In order to truly live, the Triumph Stag first had to die.

Image: Old Car Manual Project

Some subjects are easier to write about than others. Underdogs in particular tend to exert a stronger grip upon the imagination, better lending themselves to narrative. However, despite frequently characterised in more lurid terms, the Triumph Stag remains a car which almost defies categorisation. Because, with a reputation as commercial failure and potential ownership nightmare largely embedded into the automotive consciousness, one struggles to approach it in anything approaching a balanced manner. But aside from the difficulty in presenting the Stag in measured terms is the question of how a car so derided would come to be reborn as one of the UK’s most beloved and cherished classics?

Good looks help, and in this the Stag’s genes were strong; its carrozzeria-Michelotti penned lines retaining a powerful allure, one more redolent of the carefree late Sixties than the more painful decade in which its strife-ridden life played out. Add in its status as an indulgent convertible Gran Turismo, powered by a mellifluous-sounding, relatively unstressed V8 engine and the Stag’s appeal to the romantically minded appears self-evident.

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The Stag’s origin saga was fruit of the symbiotic relationship between Triumph Technical Director, Harry Webster and Italian atelier, Giovanni Michelotti. Originally intended as a concept for the 1966 Turin show, Webster, captivated by the open-topped design Michelotti had created, instead had it diverted to Canley, soon convincing his superiors of its merits. Befitting its saloon basis, the Stag employed a similar drivetrain and suspension layout to the 2.5 saloon, and while originally intended to debut with the existing in-line six, a 2.5 litre V8 was instead developed, part of Lewis Dawtry’s plans to renew Triumph’s entire engine range along modular lines for the coming decade.

Image: Old Car Manual Project

Given that larger multi-cylinder engines were the direction of travel by the close of the decade, it would appear that just about every carmaker was working on a V8 engine of some description – apart from Rover, who had prudently obtained one from General Motors. Few European carmakers had meaningful experience in the art of the V8 engine however, meaning that a great many (if not all) of the resultant power units proved either stillborn or in some way deficient. The latter is perhaps an over-emotive word to describe the Triumph unit (others are available), but contentious is perhaps the more balanced. Suffice to say, it is one which would develop a toxic reputation amid the motor press, second only perhaps to that of the Lancia Gamma in notoriety terms. Bad press dies hard.

Image: Old Car Manual Project

Triumph had already made a name for itself in the North American market, primarily with its popular range of sportscars, being very much viewed as a two-seater specialist in the US. The Stag therefore was seen by Triumph’s Canley management as an opportunity to extend the carmaker’s reach, ambition, and transaction price in that most lucrative, but demanding of auto markets. By 1966, when the programme began in earnest, Webster’s engineers were busy overseeing a number of other model programmes which were perhaps more commercially sensitive in the domestic market, notably the 1500, Toledo and facelifted 2000/ 2500 saloons; the TR6 and preliminary work for what would become the Bullet and Lynx proposals for an early ’70s successor for the TR series[1].

Upheavals resulting from the forced marriage of Leyland and British Motor Holdings in 1968 delayed the Stag’s gestation, in addition to an insistence on the Triumph V8 being uprated to 3.0 litres in order to provide sufficient power and torque to satisfy US requirements. During pre-production planning, Triumph’s marketers are believed to have projected annual sales of around 12,000 cars per annum[2], which would potentially have placed the carmaker in an entirely new sales league.

On paper, the Stag appeared compelling. An elegant Michelotti-penned body with its unusual factory-developed T-top roof arrangement which lent the car its defining visual feature[3], (along with its optional hard-top, à la Mercedes), fully independent suspension, and a brand new V8 engine, adding up to a concept which if not quite unique, certainly one which lacked direct rivals.

Received wisdom holds that the Stag was a winning concept, fatally holed beneath the waterline by well publicised engine-related maladies which so undermined customer confidence. But that bears further scrutiny. Certainly, the Stag’s production processes were not only convoluted, but both Canley and Speke plants were notoriously restive,  so certainly, production quality was not all it should have been.

