- Best model: Original manual with overdrive
- Worst model: Poor alien V8 converts
- Budget buy: Automatic
- OK for unleaded?: Needs additive
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): (mm): L4000 x W1540
- Spares situation: Very good
- DIY ease?: Not bad at all
- Club support: Absolutely brilliant
- Appreciating asset?: Very much so
- Good buy or good-bye?: A good one is a gem
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The Triumph Stag was once the 2+2 to avoid. But now the car formerly known as the ‘Snag’ has never looked better now it’s reached the grand old age of 45
Pros & Cons
If ever a car has gone from zero to hero inthe classic world it’s the Triumph Stag. It was a good idea, but badly executed, and you couldn’t give a Stag 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 Mercdes SL that’s just as polished but better value. With show-stopping Stags now nudging the £20,000 mark, we recommend snapping one up soonerrather than later.
Alien-engined stags are worth 25 per cent less
First conceived in 1963 as a design concept by Italian stylist and Triumph favourite Michelotti, this sporty take on the 2000 saloon was mooted as a potential fl agship model. The Stag was introduced in June 1970 after a prolonged development spell. Don’t dismiss it as a two-door 2000/2.5 Pi, though – it was a different animal, with a shorter fl oorpan and a unique 3.0-litre V8 (essentially a pair of banked Saab 99/Triumph Dolomite engines) that nevermade an appearance in any other Triumph. Only 23 panels were shared by the Stag and the Mark II 2000/2.5, but the rest of the car was pure 2.5Pi driven via a four-speed manual gearbox from the TR6 with optional overdrive (standard-fi t by October 1972), or a three-speed automatic, the latter of which despite reservations suited the car very well and quickly accounted for no less than 70 per cent of sales. The fi rst 1000 Stags featured nomal single point ignition, while dual points arrived in 1971. In early 1972, the cooling system was revamped and the radiator used an expansion tank that was run at 20lb against the previous 13lb. A U hose now connected the water pump to the thermostat housing. Other mods included a thermostatically activated air fi lter box to draw in heat from the exhaust manifolds to aid warm up. The Mark II Stag arrived in February 1973 with many revisions (see The Differences panel). The Stag had its best year for sales in that year with almost 5500 buyers, although horrendous warranty claims had already caused Lord Stokes & Co to withdraw it from the US market where high hopes were held. Further modifi cations included stainless sill trims, alloy wheels and a laminated windscreen from October 1975. The Stag party was drawing to a close and the model was discontinued in July 1977 – but not before the automatic gearbox was changed from a Borg Warner 35 to a later BW 65 unit.The model’s future looked particularly bright if road tests at the time were to be believed. Most pundits praised Triumph’s new V8 for its style, refi nement and quality, plus it’s fi ne touring qualities. Four and a half decades on and you can now add durability!
One of the leading lights in Stags – Tony Hart – says he’s consistently surprised by the number of owners who don’t know whether they own a Mark I or Mark II! In February 1973 a revised Stag joined the range, labelled the MkII, with new chassis numbering commencing at LD20001. The engine had a higher compression ratio with redesigned combustion chambers and domed pistons. Overdrive was made standard using a J-type instead of A-type Laycock unit. Externally, the side windows were removedfrom the soft top to reduce the chance of creasing, the grille and emblem surround were changed from silver to black, while the sills and number plate slam panel became matt black. A laminated windscreen was made standard and the interior lights were removed from the door pillars, replaced with a single roll bar-mounted item. The carpets were substituted with a cheaper nylon fabric, while the seat backs were redesigned (headrests became optional for UK cars) and the cumbersome 16-inch steering wheel was replaced by a more manageable 14.5-inch item. Last, but certainly not least, Mark IIs used thinner gauge metal as BL had switched suppliers…
“Anybody coming into the Stag and expecting it to be a taut sports car like the TR6 will be disappointed,” said Autocar in its 1970 road test. Even with 145bhp on tap (127bhp for US cars) and 170lbft of torque, it’s no sports car, even if it sounds like one. In truth, the Triumph is more at home on relaxed, long distance jaunts rather than being thrown around like it’s sportier sibling. Handling is softer than that of the TRs, but so is the ride, and the Stag feels more like an open-top 2.5PI – but you can make the chassis much sportier if you wish (see our Improvements section). The standard power steering makes the Stag feel surprisingly modern, even if its inherent lightness robs the car of feel at speed. The Triumph is all about is cultured cruising. Refi nement is good – that quirky (removable – but don’t!) T-bar ensures a strong bodyshell with little scuttle shake, while the interior is clad in pvc, comfortable and inviting enough. It’s a shame that the hard-top gives off too much wind noise when fi tted, but Stags are highly usable, civilised 2+2s and comfortable daily drivers – especially with overdrive, as 70mph is only a 2900rpm stroll and 23-25mpg is realistic. The Stag is fairly accommodating as a 2+2 for growing families – it’s better than a Merc SL or 2+2 E-type and there’s a decent-sized boot, too. The saddest thing about the Stag is that it didn’t live up to its promise from the press. At launch it was raved about. “The Stag is one of those cars that you appreciate the more you drive it… a satisfying and spirited car to drive fast,” concluded Autocar in 1970, although it had reservations about the grip. Car was perhaps the most critical organ, claiming that the Triumph was a bit “wishy-washy and neither fi sh or fowl” but admitted it was an excellent tourer.
