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Triumph TR7

Style Counsel Published: 4th May 2011 - 1 Comments

Triumph TR7

Fast Facts

  • Best model: TR8 convertible
  • Worst model: Bad V8 conversions
  • Budget buy: Standard Coupe
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 4173 x 1681mm (L x W)
  • Spares situation: Pretty good
  • Club support: Improving
  • Appreciating asset?: Getting there
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Yes – for sheer value
Cockpit is one of the TRs top features – civilised, comfy and roomy although trim can become shabby Cockpit is one of the TRs top features – civilised, comfy and roomy although trim can become shabby
Standard 2-litre okay but Sprint or V8 most liked. Head gaskets can be a problem, especially on the 16V unit Standard 2-litre okay but Sprint or V8 most liked. Head gaskets can be a problem, especially on the 16V unit
Increased popularity of TR7 means custom bits – such as this cockpit – are now available, at a price Increased popularity of TR7 means custom bits – such as this cockpit – are now available, at a price
Convertible TR7 is most wanted – it does look good hood down – but Coupes are the best value of all Convertible TR7 is most wanted – it does look good hood down – but Coupes are the best value of all
Most TR7s rot here so check for fi ller work Most TR7s rot here so check for fi ller work
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It’s the Triumph sportster that had odd looks, limp performance and a lousy reliability record. And what about that soft girly image... So why is the TR7 now one of the best bets for 2008?

Pros & Cons

Value for money, civility, tuning potential, TR8 grunt, convertible looks
Awful image, rot, bodged cars, soft handling and mild performance

It’s a TR without any balls! We’ll that’s the common perception of the last-of-the-line TR sportsters – but a more enlightened view hints that this last ‘real’ Triumph is an entirely decent and grossly underrated classic that (in many ways) knocks spots off an MGB and is exceptional value for money. Any TR following in the tyre tracks of the classic TR6 had a lot to live up to and the TR7 failed miserably before it even left the showroom. A poor image compounded by appalling build quality (a result of the demise of parent company BL) meant that this dressed up Dolomite lasted less than fi ve years and has been the Skoda of sports cars ever since. But… If you ever took the time to look at the Triumph TR7 three decades on you might see it in an entirely different light. It is without doubt the best starter sportster classic around and prices are still incredibly reasonable. The bargain buy for 2008 but it won’t stay this way for much longer.


It’s easy to knock Triumph (and British Leyland really) over the TR7 but hindsight really is a virtue in this case. Impending US safety regulations that effectively banned brawny soft tops forced this sporting arm of British Leyland to design a completely new type of sports car for the safety conscious 1970s – only to see the goalposts shifted by the Yanks at half time and make our team look very silly indeed. Using a completely new platform that shared surprisingly little with the Dolomite saloon, theTR7 (the design was actually badged as an MG during early development – and nearly became one!) was defi nitely in tune with the times when the car surfaced in the UK in 1976, a year after the critical US launch. Underneath that wedgey shape was a sensible touring two-seater that was far more civilised than any previous bone-shaking TR before it. TR7 was powered by a unique engine as well, using the Dolomite Sprint’s 2-litre bottom end, topped by the normal 1850cc eight valve cylinder head, albeit still good for 105bhp (US cars were only rated 90bhp). Initially a four-speed manual was the only choice, but the option of a three-speed auto and a Rover SD1-sourced five-speed manual followed by the end of the year. Autocar likened the all-new TR7 to a replacement for the much missed GT6 coupe rather than the real successor to the brawny TR6. Woeful build and reliability troubles dogged the car from launch, causing production to be shifted from the strike-ridden Speke to the Canley factory.

By 1979, a fi ve-speed manual ‘box was standardised but the real story was the launch of the great looking convertible for the make-or-break US markets; it arrived in the UK the following year. Sadly it was too little too late and the car it should had been all along was killed off in 1981, after yet again seeing production shifted this time, fi nally, to Rover’s site at Solihull. Like all BL products the TR7 was a ‘nearly’ car. Quality improved over the years (it could hardly worsen) while the Rover V8-powered TR8 should have saved the day, but time wasn’t on this splendid sportster’s side. Out of the 2715 produced less than 20 RHDs were offi cially made (converted cars are TR7 V8s, not the proper TR8 incidentally). Just over 112,000 TR7s were made – 60 being the very rare Dolomite Sprint-powered models. There are several well known variations, and special editions, such as the Premium, black with gold decals; the aforementioned TR7 Sprint, with a Dolomite 16-valve Sprint engine; the Spider, which is black with a hint of red in it, (Maraschino), and red stripes; and the Coca Cola cars, which were given away as competition prizes. If Triumph had been allowed to persevere with the TR7, the range would have been facelifted (plans were well down the road with the Lynx when production was axed). There probably would have been a TR9 too featuring the frisk if thrashy O Series OHC engine. It would have been the car the TR7 should have been from the outset. Instead all hopes of Triumph’s survival now hinged on the Honda-badged Acclaim. You can guess the rest…