The revised ‘Innsbruck’ saloons of 1969 previewed the Stag’s style. Image: classiccarcatalogue

But from a product perspective, how did the Stag stack up? Certainly, the motor press felt the V8 engine lacked punch, and moreover, suffered from a lack of mechanical refinement. Its road behaviour was also criticised, the Triumph’s dynamics being criticised in a 1974 Car Magazine Giant Test. Motor Sport Magazine were also sparing in their praise. The Stag was more GT than sportscar, but against similarly priced rivals like the Reliant Scimitar GTE, or Capri 3000 GT, not to mention the vastly more expensive Mercedes SL it was so widely compared to (not that any were offering a matching proposition) the Triumph it seems didn’t stack up as well as some have suggested.

Yet despite the implausibility of Triumph’s sales projections for the model line, it was beyond doubt that the Stag’s appeal was a potent one, with a UK waiting list developing which lasted well into 1973. But one of the least understood areas of the Stag story relates to its production volumes, for it appears that Triumph either couldn’t or wouldn’t build anywhere enough to satisfy initial demand, either domestically, or for export.

The reasons for this remain unclear. Many observers point to the oft-documented issues that arose with the V8 engine from a durability perspective, (and there were several of those) but had reliability been the sole cause, would any British-built car have sold in the US market at all? One might be tempted to suggest that for US customers, the car sat between stools; neither a two-seater sports car, nor a 2+2 GT. Nor was the Triumph brand deemed sufficiently upmarket to appeal to the more aspirational end of the imported US car market. But these rationales speak to demand rather than the more puzzling issue: supply. Triumph, it seems simply didn’t build them.

Image: classiccarcatalogue

Another way of looking at it is this: As a car developed prior to the creation of BLMC, the Stag simply may not have fitted into the newly formed car giant’s hastily cobbled-together plans for the 1970s; certainly one could potentially read a certain board-level ambivalence[4] from its delayed introduction and lacklustre promotion. BLMC’s ambitions in this area would ultimately become centred upon the TR7 and its derivatives, and with a 2+2 version (the stillborn Lynx development) in the product plan from around 1972, it is tempting to view the Stag as being viewed by the BLMC board as something of a dead man walking.

It is believed that BLMC exported about 2,500 Stags to the USA from late 1971 to the summer of 1973, when the model was quietly pulled from the sales-lists. But why so few? One possible rationale behind the US withdrawal may have been the impending 1975-model year impact mandates. The likely costs of designing and tooling up for these (quite radical) changes for a model line which was either not selling, or not being supplied would undoubtedly have been prohibitive. For not only did there seem to be little real impetus to further develop the car, but what little resource there might have been evaporated in the wake of the fuel crisis and especially once the parent company crashed messily to earth in late 1974. But whatever the rationale, the US market withdrawal was a decisive blow for the Stag’s business case.

Production was maintained until 1977[5], by then largely for home consumption. Some minor development however did take place. A mild cosmetic facelift in 1973, which also included a raised compression ratio and improvements to the cooling system. There were reports of prototypes running at one stage with TR8-derived Rover V8 engines and five-speed transmissions, but these, along with so many worthwhile developments were lost amid the ongoing crisis within the volume car division. By the latter 1970s, Triumph was fighting for its existence within BL, a battle it would ultimately lose.

Image: classiccarcatalogue

Yet after its death, the Stag was reborn – legions of enthusiasts seeking (and finding) solutions to its more egregious faults. But the car’s robust following and high survival rate illustrate the car’s durable appeal, some fifty years on. Now as much part of the British classic car scene as anyone’s MGB, the Stag has been rehabilitated, its problems solved, its romantic appeal perhaps even more evident than when first introduced. Sufficient time has passed to view the Stag a little more clearly – a car which perhaps came into being at the wrong moment, yet despite a troubled career, one which lives a good deal more richly in death than in life.

[1] The TR6 would arrive in 1968, the Innsbruck six-cylinder saloons in 1969 and the compact saloons in 1970.

[2] The Stag’s business case was predicated to a large extent upon high US market demand. 

[3] The Stag’s saloon-based body proved structurally insecure, a matter remedied by the fitment of a stout T-bar centre roll hoop. The T-bar roof support may also have circumvented proposed federal regulations which threatened to outlaw convertibles in the United States.