Prices still vary but they’re defi nitely on the up. They start at around £2500-3000 for basket cases (especially alien-engined cars) but ‘Snags’ are veritable money pits that are best avoided. Good examples sell for between £5000-£9000, while excellent models go for £15,000 or more from specialists, which is where we’d start our search.
Stags can be given bigger balls – if that’s what you want. Accepted mods to the inlet and exhaust manifolds, heads, an American Holley carb and electronic ignition (the latter is always a good move) can yield up to 175bhp. For the suspension, fi t polyurethane bushes (these not only improve the handling, but they’ll also never need changing again), Spax adjustable rear dampers and uprated front strut inserts. This package will improve the handling, although the ride will suffer. One stage further would be a lowering kit to drop the car by 1.25 inches – although it’s not essential for road use. A more extreme mod from Stag Tuning experts Monach, of Northants, (01536 763778) is a revised rear end with new drive shafts, which virtually kill the annoying Triumph rear ‘twitch’ as you change gear. Brake upgrades range from the usual hard pads to exotic four pot caliper kits and a rear disc set-up using Nissan parts is also available. Monach produces a BMW brake servo conversion that is said to greatly help even standard stoppers. An increasing number of cars are being reconverted back to their original specifi cation. The most popular swap was with the evergreen Rover 3.5-litre V8 unit, as not only could it offer more power (especially in later 4.0, 4.2 and 4.6-litre guises) but is as tough as an Ox and, durable easy to maintain. While many conversions were done well, plenty weren’t. The lighter Rover unit shaved a whopping 170lb from the front end, but unless weaker springs were fitted to compensate, handling could be scary. The 2.5-litre straight six Triumph engine is also a lighter alternative, and not a bad idea if you want to keep the car pure Triumph – it’s also much easier to change the battery than the fi ddly V8. Don’t bother with the GT6 engine though as it’s underpowered in this heavier car. The swap is pretty easy as you can imagine but the gearbox is different and requires a mounting to modifi ed. The bulk of Stags are autos, although a good many have been converted to manuals, so you miss out on the extra cogs. One way around this is to fi t a four-speed ZF self-shifter – again, a nut and bolt kit from Monach is available. Even if you want to keep your Stag standard you should still invest in an uprated radiator with a commercial-type electric cooling fan. A front ‘bib’ body spoiler also improves the cooling capabilities and makes the car more stable at speed.
What To Look For
- Oil deposits in the radiator header and spells head gasket trouble. Inspect the between the cylinder banks, towards the rear. A puddle of oil or coolant means possible cylinder head gasket woes, a spent core plug or leaking inlet manifold.
- Warped cylinder heads are common and there’s only a certain amount of skimming that they can take. Check for signs of gasket replacement – clean gasket edges, sealant, signs of a boil over etc. If in doubt, and the seller agrees, have the unit professionally pressure tested.
- Annual replacement of the coolant with a fl ush and reverse fl ush every other year is preventative maintenance. A new radiator and thermostat is money well spent plus you can add a ‘wetter water’ pour in additive (widely available) to raise the boiling point of water.
- Brand new cylinder heads are being manufactured for the Stag by the owners club. They’re a great, sleep-easy fix but they’re also expensive at around £2000. If you’re buying used ones, don’t forget that Mark II types are different, and unless the heads also come complete with their camshaft clamps, they are useless as they were accurately line-bored by Triumph.
