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Triumph Stag

Whats the snag now? Published: 7th Mar 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Triumph’s one-time enduring 2+2 is now endearing, thanks to over 40 year’s work of development by specialists and owners. Classy, cultured and convivial, it’s now one of the best GTs on the market

Has any car ever failed to realise its potential as spectacularly as the Triumph Stag? Quickly christened the Snag because of the litany of potential faults that QUICKLY cropped up in period, this V8-powered four-seater convertible was in a class of its own when new, and many would say that it still is.

The Stag should have been a world beater, with its suave lines, unique 3.0-litre V8 and a soundtrack to die for. Throw in four-seat practicality (which included a decent boot) and it’s easy to see why the Triumph Stag should have beaten all comers.

In the turbulent seventies though, the Stag didn’t just fail to beat its rivals; it bombed disastrously thanks to shoddy build quality and indifferent dealers who couldn’t sort out the array of faults that invariably afflicted most of the examples that rolled off the production lines.

But all that was then – this is now. In the 21st century, Stag ownership is a very different proposition. Proper restorations and sympathetic upgrades can iron out any flaws in the original product, so Stag ownership can now easily be a rewarding, enjoyable and surprisingly cheap experience. The key – as ever – is to ensure that you buy a great car, which can be much easier said than done…

HISTORY

1970 The Stag arrives in June, having first been dreamt up in the mid-1960s. 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 specification for the Stag changed constantly; first it was to have the 2.0-litre straight-six of the 2000 saloon. Then the 2.5PI unit was to be fitted and there was even talk of using the 3.5-litre Rover V8. But the 3.0-litre Triumph V8 project was already well underway, plus Triumph and Rover had only just become stablemates in the BL empire.

Consequently, their respective engineers felt the companies were still direct rivals, so it was decided that the 3.0-litre V8 would power Triumph’s new budget grand tourer.

When the Stag hits the UK market, it features its own 2997cc V8 engine)essentially two Dolomite engines merged into one) and a choice of manual or automatic transmissions. The rest of the car is a mix of 2.5Pi saloon but the Stag is more than a chop top 2000.

1971 The long awaited Stag reaches US showrooms, but the less tolerant American car buyers are less likely to continue product development for Triumph. As a result, the whole exercise becomes a corporate disaster…

1972 In October, the highly desirable overdrive (on 3rd and top) becomes standard on all cars fitted with a manual gearbox although the well suited automatics are still preferred. 

1973 Triumph launches a Mk2 Stag in February. Changes are generally minor; they include the fitment of a matt black tail panel and sills, plus new instruments. The wheel trims are also now completely silver, a hard top becomes standard and the rear quarter windows are deleted from the hood. Mechanically, the V8 featured a higher compression engine and a modified cooling system. From this point on changes become increasingly minor. In April the alloy wheels are superseded by wire wheels on the options list, then three months later the Stag is withdrawn from the US market.

1974 Hazard and seat belt warning lights are fitted from January, then from March air-conditioning is cut from the options list as few owners took up this expensive but desirable accessory. 

1975 Alloy wheels, tinted glass and a laminated windscreen become standard in October, a year before the stronger Borg-Warner Type 65 automatic gearbox replaces the previously fitted Type 35 unit.

1977 In June the final Stag is built; it’s number 25,939 off the production line. That means an average of just 3705 cars have been built each, which is well below British Leyland’s predictions…

DRIVING ANDPRESS COMMENTS

Running late by two years and priced £500 above the originally proposed £1500 price point, the Stag should have been an impressive machine, but when Autocar got its hands on a very early manual car, it didn’t initially seem all that impressed. The fuel consumption was high, the performance disappointing (and significantly below what Triumph claimed), while refinement levels weren’t up to the standard you’d expect of a decent grand tourer, thanks to far too much wind noise especially with the excellent hard top in place.

One of the most disconcerting things about the standard Stag is the over-assisted power steering, which can feel as though the wheel isn’t connected to anything. It’s possible to adjust things so there’s more feel, but even in 1970 – when power steering was rarely fitted to mainstream cars – Autocar, along with others such as Hot Car (who particularly said it wouldn’t like to drive a Stag fast in the wet), wasn’t especially enamoured with the set up.