[4] Amid BLMC’s product priorities in 1968 was the all-hands-to-the-pumps mission to salvage the hopelessly off-target Maxi programme, which absorbed huge amounts of engineering time and resource, not to mention availability at BLMC’s Pressed Steel body suppliers. Additionally, the ADO 28 Marina would also prove a significant drain on time and resource at the time.

[5] 25,939 Stags were built in total, amounting to an average of 3705 cars per annum.

Editor’s note: This article has been revised and several areas of unsubstantiated reporting excised from the piece as originally published.

Sources: Classic and Sportscar – December 1984/ AROline.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

33 thoughts on “Anastasis”

  1. The difference between the Gamma engine and the Stag’s is that the Gamma’s engine troubles came from lack of development and most of the Stag’s are design faults and most of them are simply mad.
    No engine designer in his right mind would design a water pump that has to be shimmed and needs a special extractor tool or a cylinder head held to the block by exposed studs set at an angle that need to be removed (with a special tool again) to get access to the gasket.
    It’s no wonder that Saab redesigned their engine that had the same design faults with a conventional water pump and head bolts perpendicular to the block and sitting under the valve cover.

    In the Seventies somebody living around the corner from my parents had a pale yellow Stag. It looked wonderful in this unusual colour with its black cloth roof and its engine had a wonderful sound. That guy really must have been an excentric because he also owned a yellow Plus 8 with black wings.

    1. Not to mention that in order to remove the battery one has to unbolt the power steering pump and move it out of the way. Something that would be looked upon today as rather an oddity and perhaps necessary due to far tighter under bonnet packaging requirements, but surely inexcusable in a car from that era.

  2. Good morning Eóin. Another ‘nearly’ BL car, hobbled, one assumes, by internal politics, jealousy, spite and/or stupidity. Even if it hadn’t been disasterously unreliable, it sounds as though the Triumph V8 was inferior to the excellent Buick/Rover engine.

    Imagine an alternate universe where a range of Stag models had been made available, starting with a 2.5 litre fuel-injected straight-six and finishing with a 3.9 litre V8 and comprising convertible and coupé models:

    BL’s capacity to shoot itself in the foot is still astonishing, even now.

    Incidentally, doesn’t the Innsbruck 2.5p.i. look rather fine in that advertisement above?

  3. There unquestionably is considerable charm to the Stag, but to me, it was always too far removed from being good to really matter. Even stylistically, I did and continue to take issue with not just the rollover bar, but the wheelbase too. While it might lack the Triumph’s beautiful detailing, the otherwise rather more blunt Mercedes R107 is perfect in those two regards.

    I actually find it a lot easier to get misty-eyed about the Triumph Fury, whose ‘Spitfire with muscles’ stance appears rather more distinctive to me than the Stag’s quaint appearance:

  4. Read elsewhere that the Stag V8’s issues would have never been a problem had Triumph been allowed to use the original head gaskets they were using in the development department that were described as “fit and forget”, however the planned head gaskets a sort of rubberized item (very similar to Peyen gaskets) whereby the gasket would move with the head and take up any warping these engines ended up being notorious for, were considered too expensive for a production and hence the engineers were forced to use an inferior alternative instead that tainted the reputation of the Stag V8.

    What is unknown would be Saab’s responsibility for the Triumph Slant-Four / V8 family (with displacement ranges of 1200/1250-2000cc and 2500-4000cc respectively) being messed up since they wanted to be able to remove the cylinder head of the Slant-Four without being required to take the camshaft out (amongst other things), with the requirement for angled studs being forced on Triumph.

    OTOH there have been claims the Saab H engine reputedly implemented improvements to the Triumph Slant-Four that British Leyland could not afford to carry out themselves, even Saab apparently had to re-design the engine about twice to fit it into both the transversely-mounted 9000 and 900NG.

    The Stag could have benefited from an entry-level six-cylinder engine however the existing 2.5-litre Triumph I6 was not good enough as it was short of further development such as the PI being superseded by a Brico fuel-injection system and a bit more enlargement if possible (a number of people over the years have pushed capacities beyond 2498cc to 2593cc, 2689cc and 2773cc), or a properly-developed Stag V8 spawning a related 90-degree V6.

