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Triumph Stag

Triumph Stag Published: 10th Oct 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Triumph Stag

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Manual overdrive cars
  • Worst model: Anything neglected
  • Budget buy: Untidy autos
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 4425 x 1628mm
  • Spares situation: Very good
  • DIY ease?: Generally fine
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Always if gradually
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Much better than its reputation suggests
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The Stag took ages to rid itself of the snag tag, but now it’s one of the best affordable and easiest to own 2+2 GTs on the block with a fantastic club and specialist back up

If you’re after a V8-powered four-seat convertible there are surprisingly few contenders. Aston Martin V8 or Rolls-Royce Corniche maybe. Or a brace of Mercedes-Benzs like the 280SE or a R107 SL? But what if you’re not over-burdened with cash – suddenly your options are seriously limited. Indeed, there is only really one option and that’s the Triumph Stag.

If at this point you’re recoiling in horror at the thought of taking on a four-wheeled liability, we say read on and let us convince you that this stylish Triumph is far better than its reputation would have you believe. Because after all, if the Stag’s terrible reputation was entirely deserved none of these cars would survive and there wouldn’t be thriving club and specialists scenes. That fact that there are both illustrates very clearly that the Stag is very much worth considering, for a whole raft of reasons.

History

1970 Stag arrives in June, having first been dreamed up in the mid-1960s as a clever take on the 2.5Pi saloon. After talk of using the 3.5-litre Rover V8, the 3.0-litre Triumph V8 project which was already well underway was pushed through. Triumph and Rover had only just become stablemates in the BL empire, consequently, their respective engineers felt the companies were still rivals.

Then BLMC chairman Donald Stokes delayed everything by asking for the new Rover V8 engine to be tried out, but Triumph test engineers said it wouldn’t fit. They were wrong, as many Stag enthusiasts now well know and one wonders whether it was more a political ploy than anything else… With hindsight that trusty American V8 would have changed the entire course of Stag history. As a result, the Stag hit the UK market, with its own 2997cc V8 (never used in any other model) and a choice of manual or automatic transmissions.

1971 The ‘British SL’ reaches US showrooms, but American car buyers are less likely to continue product development for Triumph, and the whole exercise becomes a corporate disaster… The first 1000 Stags featured normal single point ignition, while dual points arrived in 1971.

1972 Early on, 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. In October, overdrive becomes standard on all cars with a manual gearbox (see box out for more details).

1973 Triumph reveals a MkII 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 issue and the rear quarter windows are deleted from the hood. From this point on the changes become increasingly minor.

In April the alloy wheels are superseded by wire wheels on the options list (very few cars were so equipped), then three months later the Stag is withdrawn from the North American market. 1974 Hazard and seat belt warning lights are fi tted from January, then from March air-conditioning is cut from the options list.

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 fi tted 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 year, which is somewhat below British Leyland’s initial hopeful predictions…

Driving and press comments

Three times monthly Car magazine pitted the Stag against the Reliant Scimitar GTE, the first time in October 1970. While the two might not seem like the most obvious adversaries, Car spotted that both of them featured a torquey 3.0-litre engine, 2+2 seating and plenty of luggage space – both were also priced at around £2000 and handled pretty well too. The fact that one was a convertible and the other a shooting brake didn’t seem to matter.

Car went into that initial twin test making it clear that it was a big fan of the Scimitar as it came from a small manufacturer that was trying to take on the might of the big boys – such as Triumph.

The review began: “It makes no pretence at being a sports car in the traditional sense of the phrase. Neither, although BLMC would have you think otherwise, does it quite qualify as a GT, either in the original or in the modern, devalued meaning. In fact it is a true, straightforward personal touring car – a throwback to the tourers that became a halfway house between saloons and two-seaters between the wars. As such, it has a lot of appeal, if BLMC have done their market research correctly, to the man who wants to move away from the staid dignity of a saloon, yet not that far away”.

Noting that the Scimitar and Stag were very evenly matched in terms of acceleration and top speed, the review continued: “The Stag is held back to some extent by its high fi rst gear, not to mention extra weight, though on the other hand the engine is a willing revver… Because of the improvements made in recent years, neither of these cars can be considered fast but particularly when fi tted with overdrive they are both splendid machines for motorway cruising at 100mph or more”.

“The Stag is easily the more restful car to drive over long distances, being quiet and smooth by any standards, let alone the not very high ones of the Reliant. Similarly, the Stag is a much softer car in the suspension department. This gives rise to body roll during brisk cornering but pays off in facilitating much better adhesion than the Reliant on bumpy surfaces. The Stag, thanks to compliant springs and an independent rear end, has outstanding grip at back, enabling one to be liberal with the throttle even when accelerating out of the tightest corners”.

Despite the Stag’s greater sophistication it was the Scimitar that won the test, simply because of its more sporting nature which made it more satisfying to drive hard. The verdict was the same when the monthly repeated the exercise in 1973, then once again in 1974… by which time the verdict from the testers was that the Triumph was a bit “wishy-washy and neither fish or fowl” but admitted it was an excellent tourer. In a way, that’s correct; the Stag is no hard core sports car, nor is it a simple soft topped saloon. And there still lies the car’s eternal appeal we reckon. The Stag is fairly accommodating as a 2+2 for growing families – it’s much better than a Merc SL if not W124 or 2+2 E-type and there’s a decentsized boot, too.

