Triumph 2000 and 2500 (1963 – 1977) Review
Triumph 2000 and 2500 (1963 – 1977) At A Glance
Roomy and smooth, good to drive, with much upgrade potential
A bit fragile, and the bodywork needs constant attention
Triumph was a successful company in the ascendancy in the 1960s – and as well as producing sportscars to fight MG in the American market, it was going toe-to-toe with Rover in the executive saloon market. Although the Rover and Triumph 2000 were such close rivals and ended up cornering the market for several years, neither company’s design team (officially) knew of the existence of their rival’s offering. Both cars had heir individual strengths – the Rover was more solid, whereas the Triumph boasted a smooth six-cylinder engine lifted from the outgoing Standard Vanguard. Michelotti styled the Triumph 2000 and it was as sharp as it was handsome. All-independent suspension also ensured a fine ride and handling.
The estate version appeared in 1965, and in 1969 the Innsbruck facelift resulted in a much stronger looking car thanks to its longer, restyled nose and tail. In 1968, the 2.5PI was created, by fitting a fuel-injected TR5 engine under the 2000 bonnet. The Lucas injection system proved to be unreliable though, so a twin-carburettor version was introduced alongside it in 1974 – however, this power boost was enough to maintain the car’s competitiveness against the Rover P6B. In the end, it was replaced by the Rover SD1 – the big Triumph line dying during the British Leyland era.
- March 1957: Standard-Triumph starts working on its new Vanguard replacement
- February 1960: Project Zebu comes under review
- September 1963: Triumph 2000 is officially unveiled
- June 1969: 2000 Mk2 launched
- April 1974: Triumph 2000/2500 facelifted
- May 1977: The Triumph 2000/2500 production ceases
Standard-Triumph starts working on its new Vanguard replacement
Standard-Triumph had started working on their new car in 1957, and concentrated on it as a replacement for the uninspiring Vanguard Mark III – a car that was underperforming badly on the marketplace. The new car, codenamed “Zebu” was intended to eradicate the image of staidness that overshadowed Standard’s current model range. A new six-cylinder engine was conceived (Harry Webster believed that “big fours” were not smooth enough), and an advanced body style was soon sketched out. Funding for the new Zebu (as well as “ Zobo ” – the Herald, as it would become) was gained when Standard-Triumph sold their profitable tractor making subsidiary for £14,900,000 in July 1959 to Massey-Ferguson, the Canadian tractor group.
This included Standard’s holding in Societe Standard-Hotchkiss, the French tractor firm. The deal involved the sale of the tractor assets for £14,900,000. When other items had been taken into account the Standard company’s cash resources would be increased by £12,500,000. The existing arrangements between Standard and Massey-Ferguson for the manufacture of tractors would be gradually terminated, but complete disengagement would not be effected until 1 May 1961. Until that date the Standard group could not sell tractors. In theory the deal released funds for the new Zebu as well as ‘Zobo’- the Herald, as it would become. However Standard Triumph also decided to spend some of their windfall on expansion.
The directors of Standard’s had decided that all the group manufacturing and trading activities should be carried out through subsidiary companies, leaving Standard’s as a holding company. It was intended therefore, to change the name of the group to Standard-Triumph International. Ltd., while the newly formed car subsidiary would retain the name of the Standard Motor Company. Proposals to give effect to the arrangements were approved buy stockholders on 28 August.
Marshal of the RAF Lord Tedder, the chairman of the company and General Eisenhowers wartime deputy, said it was felt that the sale of the tractor business was both rational and equitable to everyone concerned. He added that during the past 50 years the meaning of the word Standard had changed until, in America today, it just meant ‘ordinary’.
‘People there asked where was the de luxe. We are up against the problem of international publicity whereby we are having to use the name Standard in Britain and Standard-Triumph in other parts of the world,’ he said.
No question about it – Zebu needed to look startling and herald (no pun intended) a new and confident direction for the company. The team behind Zebu – Harry Webster and Giovanni Michelotti – overseen by Alick Dick would engineer a complete transformation of Standard-Triumph’s fortunes, bringing the latter marque name to the fore.
On 28 September Standard-Triumph International (STI) became the holding and policy making company for the group with a board of directors comprising Lord Tedder, chairman, Alick Dick, managing director, Mr K. Aspland, Mr E. Brimelow, Mr Martin J. Tustin, Mr H. S. Weale, Mr M. Whitfield, and Mr Les Woodall, directors. The directors of Standard-Triumph International announced on 22 December that agreement in principle had been reached with Hall Engineering (Holdings) with a view to acquiring the motor car body building and die-making sides of their business.
This would involve a cost of some £2m. A statement issued by the company said factories at Speke (Liverpool), Dunstable and Basildon, in Essex were involved. The Speke factory was engaged on the production of body panels for the Triumph Herald announced earlier that year.
It was announced only the previous week that Standard-Triumph were having talks with Alforder Newton of Hemel Hempstead with a view to Standard-Triumph taking over that company. So ended 1959, a year in which Standard-Triumph International, having failed to merge with Rover, liquidated its tractor assets in order to fund further expansion. The new Herald was selling well, but it was also a year in which the British car industry was blighted with a never ending series of labour disputes.
More Standard-Triumph International expansion was announced at Speke, Liverpool on 9 February 1960, with the Group proposing to spend £11m. on new works on Merseyside. The scheme, part of an £18m. expansion, embraced a three-year plan under which 4500 would be employed at Speke. By 22 February the deal to buy Alforder Newton, for £500,000 had been accepted by all the Ordinary shareholders.
The construction of the new Standard-Triumph International factory at Speke began on 31 March with Alick Dick behind the controls of a mechanical digger. Meanwhile, while the management were spending the windfall from the tractor sale, Harry Webster and his team pressed on with development of Zebu.Zebu soon took shape under the guidance of Harry Webster - and as can be seen from this very early model, the reverse slope rear window was on the cards right from the beginning.
Zebu was rapidly developed into something of a sophisticated car – the new six-cylinder engine was mated to an appealing and radical looking package. The matter of funding was a different matter, however – and following the company’s inability to tie-up with another car producer, Standard-Triumph continued development of the car at a slower than desirable pace. This did not blunt Harry Webster’s enthusiasm for the project, and an interesting specification was drawn up: traditional separate chassis construction, a rear-mounted transaxle gearbox was used for the gearbox, and a McPherson strut/independent layout was chosen for the suspension system. Even more advanced concepts were also mooted: one such being a pneumatic suspension system. It may have never left the drawing board, but its mere mention reflected the radical spirit that permeated Standard-Triumph at the time.Zebu had developed nicely along the way, and the rear three quarter view (top) was especially attractive. The frontal aspect (above) was less so with its fussy grille/headlamp arrangement, but this was far from finalised. The reverse rake concept would be ditched in 1959 following a visit from MOTOR magazine's editor.