Autocar magazine made numerous comparisons to the 2.5 PI saloon, with which the Stag shares much of its suspension. The two cars were pretty much on a par with each other when it came to performance, while both featured soft suspension set up which took some getting used to if the car was to be driven with any real commitment.

What made the biggest difference to the Stag’s usability, and the confidence it instilled in its driver, was the weather conditions. In the wet the car could be a real handful, “the tail sometimes letting go under acceleration without warning,” but “under better conditions the Stag is a fine touring car with a long-legged character which eats up miles very easily.”

Intriguingly, although Autocar’s Stag review was hardly gushing, it concluded that: “The Stag is one of those cars which you appreciate the more you drive it… We liked it so much in fact that we shall soon be adding one to our long term test fleet as soon as we can get delivery.”

That automatic car arrived soon after, and while it never left testers stranded, it suffered from a variety of issues, such as split washer bottles (three in quick succession), a fuel gauge that read more than half-full even when the tank was empty, plus an optimistic speedometer.

In those days, magazines, such as the weeklies, bought their own long-term test vehicles and so ran them for as long as it wanted; 18 months after its first running report (filed just over a year after the Stag was delivered), the Triumph was still on the magazine’s fleet.

It was still largely admired, but three years and 26,000 miles after the car was made the exhaust was falling apart, the half-shafts and diff had been replaced and the electric fuel pump was giving trouble but the review ended with the words, “The list of significant trouble after 26,000 miles is shorter than average – which is a reflection on the reliability of too many modern cars… Next year we may well buy a replacement Stag embodying the several small improvements which are the outcome of three years’ experience and development.”

Autocar did buy that second Stag, which it ran for 24,000 miles until the model went out of production in 1977. Less troublesome than its predecessor, it was clear that there was still room for development – but this later car was a definite improvement over the first. Sadly, by then it was all too late though, with the Stag about to be killed off.

Rival Motor had also had bad experiences with the car and had an engine fail on one, but that didn’t dampen its enthusiasm, especially for the Mk2, where it praised the improved power steering and better handling.

VALUES

John Ward set up Stag specialist EJ Ward way back in 1981; he’s now handed over the reins to his son Mick. Unsurprisingly, Mick knows the Stag inside out, with EJ Ward focusing solely on the model, whether that’s for parts, servicing, upgrades, restoration or sales.

Says Mick: “Stag buyers are generally older, experienced enthusiasts who want the best car they can find – whether that’s to use or to show. The Stag makes a superb long-distance tourer, and we have several customers who undertake big trips; one has just driven to the Arctic Circle and back, while another has just driven through Spain, Portugal and Southern France. And all without a hitch.”

These Stag buyers want a car they can just use; they don’t want a project and naturally they expect reliability and usability. Mick continues: “A lot of the Stags for sale aren’t as good as buyers think; it’s not unusual for somebody to buy a car then bring it to us for appraisal, only to be told that it needs a lot of work. One chap recently bought a Stag for £7000 online, then brought it to us only to find that it needs new floors along with replacement inner and outer wings and sills. By the time it’s all done the car could easily owe him £30,000 – for which he could have bought one of the best Triumph Stags out there.”

The problem – as ever – is that there aren’t enough good cars to go round. Everybody wants a minter, but such cars have invariably had much money spent on them by doting owners – who don’t then want to sell. If you’re lucky enough to find a truly superb Stag for sale which is fully restored and sympathetically upgraded, you could part with as much as £25,000. However, such cars might have had up to £40,000 spent on them – which is why their owners won’t generally let them go. You don’t need to spend £25,000 to buy a super Stag though; something that’s ready to drive across Europe or show competitively could be yours for £15,000. Spend £12,000 and you’ll still get a really good car – but spend significantly less than this and the chances are you’ll end up with something which will need a lot of expenditure in the coming years.

Mick adds: “If you’re spending big money on a Stag you need to make sure it’s had some worthwhile upgrades. The engine should have been fully rebuilt, with everything balanced in the process. The most valuable Stags have invariably had a modern four-speed automatic gearbox fitted (see separate panel), while they’ll be leather-trimmed and will have had a bare-metal repaint as part of a documented rebuild.”

