A Consternating Hot Bath On The Landing

While motoring around last week I saw this car swing dramatically into a parking lot. So, I went and stalked it.

1969-1977 Triumph 2500

The owner was very pleased to tell me a little more about the car and I learned a little about its design history. It counts as one the great examples of a succesful facelift and, in my view, one of Giovanni Michelotti’s finest works among a quite rich collection from his portfolio. The most interesting insight of my little carpark chat was that if you see the car in real life you will get a very much stronger impression of its merits than photos can really provide. There’s more on that later. First let’s remind ourselves of the car’s background.

This car’s bodyshell had no generic name and so the model was named after the engines fitted (a common habit in the 1960s, I think). For the first series, the models were the 2000 and 2.5 PI. For the facelifted version those models were joined by the 2500 TC and 2500S. That’s not handy.

I would rather talk about a brand (Ford), a model (Granada) and engine designation (2.3) but here we only have a brand and the engine designation used as a name. That makes discussing the general model ( normally based around the body architecture rather tricky.) For this car in general, I’ll call it the 2000 regardless of the engine unless otherwise stated.

Triumph presented the 2000 at the London Motor show in 1963 and sales began in 1964, with an initial offering of a 2.0 litre six cylinder engine driving the rear wheels. It scored over Rover’s then-new 2000 by having six cylinders versus Rover’s four. The Triumph’s had smooth-riding sporty performance and the technical merits of independent suspension which was still far from the norm in the mass market sector.

The 2000 can be understood as a proto-executive car offering something like the higher performance of more obviously sporting cars but at the price level of the mainstream brands’ larger but less wieldy cars. Potential peers for the 2000 included the Peugeot 504, the Citroën ID, the Lancia Flavia, BMW 1800/2000, the Mercedes-Benz 200 and the Volvo 144. All of these were becoming more popular in Britain. The model also competed with Rover.

Today’s car is the revised version of the 2000-bodyshell, badged 2500 TC (I didn’t nab a photo of proof). It’s called the Innsbruck series by insiders, related to the similarly styled Stag.  As I understand it from the owner this facelift got its project tag “Innsbruck” because the idea for the theme came to Michelotti while he was there.

None of the on-line reports I have read confirm this but if true it’s a nice little story. What I find notable about the grille and lamp treatment is its general flexibility. I could easily imagine this being revised with each later generation of car.  We’ll never know because Triumph didn’t make another large car and instead the brand died touting rebadged Hondas.

Triumph 2500

A comprehensive history is presented here and also here so I recommend you have a deep read of those after I deal with the car in question and reflect on its design.  A further insight is here.

Having greeted the owner I was shown around the car and we discussed its provenance. The owner informed me the car had spent most of its life in southern France. Imagine seeing one of these there, altogether much rarer than a DS in Oxford or a 2CV in Southampton. Note the left-hand drive configuration (below).

The fact the car had lived in the land of Oc meant the bodywork was in very good order, it had its original paint though faded. The owner has so far decided against a respray, which is probably a good decision. On the other hand, I’d suggest only driving this on a dry day.

It has been about four years since I last saw one of these cars. The last time was in Dingle, Ireland and I was too busy then to really study the car. This time I had a good opportunity to examine the overall form and the details’ relation to that. I also got to sit inside and study the ashtrays.

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The slide show shows the smoker’s arrangements front and back. Having the ventilation controls on either side of the ashtray may be for purely practical reasons such as getting access to the levers during assembly or maintenance. It is a bit unusual, I contend. The ashtray could be bigger otherwise – it is not as if there is a shortage of space.  The rear door-mounted ashtray is also slightly casually sited. It’ll do for not much more than a few cigarettes.

Period reviews note the fact leather was not an option. You could have cloth or vinyl. I must admit it didn’t look very vinyl to me when I sat inside. The view out of the car is excellent all around – those third sidepanes help. I particularly liked the space in front of me. I could see my feet at the pedals as well as the smartly presented instruments.

The seating position is low so the car has a sporty feel though it is not cramped at all. I expect Jaguar XJ-S drivers would have had the same feeling. In comparison with other 70s cars I have been in, you sit less upright. The 604 and Senator I tried some time back are much more upright and formal (and likeable for it). The Triumph 2500 feels like a different proposition to other executive cars.