Zebu had developed nicely along the way, and the rear three quarter view (top) was especially attractive. The frontal aspect (above) was less so with its fussy grille/headlamp arrangement, but this was far from finalised. The reverse rake concept would be ditched in 1959 following a visit from MOTOR magazine's editor.
Zebu’s future was being put into further doubt, thanks to falling Standard-Triumph profitability and the lack of funding to actually put it into production. Two events effectively sealed the fate of Zebu:
Firstly, a visit from Motor magazine’s then editor Christopher Jennings, who given an exclusive advance viewing of the car, tipped off Harry Webster to the effect that a competitor would be introducing their own “ reverse rake ” car, and that it would hit the market a long time before Zebu. Although he never revealed who it was that would be building this car (it turned out that he was referring to the Ford Anglia 105E and Classic 109E models), Harry Webster treated the information as being reliable. Panic facelifts were planned – initially in the form of Zebu redesigned to house a more conventional rear window line.
Secondly, Standard-Triumph hit rock bottom in 1960, thanks to the domestic credit squeeze and a drop-off in export sales. By September that year the company was announcing short time working in its plants. Standard-Triumph, who produced about 5000 cars a week, were said to have cut production of the Vanguard range by half because of the credit squeeze and falling American sales. A 30 per cent cut was made in the Triumph Herald and Triumph sports car output. Despite this setback, on 4 October the company opened a new factory at Malines in Belgium.
Financially, the company was now seriously on the ropes, losses were beginning to mount, and the Vanguard was by this time, a lame duck on the market place…
There was more bad news on 8 November when Standard Triumph announced to that 1700 hourly paid employees at its Coventry factories were to be declared redundant and that a three-day week for its remaining 6300 manual workers would come into force. Shortly after this came the news of another 200 redundancies. The year ended with Lord Tedder standing down as Chairman to be replaced by Alick Dick and the news that Leyland motors were in ‘merger’ talks with Standard-Triumph International. When the Leyland bid was made Standard Triumph had a bank overdraft equivalent to over a quarter of its net assets.
Project Zebu comes under review
The Zebu style was now completely under review – effectively at the point it should have been frozen for production – and following on from the conventional flavour of the original Zebu, a more original Herald based solution was sought. The idea was that the Herald body could we widened, lengthened and given four-doors. It could then clothe the Zebu chassis and running gear and act as a ‘big brother’ to the successful Herald. This idea was soon rejected on the grounds that the style did not translate well on a bigger car, and that, realistically, it did not look different enough to the car it was based upon.
Beyond that, a new and conventional Michelotti style was also mooted – somewhat akin to a plainer Austin Cambridge / Peugeot 404 , it was also not viewed favourably by management. This left the company in a quandary as to the best way to continue the Zebu project. In the end, there was only one plan of action to follow – start again from scratch…
The credit squeeze was eased in January 1961 but Standard Triumph would still be restricted to short time working until the end of the year. The following month the company brought into operation a new assembly hall at Canley which had cost the firm some £2.5 million.
1961 saw Standard-Triumph rescued from financial ruin by Leyland – it followed a brief courtship, where the carmaker’s management ensured that it did stand in the way of the takeover. For Leyland, it marked the beginning of a doomed adventure into car making. Essentially, Leyland had prospered in the truck market thanks to a dynamic managmement team, and were awash with cash. Taking on Standard-Triumph was a way of expanding the business – and hopefully generating even more profits.
On 17 May 1961 following the acquisition of Standard-Triumph International by Leyland Motors, it was announced that in order to integrate the operation of the two companies, Sir Henry Spurrier had become chairman of Standard-Triumph International, with Mr Alick Dick, the former chairman, continuing as managing director.
Stanley Markland, Sidney Baybutt and Donald Stokes had also joined the board. In addition Alick Dick and Frank Dixon were invited to join the board of Leyland Motors. Stanley Markland, newly appointed as Leyland’s deputy chairman was seen at the time as the heir apparent to Sir Henry Spurrier, Leyland’s chairman. Mr Markland was also managing director of Albion Motors Ltd., a subsidiary of Leyland Motors.
Leyland’s patience with the existing STI management finally snapped on 17 August 1961 when Sir Henry Spurrier and Stanley Markland used Harry Webster’s office to fire most of the Standard Triumph board.
Sir Henry Spurrier, chairman and managing director of Leylands and chairman of Standard Triumph, said in a statement: ‘Leyland Motors have decided that they must streamline and integrate the Standard Triumph organization into the parent company at an early date. Mr A. S. Dick is to resign from the company, and Mr. S. Markland is appointed managing director of Standard Triumph International from today.
‘Further, Leyland Motors have asked Messrs. K. Aspland, E. Brimelow, M. T. Tustin, H. S. Weale, M. Whitfield, and L. A. Woodall to retire from the board of Standard Triumph International, some of whom will be retained with the company in an executive capacity.’
Two of the three directors who remained on the board of Standard Triumph were Sidney Baybutt and Donald Stokes, who were also directors of Leyland. This was the end of the pretence that the Leyland – STI tie up was an amicable merger. By the end of the month the Leyland men were announcing numerous cutbacks in non-productive expenditure, including the firing of some 300 managers, with Stanley Markland to the fore.
By the end of the year there were futher revisions to the Leyland directors areas of responsibility to enable Stanley Markland to focus entirely on Standard Triumph full time. Certainly, the influx of new management (and the removal of most of the existing board) brought renewed vigour to Standard-Triumph. Faced with the prospect of developing the new two-litre saloon (Leyland had stipulated a 1600cc version as well, but this was soon dropped), cash was soon made available to Harry Webster to get it into production as quickly as possible.
Excited by this situation, Webster set about developing a new car.
Donald Stokes came into the picture at this point in time, as Leyland’s director of finance, and he made his mark on the new project by laying down strict costing requirements for the new car. As a result, many of the Zebu’s parts were carried over, and although the concept was broadly similar, an alternative and equally bold style would need to be created. New features were a move to monocoque construction (as opposed to the Herald-like separate chassis) and conventional gearbox layout. The project’s change in direction and its new impetus were denoted by a new project name: “Barb”. The intention was that the new car would be sold as a Triumph, as the Leyland management clearly saw that Triumph was on the ascendency (following the successes of the Herald and TR4). Standard, it would seem, would bite the dust when the new car appeared.
By January 1962 Sir Henry Spurrier, in his annual statement to Leyland shareholders, was claiming that the truck maker had saved Standard Triumph from financial meltdown.
‘In taking this concern under our wing we have almost certainly saved it from bankruptcy,’ he wrote.
