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Triumph Stag

Staggering Success Published: 15th Jul 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Triumph Stag

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Tax-free manual overdrive car
  • Worst model: Post-1973 autos
  • Budget buy: Post-1973 autos
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4425 x W1628mm
  • Spares situation: Very good
  • DIY ease?: Generally fi ne
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Picking up nicely
  • Good buy or good-bye?: A better than ever bet
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The Triumph Stag took a long time to rid itself of the snag tag, but now it’s one of the best affordable 2+2 GTs on the block

Pros & Cons

Looks and sounds, fabulous, great value, well supported by clubs and specialists
Vague steering, cars with non-standard engines, many have been badly maintained
£4000-£18,000

Few cars are truly in a class of their own, but the Triumph Stag is one of that elite; without rivals. Here’s a fourseater convertible with a V8 in the nose, and while other such cars are available, they’re rather bigger and substantially more costly thanks to the fact that they sport upper crust badges such as Mercedes or Rolls-Royce. If you’re on a relative budget and you want to transport up to four people al fresco in a hurry, with a wonderful V8 soundtrack, the Stag is your only option.

That’s how it is now, and it’s also how it was when the Stag was introduced 42 years ago. How could Triumph fail? Sharp Michelotti lines, a soundtrack to die for and a unique 3-litre V8 all gave buyers ample reasons to put a Stag at the top of their shortlist. Triumph confi dently predicted that it would shift 12,000 of them each year, but in a seven-year production run, sales totalled just 25,939. Talk about a missed opportunity.

History

The Stag arrived in 1970, having fi rst been dreamt up in the mid-1960s as a roofl ess GT based upon the 2000 saloon to complement the Vitesse. This was a time of great turmoil for Britain’s motor industry, with mergers and acquisitions taking place every other week. As a result, the planned specifi cation for the Stag changed constantly; fi rst it was to have the 2.0-litre straight-six from the 2000 saloon. Then the 2.5PI unit was to be fi tted and there was even talk of using the 3.5-litre Rover V8, and development mules in all confi gurations were tested.

The sensible step would have been to ape Mercedes and offer a range of engines but BL rarely knew the meaning of it. The Triumph V8 project was already well underway, plus Triumph and Rover had only just become stablemates in the BL empire and consequently, their respective engineers felt the companies were still rivals. So given that the Stag was aimed at the lucrative US market where only a V8 will do, it was decided that Canley’s own 3.0-litre V8 would power Triumph’s new budget grand tourer. Further logic dictated that it should also found a home in the PI saloon but internal politics the way only BL could conjure up decreed otherwise… And did you know that while the Stag looked similar to the 2000/2.5 in fact it shared only 23 common panels?

When the Stag hit the UK market in June 1970, it featured its own 145bhp 2997cc V8 engine (with single c.b points, but this changed in 1971) and a choice of manual or automatic transmissions. A year later the car had reached US showrooms too, then from early ’72 the cooling system was revised with an expansion tank and a special U tube connecting the water pump to the thermostat housing. That October the highly desirable overdrive became standard on all cars with a manual gearbox.

In February 1973 Triumph revealed a MkII Stag. Changes were generally minor and they included the fi tment of a matt black tail panel and sills, plus new instruments. The wheel trims were also now completely silver, a hard top became standard issue and the rear quarter windows were deleted from the hood.

But there’s a fair few other differences to note. The engine featured a higher compression ratio with domed pistons, the side windows were removed from the soft top to reduce creasing, a laminated windscreen was fi tted and cheaper pile carpets were substituted. A slightly smaller (Dolomite Sprint) steering wheel (14.5in from 16in) was fitted and – although this is questionable – MKIIs used slightly inferior steel as BL cut its budgets.

From this point on the changes became increasingly minor. In April 1973 alloy wheels replaced wire wheels on the options list, then three months later the Stag was withdrawn from the North American market. Hazard and seat belt warning lights were fitted from January 1974 then from March air-conditioning was cut from the options list. Alloy wheels, tinted glass and laminated windscreen became standard in October 1975, a year before the stronger Borg-Warner Type 65 automatic gearbox replaced the previously fitted Type 35 unit. Then, in June 1977, the final Stag was built after practically 26,000 were made.