Values and marketplace

David Aspinall has been running Norfolk-based Anglian Triumph Services (angliantriumphservices. co.uk) since 1990. He sells and works on all Triumphs, including the Stag. Says David: “Prices are all over the place so you really do need to shop around. There’s no shortage of cars for sale but a lot of them aren’t as nice as they look; owners often think their car is genuinely mint when it isn’t. I’ve found that the mainstream classic car press can be a good source of nice Stags, but eBay tends to have the widest selection at the fairest prices – more so than the club magazines nowadays.

“Unless you already know the car or it’s obvious that it’s mint and priced very reasonably, you’re probably better off not buying the first Stag that you look at. Even if you do miss a really good Stag there will be another available somewhere, although most of these cars are in no better than average condition.

“A pre-purchase inspection is good advice for any classic car but with a Stag it’s essential as there are quite a few weak areas and if a car is afflicted by several of them, a seemingly good car could actually need significant expenditure.

“Buyers tend to want originality up to a point, although things that improve reliability or usability can make a car more attractive to buyers, if not necessarily more valuable. What buyers do want though is the proper 3.0-litre V8; Stags with a Rover V8, Triumph straight-six or Essex V6 are worth significantly less than original-spec cars. It’s not as though you can buy a non-original car and convert it cheaply yourself, as used V8s start at £500 for something that needs a rebuild.

“Buy something good and you’ll probably pay £1500 for it, then you’ve got the cost of fitting it. Be careful when buying used cylinder heads as many have been skimmed so many times that they’re now unusable. With new heads no longer available you can easily pay £2000 for a set of reconditioned items. “The Stag appeals mainly to older owners who want the ease of driving an automatic, so these are the cars in most demand. It is possible to convert from one to the other but it’s a big job and not really worthwhile from a financial point of view. Some owners have fitted modern four-speed Jag-sourced automatic transmissions but properly set up the original three-speed unit is fine. One of my customers fitted a Jaguar four-speed automatic gearbox then went back to a three-speed Stag unit as it was less troublesome.

“Expect to pay at least £10,000 for something that doesn’t need any work; if you stumble on a distress sale you might spend less, but it’s the luck of the draw. If you can stretch to £15,000 you can purchase a superb Stag that needs nothing but it still won’t win any prizes if that’s your thing. If you want a show winner you can spend as much as £25,000 but very few of these cars are worth more than £20,000. If you’re spending big money on a Stag you need to make sure the engine has been fully rebuilt, with everything balanced in the process. The car will also have had a bare-metal repaint as part of a documented rebuild.

“As a seventies classic some of the Stag colours are an acquired taste, and while your focus should be on condition when buying it’s natural that you’ll shy away from – or steer towards – certain colours. An average Stag finished in red will find a buyer much more easily than a mint brown car, so if you’re not fussed about the finish it can be worth looking at the less popular hues.

“The key thing to remember” reckons David “is that it’s a buyer’s market as there are plenty of these cars to go round, so don’t rush into a purchase. Also, before taking on a project that needs major work be sure to cost everything that’s needed. While the Stag is an easy car to work on, if you take on an example that needs a lot done to it you could easily find yourself spending significantly more than if you were to just buy a really nice example in the first place”.

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 (a US Holley is favourite) and especially 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 around £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 over £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 or specially made CV items from SC Parts. The originals can stick, leading to snatching in corners, so an upgrade part can really improve the driving experience. Another modification is to fit the entire rear axle assembly from a BMW; Monarch Stags is a good specialist to talk to concerning all Stag swaps.

The real snag is the bodywork

Major corrosion can be a major issue with the Triumph, 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 also rots, and it’s an awkward area to repair properly as the leading edge of the rear wings, sills and B-post all meet here. 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 two outriggers on each side; those at the front rot first, 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.

Have a good look at the trailing edge of the boot lid, which can dissolve. 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 fitted, check its condition, particularly around the side window apertures, along its leading edge as well as the edges where the guttering is located as many are neglected.

Does it still stagger you?

Most Stags wore a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic gearbox, a Type 35 until October 1975, then a Type 65 – that’s okay as it suited the car’s touring character. The rest got a four-speed manual transmission with overdrive on all except a few Mk1 cars. The first problem with the gearbox is usually worn second gear synchromesh. Also flick it in and out of overdrive; if it’s sluggish or doesn’t engage, it needs servicing (many are neglected) or there’s an electrical fault, such as a broken wire or duff solenoid. Rebuilds are rarely needed.

On a manual Stag listen for chattering from behind the engine. Dip the clutch and if the 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. Propshaft universal joints wear, but replacing them is simple. The driveshafts can be more complicated though, as some have replaceable universal joints 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 steering suggests worn suspension and steering rack mounting bushes. Polyurethane items are a popular upgrade; there are 18 in total, including the steering rack mounts. If the handling feels especially twitchy the trailing arm bushes have worn. Replacing them is easy, and it’s worth fitting polyurethane units while you’re at it.