In February Sir Henry told shareholders, ‘I do want to assure you that as soon as we can get this Standard organization on a paying basis it will in the end make a great contribution to the Leyland Group.’
Donald Stokes commented in 1968 on Standard Triumph: ‘To be honest it was ghastly.The place was badly run and top management was not good.’
Rather ominously for the future of the Triumph brand, the new Speke factory began to experience labour disputes in April 1962. On 5 June 1962 a proposed merger between Leyland Motors and Associated Commercial Vehicles that would form the biggest manufacturing group of heavy commercial vehicles in the world, with combined total assets of nearly £117m., was announced in London. It was the outcome of what Sir Henry Spurrier, chairman of Leyland Motors, described as, ‘completely confidential and secret negotiations ‘.
Its object: ‘To meet the challenge of world competition.’
The announcement came as a surprise with the news that the directors of the two companies had agreed in principle to recommend a merger to their shareholders. Both boards said they were of the opinion that integration benefits shareholders and workers-and would be, ‘in the national interest ‘.
Their announcement added: ‘Both companies will continue to manufacture and sell as separate entities, and in particular will intensify their already forceful export drive.’
Sir Henry Spurrier thought that the standing separately of the groups over the years had been, ‘a good thing for Britain and our individual concerns. But conditions are changed today, and are changing rapidly. If we are to develop overseas to the extent that before long we may be manufacturing 75 per cent of our total output in the export market, we must put ourselves in a position where we can sell these vehicles from strength rather than weakness.’
Lord Brabazon of Tara, chairman of A.C.V., disclosed that talks had been going on for two months. Together the groups manufactured some 60 per cent of heavy vehicles of over four tons unladen weight. Sir William Black, managing director of A.C.V., put the combined sales of vehicles at £150m. including cars. The joint group represented 46,000 workers in Britain.
STI was now part of a large and expanding company. In September Sir Henry Spurrier commented, ‘We are extremely optimistic about the benefits which will accrue to both organizations from the merger and particularly from the integration of our manufacturing, research and development facilities. This will constitute a pool of knowledge and experience which is unrivalled in the field of heavy lorries and passenger transport.
‘In Great Britain, however, we intend to operate our organization independently and indeed competitively as we feel that this provides a stimulant to both companies and is ultimately of great benefit to our customers. In overseas markets the merger will enable us to take advantage of the considerable combined facilities for assembly and local manufacture which have been established over a number of years, and also to present a united front against the tough and ever-growing foreign Competition in our ceaseless efforts to obtain bigger and better export orders.’
By 20 September 1962 the Leyland – ACV merger was formalised as Leyland Motors Ltd. Sir Henry Spurrier was chairman with Stanley Markland as deputy chairman and Donald Stokes as the new managing director. Also on the board were Lord Brabazon of Tara and Sir William Black from ACV.
Stanley Markland continued as managing director of Standard Triumph International and of Albion Motors, while Donald Stokes retained his position of managing director of Scammell Lorries and sales director of the group. By early 1963 it was revealed that STI had sold 50 % more cars in the important American market in 1962 than in the previous year. The company was selling its way back to financial health.
While all this corporate manouvering was going on the men at Canley worked away on project Barb.This sketch by Michelotti was intended as a proposal for the Herald - However, the beginnings of the Triumph 2000 can clearly be seen in its lines. When the lines are right, stick with the concept - and Harry Webster did just that, seeing that the design theme made it into production in 1963.
With a healthy influx of cash, and management enthusiasm, development of the Barb progressed more rapidly than it did with Zebu – and just as well really: at Leyland’s insistance, the finished product was to be exhibited at the London Motor Show at the end of 1963.
The entire team knuckled down and worked hard to keep the project on track. Because the mechanical layout (engine, gearbox, suspension) was reasonably familiar to the company, it was a relatively straightforward process translating the car from paper to production line. The overall process have been straightforward, but it certainly was not easy: Barb was not the first large monococque car to be produced by Standard, but it did pose quite a few new questions, regarding suspension and engine mounting. Given the tight schedule imposed on them, Harry Webster’s team amassed as many testing miles as possible, and the MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) proving grounds at Nuneaton became extremely familiar to the Coventry-based engineers.
Giovanni Michelotti also knuckled down, and within the astonishingly short period of three months, produced a completely new style for the car – from scratch. A handsome, six-light style was proposed, banishing memories of all the incarnations on Zebu. Webster accepted the design following a few minor modifications, and committed the shell to production.
Throughout 1962 and 1963 Barb was tested with a view to being unveiled at that year’s London Motor Show, and admirably, this tight deadline was met, despite some teething problems with the semi-trailing arm rear suspension layout. It cannot be overstated just how an astonishing achievement it was to get the car into production in such a short time – in all, just over two years (even more so when one considers the fact that there really were not many carryover parts from existing production models).
Because of the short amount of time at hand, the launch of the new car (the “Triumph 2000″ name was attached to Barb in the summer of 1963) would be followed by a pause before the car became fully available to the public. Knowing that Rover were also launching a radical 2-litre car at the same time, Triumph decided that they needed to get their cars into the hands of “hand-picked” customers, and operators as well as journalists. This would allow their new car to gain significant exposure, to get further and vitally important test data, and compensate for an early release date, allowing for the production build-up process.
It was a practice that British Leyland would use again (for entirely different reasons) with the Austin 3-Litre in 1968…
In January 1963 Sir Henry Spurrier requested that Stanley Markland gave up the post of Leyland deputy chairman in favour of ACV’s Sir William Black. Markland acquiesced. By February 1963 it was revealed that the parent company was changing its name to the Leyland Motor Corporation and that Jim Slater, commercial director of A.E.C. Ltd., had been appointed deputy to Donald Stokes, sales director of the Leyland Motor Corporation. There were more boardroom movements in March when it was announced that Sir William Black had now joined the board of Standard-Triumph International.
Then on 20 June 1963 Sir Henry Spurrier announced that due to ill health and his reaching the age of 65 years, he was resigning as Leyland chairman. His replacement was the even older Sir William Black and not Stanley Markland. By October Donald Stokes was confirmed as managing director and deputy chairman.
Triumph 2000 is officially unveiled
A pre-production Triumph 2000 undergoing final testing at MIRA in the months leading up to its launch.
The Triumph 2000 was officially unveiled on 15 October 1963 and the press and public, alike took it to their hearts in a big way. On 6 November 1963, Jaguar Chairman Sir William Lyons wrote to Sir Henry Spurrier, former Chairman of Leyland Motors.
‘I was so pleased to see that Donald Stokes has been put into the position I know you always planned for him. I am sure he will make a great success of it, and it must be a comfort to you to know that Leyland is still in good hands.