    Reputedly Rover themselves had plans to either develop a Slant-Four derived from the Rover V8 (both petrol and diesel seemingly specific to Land Rover) or commonize the P10 engine project (that was built on P6 OHC tooling) and the Rover V8.

    Other carmakers that developed Slant-Four / V8 engine families which immediately come to include Porsche, Lotus and Pontiac with Saab (e.g. Saab V8 by Saab-Valmet), BMW (M10-based V8), Vauxhall (Vauxhall V8) and Volvo (Redblock-based V8 prior to switching to PRV V6 on grounds of cost) having their own planned non-production Slant-Four based V8 projects.

    1. Regardless of the material of the head gasket you’d never be able to properly torque down a head sitting on angled studs because of the lateral movement this invariably induces in the head.
      The thinking behind the head design was the other way round. Treiumph’s idea was to have a simple to produce head where the valve gaps could be set before the head went onto the block so the head bolts and studs had to sit where they were with one row of them passing diagonally under the cambox. If Saab had wanted the engine to be the way it was they wouldn’t have taken the first opportunity to redesign it.

    2. To be fair it seems there were other factors behind Saab moving the engine in-house as was said to have been planned from the outset before they set about redesigning it (aside from Triumph using the engine in RWD cars to Saab’s preference for FWD cars), it is possible Triumph had plans for a similar overhaul programme that was stymied by the chaos at BL (thus considered a lower priority at best) and extended to Triumph’s later non-production analogue of the Saab H engine.

      Some of the tidbits were from Code Name: Triumph Stag Michelotti’s Masterpiece (along with a few other DVDs at Triumph DVD, particularly regarding the blame being thrown at cost-cutters within Leyland as well as at Saab for messing up the engine so its hardly an impartial view yet still interested to see other accounts.

      Triumph themselves appeared to have temporarily gotten cold feet about the Slant-Four, which prompted them to look at a 4-cylinder version of the flawed PE146/PE166 engine during the SD2 project at some point as a possible option (mentioned in David Knowles book on the TR7).

  5. Good morning Christopher. Yes, the Fury was rather handsome and would have complemented the Stag rather well in Triumph’s alternate universe range:

    Replacements for the Dolomite and 2000 along the lines of the 1972 Michelotti design would have made for nice competitors for the E21 3 Series and E12 5 Series.

    I think Michelotti did quite a good job here, especially as they had to retain the Dolomite’s doors (with different window frames). The only jarring note for me is the clumsy looking vent on the C-pillar.

    1. Along with the more well-known Puma project, there was also the Toledo/Dolomite-replacing pre-SD2 Bobcat project related to Bullet/Lynx (an image seen in Michelotti – A Free Stylish book and pretty much confirmed by his son Edgardo via correspondence).

      Have to wonder how the Fury would have evolved in terms of styling had it reached production, even the TR7 was influenced by the Harris Mann designed MG ADO21 prototype whereas Michelotti’s work on what became the TR7 essentially began with the Bullet/Lynx.

  6. Many thanks Eóin for this interesting piece on a car I’ve only seen in british-themed classic car shows. Your comment on the european v8’s makes me think wether it would be within the scope of this site to analyze them. Unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to contribute much as my only experience is with the Mercedes M116 V8 of the 80’s, quite a good engine apart from the KE-Jetronic fuel injection system which took me a very long time (and the assembly of a bench measurement apparatus) to set up properly after having been improperly serviced

  7. Triumph plans to make 12000 stags per year,
    only selling 5000 per year in the first two years before the engine became infamous,and American market doesn’t accept this car at all
    The fundamental problem is that triumph is a slightly premium mass brand,
    known as a cheap sportscar brand
    Stag is a GT , which is too far away for triumphal brand

  8. That rather nice advertisement for the Innsbruck saloon got me thinking about what might have happened if the BMC-Leyland merger had never happened. I wondered if it could accommodate another facelift to bring it into the 1970’s.

