The Triumph Roadster
After the Second World War, Triumph was taken over by the Standard Motor Company. Sir John Black of Standard wanted to build cars that would rival Jaguar, something that didn’t go down at all well with Jaguar, as Standard was supplying the company with engines.
Initially, cars were produced under both the Standard–Triumph and Standard names. The Triumph name was being used on sports cars, whereas the Standard name was used for saloon car building.
Immediately after the Second World War, steel was in very short supply, and the little available resources were being controlled very tightly. On the other hand, aluminium, which had been used extensively for aircraft manufacture, was in more plentiful supply.
Standard–Triumph Launch a New Car – The Triumph Roadster
In 1946, the Triumph Roadster was launched. Whereas other manufacturers where dusting off their old pre–war designs, the Triumph Roadster was a completely new model and with a body constructed from aluminium. The car had been carefully styled to stand out from the rest of the crowd for maximum impact, but reviews were not all complimentary.
The Triumph Roadster had three front seats across the width of the body and featured a column gear change. The boot lid, when opened, provided dickey–seats for two extra passengers. The forward most part of the boot had two glass panels that formed a separate fold–up windscreen for the dickey–seat passengers.
Unusually, the wheel track at the front was much wider than at the rear, and with its ostentatious front wings, the Triumph Roadster seemed oddly proportioned. The motoring press seized upon this, accusing the car of being ugly.
Initially a 4–Speed Gearbox, but Then a 3–Speed Gearbox
The Triumph Roadster was initially powered by an 1800cc 4–cylinder engine and with a 4–speed gearbox, which had synchromesh on the top three gears. Between 1948, and when the Triumph Roadster was discontinued in 1949, a 2–litre Standard Vanguard engine was fitted, together with matching gearbox, which only had three forward gears.
The construction of the Triumph Roadster was almost completely achieved by hand, and so manufacturing volumes were low. It is estimated that only 2,500 examples were made in total.
After Triumph Roadster production ended in 1949, there was no replacement sports model to fill the gap. Instead, Standard–Triumph concentrated all its efforts into developing a saloon car, the Triumph Mayflower.
Other Sports Car Manufacturers Were Seeing Strong Sales in The United States
At the turn of the 1950’s, Standard–Triumph was observing the strong success of the Jaguar XK120 and MG Midget. There was particular note made of the United States market where both Jaguar and MG had created a lot of interest in British sports cars.
The Directors at Standard–Triumph authorised the development of a new sports roadster, believing they had identified a gap in the market between the Jaguar XK120 and the MG Midget TF.
A New Triumph Sports Car is Born, but Found to be Flawed
Standard–Triumph faced great difficulty as there was very little money available with which to pay for parts and new model development. However, by using the independent front suspension and rear axle from the Triumph Mayflower, as well as the engine, and a chassis from the now discontinued Standard Flying Nine, the Standard–Triumph design team had the beginnings of a new car.
The bodywork was designed to have cut–away doors to echo the sleek body line and a rather stumpy rear end upon which the spare wheel was mounted. Although an example of the car was displayed at the 1952 London Motor Show, the new Triumph sports car was then by no means ready for production.
During testing of the prototype it was found the ride and handling did not live up to expectations, and other faults were revealed too. After some modifications to the Triumph TS20, as it was named, it was found to require complete re–development, as it has been referred to as a death trap by one test driver.
The Triumph TR2 is Launched
In August 1953, and as a result of a lot of work by Ken Richardson and his team at Standard–Triumph, the second edition of the car was launched, called the Triumph TR2.
The Triumph TR2 was built on an entirely new and much stiffer chassis, and the body, built by Mulliners Ltd. of Birmingham, was extended at the back to form the boot area that also housed the spare wheel. The 1991cc Triumph Mayflower engine had been further developed to produce more power to make the Triumph TR2 a genuine 94bhp sports car and with a 100mph top speed.
To promote the capabilities of the car, Ken Richardson took a Triumph TR2 to the Jabekke Highway in Belgium where he recorded an average speed of 124 mph. This was quite an achievement at the time for a car of this size and class.
