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Triumph TR7 and TR8 (1975 - 1981)

Last updated 28 January 2014

 
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It’s funny how how when we talk about Great British sports cars, few of us remember to mention the Triumph TR7. With almost 115,000 examples built during its all-too brief production run of six years and three factories, it was hardly a commercial failure – and today, there’s great specialist and parts supplier support. So why then, is the TR7 so overshadowed by the likes of the MGB and Triumph Spitfire?

It’s an interesting question, and one that’s going to take a lot of answering. The life and times of the TR7 was pretty traumatic, as they were overshadowed by political and industrial strife. Which is a shame – because if things had panned out, the TR7 would have ended up replacing all previous Triumph and MG sports cars, and gone on to enjoy lucrative times being the UK’s only viable sports car throughout the 1980s. But it never happened, and what’s left is mere conjecture.

But what of the car itself? Like all of Harris Mann’s creations at his time in the Longbridge hot-house, it certainly looked bold and interesting. But unlike the mainstream Allegro and Princess, the TR7 was underpinned by sensible Spen King engineering, so it could be reasonably argued that the package the TR7 presented to customers should have been the best of both worlds.

About the Triumph TR7

TR71

When the TR7′s styling and packaging were honed, the two benchmark sports cars in the USA were the Datsun 240Z and Porsche 914. Compared with the beauty of the first of these two cars, the Triumph’s styling must be seen as a failure – but then, compared with the Porsche, the TR7 did look rather good. The problem with its styling is a reflection of the shifting moods of the legislators at the time – as a targa or convertible, the TR7 looked quite good, but BL simply didn’t have the confidence to take a risk, and produce anything other than a closed car.

And by the time the first US dealers caught their first glimpse of the car in late 1974, it was clear that the threat to the open-topped car as a breed had already passed. But this notwithstanding, the TR7′s looks weren’t all that bad, and they certainly remain interesting to this day. Yes, it was dominated by those impact-bumpers (which were better resolved than some of the opposition, most notably the Fiat X1/9), and that gave it extra length, which then led to a gawky short-wheelbased, high-riding stance, that wasn’t truly fixed until sometime later with the arrival of the convertible.

Under the skin, it was a conservative affair, but also a bit of a delight for BL fans, thanks to its shared DNA with the ill-fated Triumph SD2 and Rover SD1. So, that meant MacPherson struts up front and a well-located live axle at the rear. The engine was effectively an eight-valve version of the Dolomite Sprint, pushing out a relatively modest 105bhp, and the emphasis was on easy drivability and a roomy, usable cabin. All of these objectives were met. Despite meaning that a standard TR7 is hardly sporting to drive. But on today’s roads, a well-presented and cared-for TR7 turns heads.

On the road

TR73 

The TR7 is a suprisingly relaxing car to drive, and that’s down to the torque delivered by relatively large and unstressed engine. As you might expect, it’s smooth enough, but hardly thrives on high revs, delivering more than plenty of acceleration on part throttle and early-ish upchanges. On today’s mean streets, it keeps up with the flow, but that requires work – and that means going beyond the 4000rpm smoothness threshold. On the motorway, and in long-striding fifth, the TR7 cruises very calmly indeed.

Like the Rover SD1 and (presumably) the SD2, the TR7s is an accurate handler with relatively compliant ride quality (compared with the other three) and is probably greater than the sum of its parts. In standard form (and there’s so few like this left), the TR7′s handling balance is geared towards understeer, but there’s enough torque and throttle response to drive through this – if this is your bag.

The TR7's cabin is excellent, assuming you’re after a two-seater. The driving position is first rate, the seats are comfortable, there’s plenty of oddments space, and the controls and dashboard are the most effective of the lot (for instance, it has heating and ventilation that just works). We’ll go further – as long as you like the tartan seats (and we’ll assume you do, because you’re here), then the TR7′s interior also looks the best, and is certainly the classiest.

Just because it's modestly powered and not particularly heavy, don’t expect to blown away by the TR7’s fuel consumption figures, unless you’re the sort who drives your sports car in an unsporting way. At the pumps, the TR7 will average around 25mpg – but on a run, that's markedly improved.

When it comes to parts and servicing costs, the TR7 is pretty much the classic to beat. Availability is almost total, while very few garages will turn away a TR7 due to its simplicity.

Verdict

The Triumph is one of those cars that’s good at what it does, but can be improved significantly by its owner. One only needs to see the number of Sprint- and V8-engined conversions still in regular use to see that.

But that's the joy of the TR7: it can be what you want it to be. It's a car that can be modified to suit your needs – if you want a 16V screamer, buy a Sprint powered version, but if V8 touring is more your thing, grab a TR8 or more likely one of the aftermarket TR7 V8 conversions. And keeping it on the road is a doddle, too. Parts availability is brilliant, as is club and specialist support, making this one of the most sensible yet rewarding sports car purchases you are ever likely to make.

Forget the styling, as you either love it or hate it, but as classics go, TR7s are fantastic and great value. They're easy to work on, nice to drive with a little bit of work, and surprisingly practical for two. Even the basic car is quick enough to keep you amused, and the handling and steering are more than adequate.

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