    Here’s my starting point, and my alternative reality 2500 Mk3 (two versions with different tail light and D-pillar treatments):

    The smooth unadorned centre section was a good starting point. The inset rear screen front and rear ends rather dated the design, so that was the focus of my efforts. Any thoughts?

    1. Like the idea of a more modern looking facelifted of the 2000/2500, OTOH there is no escaping the fact both it and the Dolomite were essentially 1960s designs from the 1970s beyond and in need of replacement (whether by Puma in the case of the 2000/2500 or Bobcat and later SD2/TM1 with the Dolomite).

    2. I agree – the Michelotti facelift was very good and needed replacing rather than facelifting again. That’s not to say that your design wouldn’t have freshened it up Daniel, and kept it alive for a few more years.

      It’s always sobering to think of the Triumph range in 1970 and compare it with what was left by 1980.

    3. Now it looks too anodyne? Your little nip and tuck sort of took away any character. I say it looks like a Russian knock-off of Mk II Granada meets Talbot Solara.

    4. “…it looks like a Russian knock-off of Mk II Granada meets Talbot Solara.”

      Ouch! Say what you think, Ingvar, don’t spare my feelings!

      Seriously though, if it looks as you describe, then it’s a perfect update for the late 1970’s when anodyne was fashionable, and it would have predated both the Mk2 Granada(1977) and Solara (1980).

    5. All photoshopping on this site is instrumental for the discussions going on, it is much appreciated.

      No, I think your update tells me those bones had past its sell-by date by 1973 or thereabouts. The fact that BL continued with the car unchanged until 1977 and without a replacement is inherently insane.

    6. I can only say about the Stag that I never liked it. The car looks okay with the hardtop and partly okay with the roof closed. But top dowm, the car looks like the driver has lost a part on the way. The roll bar was a terrible design. Too thin and too vertical. Maybe that could have gotten a little better with a broader base.

      For me, the 2500, the Dolomiti and the Rover P5 are the most beautiful British cars and I am glad that they were spared a failed facelift.

  9. There’s a very interesting documentary on YouTube about the Stag’s development. It was made in 1970 and goes through the car’s evolution (it looks a bit haphazard to me).

    I haven’t included the link here, as I’m not sure about copyright, but typing ‘triumph stag documentary the dream car’ would take you to it.

  10. I always wondered why they didn’t take time to re-engineer the floorplan instead of mounting that ridiculous roll over-hoop? So, there was a rigidity problem with the topless car? Why not solve that problem instead of creating a new one nobody asked for? There’s a picture somewhere of the true topless prototype, and it’s ridiculously good looking compared to the Stag. Mounting that hoop sort of erased that cars entire raison d’être. How hard could it be? Really?

    1. Hello Ingvar, Triumph cited US regulations as the reason for the roll-over hoop. I guess it also helped rigidity and facilitated a targa-type arrangement.

    2. Ingvar: It’s difficult to escape the suspicion that the Stag was developed on a tight budget, entailing a good deal of making do and mending. Certainly, this appears to be the case with its engine, and despite the inevitable issues that arise when you try to contrive a convertible from a closed unitary bodyshell, there was no way that Leyland (pre or post-merger) was going to sanction a sufficiently thorough re-engineering job.

      The rollover hoop was arguably the defining aspect of the Stag. To some eyes ridiculous, to others, distinctive. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all. To me, it was never a dealbreaker. Nevertheless, I would concede that proportionally, the Stag was never quite 100%. However, it did (to my eyes) have more visual dynamism than its saloon counterpart, the upkick over the rear wheels lending the shape an sense of acceleration which was perhaps lacking in the saloon.

      One has to wonder if maybe the budget for the Stag programme might have been better spent on making the (admittedly fine) Innsbruck saloon a more compelling product? Given what was going on at Canley at the time, one has to wonder if Triumph were not spreading themselves rather thin from an engineering and product perspective?

