Long Time Coming
took a long time to arrive in Australia. For us, it was a three-year wait. In 1978
you could walk into a Leyland showroom and buy a Triumph TR7 sports coupe at about the same time that the satisfied TR7
owners of America were changing their first one for a second, it being available Stateside since 1975
. With some cars, three years would have represented the length of the model run, and we would have been getting an obsolete model - perhaps leftovers that dealerships in the UK could not sell. Thankfully though the TR7
was built for a life of eight or 10 years and designed to satisfy the motoring conditions of the following decade. And that was one of the reasons the TR7
had a roof - the designers were not sure if USA safety regulations would have allowed a convertible version by 1983
, so they decided to play it safe.
The departure from open top motoring meant that most Triumph enthusiasts felt the TR7 was a sell out on the formula that had given the previous TR models such a large following. The Triumph engineers figured, correctly, in the early 1970s that the sports car would need to take a different direction to cope with speed limits and design rules. They also figured that selling only to traditional TR enthusiasts or sports car fans was not going to generate enough sales to keep them financially viable. Triumph wanted to produce a car that was truly meant to be used every day without the scuttle shake or blown-about hair or fragility or mechanical cacophony of past sports cars. They wanted to get people who bought 260Zs
or Falcon Hardtops or Toyota Celicas. And they produced the car that could get them.
The wonder of it was that Leyland
managed to produce a car that retained enough sould to make it attractive for Triumph enthusiasts. The TR7 was blessed with sharp steering
, good straight-line performance (in 1978
terms) a firm, flat ride and truly excellent handling
and roadholding. There has been talk and argument for years about the worth of the Harris Mann-designed TR7 shape. There has been allegation, bordering the libellous, to the effect that the shape was copied from prototypes of a well-known US designer. Certainly the shape is controversial.
A Question Of Design
Few people argued with the main elements of the styling. The long, !ow wide body and steeply raked big screen - running upward to a higher, cutoff tail gave the car a wedgy look. But the details of the shape let the car down heavily. It was not enough to blame design rules for the heavy bumpers and "afterthought" styling elements - by 1978
other manufacturers were providing shapes that still looked good (take the Fiat X1/9
for example). Fortunately the TR7
was squat and small enough and had enough good angles not to be a total failure. People bought it, but we seriously doubt if Mr Giugiaro had one in his own garage.
The body was well-designed from the points of view of crash-worthiness, aerodynamics and long life. It cleaved the air quite well until the speedo was showing a lot more than the speed limit signs and there was a remarkable rigidity about the body and you could truly feel it when you drove on the bumps. The TR7 was quite a small car. It was a pure two-seater with comfort and spreading room for two big adults but no pretence at rear accommodation or even carrying room. It was a compact, squat, coccoon of a car and that made it feel efficient when you were sitting in it.
Dated Mechanical Specification
The TR7's mechanical specification wasn't sophisticated - not even as sophisticated on paper as that of the TR6
. The front suspension
was MacPherson strut with Anti-Roll Bar
which was OK by just about anyone, but there was a live rear axle at the rear and that didn't look good in specification sheets, even if it was sprung by coils, located by four links and tamed by an Anti-Roll Bar
. And the brakes were only disc/drum, not disc/disc. The engine was the two-litre single overhead cam Triumph Dolomite
engine - not the four-valve Sprint engine but a two-valves per cylinder version which put out 67kW at 5500rpm in the US and 78kW in the UK where emissions controls were not so tough. The brochures for the Australian versions claimed power was that of the Brit versions while the actual underfoot urge was something less.
The engine felt basically what it was - a bulletproof sedan engine. It started easily and spun fairly quietly under about 3000rpm, with an exhaust bark built into it from 3000 rpm. The power was delivered seriously from about 3000 rpm and if you were hurrying the best band to use was 3500-5500 but above about 4500 there was enough induction noise and mechanical thrash to spoil the fun a little. The noise would get louder and louder until you reached the 6500rpm redline. It was not an unpleasant noise but not a super-sporty one either. The unit had excellent flexibility and you could commute it smoothly at low revs. Above 5500 the car would begin to breathe less efficiently and if in an indirect, you would find it best to change up. It was comforting to know, as you change dup at the optimum spot, that the engine was built to withstand another 1000rpm.
Behind The Wheel
If you owned a TR7 you would never have been able to stun your friends, not the knowledgeable ones anyway, with the performance. The Australian TR7 was good for 18.2 seconds over the standing 400m and would turn about 175km/h. The speedo
was very accurate, particularly for a Brit car. But though the outright performance level was not brilliant, the TR7 got along quite nicely and because of fairly low wind and mechanical noise (under 4,500 rpm) most owners quickly came to like the car, with its easy-to-use engine and performance that, while not startling, was easy to use given the tractable nature of the car.
