Another “Triumph” for British Leyland

In what appears to be a verbatim transcript of a period review  motoring correspondent, Archie Vicar, drives the 1981 Triumph “Acclaim” saloon.

(c) ARonline

The article first appeared in The Executive Motorist, August 1981. Original photography by Griff Piddough. Due to water damage to the original material, stock photos have been used.

Many drivers will regard the Triumph Dolomite with much fondness. It was launched as the Toledo in 1965, which by my reckoning is now fifteen years ago, back when BL was known as BMC and Harold Wilson was prime minister. It is a tribute to this feisty little vehicle that only now has BL has reluctantly decided to put it out to pasture. We wish it a long and happy retirement!

To replace the Dolomite there comes a bold new design, one created in collaboration with the Honda motor company of Japan. Ringing the changes are modern front-wheel drive, a passenger door-mounted mirror and an all-alloy, twin carb overhead-cam 1.3 liter motor. Cleverly, the new car is called the “Acclaim” as it is this with which the car will certainly be greeted by one and all.

“…fewer tinselly cars…!”

The story behind the “Acclaim” is perhaps even more interesting than the car itself. Honda (famous for lawn mowers) have been looking to work with a European company so as to learn our way of making more charismatic cars. Perhaps all that criticism from we motoring scribes has finally been translated into Japanese: hopefully now there will be fewer tinselly cars from the land of the morning sunrise. Early in 1979 Honda signed a joint-business venture with British Leyland and the result of this is the dashing new Triumph “Acclaim” which will also be marketed as the Honda Ballade in other parts of the EEC.

“… much space…”

Honda have collaborated with BL to design the “Acclaim”, so is it really a British car? According to Triumph, the answer is a loud “indeed!”.  To help retain the British feel of Triumphs of yore, the front seating subframes from the British Ford Cortina have been used instead of the Honda designs. They would take up a little too much space. Both mirrors have been fitted on the doors, rather than on the front wings as they are in Japanese fashion.

Naturally, British preferences in colour differ from Japanese ones so, instead of dark grey and dark brown, the Triumph will have a choice of either tasteful charcoal or smart dark chocolate interior fabrics and plastics. British-made “Triumph” badges will be fitted to the grille and bootlid of the car. It has taken only eighteen months to implement these changes.

We collected a car from BL’s plant in Cowley and gave the car a thorough thrashing on the demanding roads around Oxford. The all-independent strut suspension has been modified to suit British conditions and this is clear the moment one starts the quite responsive four-banger engine. The front-wheel drive chassis understeers predictably and safely at the first sign of a roundabout and thereafter at every other of the many, many roundabouts in the area. In many ways the car is endowed with as much character as the redoubtable Morris Ital.

“…permitted to use the same unit…”

On open link-roads, the “Acclaim” moves smoothly forward and little road-feel is allowed to disturb the driver. The powered steering is very unobtrusive. The straight-four engine is refined, a great sign of progress for the engineers at Triumph. Acceleration from nought to 60 miles takes nearly thirteen seconds. Honda will also be permitted to use the same motor for which they are probably very thankful indeed. However, instead of twin “Keihin” carburetors, the Honda will have to manage with just one so that Honda´s version will not be competing in the same sporting market as Triumph. The five-speed manual ‘box could be a little too easy to operate.

Solid Britishness. 1980 Triumph Acclaim interior: source

The wheelbase boasts a very competitive 91 inches, about the same as the efficient little Austin Metro and overall, the car is just over 13 ft long. The low roofline looks sporty and exciting so drivers will find enough space to get seated and up to two passengers can relax in the snug and cosy rear-cabin. 

The “Acclaim” will be available with a broad range of trim options. At the bottom of the range sits the L, followed by HL which adds front headrests and HLS which comes with mud guards. For the discerning motorist, there can be had CD trim. These flagship models come with front and rear electrical windows, air conditioning and head lamp-washers. Even base-model cars benefit from the same rorty 1355 cc unit fitted as standard to the top-of-the-line models.

There will be something for most pockets when new and returning customers start their stampede to Triumph dealers across the country. As to the all important question of the ashtray, a small one sits in the centre of the stylish dashboard with a cigar lighter close at hand. It ought to suffice for about three to four hours of smoking and driving but if you get caught in a traffic jam then you’ll have to wind down the windows and use the exterior ashtray.

