triumph were a producer of sturdy, conservative cars like the Standard Vanguard and the smaller Ensign and Pennant (do you get the nautical theme in the names?) alongside the more glamorous Triumph TR2 roadster; crucially, volumes were lower than BMC or Ford and Standard-Triumph did not have secure or exclusive access to a body builder, as Ford did with Briggs in Dagenham and BMC had with Fisher and Ludlow or Pressed Steel. Standard-Triumph were actually very heavily reliant on contracts to build engines for and assemble Ferguson tractors.
It was clear Standard-Triumph needed to do something to achieve a sustainable independent future, or absorption into a larger group, possibly to essentially obtain either the production capacity in the Midlands, as Jaguar did by buying Daimler, or the tractor contract, or both, was almost certainly inevitable.
Standard-Triumph’s future therefore depended on creating an attractive product that could be manufactured within a set of constraints that were tighter than its competitors, and for which the sales volume would be less than its main competitors’. It seems obvious now, but in the mid 1950s such a solution and ambition were innovative. A compact, but aspirational car. That’s something we’ve heard about many times since, including, of course, from Triumph’s successors.
But the big issues remained – how to secure supplies of bodies for the new car, given the lack of options as Standard’s traditional supplier Fisher and Ludlow in Birmingham was now owned by BMC, and Pressed Steel at Cowley in Oxford had no available capacity? Standard opted for what seems now to be a surprising choice – reverting to a traditional chassis rather than a monocoque as used on the 1953 Standard 8, the predecessor of the 10 (my Dad’s first car, not that I ever saw it) and the later, slightly dressed up Ensign and Pennant. To accomplish this, Standard-Triumph purchased a company called Halls in Liverpool to produce many of the pressings, starting a 25 year link with Liverpool, culminating with the end of TR7 production, and final assembly was handled at the Canley facility in Coventry. In the event, every panel, including the roof, was bolted on.
Standard looked for differentiation throughout the car – the chassis frames were arranged to allow a turning circle of less than 25ft, earning the Herald the strong reputation for manoeuvrability it kept many years – and the whole front of the car forward of the windscreen tipped forward in one piece for access, as there were no separate front wing pressings. The interior was better trimmed with more of the traditional wood and leather(-ette) feel than you would have got from BMC or Ford. Carpeting and a heater were standard, again more than BMC offered, and features like a genuine wood dashboard, leather trim and additional instrumentation were also available.
But the best demonstration of the aspirational nature and the ambition that Triumph had for the Herald was shown with styling. For the first time, Standard-Triumph went to an outside source for the styling and contracted Giovanni Michelotti of Italy to produce something as far removed from the Ensign and Pennant as could be imagined, and much more in line with emerging European styles, such as the Opel Kadett, Ford Anglia, Austin A40 and Farina saloon for example. Add the bright, often 2 tone colours and contemporary American styles were also hinted at. Key points are the large windows, the roof line which was later shared with the Triumph 2000, 1300 and Dolomite ranges and the truncated fins. The saloon was quite close to being pillar-less, and the door frames thin, so it was almost the closest the UK got to a hardtop, rather than a saloon, style
Coil and double-wishbone front suspension was fitted, while the rear suspension was through a single transverse leaf-spring bolted to the top of the final drive unit and swing axles. This was a bit of a weak link, with the rear suspension leading to a lot of oversteer and unconventional behaviour in extremis. The car gained a reputation for being easy to drive within these limits, though.
The engine, taken from the Standard 10, was the 948cc 4 cylinder OHV, used in the Standard Pennant saloon, of around 35bhp and performance was not as brisk as the style might have suggested – 70 mph and 0-60 in 31 seconds. Incidentally, if you’ve ever wondered how cars are named, the Herald name was chosen by Standard-Triumph MD Alick Dick, after the name of his boat!
The Herald was launched in the spring of 1959, and quickly made the Standard 10 look even more like a car of the 1950s than it was, and the Herald as the car of new decade, which were already expected to be a feel good period. The initial reaction to the Herald was positive, but not staggering. It wasn’t until Standard-Triumph had been absorbed by Leyland Motors (until then a pure bus and truck company) in 1961 that the Herald received any development, which was all about moving it more upmarket and away from a direct comparison with the Ford Anglia and Morris Minor, against which it appeared more expensive. A larger, more powerful, 1147cc, 39 bhp engine and more upmarket trim created the Herald 1200. In 1963, we had the Herald 12/50 – as it says a 50 bhp version of the 1147 cc engine, disc brakes and a fabric sunroof – perhaps the definitive Herald. By this time, Leyland had replaced all the old Standard cars with new Triumphs – the 1300 and 2000 saloons were successfully establishing the luxury/sports/executive saloon concept that was so successfully built on by others during the 1970s and 1980s.