Mick follows this up with some interesting advice: “Because you’re likely to be buying a restoration project if you buy a £6000 Stag, you could be better off buying a £1500 car instead, as both will probably need a complete rebuild anyway. If you do buy a project, make sure it’s as original as possible; putting right somebody else’s bodged restoration is likely to be even more painful and costly than just overhauling a very tatty original car.”.

Of course not all £7000 Stags are heaps, but at this level most are riddled with filler and mechanical issues. So while many £7000 Stags have an MoT, if you take the long-term view, buying a car at this level will ultimately cost you a lot more than buying a £12,000 example.

According to Mick, Stag buyers generally don’t worry too much about whether or not their car is road tax-free, and while there are devotees of manual-gearbox cars, autos are also very popular. The most popular colours at the moment are red, blue and white; yellow, purple and brown are less desirable, but values aren’t affected by a car’s hue.

What will obliterate a Stag’s value is how original it is. Mike asserts: “While sympathetic upgrades will boost a Stag’s worth, if it doesn’t have the original 3.0-litre V8 its value will be decimated. There aren’t many cars left now with Rover V8s still fitted, which is just as well because converting back to the proper unit can easily cost £5000 all-in.”

Mick concludes: “If you’ve got a limited budget, look at as many cars as possible before you buy. Find the best bodyshell that you can – if it’s been restored, has it been done properly? Fixing tired mechanicals is usually straightforward and can be done for a fixed fee, but bodywork repairs can be open-ended when it comes to costs.

“A good Stag is cheap to own, cheap to run and will be reliable in service – the key is to buy a car that really is good, rather than one which just appears to be.”

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 flush the water jackets through so coolant can flow 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 and electronic ignition, which combined can release a reliable 175bhp.

A really stiff clutch can be caused by the engine and gearbox running out of line with each other. The easiest fix is to use a modified clutch plate, from James Paddock for £210. This is more tolerant to running slightly out of true and also gives a much lighter pedal. If you prefer an auto but want a smoother box, a modern Jaguar 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 fitted. The originals can stick, leading to snatching in corners, so the Datsun parts can really improve the driving experience and so worth using.

What To Look For

GENERAL

The Stag’s trim is durable, but new bits are readily available. The most likely source of problems are the front seats where the diaphragms can collapse. So can the foam in the seat backs, but everything is off the shelf to put things right; the best source being Wolverhampton-based Aldridge Trimming.

Check the hood, which might mean removing the hard top (if still fitted). All Stags have a mohair hood, which should be jet black. If what’s fitted is grey, it’s a double duck roof, which isn’t as durable. While the hood itself is usually long-lived, the plastic windows go brittle and disintegrate. To replace these, the hood will need to be removed altogether.

Exterior trim is generally still available new, and anything that isn’t can be found second-hand. There aren’t any common electrical glitches, apart from sticking fuel pumps, which prevents the engine from starting. If you can’t get the engine to fire, listen for ticking from the fuel pump, which is located in the offside of the boot. Everything is available new, in terms of lighting, switchgear and instrumentation so don’t worry too much.

BODY AND CHASSIS

Major corrosion can be an issue, especially in the sills, floorpans, wings and seams between the inner and outer wheelarches. Cover sills are sometimes fitted; 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 all meet here, which is why it’s so complicated which is a good tell-tale sign.

RUNNING GEAR

Most Stags have a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic gearbox, a Type 35 until October 1975, then a Type 65. The rest relied upon a four-speed manual transmission with overdrive on all except a few Mk1 cars. Until early 1973 there was an A-Type Laycock de Normanville unit, then a J-Type.

Change quickly; baulking or crunching means worn synchromesh. 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.

On a manual, listen for chattering by the bellhousing. Dip the clutch, if noise disappears the clutch thrust bearing has worn. This will mean a new clutch; replacement is straightforward, but decent-quality units are hard to source.

ENGINE

The V8’s poor reputation was deserved when the car was new, but all problems can now be fixed. Most issues relate to the cooling system. The needle should settle at the half-way mark. If the engine isn’t getting warm the owner has probably removed the thermostat.

Although the rad is usually blamed, it’s generally the cylinder head castings at fault so replacing or uprating the rest of the cooling system won’t necessarily reduce overheating. It’s essential the system is flushed out annually and that the correct level of anti-freeze is maintained in the system; a 30/70 anti-freeze/water mix is recommended.