This time, Standard–Triumph had got it right and the popularity of the car steadily grew all around the world. There were options offered, such as a Laycock de Normanville overdrive unit that operated on third and fourth gears, and wire wheels.
Radial Ply Tyres
Another option offered with the Triumph TR2 was that of Michelin X radial tyres, which very much improved the road holding qualities of the car, and were something new in themselves at that time. Although there was an initial difficulty discovered with the braking system, this was quickly cured by fitting larger rear brake drums.
In the autumn of 1954 the doors of the Triumph TR2 were shortened to further stiffen the body and to make them easier to open without catching the kerb.
Standard–Triumph became one of the first sports car manufacturers to offer a removable hard top, this being styled in glass reinforced plastic. However, if a customer ordered the hard top it was supplied in place of the soft top, making the hard roof an option rather than an extra. It also added a higher price to the car.
In 1954, a Triumph TR2 enjoyed some success in the RAC Rally. Following on from that a Triumph TR2 also had a series of successes in the Mille Miglia and Alpine rallies. One of the drivers was a Belgian by the name of Maurice Gatsonides, who later became famous for his development of the Gatso speed camera.
Other drivers were enjoying success with the Triumph TR2 in such events as Le Mans and the Ulster Tourist Trophy.
The First Two Triumph TR2’s Still Survive
It appears the first two production Triumph TR2’s were mainly hand built. The first, serial number TS1, was a left hand drive model and was sent to Canada where it appeared at the 1953 Canadian Motor show. Apparently, it still survives in North America today having been fully restored.
The second car, serial number TS2, was built as a right hand drive model and sent to Dublin, Ireland, in September 1953. It is believed to have been used there as a demonstrator by Standard Triumph (Eire) limited before being registered to a buyer in County Offaly in March 1954. Amazingly, this Triumph TR2 also survives today, having been fully restored.
Triumph TR2’s, and the later TR3’s, were very popular and well respected by rally drivers who used the cars to good effect in local, national and international events.
The Triumph TR3
In August 1955, after 8,628 Triumph TR2’s had been sold all over the world, the car replaced by the TR3, but this was not until the following October.
The Triumph TR3 was the same car as the Triumph TR2, but now had a radiator grill. Also, the headlights had been moved back slightly from the front of the car.
Beneath the bonnet, engine power output was increased initially by a small amount to 95bhp, and then later to 100bhp by the addition of larger twin SU carburettors.
In September 1956, the Triumph TR3 became the first sports car in its class to be fitted with front disc brakes as standard equipment, a modification that coincided with the fitting of a more robust rear axle from the Standard Vanguard Mk3 saloon. Like the TR2 before it, the Triumph TR3 sold well and was exported widely around the world.
In 1957, a little known up and coming Italian car designer, Giovanni Michelotti, became involved with the Standard–Triumph Motor Company and began a relationship with the factory that continued until 1975.
Giovanni Michelotti had been commissioned by Standard–Triumph to design a new body for the next generation of Triumph Roadster, a project that was codenamed Zest, and then Zoom for the second phase.
The new sports car incorporated many of the design features from the TR3 and based upon that chassis, but was modified for Zoom. Both Zest and Zoom projects were taken on by the Standard–Triumph competition and motor sport department where the 1960 Standard–Triumph Le Mans racing car was developed, known as the Triumph TRS.
Although the TRS’s were not successful in the race they did at least finish and with a fastest lap speed of 102mph. The following year all three cars won the team prize by coming in ninth overall.
The Triumph TR3A
In September 1957, after 13,377 Triumph TR3’s had been sold worldwide, the car was updated. Although since referred to as the Triumph TR3A, this was never an official title of the second generation TR3.
The Triumph TR3A was mechanically identical to the TR3, but recognisable as the later edition by its full–width radiator grill that incorporated the sidelights. It also had external door and boot handles, a modification that was not popular with some Triumph TR enthusiasts. It seems in those days a proper sports car was not supposed to have door handles!