Even staunch critics of the TR7 – and there’s an army or two of them – have to concede that they drive much better than they look. For a start the handling is a world away from the old sea clipper TRs. True, the TR7 feels more like a swankier Dolomite in comparison and is GT rather than sports, but it feels pretty good and modern to drive. That weird aerodynamic styling means a low centre of gravity resulting in good road holding and it certainly handles cleaner than earlier TRs, albeit is not so overtly sporting. It’s a bit roly-poly and soft, but entirely predictable in the best MGB tradition; harder dampers and an anti-dive front suspension kit ( the latter a worthy buy for £30 from Robsport International) works wonders for starters.

The TR7 was the first production car to feature side impact bars and the slanted engine was mounted to enable both the low bonnet profi le plus also to submarine underneath in the event of a head-on collision, thus protecting the driver and passenger like no sports car before, it was claimed. Performance is adequate – in fact a standard TR7 wasn’t that much slower than the heavier if brawnier TR6 – it’s just that the stock Dolomite engine note doesn’t sound remotely sporting. In contrast the Rover V8-powered TR8 is one of the most underrated modern sportsters of them all. Sadly only a score of official UK cars were made, the rest of the 2700 went to the US and in detuned 135bhp guise.

Note, TR8 is different to a converted TR7 V8 of which many were homespun conversions, so expect differing standards of quality and workmanship. With a brilliant cockpit the TR7 is surprisingly spacious, inviting and civilised plus there’s a roomy boot for touring, all making this Triumph an excellent daily driver. In fact, the more you delve into TR7 ownership the more you realise that it’s actually a surprisingly capable and acceptable sports car – irrespective of what it looks like from the outside. Or what others think of you…


There are cheap TR7s, good TR7s – and there are good cheap TR7s if you know where to look. However values of the best cars are increasingly rising and you won’t buy much for under £1500. Expect to pay £4-5000 for a good convertible and it’s not unknown for convertibles (and particularly V8s) to now break into the fi ve-fi gure barrier – witness the recent auction of a factory-fresh BL-owned example. At the other end of the scale you can fi nd ropey coupes for a few hundred, which are more suited for smoking around in rather than restoring, the latter which will certainly outstrip the car’s real world value.


Thankfully the tepid TR7 is easy to hot up. True, you can go the full fat Rover V8 route (check out ‘How to improve Triumph TR7’ from Veloce – www. but a stock model also has potential. Start with the soft suspension where an anti-dive kit is the fi rst priority (see Robspor t International) along with poly bushing and uprated dampers and springs. Fitting Ford Sierra top mounts to the struts sharpens the steering as well as making it lighter. Larger 14inch rims are a big bonus too and done properly a TR7 can handle brilliantly. Brakes can be upgraded, ranging from just better pads to four pot callipers, which can be sourced from the Ford 2.8i Capri, TR8 or the Rover SD1.The stock 2-litre engine can be pepped up simply by making it breathe easier with K&N air filters (plus suitable re-jetting of the Sus) and a better exhaust manifold and pipework. With a gas-fl owed head and electronic ignition, you’re looking at similar power to the 16V Sprint – with a tad more extra torque into the bargain.

