Driven to Write takes aim at Triumph’s putative TR7 successor and gives it both barrels.
The Triumph TR7 is one of those unfortunate cars that if it hadn’t suffered from bad luck it would have had no luck at all. Created as the former BLMC slid towards bankruptcy and public ownership, its development was bedevilled by financial and regulatory uncertainty. Once in the public gaze its appearance proved divisive, enthusiasts criticising its performance, the lack of a convertible version and ‘soft’ road behaviour. Triumph engineers had remedies for all of these matters, but time and again events would prove the car’s undoing.
Earlier this year, contributor, Robertas Parazitas shared an intriguing vision for an entire family of cars inspired by Harris Mann’s bracingly modern styling theme, but Triumph hadn’t exactly been sitting on their hands during the 1970’s.
The variant that came closest to production was the four-seater Lynx coupé. Schemed alongside the TR7, it married the 2-seater’s front end with a 12” wheelbase extension and longer fastback rear. Unfortunately, its styling proved an unhappy amalgam, the resultant car losing the TR7’s controversial body side graphics, but without offering much in the way of compensatory personality. Sanctioned for production in 1978, a combination of industrial meltdown at the Speke factory in Merseyside and stateside intervention saw Lynx cancelled.
A further programme was initiated in 1978 to expand TR7’s appeal, toning down its more contentious visuals and amortising some of the funding lost to the Lynx programme. Many components were carried over particularly body, trim and suspension parts, to reduce costs.
Broadside was planned in open and closed GT form on a 91 inch wheelbase – a function of Lynx’s 6” longer door pressings. Styling was overseen by David Bache at BL’s design studio incorporating mostly new skin panels. The rear end was unique to Broadside incorporating Rover SD 1 tail lamp units. Due to the longer shell, a rollover hoop incorporating a T-bar was added to aid torsional stiffness.
A single Broadside convertible was constructed from a surplus Lynx bodyshell during the autumn of 1979, and work progressed on the programme until late 1980 when Sir Micheal Edwardes abruptly shut Canley, ending Triumph production.
Some believe both Lynx and Broadside were missed opportunities for BL, but this assertion fails closer examination. Firstly, the business case for Lynx was based almost entirely on its appeal in the US. BL product planners were convinced it had what the market required, but BL’s American representative, Mike Dale, is believed to have pointed out in the strongest possible terms that the market for Lynx simply didn’t exist, arguing strongly against it. The rationale for a luxury coupé is almost entirely predicated on appearance, but viewed in the flesh, it’s an unhappy looking thing, lacking much in the way of delicacy or grace. Tears ought not be shed.
Moving Broadside, a recent visit to Gaydon allowed this author to view the surviving Broadside prototype alongside the final production TR7. In his fine piece, Robertas suggests the TR7’s wheelbase was too short. Broadside does address this; the extra length benefiting interior space, although given the TR7’s cabin was generally well received by critic and customer alike, this seems to be something of a non-issue.
The addition of a rollover T-bar seems well handled and would have offered a visual link to the well-loved Stag, but the Lynx-inspired bodyside scallops lend the car a flaccid appearance. This wouldn’t have been the end of the world had the angular tail harmonised with the more curvaceous front end. It doesn’t. Worse still, the revised rear styling creates a visual illusion of being wider aft of the rear wheels at a point where the TR7 gently tapers in plan. All of which lends Broadside the appearance of a poorly executed cut and shut job.
By comparison, the production TR7 is a masterclass. In convertible form especially, its a far more accomplished shape than its many detractors would give it credit for. Its proportions, stance and graphics are far more expertly handled and still feel remarkably contemporary. In just about every measurable and subjective sense, the TR7 is a superior design and next to it (even allowing for the fact that it’s a prototype) Broadside has (to these eyes at least) the appearance of a kit car.
Perhaps I’m being unkind – Bache’s design team did their best with no appreciable budget to speak of. But equally, a lot of equally unkind things have been said about TR7 and its lead designer over the past 42 years. Sometimes, constraints can prove a catalyst for clever solutions. This didn’t happen in Broadside’s case, the reasons for that probably as much a lack of vision as one of budget.
While researching this piece, I discovered this lost concept, courtesy of the TR8 Archive. I’d always believed Triumph missed a trick in not softening the original fixed-head TR7’s canopy by adding a pair of XJ-S style sail panels. Seems they actually did, Triumph stylists creating this quarter scale model, although it’s not entirely clear when. Electing not to give it the full-Sayer treatment, they adopted Maserati Merak style ‘flying buttresses’, incorporating a removable Targa top. It needed more finessing, but the effect had merit without losing too much of Harris Mann’s styling intent.
Perhaps of all Triumph’s attempts at face lifting the 7, this is the missed opportunity?