Opening Up the TR7 Envelope

Spot a Triumph TR7 in a car park and you may well experience something rather strange. 

triumphtr7-01

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.

tr7-brochure-people

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.

blmc-srv2-1974

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:

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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.

4-door-tr7

Supermini

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.

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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.

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Back to its roots

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Triumph Lynx

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.

tr7-wheelbases

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

lynx

And finally…

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.

broadside

 

22 thoughts on “Opening Up the TR7 Envelope”

  1. Thanks for that. It supports my recently adopted idea that Triumph should have been favoured unstead of Rover.
    For the 97 inch TR7 I’d suggest the C-pillar should be over the rear axle.
    The Lynx suggests the early Accord – and again, Triumph’s sporty character lent itself to that rather better than Rover.
    Dear, oh dear.
    The TR7 needed the extra wb length you gave it plus a company who could build it properly. Then there would have been less of a gap in the market and something for Triumph to build on.

  2. Triumph had the Michelotti styled Puma project (http://www.aronline.co.uk/images/sd1dev_07.jpg) in that period losing out to what became the Rover SD1, while one Mini-replacing ADO74 styling proposal did feature elements of the TR7 looking more resolved and IMHO the best looking of the ADO74 prototypes (http://www.aronline.co.uk/images/superado74_10.jpg).

    As far as TR7s go prefer the later tidied up RT 061 Broadside project with smoothed out sides (ditching the side curve) and body-coloured bumpers that serves to significantly improve the styling (see MG – The Untold Story), even better it is spawned a Lynx variant with the 2-door 2-seater coupe featuring flying buttresses (https://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/19a7iyw5q4lnujpg.jpg).

    While it might have been possible to spawn other models with the TR7’s styling if well executed, it probably would not work if the models retained TR7-like rubber bumpers and whatever is tacked on the B and C Pillars of certain models, with the TR7 saloon as well as the large saloon and estate featuring too much of William Town’s Aston Martin Lagonda for my liking.

  3. It would be unfair to judge the Puma on the photo as it’s a clay model and still a work on progress. I notice the strained attempt to bring the base of the sideglass around to the base of the windscreen: fine in itself. Alas, the boot to and front wing don’t work too well together as a result. It is a clay as I say. I’ve not seen even a definitive clay that has the same finished look of a production car. They all look worse. I am sure every bit of the Puma would have been massaged and nudged in between the state we see it and final production form.
    Do any AR experts have a theory why Triumph was not favoured when it had such a large range of cars until 1980? It was the factories and politics, was it not? Or did Rover have more influence inside BL?

  4. I’m firmly in the pro-TR7 camp. It’s a design that has weathered remarkably well. Given how little it was altered from Harris Mann’s original sketches, it’s a testament to him – a stylist who has been savagely smeared by decisions made over which he had little say. Even the least worthy of his designs have some merit in my view.

    What’s really interesting here is the fact that the car’s silhouette can actually support so many derivations. That is truly remarkable. The other point worth making is that almost all of these appear better than anything dreamed up by BL’s own stylists in the TR7’s wake. Sit a TR7 next to its intended ‘Broadside’ successor and you realise how badly the stylists botched it.

    Lynx is also a huge disappointment in the flesh. It’s just a big lump of a thing with no visual dynamism at all. It illustrates a loss of nerve, but as ever, politics were as much a factor as anything else. Robertas’ Lynx render is infinitely superior. In fact, apart from the stretched ‘standard’ TR7, which has too much rear overhang, all of these renders are compelling. Of course, everybody laughed at the TR7’s body side graphics at the time, so it’s unlikely to have been rolled out across the board, but posterity tells its own story, doesn’t it?

    As an aside, I also had a close look at SD2. It has some good points but appears as two entirely different designs in an uneasy truce. Its wheelbase is too short too. It was also the wrong car for Triumph. What Robertas has presented here makes a good deal more sense – a commodity sorely lacking in BL during this wasted era.

    1. As an aside, I recall reading the Lynx was subject to intense competition within the styling department in Canley. David Bache went to great lengths to suppress the styling proposal which eventually went forward, in favour of his own rather ungainly looking effort, which resembled a 501-series Lotus Elite, but fitted with rear quarter opera windows – a feature the eminent styling director insisted was essential for the US market. It is said that this was the final straw for Harold Musgrove, who sacked him.

      What really killed the Lynx wasn’t just the closure of Speke, but the fact that the the business case for the car was lost. BL’s US bosses believed it was unsaleable and were said to have told their counterparts in Canley in no uncertain terms that they didn’t want it.

    2. I make no excuses for my long wheelbase TR7 hardtop – the indulgence of the amateur dabbler.

      Before I’d done much manipulation, the answer was before me; even more mid-engined looking than the real TR7, with the potential to provide generous interior space for two, and loads of room for golf bats behind.

      I’d sooner put an engine in there, but we ignore the target market at out peril.

  5. We were discussing William Towns the other day, and now we’re discussing Harris Mann. Two talented designers who had the misfortune to work in the British motor industry and, so, among the vaguely knowledgeable (anyone else hasn’t heard of the at all) are more likely to attract a sneer as a compliment.