The Triumph TR3A now had a 2.2–litre engine offered as an option, but was not one that many buyers chose. There was an optional steel hardtop too, instead of the previously available GRP version.
In 1959, and for the 24–hour Le Mans Endurance Race, special fibreglass versions of the Triumph TR3A were built and on a modified chassis. The cars had longer bodies and a twin camshaft engine. Unfortunately, due to mechanical difficulties, all three cars retired before the finish.
The Triumph TR4 is Launched, but Initial Sales Were Poor
In the autumn of 1961, production of the Triumph TR3A ended and the new Giovanni Michelotti designed TR4 was launched. However, the Triumph TR4 was considerably more expensive to buy than the outgoing Triumph TR3 and initial sales, particularly in the US, were very poor.
Such was the state of panic this caused at the Standard–Triumph factory, the TR3 was hurriedly put back into production, a run that lasted from March to October 1962, but with the engine and gearbox from the TR4. This gave the revived Triumph TR3 a 109mph top speed and was sold with the designation of the Triumph TR3B. These cars were all left–hand drive and only exported to the United States.
Built on the same chassis as the TR3, the Triumph TR4 offered a completely new style of sports car to that of previous Triumph models and much of it was based upon the earlier Zest and Zoom experiments.
With a wider wheel–track, rack and pinion steering, full height doors, wind–up side windows, through–flow ventilation and a heater that could be controlled from within the cockpit, this was a car of the moment. It also had a new all–synchromesh gearbox.
The Triumph TR4 had come into the modern world with and with a radical design in removeable hardtop. The new roof had a detachable panel that fitted between the top of the windscreen and the top of the rear window. This allowed for open top motoring, but without the clumsiness of a fold down roof. The arrangement was called the Surrey Top.
A Cooling System Thermostat is Used
The Triumph TR4 carried another innovative engine design in the form of an engine coolant controlled thermostat. This allowed the water within the cooling system to initially by–pass the radiator whilst the engine came up to normal operating temperature.
Once the engine came up to normal running temperature the thermostat would open to allow normal coolant circulation. The system meant the engine warmed up much more quickly when started from cold.
The Triumph TR4 was offered with overdrive on 3rd and 4th gears, as well as wire wheels, as factory options. Inside, Vynide was used as the upholstery material, but this was no longer used as a covering for the fascia, as had been the case with earlier TR’s, although the inner surfaces of the doors were now trimmed with it.
The dashboard of the Triumph TR4 was made from metal and painted white, regardless of the body colour, and had two large air vents at either end. The two main instruments, the speedometer and tachometer, were positioned directly in front of the driver with the smaller instruments in a black panel in the centre of the facia.
The Takeover by Leyland Motors and a Potential End to Triumph in Motorsport
In December 1960, Standard–Triumph was taken over by the successful truck and bus manufacturing company, Leyland Motors Limited. This union of companies presented a threat to the previously enjoyed motorsport activities of Standard–Triumph.
Leyland Motors Limited had no interest in racing, and as a result, the Le Mans cars were sold and a then current project to build a racing coupe, a car designed by Giovanni Michelotti and built by a respected Italian tuning expert, Virgilio Conrero, was cancelled.
The Triumph motorsport division was very upset by this and remonstrated vehemently with Leyland Motors to reconsider their decision. They obviously got their own way, because in 1962, four Triumph TR4’s were prepared for competition by a re–formed works race team.
The competition prepared Triumph TR4’s were very quick, light in weight and had excellent road holding capabilities. From 1962 to 1964 the cars proved their reliability in the Alpine Rally and also competed in events such as the Tulip Rally, RAC Rally and the Canadian Shell 4000.
The Triumph TR4A IRS
By 1965 potential buyers of the production Triumph TR4 were complaining about the hard ride, as compared to competitors like the MGB and Sunbeam Alpine. To make the car more attractive the Triumph TR4A IRS was introduced, with a completely new coil sprung independent rear suspension system.
The additional letters of IRS to its name signified the Triumph TR4A had Independent Rear Suspension. The body style remained almost the same, but with a change in design to the front grill. This now consisted of plain, horizontal chrome bars in place of the criss–cross design of before.