Weak coolant corrodes the heads, causing blockages, so check the entire radiator is hot. There’s a good chance that just the top or bottom will be hot; if the engine hasn’t overheated, a replacement radiator will fix things.

BODY AND CHASSIS

The bottom of each door rots where the skin is folded over onto the frame; it corrodes from the inside out. Underneath the car are outriggers on each side; those at the front rot first, 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.

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 here, the petrol tank will also rust.

If there’s a hard top still fitted, check its condition, particularly around the side window apertures, along its leading edge as well as the edges where the guttering is located. A heated screen was used – does it still work?

RUNNING GEAR

Propshaft joints wear, but replacing them is simple. The driveshafts can be more complicated, as some have replaceable UJs, while some don’t. Peel back the gaiter to see what’s fitted; a circlip means it’s replaceable while no circlip means it’s sealed for life – so the whole driveshaft has to be replaced.

All Stags have power steering, so check for leaks. Vague feel suggests worn suspension and steering rack mounting bushes. Polyurethane items are a popular upgrade; there are 18 in total. If the handling feels especially twitchy it may be because of worn trailing arm bushes. Replacing them is easy, and it’s worth fitting polyurethane units while you’re at it.

Twitchy handling points to binding splined joints in the driveshafts. A good clean and a bit of CV joint grease is usually the solution.

Get someone to follow you on the test drive, to compare speedo readings – because the incorrect rear axle is fitted. Stag diffs have been scarce for a long time, which is why some owners fit a Triumph 2000 (with 4:1 ratio) or 2.5PI unit (with 3.45:1 ratio).

Stags had 14-inch pressed-steel wheels until the end of 1975 – after this, alloy wheels were standard.

ENGINE

Overheating can occur when the Torquatrol viscous-coupled engine fan fails, although at high speeds the airflow over the engine keeps things cool. Get the engine up to temperature and see if the fan cuts in – a Kenlowe fan is worthwhile too.

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 the engine is running.

As you’re driving the car, take a look at the oil pressure if a gauge has been fitted – there wasn’t one as standard. While cruising at 3000rpm expect to see 30-40psi, with at least 10psi at tickover.

With the engine idling and the bonnet up, listen for tapping noises from worn cam followers and their bores. If you’re lucky it could just be the valve clearances, which give the same symptoms. While the clearances don’t go out of adjustment very quickly, they are fiddly to set up, so often get overlooked. All part of a good tune up.

Three Of A Kind

BMW 3-SERIES CONVERTIBLE
BMW 3-SERIES CONVERTIBLE
You’ve got an array of 3-Series generations to choose from, depending on how usable you want your four-seater drop-top to be. The newer the car, the more space and extra comfort and safety tech you’ll get. While the E30 is now becoming collectable, its interior isn’t that spacious; the E36 which followed it is more readily available and prices are very tempting.
MERCEDES W124 CONVERTIBLE
MERCEDES W124 CONVERTIBLE
With the build quality of a tank, the big Merc is from another era when pitched against the Stag – but prices are much the same and the nineties E-Class is utterly usable. With ample room for four, lots of kit and a choice of 2.2 four-pot or 3.2 straight-six engines to choose from, values will never be lower than they are now. But you’ll need a big garage to house one and a sizable wallet for repairs.
RELIANT SCIMITAR GTC
RELIANT SCIMITAR GTC
Just like the shooting brake GTE, the Scimitar GTC has seen some significant gains in value over the past couple of years, to the point where you’ll need almost as much to secure a good one of these as to buy an equivalent condition Stag. Ford V6 power means reliability and pace, and if you want to indulge in some upgrades, there’s a wide array to choose from.

Verdict

Unfortunately for Triumph, the Stag’s poor reliability overshadowed the car’s many good points. Stylish good looks, saloon-like practicality and superb sports performance were on offer from the start, but they were frequently overlooked. Now the car is undoubtedly a classic, there are other reasons for buying a Stag – with affordability and great parts supply, two of the most important. But there’s a third very tempting facet of Stag ownership that makes it all the more alluring in the 21st century – that of great reliability.

While the car was hardly a cast iron investment when new, the know-how gained over the last 35 years means you can now run a Stag socially every day, and enjoy trouble-free motoring. Yes really!



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