I think the new Triumph 2000 is going to be a winner. I had a good look at it at the Show and was very impressed. At its price I think it has the edge on its competitors. It looks as though your worries about Standard are over.’
The Jaguar chairman seemed blissfully unaware that both the Triumph and Rover 2000s would eat into sales of the 2.4-litre Mk2 saloon, and were more modernistic in styling. Jaguar saloon production stagnated in the 1960s while both Rover and Triumph conquered new markets with their compact executive saloons.
It would seem that the presence of this and the Rover 2000 proved intensely stimulating for the executive market sector as a whole, and sales of the new Triumph took off in a big way when sales commenced in earnest in January 1964. Autocar magazine summed up the Triumph 2000 most favourably after their first encounter:
“All in all, the Triumph 2000 seems to have golden prospects; its modern technical specification, full equipment, roominess and pleasing proportions show no vestige of insularity, so that it should penetrate deep into export markets with the extensive backing of Standard-Triumph International and the Leyland parent.”
The conclusion that Autocar drew following their first road test was even more glowing: ‘The Triumph 2000 will not cause a flutter of excitement if one is looking for scintillating performance, but the more it is driven, the more one like it, particularly the good suspension and freedom from noise which contribute to an overall high degree of comfort.’
Of course, in these more civilised times, car magazines (except for, perhaps, Motoring Which?) had yet to latch on to anything so vulgar as back to back testing against a competitor, but had they put the Triumph against its deadly rival from Rover then it would have come out on top in terms of insulation from road noise, engine smoothness and top-gear acceleration. That is not to say that the Triumph was decidedly better; it simply offered a different mix of qualities and gave the customer a genuine choice.
Leyland and STI ended 1963 with yet more management changes. Donald Stokes, Managing Director and deputy chairman of the Leyland Motor Corporation, was appointed chairman of Standard-Triumph International in succession to Sir Henry Spurrier. Stanley Markland, managing director of Standard-Triumph International, quit the parent company at the end of the year after 43 years service, having lost out badly in the power game with the top job promised to him by Spurrier remaining elusive.
Sir William Black, chairman of Leyland, said: ‘As Mr. Stokes is assuming full executive control of Standard-Triumph, it is not proposed to appoint a managing director. The present director and general manager, Mr George Turnbull, however, will assume broader responsibilities under Mr Stokes.’
It was Stanley Markland who had knocked Standard Triumph into shape, cutting out waste and extravagance. Harry Webster later described Markland as, ‘the finest boss I ever knew.’
Donald Stokes was to reap the benefit of Markland’s hard work at STI, but the super salesman was more of a diplomat by nature and lacked the ruthless qualities demonstrated by Stanley Markland at STI, the kind of qualities that would be needed in the decade ahead. Stanley Markland retired to his farm and died in June 1986, the same year as the man he fired, Alick Dick.
In January 1964 Donald Stokes revealed how STI had performed in 1963. Standard-Triumph International had built a total of 109,200 cars and light commercial vehicles in 1963, an increase of 30 per cent over 1962.
He said they had increased home sales by 40 per cent, while exports had gone up by 10 per cent on 1962. In the United States the company sold over 20,000 vehicles in 1963, 12.5 per cent more than in 1962. Saying the prospects for 1964 were even better, Mr Stokes added: ‘We are currently working on production schedules as high as those of last summer, an unprecedented situation for the motor industry.’
Orders for the new Triumph 2000, it went on sale on 8 January, were already high enough to indicate that the car would be a clear leader in its class- production was already running at over 350 a week and would increase to about 400 a week.
Donald Stokes now had a high media profile. His recent success in selling buses to Cuba had angered many in the American political establishment and turned him into a minor folk hero in Britain. There were more corporate changes in the spring when Jim Slater departed the Leyland board, but was replaced by Lewis Whyte and Dr Albert Fogg.
On June 17 1964 former Leyland chairman Sir Henry Spurrier died from a brain tumour. He was 66 years old. By October 1964 STI were expanding production at Malines in Belgium.
Donald Stokes stated that the parent company was to spend £8m. on expansion at Coventry during 1965, hoping to reach a record output of 140,000 units a year, and would introduce at least three new models to supplement its range of saloons and sports cars next year.
1964 had been a good year for both Leyland and STI. STI had experienced a good relatively strike free run with only couple of disputes marring the firms overall performance. Jaguar, Rover and BMC’s Cowley plant had all been plagued with disputes. The Rover P6 may have been voted Car of the Year 1963, but could you get one ?
In 1964 STI manufactured 18,490 Triumph 2000s. In 1965 Standard Triumph were not so lucky on the dispute front with niggling disputes interrupting production, but nothing like as frequent as those besetting Rover. On 24 September 1965 the company anounced further expansion on Merseyside. Standard-Triumph International Ltd. announced that a factory was to be built on a 100-acre site at Speke, Liverpool close to the factory of Standard-Triumph (Liverpool) Ltd. It employed more than 1500 men on the manufacturing and assembly of car bodies.
The first phase would cost £3m. More than £1m. would be spent during 1966. The first buildings would be for a paint and trim shop and a shop for body manufacture.
George Turnbull, director and general manager of Standard-Triumph, said: ‘This is a most significant development for our company and will lift us from our current output rate of 150000 vehicles a year to the 200,000 a year category, and with every possibility of expanding beyond this figure, if market conditions require it.’
STI believed that now was the time to expand, so that they would be able to cope with the expected growth in world demand.Triumph 2000 poses outside London's Aldwych Theatre (picture supplied by Graham Arnold)
The interior was a sumptuous place to be, as the model clearly demonstrates, but its dashboard design clearly lacked cohesion. This situation would be rectified in the Innsbruck.
After a brisk start, Triumph 2000 sales continued to gain momentum, and exports were strong. The range was expanded through the years, with the first variant – the estate version – arriving in October 1965. Developed alongside the saloon, but understandably, less resources were given to it, meaning a delayed launch. Because of the excessive costs of putting it into large scale production, and its perceived limited sales potential, Triumph entrusted the job of assembling the estate bodyshells to Carbodies Ltd. of Coventry. Well, it was not quite as simple as that – partially completed shells were shipped from Pressed Steel in Swindon to Carbodies, where the estate panels were added at the rear. These completed shells were then shipped to Triumph’s main production line, for final assembly and painting.
The Triumph 2000 estate had one undoubted advantage on the marketplace: Rover did not produce an official estate version of the P6, the only way buyers could get hold of a P6 estate was via the Crayford engineered version . Triumph, it seemed had the upper hand.
In October 1965 STI had also launched the acclaimed Triumph 1300. With Triumph 2000 production for the year now increasing slightly to 19087 and its UK rivals dogged by industrial strife, the Triumph brand was on a roll.