Easily the best part of driving the car, however, was the magnificent 5-speed manual transmission
. It was taken from the then new Rover 3500, and added more to the driving of the TR7 than words here can adequately convey. It had a metal to metal but smooth and satisfying action between ratios, unbeatable synchros and ratios which were brilliant. It was a very good thing for Australians that the TR7 had the five-speed gearbox (there is no auto option) because the Rover 3500 from which it came did not come with a manual locally. After sampling the manual box, many Aussie motoring journalists believed the omission of a manual on the 3500 to have been a heinous blunder on Leyland's part since that very gearbox turned the 3500 from a very good car into an inspired one.
Through the Gears
First gear was fairly low but it didn't feel like the super-low gear. After that there were ratios for all occasions. The car was criticised in some quarters for having a fairly big gap between second and third most who drove the car seemed to think it ok. The handling
was excellent too. The car cornered neutrally to a stage where it had no right to do so. Sometime after that it moved gently into understeer. That was on all but the fastest bends. There wasn't enough power or enough traction to poke the tail out on tight bends - the rear wheel would simply lift and spin. On very fast bends, 130-160km/h stuff, the TR7
was a little scary at first, because it did a kind of slow motion twitch when steered into very fast bends on the limit, and many were left wondering whether this was simply an interesting handling quirk or the beginning of a spin.
It turned out this sensation was but a small handling quirk. The car simply leant a little and moved into a gentle drift and you would exit from the bend feeling foolishly slow. The car's balance was excellent and its stability impressive , while the steering was surgical. It was a thing of beauty - high enough geared so that you could cross arms without getting caught needing to apply another armful to get around the corner. It transmitted a quarter-inch of rim movement to the road - at the straight-ahead - and it was of the kind which refused to budge when going over the kind of bumps that made nearly all Japanese sedans from that era kick back. The steering ranked with the gearbox as one of the TR7's finest features.
The ride of the TR7 was cause for some confusion about the car's role. On one hand, the car was a sleek, quite slippery (though there have been better) body with a big dash, a big range of luxury equipment, big comfortable buckets and one that was also firm-riding in a way no other sports coupe was. For a sports car the ride was fine. Firm and level. But as a boulevard cruiser, perhaps the suspension
was a little too firm. Even though you would feel the bumps, you wouldn't hear much. The suspension noise was isolated from the body remarkably well. Not quite as well as in the X1/9
, but still it was very good. Over small bumps the car's lack of suspension
noise could have been easily confused with softness.
The brakes, variously described as indifferent by motoring journalists across the world, were indeed indifferent. They were not too bad, just undistinguished. They felt old-school and un-pregressive compared with good four-disc systems then going, these being fitted to almost all serious sports cars in those days. Still, the disc/drum setup was not all bad. When used hard it was possible to provoke some front wheel lockup under panic conditions and a truly awful smell from overheated pads and linings - but to their credit there were no ill-effects. Even when smoking they would provide near-normal retardation.
On the Inside
The inside of the TR7 was not such a bad place to be. It didn't suffer from really instrusive wind noise until about 150km/h at which stage the engine was percolating pretty loudly anyway. The suspension
was extremely quiet over bumps, though the steel radial tyres transmitted some hum from coarse surfaces. It was not a silent car, by any means, but the noises were tamed well enough to make the 140-150 km/h cruise a practical proposition. The inside of the car showed clearly the fact that it was designed for Americans rather than the sports car enthusiasts of the world. It had a large, well laid out and impressive set of instruments, wand controls set just where they were easily operated by the digits, a comfortably sited and fairly small steering
wheel with padded rim, carpets, a lockable glovebox and a lidded compartment at the rear of the console dividing the seats plus a comfortable, even luxurious, pair of bucket seats with cloth inserts.
The unrelieved black interior was not ideal during an Aussie summer. But thankfully, and not in the normal British tradition, the ventilation was pretty good provided you opened the fresh air vent and boosted the flow with the fan. The two-speed fan was not all that quiet, even when turning over at its slowest, but it really did stir the air. The driving and passenger's seating position were both excellent. The driver was put comfortably in touch with all controls and not cramped, though their location is snug. Visibility was good though although it was not possible to see any of the car's extremities. The instrument lights did not reflect on the screen, and the headlights retracted into the nose-cone when not in use and flipped up electrically when switched on.
The styling of the car's tail took precedence over boot room which was probably the way it should have been, until you tried to stow a suitcase inside. Fit and finish was typically British too, which meant it could be fantastic, or downright dreadful. Mostly owners claimed the interior to be free from rattle - and in 2nd hand test reviews we have read, nothing was reported to have fallen off or failed to work. Triumph's had always been pretty robust cars and this one was more of the same even if its assembly standards were not in the Swiss watch league.