    3. Can anyone explain the true story of what happened in the late 1960s that had manufacturers canceling open topped motoring? One often reads that the US Nat’l Highway Traffic Safety Administration were set to introduce rollover safety standards that were impossible for carmakers to meet but decided to ditch them at the last minute. But that’s not really how Federal regulators work. In practice, they consult with industry as to what is actually achievable and nudge the regulated towards the edge of the envelope. And, understanding long development lead times, they give plenty of notice about regulatory changes and very rarely scrap proposed regulations that carmakers would have already spent millions, collectively, on complying with. That the Department of Transportation floated an anti-convertible rule that resulted in major industry players scrambling to rejigger their product plans(as opposed to spend that money on lobbying to defeat that rule) only to decide at the last minute not to implement it defies credulity.

  11. As a Stag owner of nearly 40 years and a researcher into the true history of Stag, I see that you have, like many before you and many of the people who have provided comment, perpetuated the myths about Stag reliability and sales failure without providing any proof of that reliability or looking at the real reasons why it did not generate the initially projected sales figures.

    Apparently, the prototype engines gave no cause for concern once the 3.0 litre, twin carb, specification had been fixed. Introducing cheaper head gaskets at odds with the recommendations made by the Engineering Department was, in retrospect, not particularly wise. The emission control tests involving a Stag having to complete 50,000 miles in five months did not result in engine failure – probably because that engine was built properly and used the originally specified head gaskets. Cooling tests at Pikes Peak and in Algeria did not result in catastrophic failures.

    The water pump arrangement for the slant four was specified by Saab due to their ‘back to front’ use of the engine as, I believe, were the angled head studs (as the fixings were not all angled, with the bolts being at 90 deg to the mating faces, it is debatable how much lateral movement would be induced during bolt down – a problem claimed within an earlier comment). The decisions made for the slant four were carried over to the V8 due to the need to utilise the specially bought (at huge expense) engine machining transfer line and if Saab redesigned the engine when they took manufacture in-house, then it must have been nice to have been able to use the Triumph experience and to iron out the faults which arose, removing them from the design when they specified their all-new production facility. This was not something which BL would have allowed to have happened at Canley, so the Stag, Dolomite and TR7 was stuck with the original Saab induced design for their slant and V8 engines.

    As to the claim of many early failures and the rapid loss of faith in the product, where is the proof of this – other than in the eighties motoring press articles ? Stag had a forward order book of over twelve months for Stag through at least 1971, 1972 and 1973. If you wanted a Stag of the colour and trim of your choice you had to wait over a year. Through those years, delivery mileage Stags were selling at a premium on list price. It was not until 1976 that the situation reversed with cars not being immediately sold. As this coincides with huge problems within BL and an almost complete lack of faith in any BL product, perhaps this loss of sales is not very surprising. If you feel as if you have to look at the ‘numbers produced’ and read into them that the car was a failure, then I would ask you to consider looking at the situation the other way round i.e. despite for at least four years being able to sell every car that rolled off the production line, Triumph could not produce enough cars to satisfy that demand. If you then look at the weekly production figures you will see that they fell well short of the 200/week which was continually trotted out as desirable – and therefore presumably achievable – by the management. The conclusion can only be that during this time, either production was being badly affected by union action (not necessarily within Speke or Canley but at Dunlop, Forward Radiator, GKN or any other organisation which sent trucks into the Triumph delivery bays), the three day week and the energy crisis or that the combined TR6/Stag line was building the easier to sell TR6s at the expense of Stag.

    The real problems for Stag were encountered in the USA where the emission control regulations bit hard after 1971. The 1972 cars were subject to a lower compression ratio and an advanced ignition timing to stay within the required limits. However, it was known by all that this resulted in an engine temperature which, at idling and without the effect of ram cooling air, led to overheating – particularly in automatic cars with air conditioning. But Triumph/BL pressed forward with sales to the States with very little of an engineering answer to hand. Was this a cynical move, hoping that the failures would be minimal and that they would mostly occur after the one year warranty was finished ? Was it thought that in a such a large land mass and population, any failures would not become widely known ? BL/Triumph management of the time are not known for their well thought out decisions and the decision to sell a car in California which they knew was close to the overheating limit in certain circumstances on a sunny day in Warwickshire, was not one of their best.

