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Triumph Stag

Triumph Stag Published: 15th Oct 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Triumph Stag
Triumph Stag
Triumph Stag
Triumph Stag
Triumph Stag
Triumph Stag
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An ex-Triumph manager reveals why the Stag hit too many snags to make it the hit this Mercedes SL rival should have been from the outset

The Stag is more appreciated than when it was in the showrooms and if ever a car has gone from zero to hero in the classic world it’s this 2+2 Triumph. A good idea, albeit poorly executed, and you couldn’t give one away in the 1970s and 80s. But thanks to a dedicated band of enthusiasts and specialists, the car it should have been from the outset slowly emerged. Today, the Stag is regarded as a British Mercedes SL that’s just as polished but much better value – when new and now.

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 that stately 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 fl opped in North America where it should have cleaned up like the TRs did: in the end only 2871 cars were sold in the States before the end of 1973.

We’ll deal with the reasons why the Stag became known as the ‘Snag’ later, but fi rst let’s sort the fact from the fi ction. The easy, but woefully inaccurate, way to summarise the Stag’s running gear is to assume a short wheelbase 2000, using the same platform, suspension and transmission, but with a V8 upfront. In fact, everything from wheels, to brakes, to the basic structure, changed persistently during the car’s development.

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 fi rst 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, board approval soon followed. The original plan was to launch it with the newly developed 2.5-litre six-cylinder PI at fi rst in 1968, with the sexy V8 to follow. 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.

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 up the structure to acceptable refi nement levels. Then BLMC chairman Donald Stokes delayed everything by asking for the new Rover V8 engine to logically be tried out, but Triumph test engineers said it wouldn’t fi t. They were wrong, as many Stag enthusiasts now know 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 coupé version was also proposed: at fi rst, company directors thought that sales might even exceed those of the hardtop model. However, although the prototype looked the part, it never materialised. Originally the plan was for the fi rst 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 straight ‘six’ lacked the sort of lowspeed torque that a GT rather demanded. Even so, the original 2.5-litre V8 lacked torque too – which explains why it was soon enlarged to 3-litres although didn’t produce any more power than the TR6. As a consequence, the transmission had to be beefed up – a larger clutch, modifi ed gearbox, diffrent 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.

While the new 2+2 was still related to the 2000/2.5PI models, the Stag took shape in a very different manner. Although fi nal 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. Bodies were then welded together, assembled, painted and trimmed at Speke before being trucked down to Coventry for fi nal assembly. Can you image Ford doing that?

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 speciallymodifi ed ‘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 over what caused this: casting sand left in the block and poorly-machined waterways that led to nowhere were just some of the well known whispers.

In the early days, too, worldwide sales suffered because Stags were thought to be too expensive for what they were, as they neither were as fast nor as fuelefficient as originally hoped. The latter was certainly true and this was due to the way that new exhaust emission regulations were strangling engine 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) while overdrive became standard.

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 bigengined 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 replace the car with a long-wheelbase TR8 coded ‘Lynx’ were cancelled.

Although Rover V8 engines were fitted to a few Stag development cars during 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 sported a revised cooling system (at last), 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 ’box as an option on the last year of production.

Once the 2000TC/2500TC/2500S strain (known as Project barb) had dropped out of production in May 1977, it was inevitable that the Stag would follow. The last of all was produced on 24th June 1977, bringing the grand total to 25,939; 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 worst! 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 bottom dollar that more than one engine choice 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 Triumph’s handling was a touch soft, the steering too finger-light and the car rolled too much, 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 has mellowed over the decades nicely, aided by massive aftermarket support and the level of development the car always needed. Without a shadow of a doubt, if any car has improved over time it’s been the tetchy, testy Triumph Stag.

Remember when… 1975

Five years into its troubled production run and the writing was already on the wall for the Stag after exports in the US were curtailed two years earlier. Here’s the headlines…

In the US, tricky Dickie (Richard Nixon) is replaced by Gerald Ford, who oversaw the US pull out of Vietnam. In the UK, soaring inflation rules under the Wilson Labour Government but the public finally gets to vote on joining the EEC… Mrs Thatcher dethrones Ted Heath to become Tory leader.

In sport, West Ham wins the FA Cup, Arthur Ashe becomes Wimbledon champion beating Connors, Ali retains his boxing crown, Austrian Niki Lauda is crowned F1 champ and Division 2 strugglers Nottingham Forest appoint Brian Clough as manager.

Despite austere times and fast rising prices, car launches weren’t thin on the ground. Economy was the thing as Ford launched its ‘Popular’ trim level starting with the £1299 base Escort. Vauxhall also introduced the pricier Chevette while the VW Golf hit the UK showrooms.

With both Interceptor and Healey not selling, Jensen lay off most of its workforce. Apart from the XJC and XJ-S, BL also launch the equally odd TR7 and the 18-22, which replaces the 1800.

As the coal miners accept a 35 per cent pay rise, the average weekly wage stands at a little over £60 per week and yet a typical family home at £10,000 was quite affordable on a single wage and you could still afford petrol at less than 75p a gallon. E-types and Astons could be picked up for just a grand… Oh happy days!

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