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Reinvention of Triumph Stag

Stag the born again GT Published: 26th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Reinvention of Triumph Stag
Reinvention of Triumph Stag Early Stags lacked balanced coachline and ran on cheapskate dummy Rostyles
Reinvention of Triumph Stag
Reinvention of Triumph Stag Stag sure looked the part but sadly too many reckoned it dear for what it offered
Reinvention of Triumph Stag To keep the weather out, we've given the Stag a fine quality soft top which neatly encloses you, your passengers and roll bar. Finally, there is the optional removable hard top that looks good enough to leave on all year round.
Reinvention of Triumph Stag “Once inside Stag, its luxury is all too evident. Standard equipment includes deeply cushioned, fully adjustable bucket seats. Electrically operated windows. Padded steering wheel, which adjusts for height and distance… A host of controls at your fingertips. True 2+2 seating.”
Reinvention of Triumph Stag This sumptuous 2+2 GT is first and foremost a car to be driven. Power assisted rack and pinion steering and front disc brakes. Fully independent suspension complemented by cast aluminium alloy wheels and high-performance radial tyres. And a new over-head cam 3 litre V8 engine making the Stag the finest Triumph of all”
Reinvention of Triumph Stag The Stag Owners Club raised over £3000 for the Devon Air Ambulance Trust and the Chestnut Appeal with this novel calendar. Copies available by calling 01543 506576 for more details
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Triumph’s sporty four-seater got over its mid-life crisis years ago and now makes a great alternative to a Mercedes SL, says Graham Robson, who traces the Brit’s history – and its future

Although the V8-engined Stag was indeed a direct descendant of the trusty Triumph 2000 it was very different from the prototype which started life as a convertible version of thatstately saloon: contrary to popular opinion – still – it was unique in almost every way. In a short and turbulent career of seven years, only 25,939 Stags were sold. Not helped by the Energy Crisis of ‘73, it comprehensively flopped in North America where it should have cleaned up like the TRs did: in the end only 2871 cars were sold over there before the end of 1973. We’ll deal with the reasons why the Stag became known as the ‘Snag’ later, but first let’s sort the fact from the fiction. The easy, but woefully inaccurate, way to summarise the Stag’s running gear is to assume a short wheel base 2000, using the same underpan, suspension and transmission, but with a V8 upfront. In fact everything from wheels, to brakes, to the basic structure, changed persistently during development. The engine was one member of a new slant four/vee-eight family. Saab took early slant-fours, so V8 production had to lag behind, the new unit not ready until 1970. It was leading Triumph stylist Michelotti who ‘invented’ the Stag, for originally he built a special convertible concept ‘show car’ based on the Triumph 2000 with four seats, though with reduced legroom. Triumph’s Harry Webster first saw the car in 1966, liked it, wanted it, and had it rushed back to Coventry ASAP. After planners forecast that annual demand for the Stag would be a healthy 12,000 takers, approval soon followed. The original plan was to launch it with the newly developed 2.5-litre sixcylinder PI at first in 1968, with the sexy V-8 to follow. It was the start of many U-turns and reappraisals. There were many development changes, and headaches right from the outset. For example, that chop-top Triumph looked great with the hood down on static display but a test drive soon revealed horrendous scuttle shake. A stout roll-over bar, with a clever and surprisingly good looking T-brace, was needed to stiffen upthe structure to acceptable refinement levels.Then BLMC chairman Donald Stokes delayed everything by asking for the new Rover V8 engine to be tried out, but Triumph test engineers said it wouldn’t fit. They were wrong, as many Stag enthusiasts now know and one wonders whether it was more a political ploy than anything else! With hindsight that trusty American V8 would have changed the entire course of Stag history.

In 1969, a very attractive fastback coupe version was also proposed: at first company directors thought that sales might even exceed those of the hard top model. However, although the prototype looked the part, it never materialised. Originally the plan was for the first Stags to run 2.5PI type engines, and for the V8 to follow later, perhaps as an option. But this scheme was soon abandoned because the ‘six’ lacked the sort of low-speed torquea GT rather demanded. Even so, the original 2.5-litre V8 lacked torque too – which explains why it was soon enlarged to 3-litres. As a consequence, the transmission had to be beefed up – a larger clutch, modified gearbox, different ratios and bearings, and a stronger axle – so commonality with the 2000/2.5PI was lost although some of those mods were later applied to the TR6. Although it was still related to the 2000/2.5PI models, the Stag took shape in a very different manner. Although final assembly was always in Coventry, until 1976 the Stag was built up on the TR6 assembly tracks, only moving to the 2000/2.5PI line for the last year of its life. Most body panels were pressed on two sites at Speke, Liverpool -in the ‘No. 1’ factory (the centre of 1300/Dolomite/TR6 shell manufacture), and at the vast new ‘No 2’ factory where TR7s would later be built in their entirety. Shells were then welded together,assembled, painted and trimmed at Speke before being trucked down to Coventry for final assembly. Engines, transmissions and axles were all made in Coventry, too. Although the Stag was eventually launched in June 1970, deliveries did not actually begin until the autumn, and the specially-modified ‘federal’ version (with a detoxed engine, and with extra safety features built in to the bodyshell) for sale in the USA would not be ready until the autumn of 1971.Even then, many cautious personalities at Triumph thought the Stag was still not ready to sell in the USA, but British Leyland’s sales force insisted that it should be made available. By the time deliveries began in numbers, Stag prices started at £2156 (which, for comparison, was £378, or 21 per cent more than that of the 2.5PI Mk II saloon of the day. Waiting lists built up at first, but by 1972 production balanced sales fairly accurately. Deliveries to the USA began before the end of 1971, when the lowest quoted price (for East Coast delivery) was $5525, the equivalent of £2302. When all the desirable extras were added, that price soared by about $1000/£417. For the next six years Triumph fought a grim battle to get, and keep, the engines reliable, for there was an early history of cooling problems and cylinder head gasket failures, too widespread to be hushed up. Tales are legion what caused this: casting sand left in the block and poorly-machined waterways
that led to nowhere were just some of the whispers.

