Thursday, October 2, 2014

Is it Time to Give the TR7 Another Look?

How do you replace a Johnny Carson or Walter Cronkite or a deeply-loved sports car model? The simple answer is: it ain't easy.  We still have a "Tonight Show" and a "CBS Evening News" but we do not have a Triumph TR. While the television shows mentioned came out OK after their changes, the car-buying American public (and automotive press) was torn over the replacement for Triumph's much loved TR6 roadster - the Triumph TR7.

American auto safety regulations were running somewhat ahead of current auto technology in the 1970s. A raft of new standards put forward by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) meant that car makers were legislated into inventing equipment and systems that never before existed in order to be compliant. 

British automakers in the form of British Leyland gamely kept up the "make do and mend" approach so finely honed by the British people during postwar austerity. Make do with larger rubber bumpers, "tamper proof" carburetors and complex fuel systems to keep the product in the American market and keep US dollars coming in. But a stiff upper lip wasn't enough to keep old deigns compliant and BL bet the rent money on a new sports car, but it wasn't a roadster.
"Bullet" Prototype
"Lynx" Prototype

In 1970 BL launched a sports car committee to create guidelines for a new "corporate" sports car designed to meet current and anticipated European and American safety standards. At the time, NHTSA  had proposed rollover standards that were restrictive enough to effectively outlaw open top cars. The BL sports car committee moved forward with that understanding of American regulations and one of the new sports car's requirements was that it be a closed designed or minimally open hence, the Jaguar XJ-S and the TR7 were closed roof vehicles.
BL moved forward with an internal competition to create the new sports car. The winning proposal would be sold under both the Triumph and MG badges. 

"Magna" Prototype
Triumph proposed two vehicles: a "Targa" roofed sports car code named "Bullet" and a slightly stretched four place version code named "Lynx". Both cars were attractive designs- the Lynx looking somewhat Italian in appearance and the Bullet looking similar to Porsche's 914. 

Meanwhile, MG (through Austin Motors in Longbridge), having had a pretty mid-engine MGB/MG Midget replacement proposal rejected by BL management in 1970, put forward a two seat, hard top wedge shaped vehicle styled by Harris Mann that was internally named "Magna"- a harkening back to MG's prewar sports cars. It was this design that formed the basis of the TR7 at the decision of BL Chairman Donald Stokes

The Shape of Things to Come
It was a radical departure for a Triumph sports car in that it was a unit body design, a first for a small Triumph sports car, but dimensionally it was fairly close to the TR6 it was to replace, almost identical in height and length. Inside, the new TR provided more shoulder room (3") and leg room (7") than the outgoing TR6. 
TR7 Roadster

Meanwhile, Chrysler Corporation took NHTSA to court over the proposed rollover standards and the court rejected them in 1972 stating that people who buy open top cars accept the risk inherent in driving
TR7 in Java
without a roof. This not only opened the door for a convertible TR7, but saved the rest of BL's sports car line in America. 

BL called in Italian styling house Michelotti to handle the design and development of the TR7 roadster model. Michelotti had a long relationship with British automakers having designed the foldaway convertible top for the MGB and redesigned the Triumph TR3 body to make the TR4 series.

The roadster was exactly what this last of the TR line needed, helping the TR7 to become the best selling TR ever.
Tartan Plaid Interior Trim

Being a product of a huge firm run by marginally competent managers dealing with government meddling and a militant workforce, the TR7 had its problems. Poor build quality haunted the TR all through its life. US owners were not forgiving of nagging reliability problems and eventually the TR7 became a "throwaway" sports car. As their reputation for problems grew, resale values fell until keeping one in good repair became a losing proposition. 

I think its time to give this best selling Triumph (and the last Triumph sold in America) another look. The TR7's design has aged well. The low nose and high tail give it  a look of speed even while standing still and the side creases pioneered on the TR7 can be found on cars on sale today. The interior is comfortable for those of us who are buying belts by the yard these days and the dashboard could even be considered modern. The tartan upholstery may not be to everyone's taste but it was a product of its time and hey, even high end Lotus sports cars wore tartan, too. 

Restoring a TR7 is not impossible if the project car isn't too derelict. Parts are available from the usual sources such as Moss Motors and Victoria British, but be warned, there are a lot of "N/A"s in the catalogs. There are also independent keepers of the TR7 flame that can help, too. Of course, a wise restorer will have a parts car or three on hand.

It's a bit sad that we don't see many TR7s at Gulf Coast British car shows. I think they deserve better.

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