Spot a Triumph TR7 in a car park and you may well experience something rather strange.
Unenlightened passers-by won’t give it a second look, whereas examples of most of its boxy contemporaries would attract their immediate attention. The last of the TRs shares with its Rover SD1 stablemate an ability to blend into the 21st century carscape, despite originating over forty years ago.
Some cars, a rare few, are considered timeless. Several aspects of the TR7 suggest that it could have slipped through the space-time continuum from the later years of the first decade of the 21st century. Witness the NCAP-friendly wheel arches, the ‘floating’ roof, and the rising side swaging adopted over thirty years later by Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Honda and many others. The qualification must be added that this notional almost-parallel universe has not yet subscribed to pointlessly large wheel madness, and still tolerates pop-up headlights.
I was watching keenly on the sidelines when the TR7 was first revealed in 1974, and remember that the opinion of the critics and public was divided, to say the least. Triumph sports car diehards possibly expected something more traditional, which drew on the style of the aged but well-regarded Michelotti sports cars. Others wondered why the car looked mid-engined, despite having a conventional front-engine rear drive configuration. My only disappointment was that the car’s proportions seemed to be significantly compromised by a very short 85 inch wheelbase.
Looking back, the Triumph looks by far the most accomplished of the mid-70s Harris Mann triptych flanked by the Allegro and 18-22 / Princess. On the surface, and beneath, there are many details and parts unique to the car, never seen before or after. We might have expected that dashboard, or the GM-like rear suspension to turn up elsewhere, but they never did. Perhaps more significantly, there is an emerging design “vocabulary”, which could have been extended to other BLMC products, had it not been for the company’s product planning paralysis at the time.
The TR7 had huge potential but was cursed to arrive in a terrible decade for British Leyland, and an extraordinarily difficult time for the world at large. Its final few years were turbulent, with production moving from Speke to Canley, and then to Solihull. At least the V8 and convertible made it to production, but their prospects were blighted by the reputation of the parent company. Notwithstanding this, it is worth noting that the TR7/8 was the best selling of the TR line, with 115,090 produced, compared with the TR6’s 94, 619. The end came swiftly in 1981, precipitated by the strength of Sterling against the US Dollar, which made profitable sales in the USA an impossibility.
And so to that TR7 “vocabulary”. A few months before the TR7 was revealed to the world, there was a curious teaser of the shape of things to come in the Marina-based SRV2 safety research vehicle.
Not exactly promising, but a reminder that the TR7, aimed squarely at North America, was possibly the most safety–intensive offering in the British Leyland range, designed from the start to comply with rigorous existing and anticipated US legislation. What the SRV2 also demonstrates is that Harris Mann’s lexicon of details and shapes had potential beyond sports cars, to give BLMC’s cars a bold, futuristic identity. Could the TR7’s distinctive and prescient design have been adapted to other uses within the Leyland portfolio? Here are a few shots at what might have been.
Large saloon and estate
Supposing the BL management relented on their decision that the SD1 should replace both the P6 and the big Triumphs, and produced a Triumph-flavoured saloon using the platform and centre section of the big Rover:
I was surprised how easily the TR7 surfacing and proportions adapted to a larger ‘canvas’. The SD1 windscreen, bulkhead and inner doors are unaltered, yet the design seems to work, not just as a “three-box” saloon, but as a generously proportioned estate car.
Four door TR7
Seeing the SD2 Dolomite successor in a different way. This one took a wheelbase stretched to around 103 inches and a lot of ‘manipulation’ to look remotely right. Possibly a close-coupled four door, four seat sports car was not something Dolomite buyers would take to easily, and the Citroen-esque SD2 was a better idea.
The joker in the pack. Harris Mann has spoken of his high regard for long-serving – and hugely under-rated – AMC designer Richard A Teague, so I’ve thrown in a bit of AMC Gremlin into the mix. The cars are a bit longer and taller than the mid-‘70s Fiat 127, Renault 5, and VW Polo, anticipating the Fiat Uno and Peugeot 205.
There’s also a shorter, squarer and more basic ‘Metropolitan’, envisaged as a late ‘70s Mini replacement, with a saloon version, possibly for ‘developing’ world markets.
Back to its roots
I’ve mentioned that the TR7 could be improved by a wheelbase stretch, so here’s my evidence, with a full twelve inches added to match that of the Lynx, a stretched fastback TR7/8 devised by Rover’s styling office, and doomed never to be anything other than a museum exhibit.
Just about everybody agrees that the Lynx should have gone into production. In the metal I found it slightly disappointing: it has a hump-backed look, but worse, the essence of the TR7 has been suppressed. Here’s my try at an alternative LWB TR7/8 fastback
I couldn’t resist adding a ‘sports estate’ on the longer platform. Not dissimilar to the Page Motors / Crayford Tracer conversion, but the longer wheelbase helps the proportions.