The one image I seem not to have obtained was a clear side view so I will use this library photo (below). Michelotti put a lot of effort into the refinement of this saloon’s shape, building on the Mk1 and only improving it. As the marked-up image below shows, it is thick with subtle details with the local and overall form creating a car which rewards extended attention.

1977 Triumph 2500: source

Below is an annotated picture of the same car. Note especially the pontoon shape of the body side, where the shoulder line and sill can be projected to meet far behind the car. It quietly expresses speed. There is acceleration of curvature on the trailing end of the roof (whose undercut is echoed on the boot). The bonnet line curvature also accelerates as it goes forward over the wheel.

Almost too many details
to fit on one image.

The proportions are text-book rear-wheel drive, with the deep body and lower glasshouse whose c-pillar rests over the rear axle. While the proportions are correct and handsome, the detailing is verging on the sublime. I was not aware this car was this freighted with rich detailing until now.

Remarkably, it is not a very much-regarded design, being lumped in with a lot of other much less interesting BL cars of the era. Owners of the cars know better, of course. I am sure they will agree that since Triumph is an extinct marque there is not the same drive to keep the brand in the public eye so for every one article on the 2500 there must be ten on the BMW 525 or MB 230E, for example.

Speaking of which compare the Triumph to the BMW 525 of about the same time:

1971 BMW E-20 525

The BMW loses out quite markedly, seemingly almost to be blunt and coarse in comparison with Michelotti’s triumph of a Triumph. The window frame on the rear door is awkward: it really isn’t a shape you draw but a shape brought about by compromises of various sorts. Much as I like the BMW the Triumph exposes the BMWs end-heaviness and the oddness of the C-pillar/boot profile.

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The path towards the final form of the Mk2 2000 is hinted at in the photos above, courtesy of Pinterest.  At some point Triumph considered a fastback.

1969 Triumph 2000 fastback proposal: source

Lovely as the Mk2 is, it also represents the point Triumph’s wheels began spinning. The the same year the Mk2 was launched, Triumph thought about a replacement, known internally as the “Puma”. “Had Triumph’s plans of the late 1960s come to fruition, the 2000/2.5PI Mk2 models would most likely have been replaced by an all-new big Triumph in the 1972-4 timeframe. Design studies for just such a car – codenamed ‘Puma’ – were already underway by the time that the ‘Innsbruck’ restyle was released to production, and initially foresaw a conventional three-box saloon powered by a choice of straight six or V8 engines.”

With apologies to all the Rover enthusiasts around, the wrong brand survived the monstrous amalgamation of brands into British Leyland.  Triumph was so very much in the mould of what we now call a sporting prestige brand: the Dolomite/Sprint cars are British 3-Series and the 2000-/2500 is a British 5-series. Whereas Rover struggled and failed to overcome its stodginess, the Triumph brand had sportiness built in. Ah, hindsight.

Production of the 2000/2500 amounted to around 324,000 units between 1963 and 1977.

( Slide show credits: front end three quarter, front, rear)

You may want to look at the gallery at this website showing a mint interior.

Author: richard herriott

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

13 thoughts on “A Consternating Hot Bath On The Landing”

  1. This is a nice piece, thanks and I enjoyed the review of the Triumph’s styling in particular. I always thought this to be a very handsome car of the Sixties, rakish, smart and sporty looking. Triumph is an interesting example of what happens when a marque loses its ‘head’, or, more accurately, it’s ‘top of the range’ car. When the 2000/ 2500 was not replaced, all that was left was the Toledo/ Dolomite and the TR7 (which didn’t really look like a Triumph, in my view). The Toledo in particular looked rather frumpy and, whilst the Dolomite somehow looked more athletic (helped, of course, by the image of the Sprint), the overall effect as the cars aged was of an out of date and ever more irrelevant marque. I think that Ford, Vauxhall/ Opel and the PSA ‘giants’ are suffering from the same thing – albeit the creeping death is taking a bit longer to come about. In abandoning aspirant ‘top of the range’ models, the lingering sense is of a marque that has given up on any form of leadership in he marketplace.