“…there is no space for a nodding dog…”

If I have any real criticism of the car, it would be that the door handles are not terribly nice. And the steering wheel looks a little oriental (a hint of the Japanese collaboration, perhaps). The gear knob has a strange shape, being rather too smooth to afford a truly comfortable gear-changing position. But above all, the heater recirculation control really needs to be moved from its current position. As it is, it might suit the average Tokyo housewife but it will displease the hard-driving man at whom this sporting saloon is aimed. One thing is for sure, the “Acclaim” will not find much favour with older drivers. One can’t wear a hat inside and there is no space for a nodding dog on the rear parcel shelf!

The figures for the fuel tank capacity are not going to be a major draw for many buyers, but at 8.8 gallons, this ought to be satisfactory.

“…keeping the flame of Triumph burning…”

1980 Triumph Acclaim: (c) pinterest

Now that the redoubtable Dolomite and characterful TR7 are sadly out of production, the “Acclaim” will have to “hold the fort” at Triumph until new models come on stream:  a V8 large saloon in 1982, a roadster in 1984 and a medium-sized coupe to replace the Stag (1985). Keeping the flame of Triumph burning will also be essential for BL since the venerable Morris Ital and chirpy Austin Allegro are now finally beginning to show their age. And the market is changing too – even more competitive than ever! Trends in motoring show that small but costly sporting German cars like the BMW 316 are gaining popularity with a certain “go-ahead” type of driver, those professional men who are young and live in towns. Triumph, with its tradition of higher-priced saloons aimed at enthusiastic drivers, should be well positioned to gain customers in this vital market if sales of the “Acclaim” match BL’s expectations. Clearly this car will allow Triumph to advance its mission to satisfy demanding drivers. Rover, take note!

“…securing British Leyland’s future…”

The chief bottlewasher at British Leyland, Sir Michael Edwards, can take much credit for this latest car from the illustrious Triumph marque. He can also take great credit for securing British Leyland’s future for the long term. It is obvious that the excellent Triumph “Acclaim” demonstrates Britain can design cars quite as memorable as Japanese counterparts and assemble them to the standards already set by Triumph. There is no doubt that Sir Michael has been working hard to transform the British motor industry! The “Acclaim” shows that in many ways, the transformation is complete.

A three-speed automatic will be available in April.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

9 thoughts on “Another “Triumph” for British Leyland”

  1. I am a closet fan of the Acclaim (as at least one of the founders of this excellent site knows). I have actually driven one and so feel pretty confident in saying that, at the time, it was the best car that BL sold. In saying that I realise that (a) the relative standard was not high; and (b) all the important bits (and almost all of the less important ones too) were pure Honda Ballade. It set BL on a track that kept it afloat far longer than it would have survived otherwise and helped demonstrate to other Japanese manufacturers that Britons could indeed assemble cars to an acceptable standard. As Archie’s long lost article helps to highlight, BL’s marketing department and not a few of their senior managers got little carried away in bigging up the extent of BL’s actual input into the car, but there was little taking away from the smooth eagerness of the engine, the sweetness of the gearchange, the neatness of the handling and the very full
    (‘totally equipped’) equipment list.

    1. You have a valuable and possibly unique insight here. The car was actually alright – my view is that it showed that BL hadn’t enough ability to design a complete vehicle themselves.
      I still have your chapter, by the way. Does anyone else want to write 6000 words on a 1960-1980 saloon? I have three chapters and would like at least five more. It’s for a book.

  2. My first car as a licensed driver, and I absolutely loved it!! Upgraded the 13″ button steel wheels for some 15″ from 4WS Honda Prelude and the package was complete, at least for me anyway.

    As already stated, all the good bits were from the East, but the quality of construction was excellent, considering its mixed parentage.

    I had the pleasure of a 1982 HLS in Nautilus Blue with grey velour, the car never let me down in the 11 years of ownership. Who recalls the Ladbroke Avon Acclaim Turbo, 70bhp to 105bhp from the same 1335cc???

    1. Very well thank you Richard, still keeping a watching brief on the quality articles delivered by DTW and its delegation.

  3. I had one of these back in the mid 90s, they were unusually cheap for teenagers to insure so quite a few of my friends had one too. Compared to some of the other tripe I had afterwards (BL, ARG, Rover and others) they were really not bad, but rather cramped.

    Did these come over as CKD kits or were panels and so forth actually made in the UK?

    1. They were made in Cowley, Oxford. I assumed BL stamped the panels themselves. Now you ask, I am not sure. Local content laws may have applied so BL might have used Pressed Steel.

  4. The first thing I look for in a vehicle is a sporting HVAC recirculation adjustment.

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