Curbside Classic: Triumph TR7 – The Shape Of Things To Come; Or Not

1 600 TR7 Street

(first posted 1/8/2013)    The Triumph TR7 is an uncommon sight in the United States these days.  Last produced in 1981, the TR7 was briefly popular following its introduction in 1975, but survival and restoration rates have been low, as British car enthusiasts have not embraced it as they have the earlier TR2 through TR6 models.

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The TR7 was a new direction for Triumph, with an all-new chassis and styling that departed completely from the traditional line of Triumph TR sports cars produced from 1953 through 1976.  The frame and suspension that had been used since 1953 (with the addition of independent rear suspension in 1965), disappeared in favor of a modern unit body.  The body styling was the then-trendy wedge shape, declared in advertisements to be modern and aerodynamic.  The initial lack of a convertible version was another major departure for Triumph; their previous sports car offerings had been almost exclusively roadsters without a closed car like the MGB GT or E-Type coupe, other than the Spitfire-based GT6.

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The wedge is a simple machine meant for thrusting into things, and Triumph ads and publicity photos made a corresponding effort to sex up the TR7. However, the photography and advertising copy could not hide the fact that the TR7’s wedge shape was rather dull and homely, lacking the style and sportiness of the preceding TR2 through TR6 and Spitfire.

4 600 TR7 engine

The TR7’s mechanicals did not much help the car’s cause either.  It used a two-liter version of the Triumph “Slant-4”, an engine first used in the Saab 99. It was a modern, overhead-cam four that produced 108 horsepower in Europe, but only 92 horsepower in the U.S. due to emission regulations. Performance was not bad for the time, but not especially impressive either.  Quality and reliability problems–common throughout the British auto industry during the 1970s as a result of constant labor disputes and strikes–further undermined the car’s reputation and popularity.

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Triumph made significant efforts to broaden the car’s appeal during the late 1970s.  The V8-powered TR8 appeared in 1978, with the aluminum 3.5-liter Rover V8 that began its life as a Buick engine in the early 1960s.  Producing 133 horsepower and a 0-60 time of under 8 seconds, the TR8 took the tepid TR7 and made it into a hot performer by contemporary standards.

A convertible version finally appeared in 1979.  The TR8 convertible, produced from 1979 to 1981 and highly regarded by reviewers when new, has an enthusiast following today.  But the new variants were not enough to stop the demise of the TR7/TR8 range in 1981, and the end of this final original Triumph design was followed by the end of Triumph as a British Leyland nameplate in 1984.

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Thirty years after TR7 production ended, the model is a rare sight–but the Curbside Classic effect occurred while the author drove through the small town of Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, formerly the location of an Army base located just to the north of the Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga.  After at least a decade of not seeing a TR7 running on a public street, this red convertible appeared at a stoplight on the town’s main drag, a surprising sight in itself.  Then, only a few minutes later, another TR7 appeared on a field near the entrance to the National Military Park at Chickamauga.

7 600 TR7 in field

This TR7 coupe is far rougher; it’s covered with surface rust and the doors are rusting out from inside, and is almost certainly a non-runner.  However, it appears to be complete with all of its taillight and side market light lenses, mirrors, and other trim, and it may make a good parts car for a TR7 or TR8 restoration project.

8 600 TR7 and Ford

The TR7 coupe is surrounded by vehicles that are more what one would expect to find in a field in a small rural town.  They are more appropriately covered in a separate CC Outtake.

These TR7 sightings were only the start of an hour of car encounters that would culminate in running across this 1982 Jeep DJ-5 Dispatcher mail jeep, still in use as a U.S. Postal Service delivery vehicle.

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