- Tightening down the heads annually isn’t a bad idea as – like the Dolomite Sprint – they can relax in service. It’s a complex procedure with the engine ideally left overnight to be stone cold. Some experts prefer a conventional tightening sequence to Triumph’s own method.
- Timing chain and cam follower noises arecommon but easily cured. The tensioners need to be replaced every 25,000 miles or the valve timing will slip and wreck the unit. Check too for smoky exhausts. Oil pressure gauge readings (if fi tted) of between 40 and 50 psi suggest that all is well.
- Faulty clutches from this TR6-type transmission aren’t unknown. In particular, check that the quill shaft housing is intact, as it can break, causing serious damage.
- Also ensure that the drive shaft couplings are sound and that their gaiters are intact. If there’s noise coming from the hub bearing fl anges, the housings will almost certainly be damaged already and need to be replaced, in addition to the bearings.
- No-go overdrives are common but usually it’s an electrical fault rather than anything serious. The automatic gearbox, which the majority of Stags are equipped with, is strong, as long as the oil has been replaced regularly. Pull out the dipstick: does the fl uid appear dirty or smell burnt?
- Check the power steering as aging ones give problems, plus ensure that the front suspension upper bush/bearing assemblies are not seized. At the rear of the car, check the mounting bushes throughout the suspension system. Also watch for the normal sagging springs and worn dampers.
- That special mohair hood needs to be tip-top, as it can be costly to replace with proper, original items (watch for cheap PVC after-fi ts). Not all Stags came with the stylish if noisy at speed hardtop – only those made after spring 1973. Is it still there?
- The 2.5Pi-derrived cabin needs to be in good shape. Watch for the usual damp problems that most roadsters suffer from (lift the carpets to check for fl oorpan rust and at the front and rear bulkheads).
- The seats were PVC covered and never leather, although some later cars may have used cloth seating. The wood veneer dashboard can suffer from splitting. On a top, original car the dash top on thepassenger side should have a non-slip pad fi tted although penny to a pound it will be missing by now.
- Parts supply is generally excellent, although according to the 5000-strong Stag Owners Club, quality can vary, and it is now having parts made to its own spec. Joining this club has to be the first step for Stag ownership, even if you don’t own one yet.
- Also help sourcing one plus be a font of all knowledge once you got one. The monthly mag is also packed with useful information.
- There should be no price difference between a MK1 or MKII, unless you count the tax free perk of a pre-73 car. Most originals will have been converted to MK II spec where it counts anyway.
- Finally, shop around for the right car. Stags are in abundance and there’s always plenty on the market, We’d start at a good Stag specialist as there are many over-priced private cars on offer. Wrecks are only for resto fans as it’s unlikely that you’ll recoup your outlay if done properly.
Three Of A Kind
Mercedes SLThe car the Triumph always wanted to be has been around for yonks and is still as desirable as ever. The nearest rival to the Stag is the square cut W107 Series that ran from 1971 to 1989 – and these are starting to become very collectable. With a choice of straight six and V8 engines there’s a model to suit most needs, while their reliability and usability makes one even a viable daily driver. A Mercedes service history is paramount.
Reliant Scimitar GTCThe closest Brit to the Stag is the underrated Scimitar GTC. Based on the popular GTE hatch, the GTC was a clever roadster conversion that looks and feels surprisingly Stag-like – but for about half the price. The Ford V6 pulls well, there’s an overdrive or auto option plus the Reliant boasts a superior chassis with better handling. Being fi berglass, it can’t rot, but the chassis canbig time, and the GTC lacks the quality aura of the Stag.
MGB GT V8/RV8The in-house rival to the Stag came from MG with its betterlate- than never GT V8 care of Rover. Initially a GT only, many roadsters were converted before the RV8 of 1992 arrived with a modern chassis and looks. Not as roomy as the Stag and a lot more antiquated the MG is faster but the handling could never keep up. Noisy and hard riding, but arguably the best MGB of the lot. RV8 is a sort of cheaper TVR.
Mad for a Stag? You’re not alone, as this Triumph is having some serious fun at middle age. If you don’t want an automotive mid-life crisis then make sure you get a good one – there are loads around. And with some well chosen and accepted upgrades you can turn your Stag into a real deer hunter.
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