What To Look For

  • Rust is the TR7’s worst enemy and there are plenty of crusty examples around or – worst still – nice lookers, which are full of fi ller and a layer polish. And because TR7 residual values are so low, enthusiasts aren’t exactly encouraged to spend big money on their cars so expect the worst.
  • The major rot areas are the chassis rails (particularly at the front around the subframe points), fl oorpan, bulkheads and inner front wings, especially at the strut top mounts. These Triumphs can literally fall apart at the seams and if bad, the car is of scrapper use only
  • Other major areas include the A posts (very common), boot fl oor (check spare wheel well for rot) and rear suspension pick up points.
  • Sills are a real worry on TR7s because they comprise of an inner, outer, centre and strengthening panel (the latter on the rag top only); the most common bodge is to tack just a new outer on hiding all the crap underneath.
  • Those huge rubber bumpers can mask wild valance rot and these bulky US-inspired fenders can even droop or drop off entirely if their glued mounts give up the ghost.
  • It has to be an exceptional TR7 if you can’t fi nd any rot or repairs around the wheel arches, door bottoms and around the windscreen area. So vet well.
  • Mechanically, the car fares better. Loosely Dolomite-derived hardware is fairly sturdy and not dear to replace either.
  • As with all 1970s Triumphs, overheating is the biggest worry (the Dolly engine was half a Stag unit, remember). Silted and corroded waterways are common and head gaskets often fail. Worse still a cylinder head can prove virtually impossible to remove at the kerb if it has rusted on with the studs.
  • Check the state of the cooling system; if only water is in the header tank then be ultra wary as these engines need a constant diet of quality anti-freeze to keep them healthy and cool. And be doubly wary if there are signs of oil droplets; have a sniff to confi rm!
  • The timing chain is rattle-prone although doesn’t slip like the Stag’s. Listen also for cam wear and worn cranks, including that well-known Triumph foible, the crank end fl oat (have an aid depress the clutch as you watch the crank’s pulley move.
  • Early transmissions are Dolomite/GT6 sourced so will usually be tired on P- reg cars. Most featured the Rover SD1 fi ve-speeder however, which apart from being slicker is also sturdier, although worn synchros (watch for gear clash) on second and third are pretty common.
  • The three-speed Borg Warner automatic ‘box is reliable and doesn’t detract from the Triumph’s appeal too much – plus they are normally a lot cheaper to buy, too.
  • Suspensions are simple – damper, spring and mounting bushes usually go, especially the front shockers. TR7s normally handle well so if the car feels like an old TR6, then the suspension is clapped out.
  • A good number of TR7s were upgraded to V8 power. Check it’s been done properly (many haven’t.) Ditto a conversion to Dolomite Sprint power. Turning the latter on its head, has the stock 1998cc engine been swapped along the way with a lesser 1850 Dolly engine? Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection was used on last of the Stateside TR7s, although emission-sapping gear meant it was a good 10bhp down normal UK cars.
  • Various styles and types of trim were tried – and usually they all age rapidly; the tartan like seat facings are very hard to replicate now. A lot of TRs are running around with naff seat covers to hide the deterioration.
  • Is the TR7 winking at you? It’s not a come-on… sluggish or no show headlamps are usually due to dodgy wiring or the motors being on the way out – around £45 a pop to fi x if it’s the latter.
  • The TR7 is a lot more watertight than early TRs, and this includes the convertibles. As always, inspect the rag top for wear, damage and ageing plus check (and smell) for a weather worn cabin.
  • Although it’s of scant consolation after 30 years of use and deterioration on the road, it is reckoned that cars made from 1979/80 are the best built. Whatever, even though parts supply is pretty decent from Triumph specialists (Robsport International has just started marketing proper heater controls for instance), there’s little value in restoring a basket case unless it’s something rare or special.

Three Of A Kind

Another 70s Brit that was supposed to be in tune with the times and as a result failed to live up to its name, the Jensen-Healey is an underrated, great value, soft-riding sports classic. Most are convertible, but the Jensen GT (hatchback) is a good practical tourer. Build quality and a fi ckle if fast Lotus twin cam engine virtuallykilled the car, but today these problems can be fi xed and club support is pretty strong.
Arch in-house rival, the MGB almost outlived the TR7 and certainly lives longer in most hearts. A simple, solid, dependable easy-going, easy owning classic that is full of character, everybody should own at least one in their lives. As with the Triumph the roadster is most coveted, but GT is an immensely practical 2+2. Antiquated even when new, a TR7 runs rings round the MG on the road and is a lot more civilised.
Fiat X1/9
Fiat X1/9
This is the car both MG and Triumph should have made… Thoroughly up to date at the time and still modern in feel, the mid-engine Fiat is more like a baby Ferrari with classic mid-ship handling; onlymoderate straight line pace lets it down. Not well built plus they usually rot like mad, but a good one can still be purchased cheaply and it’s certainly one that will appreciate over time. Buy on condition, not price here.


It’s prediction time! We reckon that not only is this Triumph a vastly misunderstood TR, but one of the best value bets for 2008. They are cheap, cheerful and civilised – and have a character of their very own. So, if you’re in the mood for a budget sports classic then give a TR7 a test drive. And its due.

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User Comments

This review has 1 comments

  • having owned TR7's since 1994 (a 1979 fixed head) I've become used to the secondhand comments from the pub 'experts' and admittedly I'm quite defensive towards them but given the choice of a trip to italy in a 7 or a 6 I'd go for the 7 dhc every time. the comfort & handling is so much better and as for performance, how many genuine 150bhp 6's are out there? I'm now driving a TR7 V8 conversion, done properly and for what I paid for it I don't think there is and thing to touch it for value for money and smile per mile

    Comment by: Jim Sawyer     Posted on: 08 Sep 2011 at 08:07 AM

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