1966 was the year of the BMC-Jaguar Merger, a dockers strike and a credit squeeze instigated by the newly re-elected Labour government. Standard – Triumph went to a four day working week, reducing output of models for the domestic market and actually increasing production of the 1300 model. At a time when BMC sailed into a major public relations disaster by announcing a drastic 10000 redundancies to cut back production, Leyland and STI sailed on serenely, producing 23,431 Triumph 2000s in 1966. At the end of the year Leyland’s chairman Sir William Black announced that the group was purchasing Rover for £25 million. Now the rival Rover P6 would join Standard Triumph as part of the Leyland family.
By the spring of 1967 STI were back to full time working. By late April 1967 Sir Donald Stokes, deputy chairman and managing director of the Leyland Motor Corporation. was celebrating record business. Not only were truck sales scaling record heights but its car business was booming, too. In March Standard-Triumph’s share of the home market jumped to 8 per cent, the highest for six years.
This meant that, together with Rover (2.6%), the Leyland Corporation currently held 10.6% of the UK car market. This shortly after British Motor Holdings had announced losses of £7.5m. It seemed at the time that the men at Leyland could do no wrong.
Stokes commented: ‘We are particularly gratified by the progress we have made on the home market, because this has been achieved since the Government brought in their restrictions against the purchase of motor vehicles. We have concentrated on selling our cars to the more discriminating buyers and this seems to have paid dividends.’
At the same time Sir William Black retired as Leyland chairman to be replaced by Sir Donald Stokes. Two new deputy managing directors were appointed to aid Sir Donald. They were Dr Albert Fogg, formerly group director of engineering and Jack H. Plane, who would have special responsibilities for Leyland’s overseas operations. George Turnbull, general manager of Standard-Triumph International, was appointed to the group board. The elevation of Turnbull, a Standard Triumph man who had survived the Leyland purges to prove himself to his masters, now showed what an integral part the Coventry concern was to the parent companies operations.
In the summer of 1967 Standard Triumph went over to short time working to reduce stocks of unsold cars. Full time working was resumed in the autumn as secret merger talks between Leyland and British Motor Holdings began. The short time working would explain the drop in Triumph 2000 production to 19,820 for the year.
In January 1968 the Leyland-BMH merger was announced as the British Leyland Motor Corporation and in a sense this was where it started to go wrong for the Triumph brand, with STI executives being despatched to Longbridge away from their comfort zones that had brought success, to the most strike prone part of the British motor industry, BMC.
In May 1968 the Combined British Leyland Shop Stewards Committee was formed, jointly led by Dick Etheridge from Longbridge and Eddie McGarry from Standard Triumph’s Canley plant. This organisation would prove a thorn in the side of British Leyland management in the years to come.
By September George Turnbull was running the rump of the old BMC as the Austin Morris division and Harry Webster had joined him at Longbridge, usurping Alec Issigonis as technical director. They were replaced by Cliff Swindle and Spen King, the latter imported from Rover, respectively.
Development of the Barb/2000 continued and following competition proving, the 2498cc version was launched in 1968. The 2.5PI model was interesting for its use of fuel injection and allied with the larger capacity engine, it gave the big Triumph’s performance a real shot in the arm.
New Technical Director Spen King was a stickler for build quality, and it cannot have made him comfortable to see just how unreliable the Lucas injection system actually was. However, Triumph persisted with the troublesome system, and tried – unsuccessfully in the end – to iron out all of its deficiencies, realising just what benefits it brought to the car.
Standard-Triumph announced on 12 February 1969 further expansion plans for their new Liverpool body-finishing plant. The new extensions, covering a further 500,000sq ft., would cost £10.5m. and were part of a plan to double the company’s labour force in Liverpool to more than 3000. Expansion at the Speke Hall Road site had been brought in two phases. The total cost of the extensions was estimated at £20m and would raise car production to between 175,000 and 200,000 units a year.
Phase one, already partially operative, covered another 500,000sq ft, and provided body phosphating and priming facilities for up to 100,000 bodies and finish painting and trimming facilities for up to 50,000 bodies annually.
Cliff Swindle, director and general manager of Standard-Triumph International, said: ‘During the past two years the demand for Triumph cars has steadily increased and we look forward to the time when both phases of this new Liverpool plant are fully operative so that our. supply can keep pace with demand.’
The summer of 1969 for British Leyland proved a grim one with a five week strike at its Lancashire truck plants to the fore. Then strike action hit Triumph 2000/2.5 PI production at Canley in August. The Times newspaper reported on August 8th 1969: ‘Leaders of three unions are to visit British Leyland’s Standard-Triumph plant at Coventry in an effort to settle the dispute over who should tighten screws on car dashboards. The dispute has halted production of Triumph 2000 cars. But they will do so only if 200 members of the National Union of Vehicle Builders return to work immediately, it was announced in York last night.
‘The men walked out yesterday after a ruling that the two other unions, the Transport and General Workers’ Union and the Amalgamated Union of Engineering and Foundry workers, should do the work.’
It took three days to resolve the dispute and production was soon halted again by a delivery drivers strike and a stoppage by the body pressing plant on Merseyside. The unofficial strike at Speke lasted eleven long weeks, cost £11 million in lost production and made 11,000 men idle
2000 Mk2 launched
1969 saw the launch of the brutish-looking (but undoubtedly very stylish) Mark II versions of the Triumph. As with the original version, the styling was handled by Michelotti, and was initially worked on from 1967 under the project name ‘Innsbruck’. Michelotti had already impressed Harry Webster with the Stag, so it was logical that the new version of the car would move forward to match the look of the new grand tourer.
There was not enough money in the company coffers to afford anything more substantial than a major facelift, but as the basic car was still perfectly competitive, this was not the problem it could have been. The new style offered a longer nose and tail, and managed to make the car look more elegant (in the author’s eyes) and much more contemporary. Like the TR6 model, the body engineering was undertaken by Karmann in Germany, as Pressed Steel turned the job down – on the grounds that they were unable to complete the task within the timeframes stipulated by Triumph.
The picture for Standard Triumph as the 1960s ended seemed to be changing rapidly. The once relatively tranquil industrial relations the company had once enjoyed now seemed to have disappeared forever and the company now seemed to be a backwater in the British Leyland empire with the main focus and finance directed at the loss making Austin Morris division. The decade had seen great progress in establishing Triumph as a premium quality brand. This hard won reputation would be undone in the next decade, resulting in the effective extinction of the brand and the end of car production at Canley.
1970 Would be a year of chronic strikes in the motor industry, with components manufacturers being particularly hard hit, resulting in shortages of parts at assembly plants followed by the shutdown of vehicle production. Consumers confronted by shortages of cars at dealers simply went elsewhere and imported cars gained ground in the British market.