Of course, one advantage of the chassis construction was the ability to easily develop alternative body styles from the same starting point. The convertible, coupe and estate were quickly added and their development matched the saloons. But the Herald had some surprises in store for us. The first was the Spitfire sports car – Triumph had planned this but couldn’t afford to put it into production until after the Leyland takeover. The Spitfire was continually developed in that typical BL way, until production finally ended in 1980, 10 years after the Herald passed away
In 1962, Triumph put a 1596cc 6 cylinder, derived from the old Standard Vanguard engine, into the Herald, with a revised front end featuring then fashionable 4 headlamp layout. This was Britain’s first compact sports saloon and convertible, and the idea of a 6 cylinder engine of this size was, and still is, a novelty. The Vitesse grew to 2000cc in 1966. The range of kit cars based on the Herald chassis and range of engines is seemingly never ending also.
The Spitfire was developed to the GT6 – essentially a Spitfire with a 6 cylinder 2 litre engine and a mini Jaguar E-type body, to take on the MGB GT. This was probably the car that best showed the potential of the Herald chassis, and also its weaknesses. If you have to advertise like this, then the consumers know you know they know you’ve had an issue, as they say. This lasted until 1973.
One disadvantage of the construction was the build quality. Bolting all those panels together offered many opportunities for tolerance build up and misalignment and the creation of rust traps. By the early 1970s, even British car buyers were turning away from good value used Heralds for that reason. On the flipside, they are relatively easy to restore and keep on the road, and parts supply seems plentiful still.
The featured CC is a 1966 1200 convertible, which has clearly been resprayed in this non-period metallic lilac colour (I can’t place the colour but it looks 1990s to me) and fitted with the seats from (I think) a Rover 416 and what looks like a new hood as well. I see it occasionally around my village and it has recently been parked up outside through some English November weather. If you’re worried about speed or absolute driving fun, then you can do a lot worse for an introduction to the classic car scene.
I have a soft spot for the design of the Vitesse. Michelotti’s STI designs were all over the map — some were quite attractive, others just odd — but the Vitesse’s slanted quad lights give it an endearingly quirky look (and make it look more interesting than the Herald, which presumably was the point of the exercise). The performance is still pretty disappointing, though; even for the mid-sixties, 70 hp (net) from 1,596cc wasn’t much. (The 1,998cc engine wasn’t a whole lot better; the best STI got out of it in stock form was 104 hp.)
Nice article which brings back childhood memories of these cars.
When I was a child in the 1960s my Dad was a chief mechanic at a small Triumph dealership so I grew up with a rich sampling of Standard Triumph machinery.
I remember my mother learning to drive in a Herald Coupe with me sat in the back seat. Later she owned an old-ish Standard 8 which she once let me drive into the garage. I was probably about 8 years old.
I remember my Dad taking me on a train trip to pick up a new Herald to drive back to the dealership. I can’t remember for sure but it was probably from Canley and it was a good 5 or 6 hour drive back to Swansea in those days. I vividly remember the “new car smell” and the plastic seat covers being sticky to sit on.
Later Mum got a Vitesse 6 1600 which stayed around until I got my licence at 17 and I got to drive it quite a lot. Not great performance it is true but it sounded good. It must have been quite an old car by then but it was immaculate and drove like new. Of course, I thrashed the guts out of it occasionally. I was always afraid my Dad would somehow be able to tell just by looking at it. LOL
All of the Triumphs I rode in or drove, and there were dozens, exuded a certain sense of style and class that was different to any other marque.
Good memories. Thanks!
My first car was a 1967 13/60 convertible in Valencia blue. One summers day after a rain down pour the road we slippy enough for the rear end to loose traction causing the car to head for the fields. The front of the car disappeared down a 6 foot ditch..yes ever thing went into slow motion and black and white. Why knee waked the metal underdash radio surround and I climbed out the drivers side window to find an American GI looking at me. “F–k I fought you were dead, by the way you came of the road”.