The sidelights were moved from the top corners of the grille and placed high up on the front wings, and a chrome strip was added, running back from the side lights to the door handles.
Inside, the Triumph TR4A IRS had lost the white painted facia and now sported a wood veneer example, giving the interior a more upmarket appearance.
American Distributors of the Triumph TR4A IRS Were Sceptical
The Triumph TR4A IRS was an immediate sales success in the UK and Europe, but North American distributors of Triumph cars demanded that supply of the older version be continued. This was due to their worries that buyers would be put off by the new independent rear suspension system.
By 1967 the competition between car manufacturers, particularly in the sports car arena, had become really fierce. The Triumph TR4A IRS was beginning to fall behind in performance, as compared to market competitors.
Triumph needed to conform also to new exhaust emission regulations in the United States, this being Triumph’s biggest export market. However, the modifications to be made to British engines were seriously strangling their power output.
The Triumph TR5
In that same year, Triumph responded with a six–cylinder version of the TR4A IRS sports car, called the Triumph TR5. This was little more than a Triumph TR4A IRS fitted with a 2498cc straight–six cylinder engine.
Visually, the only noticeable external difference between the Triumph TR5 and the TR4A IRS was the replacement of the Triumph name on the bonnet with a badge bearing the characters, TR5. There was obviously a different badge at the rear of the car too.
The options were that of the same Surrey top arrangement as the Triumph TR4A, or a soft top, and a choice between steel rims and wire wheels. Overdrive was available, operating on 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears of the 4–speed gearbox.
First Production Sports Car with Mechanical Petrol Injection
The Triumph TR5 was the first production car to be factory fitted with a mechanical petrol injection system, which in this case was manufactured by Lucas. This made it a very quick car, for its day, as with its fuel injection system, the 2.5–litre engine produced a power output of 150bhp.
The Triumph TR5 delivered the type of performance Triumph needed to stay ahead of its competitors. However, the engine, in its fuel injected form, was not able to meet the stringent US exhaust emissions regulations.
As a consequence, North American buyers were sold the Triumph TR 250. This was exactly the same car as the European Triumph TR5, except it had twin Stromberg carburettors instead of fuel injection. Unfortunately, this resulted in a rather disappointing power output of only 104bhp.
Legend has it that Triumph never intended to release a successor to the Triumph TR4A by merely putting a six–cylinder engine into the old car and only did so as a temporary measure.
Market competition was fierce and the Triumph TR4A was beginning to be left behind by its competitors. Therefore, the engine upgrade was the only way to produce a faster, beefier TR sports model, as the design of the new sports car replacement was not ready.
The Triumph TR5 was only manufactured for 9–months and sold for twelve. Nearly 11,000 of them were sold in total, mostly for export, with only 2,497 cars reaching British roads.
The 1960’s Were Glory Days for Triumph Cars
By now, Triumph had a very strong and competitive model range and sales were good. By the late 1960’s, Triumph was working hard on a prestigious new project, developing an entirely new car with a totally new Triumph developed engine.
This project was that of the Triumph Stag. In fact, Stag development consumed an incredible amount of money, some of which became spent to the detriment to other Triumph models, notably the replacement for the Triumph TR5.
Triumph was desperate to build a successor to the now rather dated looking Triumph TR5 sports car. Simply doing an upgrade to an existing model wasn’t this time going to be enough.
The problem was that of money, as in the lack of it. Also, Giovanni Michelotti, Triumph’s design guru, was totally absorbed with the development programme of the Triumph Stag and therefore not available.
The origins of the Triumph straight six–cylinder engine go back to the early 1950’s, when a new four–cylinder power unit was developed for the Standard Ten and Triumph Pennant saloons. A 2–litre six–cylinder version was then developed to power the Standard Vanguard Six.