    During 1971 and 1972, Stag also had a forward order book in the States with waiting times of twelve months being quoted. Despite the known problems, they just couldn’t build enough of them to satisfy demand – so the demand went elsewhere, especially when the lower power, higher running temperature 1972 year cars came along. But Stag was always onto a loser in the States as it was considerably more expensive than the generally well liked TR6 and used modern engine technology which the USA mechanics didn’t really grasp particularly well. It was also launched at the same BL press meeting as the V12 E-type – which wasn’t that much more expensive than the Stag, but considerably more desirable to most of the market sector at which Stag was aimed. Interestingly, Jaguar didn’t make many more Series 3 E-types between 1971 and 1975 than Triumph made Stags. Was it therefore really Stag’s fault that it failed in the States or was it that the market for more complicated, British ‘sports/touring cars’ just collapsed ? The official reasons that Stag was withdrawn from the States were that ‘due to its success, Triumph couldn’t satisfactorily satisfy the demand for spare parts’ and ‘We cannot continue with the costly emission control programme needed for the number of models which we sell into the States’. Although I am not taken in by this, I believe that the cause for early withdrawal was not quite as simple as it’s inherent engine weaknesses. If anything, it was the lack of engineering commitment to the engine by a management which was running round like a headless chicken not quite knowing which basket it should put it’s SD1, SD2, TR7 coupe, Lynx, Stag, Stag V8, Rover V8, PE166, slant 4 projects into and pondering on whether Canley, Speke or Solihull would be the broiler house of choice.

    It is an undeniable fact that the Stag engine design had weaknesses but it is also an undeniable fact that Saab made a decent fist of the basic redesign and that this redesign was never going to be possible within BL. I know of Stags with over 200,000 miles on the clock and which have never had an engine failure. Tony Hart ran a 270bhp version of a Stag engine in a Modsport series with the Stag performing well, being placed 3rd overall in 1989. To quote Tony ‘The main reason for our success was due to reliability’. Contemporary reports of Stag in the UK only start reporting engine problems in 1975/76. Perhaps this was not really a consequence of a huge failure of engine design but a result of the poor build quality of the engines being produced once the management failures of the BL network became accepted by the workforce. However good an engine is, if core sand is being left in the heads and blocks, the engines will always be fighting to maintain long term reliability.

    Interestingly, and almost unreported to date, Triumph found an alternative market for the later cars in Australia with something like 2,000 cars making their way there during the last two years of production. In what is a hot country, the survival rate is reported at 53%.

    Which brings me to the reported 35% survival rate within the article as this is not correct. For the UK, the ‘on the road at the moment’ rate is, indeed, about 35% but that ignores the 2,500 cars on SORN and the estimated 1500 or so which are long term off road and therefore predate SORN. The true ‘they are still there somewhere’ survival rate is therefore somewhere above 50%, which is absolutely phenomenal for a ‘failure’. Perhaps there is room for a real, well researched, assessment of why Stag is considered a failure because by all the pointers apart from final sales, it actually represents a long term success story.

    1. Thank you for your comment Peter, and for adding to our stock of knowledge about the Stag. I’m sure it must be annoying for you to read what you consider to be simply reheated, received wisdom regarding a car about which you not only clearly know a good deal, but also hold in high esteem. However, I must point out that I approached the piece with the intention of presenting a balanced telling, not to trash a car which I rather like.

      I might question (with the benefit of hindsight), whether the Stag was entirely the right car for Triumph at that time, given that the imminent development of viable replacements to the Innsbruck saloon and TR-series might have been money better spent, but we’re all geniuses in retrospect. Anyway, once BLMC came into being, a great many product plans went into the fire, not least at Canley. I think you make a sound point regarding the fractious labour situation, not only within the BLMC/BL orbit, but its supplier base, not to mention the wider upheavals during the 1970s. They ought not be discounted.

      I would also agree that there is indeed room for a thorough, fully researched assessment into the Stag’s birth, lifespan and death, which I’m sure you’ll agree isn’t really something that can realistically be compressed into an approximately 1200 word article. I might also suggest, given your depth of knowledge, that you might perhaps be best placed to actually write it.