In the early days, too, worldwide sales suffered because Stags were thought to be too expensive for what they were, yet neither as fast nor as fuel-efficient as originally hoped. The latter was certainly true and this was due to the way that new exhaust emission regulations were strangling performance; problems encountered by many other European manufacturers at this time to be fair. Original-specification Stags were available as soft tops, or with the (heavy) lift-off hard top complete with heated rear window fitted). Hardtop versions sometimes had the soft-top fitted too, but they could be ordered without it – confusing or what? Overdrive or automatic transmission were both optional: at this time but ungainly dummy Rostyle wheel covers were standard. In recent years, many surviving cars have been upgraded with the later-type cast alloys. Triumph revised the Stag for 1973, this version now familiarly being known as the ‘Mk II’. Equipment changes included the use of cast alloy road wheels as standard (USA) or optional (RoW), while overdrive became standard on manuals. USA-market production, however, ended after 1973, when Triumph was no longer willing to keep abreast of burgeoning USA safety legislation (including the use of ‘5mph’ bumpers, which had to be ‘distortion free’ in shunts up to that speed). The Energy Crisis, and soaring petrol price rises of 1973-74 had a big effect on all big-engined cars like the Stag and which were seen as self-indulgent. Thereafter sales (particularly to export markets) drained away, so much so that plans to replacethe car with a long-wheelbase TR8 coded ‘Lynx’ were cancelled.

Although Rover V8 engines were fitted to a few Stag development cars in the mid-1970s (amazing, isn’t it, how a change of political climate could change the feasibility of this?), nothing was done to turn the idea into production. Last of the line 1976 and 1977- model Stags had a revised cooling system, cast alloy wheels as standard, along with tinted glass and a slightly different cosmetic package, while Borg Warner Type 65 automatic transmission took over from Type 35 transmission as an option on the last year of production. Once the 2000TC/2500TC/2500S cars had dropped out of production in May 1977, it was inevitable that the Stag would follow. The last of all was produced on 24 June 1977, bringing the grand total to 25,939 cars. There was no replacement. Shunned until the 1980s and sold for a song, Stags slowly started to become desirable classics once the known engine problems were sorted by dedicated specialists in the aftermarket. Original problems centred around slipped timing chains, chronic overheating and blowing head gaskets (which caused alloy heads to warp usually). The cooling woes were all caused by poor circulation and silting up of coolant passages. Bodged Stags were rife in the late 1970s, running without thermostats and with their electric cooling fans permanently wired ON!

What’s the attraction?

The Stag was a great idea but poorly executed. That said we are talking BLMC at its very worse! Given the huge success of the Capri around this time, if Ford had been developing and marketing this highly civilised and stylish sports GT you can bet your life that more than one engine would have been offered from the outset along with a choice of trims – with prices to suit a wider audience and budgets. Generally, contemporary road test reports on the Stag were favourable enough. Although not half as hairy as a Capri V6, the Triumph was applauded for its smooth if steady performance, refinement and luxurious cabin that could satisfy four – at a pinch. You must remember that only Mercedes offered an alternative (true some converted BMW 2002s where made) but it was a lot more expensive. The handling was a touch soft, the steering too finger-light and
the car rolled a bit, but this was a GT not a sports car (witness how many were sold as automatics). The trim and appointments were praised and the hard top was also a good, if heavy fit. Much the same applies now and the Stag was mellowed over the decades nicely, aided by massive aftermarket support and the level of development the car always needed. A good Stag is a joy to tour in and with some subtle mods can be easily tailored for today’s modern motoring. The best mods include a ‘Super’ grill radiator to improve cooling along with a front ‘bib’ spoiler to enhance air throughput at high speed plus make the car more stable. American Holley carbs and a performance exhaust can boost power output to a healthier 175bhp. Electronic ignition (there’s two distributors on this V8, remember) is a very wise fitment at any stage of engine tune. Polyurethane suspension bushes improve the feel of the soft Stag along with Spax dampers front and rear. You can lower a Stag by approximately 1.25 inches – although it’s not really essential.

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