With overhead valves, built from cast–iron, and with twin 150CD Stromberg carburettors, the Standard–Triumph six–cylinder 2–litre engine was also used in the very successful Giovanni Michelotti designed Triumph 2000 saloon. Later, it appeared in the Triumph Vitesse, a car based upon the Herald, as well as the Spitfire based Triumph GT6.
The additional 500cc for the Triumph TR5 sports car, and the later Triumph 2.5 PI saloon, were obtained by increasing length of the piston stroke, which had the added effect of also increasing torque. In its four–cylinder form the engine remained in production until the Triumph Spitfire was discontinued in 1980, with the six–cylinder variant having died out before it in 1976.
In 1975, Rover rejuvenated the concept of the Triumph Straight–Six in the Rover SD1 2600, but instead of overhead valve gear, this engine had been equipped with an overhead camshaft. Whilst the Triumph engine had initially been earmarked for overhead camshaft development it was realised the changes necessary were too great and so a new engine was developed.
Giovanni Michelotti Not Available – Karmann Asked to Help Instead
Triumph, with nowhere else to go, turned to a car design company Karmann, located in Osnabruck, Germany. Karmann had the ability and the means to design and develop the new sports car, and to manufacture all the necessary tooling for its eventual production.
In the middle of all of this came the amalgamation of Leyland Motors Limited, parent company of Triumph, and British Motor Holdings, formerly BMC. Now, Triumph, MG, Rover, Jaguar, Austin and Morris were all under the same corporate roof to be known as the British Leyland Motor Corporation, and so all were fighting for a share of any available development funding.
Having agreed to take on the project, and been told the task had to be achieved on a shoestring, Karmann planned to use as much as possible of the Giovanni Michelotti TR4 design, focussing only on remodelling the front and rear sections of the body shell.
The structure of the chassis and cockpit area, including the dash and doors, remained the same. An anti–roll bar was fitted to the front suspension and wider wheels and tyres. The body was given smoother, cleaner lines, which afforded the larger boot capacity.
Then the Triumph TR6 was Born
Karmann’s creation was that of the Triumph TR6, and the car was unveiled to the world in 1968. There was a very enthusiastic reception, making the Triumph TR6 an instant success. The 150bhp 2.5–litre petrol injected six–cylinder engine and gearbox was retained from the Triumph TR5, but with more modern suspension, good handling characteristics, the car had got even better.
Karmann had succeeded in creating a whole new aggressive, modern and exciting look for the Triumph TR6, at a budget price, mainly by re–panelling the front and rear of the car. Customer options included the usual wire wheels and overdrive on 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears.
Whilst the idea of the Surrey top was now gone, the Triumph TR6 was available with a very well designed and detachable hard top as an alternative to the soft top. This was similar to the hard top of the Triumph Stag, when it was released, making the Triumph TR6 look almost as attractive with the roof as it did without.
The Triumph TR6 – a Sales Success Story
The Triumph TR6 went on to become the best selling Triumph TR sports car ever made, and when released to the public in 1969, Autocar Magazine is quoted as saying about the Triumph TR6,
"It is very much a masculine machine, calling for beefy muscles, bold decisions, and even ruthlessness on occasion. It could be dubbed the last real sports car……."
The Triumph TR6 was a fast car and one that was just begging to be driven hard. It actually required a fair amount of skill on the part of the driver to realise its full potential. However, some owners complained about the roughness of the engine at low speed.
In hotter climates, in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, the petrol injection system did not cope well with the heat. At home, and as the petrol injection needed to be expertly tuned for effective running, and was often adjusted by those who didn’t know what they were doing, it was not long before the system was accused of being unreliable.
In the United States, of course, the Triumph TR6 was sold with carburettors, although this time it was given the TR6 name, whereas the TR5 had been rebadged as the Triumph TR250.
The Triumph TR6 Now With Reduced Power Output
Late in 1972, and in response to the critics, as well as to comply with the ever tightening exhaust emissions regulations in other parts of the globe, the Triumph TR6 was de–tuned. This was at a cost to the power output, which now registered at 125bhp.