Driving

It’s time to dispel a myth. It’s often reported that the Stag sold badly because it wasn’t well received by the affl uent market. Not so – it was the reliability rather than desirability which blunted sales. As long as it is set up properly and maintain studiously, that 3-litre V8 is a fabulous unit; smooth, torquey, muscular and with a deep, bassy burble that’s worth the money alone – especially as you rev towards the red line. While it lacks the guts of the Rover V8, the Triumph one is the nicer unit which is why many alien-engine Stags are being reverted back to factory spec.

As many as 70 per cent of Stags suffered a typically 1960s ineffi cient three-speed automatic gearbox, so ratio swaps can be on the slow if smooth side. That said, the V8’s the available torque goes some way to compensating for it and we wouldn’t turn down self-shifting Stag. More sought after however is the manual/overdrive transmission which at least allows you to have more control over which gear you’re in (six in total), but it doesn’t have the most precise of gear changes, so whichever gearbox you choose it’ll be less than ideal.

The same goes for the steering, which has power assistance – and a little too much of it. As a result there’s very little feel through the wheel so you’re never really sure what the road wheels are doing; not nice in the wet. It’s possible to re-valve the set-up to increase feel, and if you’re aiming to buy a Stag for the long term it’s very much worth doing. Leave it ex-factory and you’ll never enjoy driving the car all that much – the steering just feels too remote in standard form.

However, even in standard form there’s much to love about the Stag; it makes the perfect affordable cruiser for the summer. Just buy an auto, stick it in Drive and cruise, lapping up that smooth woofl e from the twin pipes. And all the time you can enjoy the view from the dash; classic seventies Triumph with the real wood veneer, Lucas dials and a commanding driving position that offers an excellent view all round of what’s going on. Even better, the fi tment of four proper seats means you can take the whole family along for the ride. Four-up, you’ll all be able to sample the Stag’s best qualities; the soundtrack and the agreeable ride, although if you corner too enthusiastically there’s a touch too much body roll so your passengers might just lose their lunch.

As we said earlier, the press raved about the Stag even though Autocar warned owners not to expect a taut sports car like the TR6 but concluded that “The Stag is one of those cars that you appreciate the more you drive it…”

The more critical Car reckoned that the Triumph was a bit “wishy-washy” and neither a true GT or sports car but admitted it was an excellent tourer all the same.

Fast forward almost two decades and a more appropriate appraisal was conducted by the late lamented Supercar Classics where the Stag was deemed the perfect antidote for stressful modern motoring. And a further two decades on, it still is…

Prices

The best Stags command £15,000-£18,000, although such cars come onto the market relatively rarely. These are the cars that have either been cherished from new and have few owners plus have covered a low mileage, or they’ve been well restored with photographic evidence. More common are the merely very good Stags, which fetch more like £8000-£12,000, while a reasonable example that needs some work is £6000- £8000; restoration projects start at £2000.

Manuals are more sought after than autos, but there isn’t a huge price difference; they’re just easier to sell. What can be a real pain to sell on is a car without the Triumph V8; Rover 3.5 V8s, Triumph straight-sixes and Ford V6s have all been fi tted over the years, but nowadays, Stag buyers increasingly want the original powerplant and you can expect a price difference by as much as 25 per cent for non-standard models, although it depends on how well the conversion has been done.

Improvements

To get the most out of the Stag it needs some sympathetic upgrades; potentially quite a few. While a raft of improvements can be made to the engine when rebuilding it, the key ones are to fl ush the water jackets through so coolant can fl ow properly. An electric fan is worthwhile too, but only if the rest of the cooling system is in good order. Also think about carb upgrades (US Holley works well) and electronic ignition, which combined can release up to a reliable 175bhp.