    It’s interesting that today, on release, a car’s named designer often didn’t design it at all. Which doesn’t demean him (gender specific again – but don’t blame me) since his job is to orchestrate the whole project.

    In Harris Mann’s case he did draw his cars, then had others cock them up for him.

    1. Like William Towns other production worthy designs and in retrospect believe he should have styled the original Reliant Scimitar SS1 instead of Reliant using the late Giovanni Michelotti’s unfinished design.

      Understand that Harris Mann had little choice on fitting those bumpers to the TR7 though would have preferred the body-coloured bumpers in latter prototypes or a similar front to the Austin Zanda concept, even the Austin Allegro was potentially salvageable via a decent front end and along with the Austin Princess featured a hatchback.

      Agree it is a pity that both were given the short straw.

  6. Bob – I’d somehow missed that TR7-ish ADO74. I agree that it’s the best of the sizeable ADO74 collection. They did seem to get bogged down in some overdone frontal treatments, some are downright Belphégor!

    The ADO74 seems to date from 1972, so the Renault 5, Fiat 127, and first generation Civic would have been known to the designers. It looks like a good response to these, with slightly more generous proportions and a bit of Peugeot 205-like elegance, in contrast to the angular minimalism of the Polo and Fiesta.

    The pity is that ADO74 was probably brought down by the over-ambitious engine/transmission combinations being developed for it at the time. If BL had curbed their ambitions and combined the trusted A series powertrain with the styling it could have been a winner.

    1. Thanks for this item, Robertas. You must have used quite a bit of time on the profiles. I know I did on my XM drawings, even as I tried to change as little as possible.

    2. Robertas Parazitas – From my understanding ADO74 was poorly packaged in comparison to the original Mini or even later Metro and other Mini replacing projects of the period, could see one or two other ADO74 styles being somewhat useful if BL decided to spawn non-Triumph variants.

      Still a Triumph badged ADO74 would have done very well during this time around the fuel crisis, perhaps it could have been powered by an updated A-OHC (possibly all-alloy) or even use a 3-cylinder derived from the Triumph-Saab Slant-4 or Issigonis’s featherweight 9X engines.

      Though in the case of the Triumph-Saab Slant-4, the fact it was a low-volume engine compared to the B / O Series meant there was little chance of spawning a 3-cylinder (even though such engines were indeed created and tested) let alone even replacing both the A-Series and B / O Series engines.

  7. A intriguing piece of work there Robertas, thank-you.

    Speaking as somebody who worked for a BL dealer which did rather well with the TR7 in regard to sales and servicing (far more so than the MGB) I think there was a case for relaunching the TR7/8 in the same manner as the XJ-S.

    It would probably have suffered the O-series rather than the Slant-4 until Rover’s M-series was ready. Hopefully it would have gained body colour bumpers, a fresh interior trim and smart alloys from Roy Axe’s Atlantic experience and his new, vibrant Coventry studio.

    Would have it resurged and remained saleable until the Calibra if Austin-Rover Group had exhumed it? The Capri lived until 85-86 and the X1/9 until ’89.

    And if TR7 had taken off for a second time, would the design language have prospered so that all future Honda based cars were Triumphs instead of just the Acclaim?

    And if that were the case, would there have been the confidence to instead have revealed the TR9 at Frankfurt in ’85 as opposed to the MG-EXE?

    1. Lord Sward

      To be fair read the O-Series was capable of putting out more power with as much as 127 hp being mooted for the cancalled 2.0 O-Series MGB or pretty much the same as the also cancelled TR7 Sprint, so an O-Series TR7 would not be a complete disaster and that is not forgetting the turbocharged O-Series engine.

      Do kind of see the logic in all Honda based cars being Triumphs though wonder how Triumph would maintain its reputation for sports-cars without a suitable front-engined rear-wheel drive platform, it is not likely that Honda would be willing to allow Triumph to spawn a TR9 from the NSX.

  8. Everything was poorly packaged compared with the Mini, but by the late ’60s there was an indulgent expectation of things like crumple zones, engine accessibilty and effective H+V systems. They’d still think us soft for expecting power steering and air-con even in the smallest cars.

    The OHC A series seems to have been a very effective re-work, as it addressed all the legacy limitations of the pushrod A series top-end architecture and gave impressive power outputs and fuel efficiency. I’d imagine the cost of the new top end and associated bottom end changes were tantalisingly close to that of a completely new engine. Poor Leyland, faced with the embarrassment of choice, stuck with the pushrod version, upgraded it to almost Cooper S specification and called it the A Plus.

    It served valiantly, but BL/ARG/Rover were stuck with an early ’50s engine which was costly and difficult to make, and was still required in huge numbers throughout the 1980s. If they had found the money to develop and build something like Fiat’s FIRE, it would have paid for itself many times over.

    1. To be fair the A-Series was competitive in other respects, which only served to make it a difficult engine to replace though they could have done much more to update it then they did.

      Was of the impression that ADO74’s poor packaging was down to Harry Webster having little experience packaging a small car, while Alec Issigonis was out of favor by that point and vainly trying to convince management to produce the 9X and X10 replacements for the Mini and ADO16.