On 18 August 1970 there was more corporate change at British Leyland. Standard – Triumph was renamed simply as Triumph and Bill Davis, George Turnbull’s deputy at Austin-Morris. became chairman and chief executive of Triumph. His predecessor there, Cliff Swindle, joined the BLMC headquarters team in Berkeley Square. London, as director of facility planning. Bill Davis was the former BMC director of production with a seat on the board of the defunct company. Only a day later Triumph became the first battleground in the struggle for lay off pay as the Times of 20 August 1970 reported.
‘British Leyland car plants throughout the country are threatened by strikes in support of a guaranteed lay-off pay for workers made idle by stoppages in outside component plants. First to be hit was the Coventry factory of Triumph. Seven thousand five hundred workers stayed away yesterday because 1300 of their fellow workers had been laid off due to the 11-day-old strike at GKN Sankey at Wellington, Shropshire.
‘Shop stewards at Triumph have told the company they will repeat the walk-out every time there are lay-offs. The unofficial British Leyland combined shop stewards’ committee, which claims to represent the corporation’s 180,000 employees, gave a warning last night that similar action will be taken at other plants in the group.
‘A spokesman said: “The men on the shop floor are absolutely fed up with management’s refusal to pay men laid off through no fault of their own. There are so many strikes at outside firms these days that we have forgotten what a full pay packet looks like. Make no mistake about it this issue is easily the most explosive British Leyland has seen for a long time.”‘
The GKN Sankey strike went on until the end of September resulting in further strikes at Canley over lay off pay. At the end of November the new boss of Triumph, Bill Davis, sent a letter to its 15,500 employees.
Mr Davis said: ‘Triumph has for many years been in the forefront with good models of universal appeal and competitively priced. We can keep it there by our joint efforts. I accept that for me this is a seven days a week job but this in itself is insufficient. I need your goodwill.’
He said Triumph was going through rough weather when he took over and this was still the case. Intermittent working, the introduction of a new and complex range of models, many thousands of vehicles unfinished because of lack of components, all presented a very hazardous situation. The age of management cracking the whip had gone. His attitude was to give the facts for an intelligent assessment of the situation. With better communications, progress, whether good or bad, would in future be reported, together with other information of topical interest.
‘Making motor vehicles is not all smooth running. In fact I think this is the attraction almost like a drug, which makes it so appealing when there must be many easier ways of obtaining job satisfaction,’ he said.
In December 1970 Triumph endured another strike over lay off pay. The Times reported. ’800,000 Triumph car workers, the entire manual labour force, went on strike at Coventry yesterday because 350 colleagues had been laid off without pay. It cost the firm 600 cars urgently needed to meet deliveries held up by the GKN-Sankey strike more than two months ago. The strike was called by shop stewards acting on a mandate from a mass meeting earlier this year which decided on a ‘one out, all out’ policy whenever a section of the plant was laid off without pay through no fault of its own.
A spokesman for the shop stewards said last night: ‘We have done this before and we intend to do it again until British Leyland falls into line with other car firms and introduces a proper system of lay-off pay,’ British Leyland has said that it is only willing to discuss lay-off pay as part of a new pay system for its car plants. Main change is the ending of piece-work.
A Triumph spokesman said: ‘We had to lay off 350 employees in the trim shop at Coventry because of a shortage of car bodies from our Liverpool plant where men joined the one day strike against the new Bill on Tuesday. We expect the strikers to return tomorrow.’
At the end of the year Triumph workers, in Coventry were told that they must produce 3000 cars each week to overcome losses estimated at several million pounds. So far in the financial year their best had been 2457. In a personal message to the 11500 employees, Bill Sanders Triumph’s new director and general manager, said that to lift the company out of trouble they must produce 170000 cars in the current financial year, which began in October 1970.
‘The figures for October were frankly very bad and in November and December the deficit has continued but at a lower level. This unfortunately means that we have to wipe out the bad months first before we can regain our rightful position as one of British Leyland’s leading companies. It would be foolish to pretend that everything will go smoothly in 1971 but the coming 12 months can be a year of opportunity for the company and the people in it.’
The disputes at Triumph’s plants, both in Coventry and on Merseyside continued into 1971. In the meantime, thoughts now turned to replacing the Triumph 2000/2.5 PI series. Now Rover and Triumph were bedfellows in British Leyland there was of course no chance of each company developing their own independent replacements for their respective executive saloons.
On 11 February 1971 the BLMC board met at Solihull to view scale models of the proposed replacements for the Rover P6 and Triumph 2000/2500. David Bache of Rover had produced six scale clay models, five hatch-backs and a notchback, all under the codename P10 for consideration by the board. Triumph had been working on a replacement for their own 2000 saloons codenamed Puma.
Both projects were bought together for assessment, but the board opted for the Rover P10. Triumph’s Puma was thought to be too conventional in style. The Rover P10 was developed into the SD1 saloon launched to great fanfare in 1976. However it was decided that the Triumph brands future was as a manufacturer of smaller premium saloon cars such as the SD2, the TR7/8 sports car and its Lynx coupe derivative.
The existing Triumph six cylinder engine was to be developed into an overhead camshaft unit for these planned future models. Triumph may have lost out against Rover in the battle to design and produce British Leyland’s corporate executive car, but that is not to say a great deal of Triumph thinking did not go into the Rover SD1: the inline-6 cylinder OHC engines were pure Triumph, and the 77mm gearbox was also designed by Triumph engineers at Canley. The SD1′s suspension system as designed by Spen King was closer to the Triumph 2000 in its philosophy than it was the Rover P6, and in many ways, the SD1 was the world-beating product that it was because of its amalgamation of the engineering excellence of Rover and Triumph.
At the end of July 1971 Rover’s technical director Peter Wilks was forced to retire with ill health. Spen King duly returned to Solihull to take his cousins place. The new technical director of Triumph was John Lloyd, who had served as deputy to both Harry Webster and Spen King.
1971 was the year when the Triumph workforce at both Coventry and Speke were well and truly infected with militancy. Strikes proliferated like never before as the labour movement squared up to the Heath governments Industrial Relations Bill. This and the long running sore over lay off pay took priority over supplying the market with shiny new Triumph cars. Triumph was now losing money, the only BLMC division to do so. In hindsight, 1971 was the beginning of the end for the Triumph marque.
In March 1972 Rover and Triumph officially merged under the control of Sir George Farmer. The 12 man board consisted of 7 from Rover and 5 from Triumph. In May the SD2 concept was approved by Triumph management, at a time when the Canley plant endured a three week lay off thanks to a strike by axle builders.