As options, the car was now offered with overdrive on 3rd and 4th gears only, wire wheels and detachable hardtop. Other obvious changes was that of head restraints on both passenger and driver’s seat, and the ignition switch being moved to the steering column, which doubled as a steering lock.
By the close of 1976, the end of production of the Triumph, 94,619 had been built. Even 35–years later, the Triumph TR6 still has a tremendously enthusiastic following all over the world and is still rated as one of the best looking and performing sports cars of its era.
The Advent of the Triumph TR7
By 1975, rumour suggesting the United States were planning to legislate against open top cars was spreading and this set UK sports car manufacturers, who were exporting sports models across the Atlantic, into a bit of a panic. Triumph made a valiant effort to stay ahead of the predicted changes by working on a permanent hard–top successor to the Triumph TR6.
The Triumph TR7 would have perhaps attracted less negative attention had it not been called the TR7. With a 4–cylinder carburetted Triumph Dolomite engine, producing a meagre 105bhp instead of a hairy and powerful and smooth six–cylinder petrol injection unit, this car was seen as something of a monstrosity.
The interior appeared cheap and tacky with plastic trim in place of the traditional polished wood facia, this being a big departure from the traditions of the Triumph TR range everyone was so used to.
All this meant the car was not well received. In fact, many staunch TR purists will not even recognise it as a Triumph TR model at all. There is a story told of when Giovanni Michelotti saw the Triumph TR7 for the first time, at its first appearance and at the Geneva motor show. He is said to have remarked how it looked just as awful from one side as it did the other.
The irony of it all is the rumoured banning of open top cars in the US never did come to pass and so the production of the ugly wedge coupe had actually been unnecessary.
Britain’s Motor Industry Being Beaten by the Japanese
By the early 1970’s, Japanese car manufactures were exporting heavily into the UK. No one had taken Japanese cars seriously at first, had even mocked them for their simplicity. However, Japan was now offering products that were not only cheaper, more reliable, better built than British competition, but the cars came with new and innovative design features.
Cars like the six–cylinder 150bhp Datsun 240z Coupe directly threatened the home–grown models, like those offered by Triumph, MG, and Jaguar. By the middle of the 1970’s the competition had become much tougher and traditional British car makers were reeling from the desertion by their usual customers, they being seduced by better products.
V8 Power for the Triumph TR7
Dwindling sales both at home and overseas needed swift and drastic action if the Triumph TR7 was to remain alive, and in 1980, for the export market only, the Triumph TR8 was introduced.
The Triumph TR8 was a TR7 offered in either convertible or hard–top coupe form, but with the Rover 3,500cc V8 engine under the bonnet. It was said by critics this engine package finally gave the car what it should have had right from the start, but didn’t get.
Official records indicate that only six Triumph TR8 V8 cars were sold in the UK, as the home version was still being produced as the four–cylinder TR7, albeit now with the option of a convertible variant.
The Beginning of the End of the Triumph Brand
However, despite the best efforts of Triumph, the upgrades to the TR7 made it a case of being too little too late. After selling only around 2,500 TR8’s worldwide, the Triumph wing of British Leyland closed down.
The story of Triumph as an organisation is not a happy one. Particularly during the 1980’s, British Leyland was troubled by badly made products, bad quality control, bad management and a poorly motivated workforce that were frequently out on strike.
New products, like the Triumph TR7, suffered from lack of investment, underdevelopment and mediocre build quality, and with some models already showing signs of body corrosion when delivered as new to customers.
Production of the Triumph TR7⁄8, the last true Triumph built car, ended in 1981 after which the Triumph arm of BLMC died. However, the Triumph name did re–appear for one last time on a saloon car named the Triumph Acclaim. This car was little more than a re–badged Honda Ballade, which in itself was based upon the Honda Civic platform.
The Triumph Acclaim project was a desperate attempt to remain in business, probably with the idea that as the Japanese had got such a hold on the British car market, it was better to join them rather than to be beaten by them. Nevertheless, the Triumph Acclaim car was not popular, as the buying public preferred to buy the real Honda instead, and so this car too fell by the wayside.
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The History of Triumph Cars Through the Years