Later after an expensive recovery lift, found the front hald concertined the transmission and chassis. Top of the hood was now a the height of the Windshield!.. Lucky me. sold the wreck to The Triumph Hospital in Hitched, Hertfordshire. The convertible tub found a new home on a sedan conversion in Norway!. Hark the Heralds Swing!.
I first saw one of these cars on an episode of Top Gear, where one of the guys turned it into a boat. I remember liking the car and felt sorry that they ruined it for the show.
After reading this very nice wrapup on these cars, I like it even more. I had no idea that the Spitfire was derived from this chassis. The method of construction is fascinating – it reminds me a lot of Studebaker, which also used obsolete construction methods with lots of bolt-ons (like the rear quarter panels).
I remain curious about how such small engines were the norm in England. I understand that fuel was expensive and that taxes had something to do with it as well. The idea of a sub-1 liter engine in a family car is quite a curiosity to me here in the U.S.
Although you inherently know they’re beaters that would cost way more than they’re worth to restore, it still annoys the hell out of me to watch those guys take neat old British cars and trash them. Especially when they’re cars that either weren’t offered or sold poorly in the US – like the Dolomite or SD-1.
And I got tired of their trashing the Morris Marina long ago, even though I know what a POS those things were, my BIL having owned one.
There was no motorway network in the u.k until the 60s/70s and consequently very few places that you could drive fast. A small engine that would cruise at 45-50 mph was adequate. Lots of country lanes, main roads passing through towns etc was the norm. Then of course, people simply didn’t travel as far as they do now. There is also the consideration that a car was an expensive luxury for many until the 60s, to have a car, any car, was a source of great pride so people weren’t going to scoff that you only had a 1 litre engine. But mainly it was cost reasons. The Government always treated cars as a luxury item and consequently anything to do with them had the living shit taxed out of it. There was purchase tax to pay as a percentage of the retail price. Road fund license to pay. Fuel has always been expensive (tax). So the cheaper and smaller the car, the less the associated expenses were. Pre war, the tax you paid was on the RAC rated horsepower system. Cheapest was the 7hp like the tiny 750cc Austin 7, while the 8 and 10hp would be around the 900-1000cc mark and this was the most common for a lower middle class family car. 12,14, and 16hp was getting into the realms of upper middle class. Yup, we had the class system for cars.
Saw my first Herald parked in a neighbor’s driveway back in 1961 – that was the first and last model I saw until they (occasionally) started showing up in vintage car shows. Definitely not a big seller in the US.
Enjoyed the article greatly. Over here in the US, we often forget that the British (other than Jaguar) actually made sedans and not everybody in England drive a Mini or MGB.
Never having seen a Herald in the metal, the Top Gear challenge mentioned by jpcavanaugh defines there cars to me as well. Here it is:
The Herald’s moment of glory starts at 3:50. At 4:15, you may find yourself breaking into song in celebration.
No need to feel bad that the car was ruined. The car/boat Herald lived on and was featured in a second amphibious car challenge on the show. It was not ruined, as much as it was upgraded.
As a former Spitfire owner I have a soft spot for Heralds too. Surprisingly there are a handful still about in western Canada. They had a reputation of being a bit of a rust bucket back in the UK. The Heralds have more of a full frame than the later Spitfires which also used the body (rockers mostly) for body strength.
The chassis is almost like a Lotus Elan – but clearly wouldn’t have the same strength or at least not without being a lot heavier.
I don’t imagine that crash safety was much good, the body can’t be very strong with such thin pillars and there isn’t much to deal with side impacts. This was likely before they worried about seatbelt mounts let alone crumple zones, only a few years later things improved a lot (cars debuting in the early 60’s).
The old joke about Triumph Heralds was the build quality was variable – the parts might fall off in either alphabetical or numerical order!
I had a couple of these Heralds a 61 sedan and a 63 Coupe both were rusty most of them were and not very robust mechanically, quite a few survivors here many roofless sedans getting around but Ive seen one coupe recently
Nice,how sad the awful Marina replaced it in BLs line up
Really, it was replaced by the 1300/Toledo/Dolomite, though in standard Leyland/BL fashion, the Herald and its derivatives ran alongside for a number of years. The Marina replaced the Morris Minor.
My mistake,I was sure I read the Marina was made because there were customers who disliked the FWD BL cars.