In December 1972, in an effort to improve the industrial relations situation within Triumph, the company announced that Mr Cyril Morris, former, convener of shop stewards. of the National Union of Vehicle Builders at Canley and former secretary of the British Leyland combined shop stewards’ committee, had been taken on by the management as an industrial relations officer at Triumph. Mr Morris, who used to be a production worker at the Triumph plant, gave up his convenership some time before he was appointed to the company.
British Leyland said that with his background Mr Morris would be a useful addition to Triumph’s industrial relations team. 1972 Had been another difficult year for Triumph with the shop stewards strongly resisting management attempts to change the wage structure from piecework to measured day work. Also the Triumph plants on Merseyside were now proving to be a liability rather than an asset to the company because of seemingly interminable industrial disputes.
By January 1973 Triumph in Coventry was the last bastion of piecework in the British Leyland empire. Bill Davis, Triumph’s managing director, stated, ‘I have made it clear that it is my intention to introduce a new pay system similar to those now operating at sister companies. But we have not wasted the 12 months since we put our original proposals to employees. A tremendous amount of work has gone on to improve communications between management and the shopfloor, to increase the ability of supervisory grades to cope with the new system and, most important of all, we have been learning from the teething troubles of the other companies. It is the completion of this vital preparatory work which will determine when we make the next move.’
Eventually the management prevailed and piecework was discarded at Canley. Bill Davis had impressed his masters enough to earn promotion to managing director of Rover Triumph in May, replacing Sir George Farmer who retired. Also in May 1973 British Leyland chairman Lord Stokes outlined his future plans for Triumph.
“Triumph, will eventually cease to compete directly with Rover and will concentrate its energies on smaller but refined four-seater saloons in the luxury high-performance category to compete with the types of cars which certain Continental companies have sold so successfully in recent years. These developments will also attract large investment funds to our Triumph plant at Canley.”
In September the styling of the projected SD2 was approved and the model looked set for production. George Turnbull suddenly resigned from BLMC on 6 September 1973 prompting a reshuffle. Bill Davis was promoted to the firms main board as production director, a similar position to the one he had occupied at BMC. Bernard Jackman was now promoted to the role of managing director of Rover Triumph.
In November Jim Slater returned to the fold when he joined the British Leyland board.In early 1974 the three day week brought more misery for British Leyland. The managing director of Rover Triumph, Bernard Jackman, gave an interview to Motor magazine in February 1974. Talking of the future of Rover-Triumph, Mr Jackman said they had an enormous expansion programme over the next four years. They would be spending something like £200 million on Rover-Triumph, around £50m a year.
‘By 1978 we are due to be producing about 470,000 vehicles a year, compared with around 230,000 we built in 1973,’ he said. ‘If the present industrial crisis goes on for some time, obviously we”ll have to stretch our capital spending over six years instead of four to four and a half years because the money won’t be there in the quantity I have been talking about. But expand we shall. I am determined that when another upturn in sales comes in a years or two’s time when Britain should be in a much better position than we are now for energy we shall not at that time be caught without an outstanding range of models to sell, or without the means to build them in quantity.
‘We are very flattered at Rover-Triumph that the British Leyland Corporation have the confidence in us to invest this amount of money. Certainly they have given us a far bigger share of the total cake than I dared hoped for a couple of years ago …..But if we can get our new models out despite the energy crisis and the fuel economy drive we are really sitting on a pot of gold.
‘We have got the right range of models in Rover-Triumph, the best range in any sector of the corporation. Austin Morris have much bigger outputs, but they cannot command the profit margins on their low priced cars that we can on a more specialist grade of car.
‘The opportunities are there if only I can persuade everybody, particularly those on the shop floor, that it is right and proper to stay at work. I see it as my job to make sure that there is no failure in communications. Product policy for the future, the vehicles you design and the associated problems are relatively easy to control for you are dealing with inanimate things, but people are a totally different subject. They are unpredictable. But I think the important thing is confidence. Everybody has got to feel that they are being told the truth, that they are not being conned and there is no ulterior motive. If I can’t succeed with that sort of philosophy then I don’t think anybody else can.’
By May 1974 Bernard Jackman was announcing in more detail Rover Triumph’s expansion plans. ‘On the Triumph scene some £30m worth of expenditure is planned at Liverpool and supporting factories in Coventry,’ Slater added. ‘The whole of this sum has been committed and about half has already been spent. At Rover some £50million worth of expansion is envisaged at Solihull and supply factories in Birmingham and Cardiff. The bulk of this money has already been committed but only a relatively small amount has actually been spent at this point in time.’
The existing model line up was to be drastically reduced. By 1978 the intention was to have four basic models, two sports cars and two executive saloons with the usual variants. Presumably these were the SD1, SD2, TR7 and Lynx. The labour force of 32,000 produced some, 200000 cars a year, although there was nominal capacity for 280,000. The intention was to double production with a minimal addition to the pay roll. Although there was no official confirmation the plan for Triumph seemed to call for the Coventry factories to concentrate on engines, gearboxes and saloons while complete sports cars would be assembled at Liverpool.
With the Rover SD1 earmarked for annual production of up to 140,000 per year, one can see that a great chunk of Rover Triumph’s projected output would be the smaller SD2 and TR7/8/Lynx cars. The future looked bright for Triumph.A A rather odd looking proposal for the Innsbruck facelift - it was rejected.
In terms of sales, the Triumph 2000 continued to perform strongly, but did begin to lose out to the Rover P6, thanks to that car’s new V8 variant. Triumph did shoehorn in a Stag V8 engine into one 2000 bodyshell as a riposte to this model, but beyond becoming Triumph’s sales director’s company car, it did not progress any further, unfortunately. A mid-range 2500TC was then introduced, featuring a carburetted and somewhat less powerful version of the 2500PI’s engine. This car proved to be a popular addition to the range, as tales of the PI’s unreliability had spread throughout the trade, leaving Triumph with a car that buyers mistrusted in a big way.
The car’s equipment levels were progressively improved as the years passed by, and sales remained healthy, even if they were overhauled by the Rover P6. Throughout the remainder of its life, the Triumph remained admired by a great many buyers, despite reliability wobbles encountered by the PI version.
Triumph 2000/2500 facelifted
In 1974 a mid-term facelift was introduced, when all models received a Stag-style radiator grille and increased ride heights amongst other detail changes. The most significant addition, however, was the introduction of a 99bhp, SU HS4-carburetted 2500TC, which sold alongside the PI for about a year. It was the popularity of this car which finally killed off the PI in 1975 and led to the ultimate rationalisation of the range with the introduction of the 2000TC, the 2500TC, the 2500S and the 2500S Estate. The latter three cars all had the same specification engine, having a revised cylinder head, long-branch inlet manifold from the US-spec TR6 and SU HS6 carbs, delivering 106bhp.