    I agree it is a shame that Triumph will always be remembered as ‘touting rebadged Hondas’, but I think it is also a shame for the Acclaim that there is always also a heavy hint that it was an embarrassment to the Triumph brand. As a well designed, engineered and built car (thanks to exceptional production engineering by Honda) I’d argue it was superior to many an earlier Triumph. The real pity was that BL did not have the resources to be able to do any form of redesign of the car, albeit that its own capabilities were so poor at the time that they’d probably have made a good car worse. If you want evidence to support such a statement, I’d cite the 800, which, much as I liked the styling inside and out, suffered from poor production engineering, and the Maestro’s VW-sourced gearbox was ruined by BL’s own fettling.

  2. Thank you for an excellent retrospective appraisal of a car which still has an enthusiastic following. And although the contemporary Rover 2000 was undoubtedly an industry game-changer with regard to primary safety, I would agree that the wrong brand survived. But did it? The Triumph brand is not dead, merely sleeping . . . awaiting resurrection by current owner BMW. I am not holding my breath.

  3. The windshield and rear screen were quite narrow and unsual for the times it looks like. They seemed narrower than other cars of that era. To me, it looked like the lip from the hood and the boot-lid sat really high-up against the windshield and rear-screen bases. Almost like the upper body part of the car was too narrow for the bottom part and it had to be massaged into fitting in. I wonder if it had to use another, older car’s windshield and back window and if it contributes to the low-seating feeling mentionned in the article..

  4. Personally I think that picture of the 5 series BMW of the same era makes the Triumph look pretty bad in my opinion. It makes the British car look 10 years older. This doesn’t take away some of the nice details but it looks dated compared to the BMW I reckon.

    1. You are quite right with your observation. The Triumph’s basic shape was launched in 1963, whereas the BMW is from 1972. Some detailing as well as the overall proportions betray the Triumph’s age. However, for someone who likes slim cars with slim pillars, it’s still a good design. The BMW today looks more up to date with its detailing, but lacks some of the Triumph’s lightness. I’d still prefer it over anything that today comes from Munich, though.

  5. It’s an interesting question as to whether the wrong brand survived. It’s certainly true that ‘sportiness’ has more appeal that ‘comfort’ in todays market, but it’s also true that premium brands are succeeding where mid-market brands are struggling.

    In the 1960’s there wasn’t actually much overlap between Rover and Triumph – the Rover / Triumph 2000 was the only conflict. Triumph was better known for smaller and sportier cars, whereas Rover was better known for larger, comfort-oriented cars and 4×4’s, but both had a premium image.

    If Leyland hadn’t merged with B.M.C. they could have had an interesting and cohesive range of premium cars in the 1970’s and beyond with Rover and Triumph. But with Jaguar, Austin, Morris, Wolseley, M.G, etc there was just too much overlap to resolve.

    1. Is a Rover P6 really that much more comfort oriented than a Triumph 2000?
      The P6 radically changed what to expect from Rover after their P4 ‘Auntie express’ and the big P5.
      The P6 also looked and largely was much more modern than the Triumph which was an attractive but comparatively old fashioned design.

    2. I get the impresssion that the 2500 should have been replaced about 1972 but carried on unchanged. Interestingly the P6 had the same production run as the 2500 – to 1977. Looking at the cars in 1963, the Rover P6 was an outlier. Yes it had its unusual construction and appearance. In isolated comparison the Triumph seems old fashioned but if we look at the entire class of similarly sized cars it was fairly normal: four doors, rear-wheel drive and no more old fashioned than a BMW or Mercedes from the same.

  6. The “Innsbruck” reworking of the Triumph 2000 was a rare example of a really good facelift, IMHO on a par with Pininfarina’s Series III Jaguar XJ saloon, and very effectively updated the design.

    The Mk1 was looking decidedly dated beforehand:

    However, in the facelift one delightful detail was lost, the Mk1’s instrument cowling, which cleverly reprised the shape of the car’s headlight panel and nose:

  7. What a splendid read from all involved and Ingvar’s fairytale almost had me weeping. Bravo

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