A really stiff clutch can be caused by the engine and gearbox running out of line with each other. The easiest fi x is to use a modifi ed clutch plate, from James Paddock for £210. This is more tolerant to running slightly out of true and also gives a much lighter pedal. Modern fi ve-speed gearboxes from Ford and Toyota can be made to fit but you prefer an auto albeit with a smoother, sportier attitude, a modern Jaguar XJ40 fourspeeder conversion is available, but you’ll need around £4000 to fit it.

Other worthwhile improvements include re-valving the steering for more feel, ventilated discs up front to increase stopping power plus the fitment of Datsun driveshafts in place of the splined items usually fi tted. The originals can stick, leading to snatching in corners, so the Datsun parts can really improve the Triumph’s already pleasing driving experience.

There’s still many Rover V8 Stags around and they are as good as their conversion. If the ride height issue is settled (the Rover is some 140lb lighter) then they make great, reliable drivers. Another swap is to install a Triumph straight six although this isn’t as easy as you’d credit. Apart from a simpler, easy to run engine, the unit weighs much the same as the Stag’s V8.

However the Stag is some 50kg heavier so unless the engines are tuned, performance won’t be spectacular. But for gentle cruising – and let’s face it that’s what many of us do – it’s fi ne.

What To Look For

  • Major corrosion can be an issue, especially in the sills, floorpans, wings and seams between the inner and outer wheelarches. Cover sills are sometimes fi tted; they’re a bodge and not to be confused with stainless steel decorative oversills. Replacing the sills properly means removing the front wings, which are welded on, or cutting the bottom of the wing off.
  • Also check the base of the A-post, which rots out after filling up with water that’s drained from the guttering on the side of the windscreen pillar. Repairing the A-pillar base is tricky as even with the front wing removed it’s not very accessible.
  • The base of the B-post can also rot badly, and this is also an awkward area to repair properly, although at least it’s accessible. The leading edge of the rear wings, sills and B-post meet here, and why it’s complicated.
  • The bottom of each door also rots where the skin is folded over onto the frame; it corrodes from the inside out. Underneath the car there are two outriggers on each side; those at the front rot fi rst, with the corrosion soon spreading to the sills and the rest of the floorpan.
  • The valance can rust after suffering from stone chips, but the key areas at the front of the car are the two seams between the front wings and the panel in front of the bonnet. The paint cracks in this seam, then water gets in and rots the metal. It’s the same story at the back of the car, where there’s a seam between each wing and the panel in front of the boot lid.
  • While you’re looking here, have a good look at the trailing edge of the boot lid, which can rust particularly badly. So can the boot floor, especially where the exhaust hangers are located and also underneath where the fuel tank is positioned. Once corrosion has taken a hold, the petrol tank will also rust.
  • If there’s a hard top fitted, check its condition, particularly around the side window apertures, along its leading edge as well as the edges where guttering resides.
  • The Stag V8’s poor reputation was deserved when the car was new, but all problems can be fi xed. Most issues relate to the cooling system, so drive the car for at least 10 miles, watching the temperature gauge. The needle should settle at the half-way mark – much higher or lower signals trouble. If the engine isn’t getting warm fast enough the owner has probably removed the thermostat…
  • Although the rad is usually blamed for the overheating problems, it’s generally the cylinder head castings at fault. Their waterways were often cast badly, restricting coolant flow around the top end of the engine, so replacing or uprating the rest of the cooling system won’t necessarily reduce overheating. It’s essential the system is fl ushed out annually and that the correct level of anti-freeze is maintained; a 30/70 anti-freeze/water mix is best.
  • Weak coolant will corrode the heads, causing blockages in the system, so check the whole of the radiator is hot once you’ve switched the engine off after a test run. There’s a good chance that just the top or bottom will be hot; if the engine hasn’t overheated, a replacement radiator will fi x things; standard ones are £140 while uprated units are £170.
  • An overheated engine often means warped cylinder heads; a reconditioned unleaded pair costs £700.
  • Overheating can occur when the Torquatrol viscous-coupled engine fan fails. Get the engine up to temperature and see if the fan cuts in – a new one costs a hefty £75.
  • Blown head gaskets don’t necessarily lead to the oil and coolant mixing; a more reliable method of checking is to look for bubbling in the cooling system’s expansion tank.
  • As you’re driving the car, take a look at the oil pressure if a gauge has been fi tted – there wasn’t one as standard. While cruising at 3000rpm expect to see 30-40psi, with at least 10psi at tickover. The idle should be set at 800rpm. Saab oil pumps are a worthy upgrade for fl ow and pressure reasons.
  • With the engine idling, listen for tapping noises from worn cam followers and their bores; something that costs around £300 per head to fix.
  • The first problem with the gearbox is usually worn second gear. Also flick it in and out of overdrive; if it’s sluggish or doesn’t engage, it needs servicing or there’s an electrical fault. Rebuilds are rarely needed, but reconditioned units are available for £450.
  • On a manuals, listen for chattering from behind the engine. Dip the clutch and if the noise disappears it’s the clutch thrust bearing. This will mean a new clutch: £180.
  • Propshaft universal joints wear, but replacing them is simple. The driveshafts can be more complicated though, as some have replaceable joints, some don’t. Peel back the gaiter to see what’s fitted; a circlip means it’s replaceable.
  • All Stags have power steering, so check for leaks. Vague steering suggests worn suspension and steering rack mounting bushes. Polyurethane items are a popular upgrade; there are 18 in total.
  • Twitchy handling points to binding splined joints in the drive shafts or rear bushes. A good clean and a bit of CV grease fi xes it.
  • Get someone to follow you on the test drive, to compare speedo readings – if Stag’s is wildly out it’s because the wrong axle is fi tted. Stag diffs have been scarce for a long time; some fi t a 2000 (with 4:1 ratio) or 2.5PI unit (with 3.45:1 ratio). Stag’s is 3.6:1.
  • The braking system is conventional, generally reliable and easy to maintain. The only likely problem is with sticking calipers at the front (the rear brakes were drums), but rebuild kits are readily available for £35 or you can buy an overhauled caliper for £65 exchange.
  • The Stag’s trim is durable, but new bits are readily available. The most likely source of problems are the front seats, the diaphragms for which can collapse but everything is available to put things right. Diaphragms are £25, while a seat cover kit is £165 per front seat. Door trim panels, carpet sets and seat retrim kits are all available.
  • All Stags have a mohair hood, which should be jet black. If what’s fi tted is grey, it’s double duck, which isn’t as durable. While the hood itself is usually long-lived, the plastic windows go brittle and disintegrate. If the whole roof needs replacing brace yourself for an £800 bill. Check the hard top’s condition – they usually languish in the shed or back garden!