    2. Eóin:Stag is an attempt to move up,If Triumph wants to survive, They had to move up
      Triumph never premium enough
      Besides, if you want to cancel stag, then I think the money should be spent on Toledo and Dolomite
      Small saloon account for 60% of Triumph’s sales
      And they could produced in Speke, just like the stag
      This could release Canley’s capacity to produce more 2000、13000, TR and Spitfire

  12. Eloquently put Peter. As a Stag owner myself (14years) I too tire of the incorrect “hype” regarding the Stag. My car has seen more of France than the UK, trips to Monaco and St Tropez in 35 degree temps without issue. One trip to Le Mans saw a series 1 E type get towed and parked next to me, it had over heated in traffic!

    As to the Stag looks, for me at least, best looking classic out there!
    My car gets used, not afraid of rain and I’ll drive it anywhere, how many other owners of “better” classics will do that!

    Most people who deride the stag have never been in one let alone own one, that’s not an issue for me tho, let’s keep the stag secret to ourselves, eh?

  13. Thanks Peter. I’ve owned my Stag for 37 years. It’s ‘original’ in that the only modifications to it are those promoted by people like Tony Hart and the Stag Owners Club, which have made it a truly reliable car – changes that BL should have incorporated when problems emerged during its production run. As far as (not) overheating is concerned my Stag is air-conditioned and has travelled from Perth, Western Australia to Brisbane, Queensland during the height of the Australian summer and remains a daily-driver.

  14. ‘Can anyone explain the true story of what happened in the late 1960s that had manufacturers canceling open topped motoring? One often reads that the US Nat’l Highway Traffic Safety Administration were set to introduce rollover safety standards that were impossible for carmakers to meet but decided to ditch them at the last minute. But that’s not really how Federal regulators work’.

    Hello Ben, it’s complicated, but I’ll try to give the short(ish) version.

    From the start of the car’s existence, up to about 1960, the auto sector had got away with saying that safety revolved around driver education, not vehicle or road design. Manufacturers who broke rank, such as Ford, with their ‘Lifeguard’ safety pack in the 1950s, were soon brought back in to line.

    However, as casualties mounted and insurers’ costs rose, questions started to be asked and from 1960, government started taking action – imposing very basic standards on the industry which had previously refused to consider them.

    The auto makers didn’t like the new standards, but there wasn’t much that they could do to challenge them – neither government nor public would be very sympathetic (this was around the time that consumer rights started to really become an issue, and Ralph Nader had just published his campaigning book ‘Unsafe At Any Speed’).

    From 1966, the federal body responsible, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) aimed to impose increasingly stricter standards, in phases. However, as time went on, a number of factors combined to thwart the NHTSA’s aims, which included:

    1) a change from a Democratic administration to a Republican one, which was more receptive to lobbying from business. Arguments against tighter standards centred around added cost, weight and making domestic vehicles uncompetitive against foreign imports;

    2) consumer resistance to features which added complexity, or made driving less fun (e.g. interlocks which prevented cars being started until seat belts had been fastened – see below)

    In the meantime, having looked at the proposed regulations, many manufacturers in the mid to late sixties concluded that they’d have to incorporate roll over protection. The Porsche 911 Targa, Fiat X/19, and Triumph TR7, among many others, reflect this thinking.

    However, things changed when the Republicans gained power in 1969, as the extracts below show – these detail lobbying by Ford against proposed legislation.

    From the mid seventies, the way the NHTSA operated changed – its role became broader, but it also became less ambitious in terms of the rate of change which it asked for, as many of the largest problems had been addressed. I believe that, these days, its approach is more cautious and consensual. In addition, manufacturers’ attitudes are much more responsible than they were in previous decades, which helps matters.

    This whole topic reminded me of a very 70’s technical bulletin about interlocks from Chrysler. I found it interesting to look back and see how government tried to compel people to act in their own interests.

    1. I would also like to add, there was an incredible amount of car related deaths yesteryears. I remember the fact that during World War II, more Americans died in car accidents than died in the war, upwards 50000 deaths a year in car crashes alone. And something had to be done about it, even though it took twenty years for the industry to be pressured about it.

    2. Hello Ingvar – yes – it’s similarly interesting to look at GB’s chart over the past century. I hope that we can reach a ‘no deaths’ target, one day; I know that’s what Volvo are aiming for.

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