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Triumph Herald

Published: 24th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Triumph Herald
Triumph Herald
Triumph Herald
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It was hailed as the most advanced British small car to appear since the Second World War. So why was the Triumph Herald so old fashioned during the fab and groovy 1960s?

A four-door was never offered here, a hatchback was shelved!

Was the Triumph Herald the last ‘old new’ car ever made by a major UK car manufacturer and suffered all its life as a result? Launched in 1959, the same year as the revolutionary Mini, these two family cars were poles apart. The BMC model was like no other and just right for the new motorway age (the M1 was opened just days after the Earls Court Motor Show), yet for all its hidden cleverness, the staidlooking Triumph Herald harked back to the bygone era the world was fast was leaving behind and seemed content to sit the impending exciting new decade out in the slow lane. The reason, of course, was money! Standard had little to show for taking over the defunct Triumph concern after the last war and its new model was made on a tight budget – plus it had to form the backbone of future models planned over the coming decade.Hence the old fashioned separate chassis when monocoque construction was order of the day, and that old 948cc Standard engine that had to be stretched to breaking point to enable it to survive up until 1980.

In fact, Triumph knew that the Herald was old hat as soon as it hit showrooms. As early as 1964, after initial disappointing sales and a year before the excellent but underrated 1300 saloon surfaced (originally designed to replace the Herald until it was deemed too expensive), Triumph was trying to convince the public that the Herald still had a long bright future ahead of it. While the Herald lagged behind its major rivals, the Triumph badge spelled one upmanship of almost BMW proportions in the 1960s, and the company made sure that the car was better built and furnished than an equivalent Ford Anglia. The blue oval’s humble offering was launched at the same time as the Herald, for similar money, but it was selling like hot cakes. Italian stylist Michelotti penned the clean if elderly looking Herald body that belied its technological design features. For example, the Herald had independent rear suspension before Jaguar even fi tted it to the E-type – ditto the precise rack and pinion steering which gave a fantastic 25ft turning circle (although it would chew the front tyres up if you made a habit of it). Right from the launch there was a Coupe sporting a sexier look and the forerunner to the Spitfi re engine plus a twin-carb saloon, a convertible, a very useful estate and even a van. There was even a hatchback version under consideration to boost the car’s appeal. Was the Herald, in essence, the BMW 3-Series of its day? By 1961, the year Standard-Triumph was gobbled up by Leyland, front discs brakes were optional and then made standard on the Spitfi repowered 12/50 model of 1965, which also wore a standard fabric sunroof. And a heater was mandatory on every model – something you even paid more for on a Cortina, let alone the Anglia. The message was clear from Triumph – don’t judge a book by its cover. But people did.

Nip and tuck

The Herald was always a pleasant little car to drive – it was more refi ned than the Anglia, the BMC 1100 or Vauxhall’s nasty little HA Viva. It was good for 75-80mph, but where the Heralddid come unstuck – literally – was trying to use full power around corners. The Triumph may have featured independent rear suspension for a comfortable ride, but it was a crude affair and the rear wheels took little provocation to tuck themselves in and cause the tail to wag like an excited puppy dog. “If the enthusiast throws the car into his favourite slow corner he is likely to have the smile of enjoyment abruptly off wiped off his face,” commented one prim and proper road test of the day. Not that your dad was into such boy racer antics, of course – he was probably more enthralled by the fantastic engine/front suspension access afforded by the all-opening (if rattle-prone) front end that made DIY work a pleasure, especially since he could even sit on a front tyre while adjusting the valve clearances! Clutch change? No problem… The gearbox came out from the inside and not underneath the car. By the time the Herald finally bowed out in 1971, Ford was already well into the Escort and Vauxhall was on its third generation of Viva. Triumph replaced the Herald with a cheapened 1300 saloon called the Toledo which, illogically reverted to rear-wheel drive and even drum brakes all round. A pleasing more modern family car perhaps but devoid of any character. Without doubt the best Herald was the 13/60 introduced in 1967. With a 1296cc engine and 61bhp it was an honest, peppy, upmarket little car that was as fast as the original Vitesse 1600, although by now the styling was way out of step with fashion and the once standard sunroof sadly became an option. It was also one of the best selling ranges though, shifting 24,000 between 1967/68 out of a total of over 400,000 over 12 years. One can only wonder whether the logical four-door version (strangely never sold in the UK) or that aborted hatchback would have helped sales and saved the proud Triumph name, which petered out in the mid 1980s after producing a rebadged Honda as a fi nal fl ing. Today, the Herald is loved as a cheap ‘n’ cheerful classic with the looks of a grandmother, turning circle of a ballerina and the handling of an ice-skater. You don’t get that with a Focus.

When The Car Was The Star

Standard-Triumph’s tireless PR department ensured that ITC dramas and Merton Park B-fi lms alike were well-stocked with Herald Convertibles – just watch The Edgar Wallace Mysteries or the black & white episodes of The Saint. An inadequate villainous sidekick also uses a white one in Thunderball so his eventual swim with the killer sharks is inevitable – all inadequate villainous sidekicks who drive family cars in 007 fi lms must die in the fourth reel. Ex-agent McGill swapped his trademark Imp for a yellow 1200 Estate in a very good episode of Man in a Suitcase and two excellent Herald chases occur in the 1969 Maltese-set drama Eyewitness and 1974’s The Paper Tiger but the most charming Herald-fi lm has to be Peter Capaldi’s 13/60 in Soft Tops, Hard Shoulders.

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