That’s probably true up to a point. The Mini/1100/1800/Maxi (I should do ADO numbers, but can’t recall them all right now!) were FWD, whereas the old Farina Oxford etc series was RWD, as was the Minor, which was about three generations out of date, but well-loved.
The Allegro replaced the 1100/1300 series (FWD) and the Marina replaced the Minor and the Farinas (RWD). The Marina was a bit more expensive than an Escort, but smaller and less well equipped than a Cortina. These were Ford’s glory years in the UK…
Meanwhile, the whole Triumph small car series continued in parallel, with the Toledo/Dolomite body being engineered at various times for both FWD and RWD!
Yeah, fleet buyers were none too fond of the front-wheel-drive cars and I think it cost BL a fair piece of the company car market, fleet managers being less concerned with engineering cleverness than pence per mile.
Now boys, let’s not get all nostalgic just because it’s an old car. After cheerfully driving a rusty old rattletrap TR3 for 4 years I thought a Herald would be a good car, too. Hah! I bought a Herald convertible in 1981 and sold it after 4 months during which I averaged only 19 mpg, which is pretty poor for a 1200cc engine. I learned that a company that makes good cars can also make bad cars. The Herald was a wretched, wretched car. The X-frame flexed, the body flexed, the swing axles tucked under, tossing the car in random directions. The materials and workmanship sucked. The transmission tunnel was cardboard. The ashtray was cut from sheet metal with tin snips without using a pattern and soldered together by seventh-graders.
Last week I saw a Herald convertible in Houston (actually in Seabrook south east of Houston near the NASA Johnson Space Center). It looked to be in very good, possibly restored, condition. It was the same shade of blue as the one in this article. I was startled to see it because it is so rare. I can only remember seeing a coupe once before.
Understand too that Seabrook is right on Galveston Bay and has many marinas and several residences with boat slips or canals. The owners of these are often retired or at least “more mature” people with the means to also have a special interest automobile.
On a nice Saturday it is not unusual to see a dozen or more “belly button” cars e.g. vintage Camaros, Malibus, Mustangs, Corvettes, and tri-five Chevys. A Triumph Spitfire or TR4 can be seen occasionally – a TR6 or TR7 a little less frequently but a Herald is a very rare sight indeed.
I first saw the Herald at the New York City auto show, probably in 1960 and like its neat lines. Even then it was clear, owever, that it was built to a low price… dpoor fitting panels and not the best paint job either! Still, it looked better than the old Austins or Ford Anglias.
Back in the ’50s it was normal for cars to have lots of grease nipples which needed the attention of a grease gun every 1000 miles. The Herald was one of the first cars to move things forward. Most joints were sealed for life – albeit a short life. Front wishbones had nylon bushes. The front uprights had a sealed balljoint at the top and a threaded joint at the bottom, which needed gear oil injected by a grease gun. The oil filter was a screw-off cannister – common now but rare then as the norm was a paper oil filter inserted into steel shell.
It’s probably worth noting that a lot of race cars used Triumph Herald uprights as the basis of their suspension
Hark! The Herald Axles Swing!
Really interesting write-up Roger, thank you! I never knew why the Herald had the separate chassis, so it was interesting to read the background. I also had no idea the Spitfire was Herald-based, but it makes sense now. Still quite a few Heralds around here, and although the Vitesesses are slow, it’s all the more time to enjoy the delicious 6-cylinder engine note! The air of flimsiness prevents me from wanting one – although the wagons are pretty cool.
Speaking of the Herald, the always-interesting aronline site shows Indian-built 4-door Herald sedans station wagons. http://www.aronline.co.uk/blogs/cars/triumph/herald-vitesse/gallery-standard-herald/
Some of these overseas-assembled Heralds used locally made GRP body panels, since these parts were not load-bearing.
I don’t see how going to body-on-frame construction solved the problem of a shortage of pressing producers. Unit construction and body-on-frame both use pressed steel parts.
Unit construction usually involved one plant pressing all the panels and welding them together, and delivering the shell to the “manufacturer” to have the powertrain and trim added.
I’m pretty sure that Lancia, Alfa-Romeo, Panhard, and ASA at the very least had made aspirational compact cars prior to Triumph producing the Herald. In Italy, there was an entire industry to coach-building on cheap Fiat bones. Even the BMW 700 could have been considered an aspirational compact considering its low value proposition relative to VW. Wasn’t the Wolseley Hornet meant to be an aspirational Mini variant?