      Would have liked to have seen BL re-work both the Mini and original Metro to receive an end-on gearbox, allowing both cars to put out to feature a 5-speed gearbox as well as more power in turbocharged form compared to the existing gearbox-in-sump layout.

  9. Right or wrong, after scoops in TWBCM, my memory of TR7s actual release was a TV news item of a dull coloured model being driven around what looked like a shopping centre car park – even if there weren’t many shopping centres back then. This seems quite possible bearing in mind BL’s seemingly DIY approach to PR and advertising.

    It’s a perceptive comment that TR7 is too modern to fit in with the image of what a classic British sports car should look like. But if it wasn’t British that might be less of a problem.

  10. Of course, the Master Plan for TR7/8 was that after the 3rd ceasing of production by BL, the plant was off to Belfast to be built by the misfortunate, but hardworking DeLorean team of men and women.

    I really do think the Wedge would have taken off on both sides of the Atlantic at this point and ran until ’90. The Luck O’the Irish, lots of Lotus talent to refine existing engineering, no dead hand of BL and a soon to be booming economy in the crucial markets.

    The ’80s was all shoulder pads and creases and the TR7 in some good colours would have fitted right in. Just make the pop-up headlamps as Harris Mann intended and sales would have been certain.

    Certainly one of Roberta’s examples above looks to be very CRX like in profile. Honda bought the rights to the Scimitar GTE to make an Accord estate. Was that really so different to what we’re seeing above? The synergies of design were there for the taking, more so than with Austin-Morris (FWD aside) or Rover, both staid in image and design.

    I know Margaret Thatcher gets blamed for an awful lot, rightly or wrongly, but in this instance let me paraphrase a little ditty ‘Maggie Thatcher, Wedge Snatcher’.

    1. It’s interesting to reflect on how one of the many ways BLMC/BL killed brand identities within the organisation was by removing figureheads around which staff could rally. The only instance where this process was thwarted was at Browns Lane, where Bob Knight used a sophisticated process of countermeasures to delay, confound, frustrate and otherwise repel all adversaries. But elsewhere, once the brand champions were removed, assimilation and annihilation swiftly followed. (See also Lancia)

      The TR7’s story gets very murky indeed towards the end – not that it had the most auspicious of beginnings for that matter. I do wonder how things might have panned out for them had Harry Webster not been dragged out of Canley to drink the hemlock of replacing dear Alec at Longbridge. His leadership seemed pivotal in maintaining Triumph’s engineering identity and one assumes he’d have fought Triumph’s corner more vociferously than the pragmatic Spen King – (himself a Rover man) – did. One would also imagine he wouldn’t necessarily have agreed with King’s more simplified technical ethos. I suspect Webster was scapegoated – certainly he took a lot of flack for decisions he probably wasn’t responsible for. [Certainly a contemporary of his suggested this to be the case] The Marina for instance was a Product Planner’s car. It’s difficult to imagine someone who was responsible for the elegantly engineered Barb/Innsbruck 2000/2500 series championing something as cynically conceived as that.

    2. Lord Sward: You mention that “Honda bought the rights to the Scimitar GTE to make an Accord estate”. I’m intrigued.

      Please tell us more. I’ll even forgive you for the – presumably unintentional – gender reassignment.

  11. I customarily describe the British verson of the Marina as a car designed by Fleet Managers, they were listened to, and all their petty prejudices were pandered to. So no OHC E-series engine, no coil spring rear suspension.

    The best indcation of the toxicity of the atmosphere as the mid-70s approached was the departure – of their own free wills, and to positions where their talent was better employed – of the two most senior ex-Standard-Triumph people – George Turnbull in 1973 and Harry Webster in 1974.

    That doesn’t explain why, TR7 apart, little of the investment in Triumph, came to production – just the rationalisation of the Ajax and Innsbruck ranges. The SD2 was never signed off for production, and they never even bothered to sort out the Stag.

    The result was that Triumph effectively died in 1981, other than as a ‘ghoul’ badge on a short-lived, but succesful Japanese car assembled in a Morris factory.

    Could it have been revenge by the BMC and Rover people for the swashbuckling Preston lorry maker’s reverse takeover of BMC, so soon after absorbing Rover and Alvis? I’ll absolve the Jaguar people – they spent sixteen years pretending British Leyland had never happened – if only Triumph could have done the same…

  12. Robertas Parazitas

    Not sure of the source though some believe the design of what became the Honda Accord AeroDeck was derived from a early-1980s unused Bertone proposal to replace the Reliant Scimitar GTE called Project SE82, which was allegedly later sold by Bertone to Honda in the same way that the Citroen BX originates from another unused Bertone design for a separate Reliant project (e.g. FW11). – http://www.sporting-reliants.com/Prototypes3.htm

    Apparently Reliant had unrealised big plans in the late-1970s prior to its decline.

    1. The legend has it that Bertone presented a car called the Tundra as a Volvo which was recycled again to become part of the BX theme though it is thoroughly Citroenised.

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