Cries and Whispers – 1979 Triumph Broadside

Driven to Write takes aim at Triumph’s putative TR7 successor and gives it both barrels.

Triumph Broadside proposal. Image: Driven to Write
1979 Triumph Broadside proposal. Image: Driven to Write

The Triumph TR7 is one of those unfortunate cars that if it hadn’t suffered from bad luck it would’ve had no luck at all. Created as the former BLMC crashed into 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, 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, DTW contributor, Robertas Parazitas shared a 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” 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.

1977 Triumph Lynx. Image: team.net
TR7 meets Princess. Turns into frog. The end. Triumph Lynx. Image: team.net

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 Rover’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 should not be shed.

Moving Broadside, a recent visit to Gaydon allowed the author to view the surviving convertible 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.

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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 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 the appearance of a kit car.

Perhaps I’m being unkind – Bache’s design team did their best with no 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 a lack of budget.

Triumph TR7 Targa proposal. Image: TR8archive
Triumph TR7 Targa proposal. Image: TR8archive

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?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. [Dis]content Provider.

14 thoughts on “Cries and Whispers – 1979 Triumph Broadside”

  1. I think that history will judge Harris Mann to be under-rated and Giugiaro to be, if not over-rated, than maybe not as open-minded as a truly great designer should be.

    So might I be the first to shoot the fish in the barrel and ask whether they did the same thing to the Broadside’s scallops on the other side?

    1. Is it a fair comparison? Circumstances trapped Harris Mann in a ramshackle organisation and gifted Giugario with the chance to work in several companies with lots of clients. I think both have their merits. I wonder what Mann would have done if the opportunity arose to work for Renault or Citroen. How would GG have managed in Cowley?

    2. Mr K. Remember, I’m a Gandini man. You can’t support both.

      But, in case my reference was too obtuse, I was referring to GG’s reported comment on seeing the TR7’s curved flanks “My God, they’ve done it to the other side too!”. Which, of course, is waspishly witty, but I always find one designer disparaging another’s work a bit mean-spirited. Though, in fairness to him A. It might be a myth and he never really said it or B. You can’t help what you say in a private unguarded moment and becomes a bit of motoring history. And, I have to agree, the Morris Ital is perfection.

    3. Allow me to quote the mighty aronline.co.uk, Mr Patrick, Sir: “The Longbridge drawing office headed by Harris Mann soon completed a neat facelift, which changed the look of the frontal aspect of the car (without any front panel changes) and transformed the rear view of the car, incorporating a higher boot-line and large Euro-standard wrap around lights. Despite the long-held belief that Ital Design was responsible for the revised styling of the new car, it was somewhat less involved in the process – simply handling its productionisation. Of course, the story soon got out that the Morris Ital was actually the work of Giorgetto Giugiaro and, as one insider has subsequently said: ‘… why spoil the story with facts, we thought!’”

      So what’s Gandini’s excuse for the de Tomaso/Qvale Mangusta, eh?!

    4. Kris. I’d ask you out the back to settle this man to man, but we might damage our finely cut suits. Actually, I’d always assumed that Italdesign had sold BL the rights to use the badge, despite the advertisement.

    5. You’re right, Sean, I’d hate to spoil today’s Anthony Hayward pinstripe suit, especially as things at Mount Street aren’t what they used to be since the old man himself passed away.

      Nonetheless, I’d really like to see a collection including both the Morris Ital and the Mitsubishi Pajero Pinin. And what about that Mauritius stamp of Italian-badged classics, the China Brilliance Bert?

  2. May I say that having reviewed the images the Broadside tail end has a neater appearance? I don´t find it problematic at all. The TR7 lights look too low and too small. Also, even if the Broadside flanks are less novel they aren´t bad.

    1. I feel impelled to point out the poor quality of the photographs (my fault) don’t help my case and if anything flatter Broadside’s appearance. In the metal, the imbalances do rather jump out at one. I found it a very amateur-looking piece of work.

      I accept that matters of style such as these are subjective, but I’ve never liked this broad scalloped effect along the flanks – I can’t for the life of me think of a car exhibiting this effect where I felt it offered an attractive solution.

      I’m not suggesting the TR7 is a styling paragon, but given the level of vitriol heaped upon both it and its designer over the years, I do think it deserves to be taken a little more seriously.

      To my eyes, there’s something terribly half-hearted about Broadside which speaks eloquently of the atmosphere that existed at BL during this period.

  3. Eoin: that´s true about the TR7. If there is an example of bullying and groupthink in car design, it´s the way so many people jeered at the car. I think that it became a cheap way to get a laugh. It´s plainly not a terrible car and more than that, it´s not bad at all. I liked it as a kid. I understood other people didn´t. Many never reflect on received wisdom. They learn the TR7 is rubbish and GG had a good joke about it. It must be bad. Most of the famously bad cars aren´t bad at all and most of the brilliant ones aren´t much more than above average. The minor deviations from ordinary are amplified by a media that loves a story. Disaster! Triumph! The one in the middle: Quite good but has a few flaws! is not not such an easy sell.

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