In case Paul reads this, I thought he might enjoy this minicamper:
The Herald was introduced long before the UK joined the EU/Common Market, so Alfas and Lancias were mega-expensive. Panhards had 850cc motors to suit French taxation, so they had no appeal in other markets.
Depending how you define aspirational, Britain had a long history of aspirational marques many of which produced a range of models. Rover, Alvis, Lea-Francis, Lanchester…..
The small Humbers of the thirties come to mind; their relationship to a Hillman was not always obvious. Then there was Wolseley, for those who wanted something better than a Morris. OHC engine and better trim, yes, and a prestige grille, but the bodyshell relationship was obvious.
Since the war, Standard had positioned Triumph as the upmarket of the two brands. Their bodies, and indeed the chassis, were also quite distinct. The Triumph 1800/2000/Renown of the forties and early fifties would certainly never be confused for a Vanguard it came to share its engine with. Could we call the early-fifties Triumph Mayflower aspirational? I can’t think who would have aspire to one, but…..
Yep. My be wrong but imported cars more 25%more than a British car.
If you could afford one you were Flash!.
Last Herald that I spotted in the “wild”, circa 1990’s , with a Vega Kammback for company!
A Vitesse was my first car and I loved it for its lovely, smooth straight 6 and direct shifting gearbox with overdrive which allowed it to lope along at 90+ mph. As a convertible, it wasn’t the most rigid of machines, but that really depended a lot on the condition of the chassis – a good one was ok, whilst a rusty one could be horrible. The Mk2 rear suspension with reversed lower wishbones and rotoflex couplings also solved the handling problems of the earlier swing axle cars. They were also super easy to work on – you just flipped open the hood, sat on a front tire and put your cup of tea on the front bulkhead!
When I later drove a 6 cyl. BMW E30 Cabrio I was reminded of my old Triumph – they had very similar concepts, market positions and driving characteristics. The refinement of a straight 6 in a compact package is a winning combination and it was a shame the Dolomite didn’t offer a six or independent suspension along with its unitary construction – Triumph could have had a 3 Series before BMW did…..
Had a 69 Mk 2 in the same blue as above. I blow off a kid in a Golf GTI MK1 after him and his girl friends laughed at me, at the lights…..
Still loads of Heralds in NZ in all sorts of coditions Ive neen bitten twice by them so dont want a third, fast versions are easy to build all you need is the engine and box from a dead Triumph 2000 or 2500 and youre in business, the rear suspension has easy mods to cure the handling issues and the roof unbolts for summer.
My (NZ) grandfather downsized to a Herald after owning a Humber Hawk followed by a Humber Super Snipe. Before my time so I’m not sure why he chose it or what the ownership experience was like.
That brings back memories! I drove a Herald 1200 Saloon for 5 years, 1988-93. When I started looking for a Herald in 1988 (in the Netherlands), they were hard to find because they all had rusted away. In the end I found one in Belgium which was cheap because it had been standing for a few years and the brakes needed work. Brought it home on a trailer and repaired the brakes.
Loved that car. It was slow, surely, but did not give that impression as the seats were low and the exhaust note sporty. Classy with the big steering wheel and wooden dash. I had a few ropes hanging from the ceiling of my garage so I could hooke the roof to that (7 bolts to be undone). Without the roof it looked like a proper convertible and I used it like that all the time in the summer.
I hated the rear suspension – seems it needed an universal joint every few months. Overall the car was very reliable and easy to maintain.
“My” car still lives, I would buy it back if I would have the chance. Excellent little runner.
another pic in front of my house next to the Morris Oxford I also had for a while
It isn’t clear from the photos, but the featured late-model car appears to have aftermarket bumpers. Early 950cc Heralds ( with by-pass oil filters?) had body-colour bumpers that were actually integral to the body – only the chrome overiders were bolt-on (although everything was bolt-on on a Herald !)
When the 1200 model came along, courtesy of Leyland, the bumpers were given a white rubber over-layer, with aluminium covers at the ends. When you washed the car you took a scrubbing brush to the white rubber….
The Vitesse always had shiny metal covering on the horizontal parts of the bumper.
Great article. Really enjoyed it. I suppose it’s because we’re part of the Commonwealth that we had stacks of Triumphs – including a Heralds and Vitesses- here in Australia. We’ve largely moved away from British cars, though; most of ours are now sourced from Japan. We don’t even make cars here anymore.