The 2500S was effectively a fully-loaded ‘bells-and-whistles’ job, distinguishing itself by having Stag-style alloys, front anti-roll bar coupled with softer front springs, more comprehensive instr umentation and Sundym glass as standard – in all other respects, including performance and gearing, it was identical to the second-generation 2500TC.
That car’s 14-inch wheels and anti-roll bars being noteworthy additions. It was this range: 2000TC, 2500TC and 2500S that remained in placeuntil the model’s death in 1977.The interim, first generation Triumph 2500TC.
That's more like it: the Innsbruck facelift also saw the introduction of a new dashboard.
In November 1974 Triumph was plagued by strikes, control room men at Canley struck seeking a pay rise. This shut down production and soon the laid off mass of workers were demanding lay off pay. The company had by then agreed to pay workers laid off by disputes from outside suppliers but not if lay offs were caused by an internal BLMC strike.
Paint shop workers at Speke also withdrew their labour to add to the woe. Some 1000 Canley assembly workers went on strike demanding lay off pay. The dispute trapped new TR7 sportcars at Canley which were intended to be shipped across the ocean for the cars American launch. Mr Eddie McGarry, chairman of the joint shop stewards committee at Rover Triumph, said that the stand being taken by the assembly men had the full support of other workers.
He said: ‘Workers who should have been earning about £55 a week have had their average earnings reduced to between £34 and £38 a week for the whole of last year, because of continuous lay-offs. It is always the track workers who. are hit most, because they are right at the end of the assembly line.’
By 6 December 1974, when the British government agreed to bail out the ailing British Leyland, Triumph had been shut down for four long weeks. The militancy that permeated Canley is illustrated by a quote from a worker on the picket line.
‘I would sooner see the firm go under and the Government take over than the men give in. It’s a fight to the finish.’ Eddie McGarry, the leader of the Triumph strikers demanded of the government ‘ practical trade union representation on the board. It is in line with our policy and with Labour Party policies for saving and creating jobs‘, he said.
Only four days after the government intervention, the Triumph strikers voted to stay out in an unofficial dispute that was condemned by other union leaders. Eventually the dispute was settled before the year was out, but the attitudes of workers at both Canley and the strike torn Cowley plant who were simultaneously in dispute, suggests that there was little concern on the shop floor for their employers profit and loss figures and the firms long term financial viability.
In the aftermath of the Ryder report, Bernard Jackman quit as Rover Triumph boss. In the summer of 1975 Triumph production was hit by an eight week strike at the former Alforder Newton components plant in Hemel Hempstead. This was the company bought by Standard Triumph back in 1959.
By September 1975 the SD2 project was hitting the rocks and was renamed the TM1 or Triumph Morris 1. The first six months of state ownership of British Leyland was a disaster. There were more man hours lost than in any other six month period since the formation of British Leyland in 1968. There was not enough money to pay the wages bill. With such a nightmare scenario, financial cutbacks had to be made. The SD2/TM1 saloon was canned and with it went the long term future of Canley. When its current range of models reached the end of their production lives, the future of the Triumph marque now lay with the TR7/8/Lynx cars that were to emerge from Speke. This was confirmed on 29 April 1976.
On that day British Leyland revealed this in a letter to all 8000 employees at Canley. As part of Leyland Cars big re-organization programme, assembly of Triumph cars would be transferred to other centres, and the Canley plant was intended to become a giant central workshop turning out engines and gear boxes for future model ranges.
The Leyland Cars proposals, which had been put to union and shopfloor representatives through the company’s new worker participation machinery, envisaged the phasing out of car production at Canley beginning the next year, to be completed by 1980. At a news conference in Coventry Geoffrey Whalen, Leyland Cars’ personnel director, was at some pains to stress that no large scale redundancies were expected to result from the scheme, although he did concede that there would have to be an ‘ interim period’ during which the workforce at Canley would be reduced.
He said many assembly workers would be offered the chance to transfer to other plants, like the new one at Solihull, which would be taking over production of Triumph models, including the Dolomite range and others yet to be announced. There would also be a major re-training programme to equip workers for new jobs in the proposed workshop complex at Canley. Understandablv perhaps, Mr Whalen would not be drawn into discussion of the complicated inter-union issues that might arise from this. He said the company plans had so far met with an, ‘encouraging response ‘ from shop stewards at the Canley plant.
But it would be ‘kidding ourselves’ to suggest that there might not be, ‘an emotive response from some people to the ending of car making at Canley’.
Mr Whalen said the move did not in any way mean that the Triumph, ‘grand image’ was on its way out. Production of sports cars and light saloon cars under the Triumph label would continue. In its letter to the Canley workers, signed by the two plant directors, Mr Fred Young and Mr Maurice Andrews, Leyland Cars said: ‘In the long term this will mean as many, or more, jobs at Canley, with more stable prospects. We are confident that we will be able to employ everyone who wishes to remain with Leyland Cars. We do not see ourselves facing compulsory redundancy during the period of change we will be offering opportunities to continue in vehicle assembly when models transfer and when other recruitment needs develop.’
During 1976 British Leyland lurched from crisis to crisis as strikes prevented the company from supplying the car market. That year Ford overtook British Leyland as UK market leader. The strife continued into 1977. While a strike at the Castle Bromwich body plant crippled the rest of Leyland Cars, 350 paint shop workers at Canley struck, shutting down Triumph production for a month. Then the toolmakers walked out.
The Labour government told the British Leyland workforce that they were destroying their employment prospects, the Conservative opposition claimed BL was a bottomless pit consuming vast quantities of taxpayers money and the Leyland shop stewards accused the government of blackmail at a time of chronic inflation and pay restraint agreements.
The Triumph 2000/2500 production ceases
It was against this background that the last Triumph 2000/2500 car was built, on 20 May 1977. Once seen as a quality premium brand, Triumph was now on its last legs. Up on Merseyside the final nails in the coffin were being administered by the militant and undisciplined TR7 workforce at Speke. Canley produced its last car in 1980 as planned. The TR7 lingered on until 1981, unloved and unwanted and excepting the Anglo-Japanese Acclaim, it was the end of the now tarnished Triumph marque.
The Triumph 2000 was a case of being the perfect product at the right time, and its 13-year life demonstrated perfectly, the way that the British could build a car of enduring quality and timeless style in a package that customers actually wanted. The decline of the Triumph marque during the late 1970s was in no way attributable to the 2000/2500, but simply because there was no space for it in Leyland Cars’ range, given the company’s declining market share. The stylish 2000/2500 was first of a line of distinguished Triumph executive cars. Criminally, and SD1 notwithstanding, it was also the last of that very same line…
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