 

Three Of A Kind

BMW E21 cabrio
BMW E21 cabrio
There are few first-generation BMW 3-Series around of any kind, so finding one of the rare Baur drop-top conversions could prove to be a labour of love. But if you fancy a four-seater convertible that’s unusual, well-built and fi tted with creamysmooth straight-six power, then this could be the one.
Mercedes SL
Mercedes SL
The German is really the Stag’s main rival and has the benefi t of over 40 years of production in various designs. W107s are the obvious choice and fi ne sturdy cars, but there’s a bit of a shift to the later R129s which are more modern and great for long hauls – cheaper too. There’s loads of either so be choosy.
Triumph Scimitar GTC
Triumph Scimitar GTC
Just like the shooting brake GTE, the Scimitar GTC has seen some signifi cant gains in value over the past year, to the point where you’ll need almost as much to secure one of these as to buy an equivalent condition Stag. Ford V6 power means reliability and pace, while the Reliant looks Stag-like neat too.

Verdict

Unfortunately for Triumph, the Stag V8’s poor reliability record overshadowed the car’s many good points for far too long. But times change and now the car is undoubtedly a quality classic and at good prices, too. According to the latest DVLA fi gures there are nearly 3500 Stags still on UK roads, so thanks to supply being able to keep pace with demand, values haven’t changed much in recent years. As a result, the Stag represents brilliant value. And while the car still isn’t a cast iron investment, and won’t be for a good few years yet, the know-how gained over the last 35 years since this Triumph’s demise means you can now run a Stag every day, enjoying trouble-free motoring if you buy right for MGB money.



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