In an anti-climax to the series on the Triumph Acclaim, we summarise the legendary LJKS’s first review of the car for Car Magazine.
“It is a delightful car to drive, but it is so ugly that too few people will ever discover that. Or so I thought when I was fresh from trying the Acclaim, lamenting the need to fetch customers into the showroom and put them into the car and onto the road before they closed their minds to the purchase. If only they could drive it first, and not see it until later!
The best engine-makers in the world have given their Ballade, on which the Triumph is so very completely based, such wonderful zestful life as probably no rival in its class can emulate; but where is the expression of that life in its shape – unless theirs is the art that conceals art?” LJK Setright, Car Magazine, November 1981.
Car Magazine’s first drive commentary (Car, November 1981) was written by LJK Setright. As mentioned above, he greatly appreciated the way the car drove and was engineered, even if he initially feared the worst for the car given its aesthetics.
“Then I began to discover that other people did not see the Acclaim in the same way. They did not think it bloated and ugly; they saw it as smart, neat, crisp and a little formal”.
Setright’s piece (as was often the case with his articles) was an in depth appreciation of the thought, technique and skill that went into the engineering of the car and how that translated into the way it performed on the road and in everyday life.
For instance, regarding the advantageous power-to-weight ratio, “This is the most outstanding result of the Acclaim’s beautifully judged combination of minimal weight and ample power. It can cruise at 69-and-a bit mph with just 3,500 rpm showing on its tachometer, when the mean piston velocity is a moderate 1,883ft/min and when the engine is capable, should circumstances dictate that the throttles be opened wide, of developing its maximum torque. Such an amble may be almost as easy in several other cars – but the Acclaim does not take ages in overcoming inertia and other resistances in order to attain speed. When its full power is unleashed, it accelerates with a verve that outstrips all its rivals, reaching 60mph from standstill in about 12 secs.”
Setright goes on with a very thorough appreciation of the car’s engine design, semi-automatic transmission, and even the noise-vibration-harshness benefits of how “ … the rubber-mounted mass of the radiator … was used by them [the car’s engineers] as an harmonic damper tuned to take vibrations out of the steering system.”
Turning to the interior “… where the Acclaim is almost entirely English and as good as Triumph interiors (especially in the matter of seating adjustment) have traditionally been.”, Setright describes the facia moulding as a “masterpiece”. He continues: “the whole thing is made in one piece, which is not remarkable as far as the visible part of it is concerned, but it is rendered stiffer and stronger and quieter, and the aggregate is made significantly lighter, by having the air-blending ventilation ducting incorporated as an integral part of the moulding.”
He sums up the advantages of the Acclaim’s engineering, as follows: “Is it no wonder that the car behaves so impeccably. That is not to suggest that its cornering power is exceptional, but to convey that the car betrays no bad manners of any sorts as its limits are approached. Although the steering is very responsive indeed, although the car is always ready to change direction at the driver’s command, it remains a car to which directional stability is natural. This combination is still rare in cars, …”.
If Setright’s article seems unexpectedly enthusiastic, it apparently wasn’t anything born of the usual jingoism that surrounded the launch of BL cars at the time. It was more to do with the fact that the car’s engineering philosophy owed much to its company’s motorcycle manufacturing roots, a company he much admired; the sentence quoted above closes as follows “…, although long apparent in good motorcycles. There, I have mentioned them again; is that a coincidence?”
Of course, Triumph Cars and Triumph Motorcycles were not the same company, but, then, Setright was not referring to Triumph. LJKS nearly always expressed an admiration of Hondas and was especially smitten with the Prelude. Hence, I suspect that his appreciation of the Acclaim was for a great part due to its true parentage.
Incidentally and interestingly, another journalist I admire greatly, Keith Adams (to whom we should all be grateful for the most excellent AROnline) recently had a little sideswipe at the Acclaim in his monthly column in Modern Classics. The main subject of his missive was the ARNA (MC had Alfa as a theme for that edition) which he chose to elevate in relative terms by treading on the Acclaim.
I’ve only ever seen one ARNA (and even then it was in Nissan Cherry Europe guise) and never sat in, let alone driven one, so I can’t really comment, but he has piqued my interest. In the past I admit I have been lazy in dismissing of the ARNA/ Cherry Europe for the obviously apparent reasons; however, I think I should take it from his comments that, like the Acclaim, there is more of a story (and a better car) than that which immediately meets the eye…
And that’s it, really. I’d like to thank Richard for initially pointing me in the direction of Setright’s verdict from an old issue of Car in his collection.