Twitchy handling points to binding telescopic splined joints in the drive shafts. A good clean and a bit of CV joint grease is the solution, and it usually only occurs with infrequently used cars – cured by modern aftermarket replacements. Check diff’s quill shaft as it can break resulting in major repairs.

Stag gains Royle seal

Vince Royle has owned Triumphs for a long time; he’s still got the Lenham-bodied Spitfire that he bought 40 years ago. Since then he’s also bought a couple of TR7s (including a V8), then in 2016 he acquired the Stag you see in the pictures, from a fellow Triumph Sports Six Club member.

Says Vince: “The timing was perfect as the car was available at the right price, and I wanted something more suited to long-distance touring than the Spitfire. We’re very active as a club and we take our Triumphs to Europe at least once a year, sometimes more. The Spitfire doesn’t have that much cabin space so something with a roomier interior and a bigger boot was just the job.

“When I bought the car it needed a bit of tidying in places, but so far it’s been to France without any problems; the previous owner had also crossed the Channel on several occasions, never with any issues. It helps that the car is fitted with a high-gain radiator core so it never runs hot – other than that the Stag is pretty original, down to the factory-fitted V8.

“I’ve already undertaken some jobs on the Stag – I do most things myself as these are cars that are pretty straightforward to work on. The focus so far has been the interior as I’ve re-trimmed the front seats, which has made an enormous difference to comfort levels on long journeys. It needs a new hood and because they’re quite complicated to fit I’ll be getting someone else to do it.

“Since acquiring my Stag I’ve done about 4000 miles and it’s proved to be a very good buy. I wouldn’t have gone for the Saffron Yellow paintwork if I’d had a choice but it’s really grown on me. I love the smoothness of the engine, the sound and the effortless performance – it’s the consummate cruiser. Parts availability is excellent too – I’ve been dealing with Robsport which keeps everything in stock and items are always despatched very quickly. Going by what I’ve bought so far, the prices are very reasonable and the quality is excellent. Since buying my car a few friends have driven it and they now all want a Stag of their own”.

MK1 & MK2 differences worth knowing

One of the leading lights in Stags – Tony Hart – once told us 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 removed from 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 and an important point, the Mark IIs used thinner gauge metal as BL had switched suppliers…

It’s now a great

The V8’s poor reputation was deserved when the car was new, but all problems can now be fixed quite easily. Most issues relate to the cooling system, so drive the car for at least 10 miles, watching the temperature gauge closely. The needle should settle at the halfway mark – much higher or lower signals trouble. If the engine isn’t getting warm then the owner has probably removed the thermostat (a time honoured bodge)…

Although the radiator is usually blamed for any overheating problems, it’s generally the cylinder head castings that are at fault. Their waterways were often cast badly, restricting coolant flow, so replacing or uprating the rest of the cooling system won’t necessarily reduce overheating.

It’s essential the cooling 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 – 50/50 is chancey. 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 (uprated) radiator will fix most things.

Overheating can occur when the Torquatrol viscous-coupled engine fan fails, although at high speeds the air flow over the engine keeps things cool. Get the engine up to temperature and see if the fan cuts in – a Kenlowe or similar electric fan is worthwhile fitting too – and smany Stags sport one.

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 and a ‘combustion’ smell, so have a sniff.

If a gauge has been fitted – there wasn’t one as standard – at 3000rpm expect to see 30-40psi, with at least 10psi at tickover. If it’s ticking over at closer to 1000rpm there’s a good chance that it’s been craftily upped to increase the oil pressure.

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.

Timing chains infamously stretch and lead to valve and piston clash and need periodical replacement every 25,000 miles or so along with their tensioners.

Three Of A Kind

Jaguar XJ-S
Jaguar XJ-S
Why settle for a V8 when you can have a V12? Or if the fuel and servicing bills sound too much to bear, a straight-six XJS might be more alluring. With the XJS-C you can even have a T-bar roof much like the Triumph’s, although these cars are now very unusual. Instead, you’re more likely to land a convertible which looks much tidier. Values are on the rise though, so bag yours quick.
Mercedes W124 Convertible
Mercedes W124 Convertible
It’s much more modern than the Stag and as a result it’s far more usable, but values are pretty much interchangeable. Cheap cars start at £5000 but something nice is £20k; most are more like £10-£15k. Choose between four-pot 2.2 or straight-six 3.2; the former is by far the most common. Ample space, superb build quality and decent performance are positives, but there’s no glorious V8 soundtrack.
Triumph Scimitar GTC
Triumph Scimitar GTC
The Scimitar GTC was always much more affordable than the Stag, but not any longer because values have climbed significantly of late. It’s easy to see why, as the Scimitar offers many of the attributes of the Triumph although there was only ever a Ford V6 under the bonnet. A plastic body means rust isn’t an issue (check the chassis well though), while performance and economy are both excellent.

Verdict

In period, the Stag’s ’snag’ reputation for being iffy was richly deserved, but thanks to 21st century know-how there’s no longer any reason to be afraid. However, while any Stag can be put right, lowly values ensure the age-old predicament of repair costs potentially spiralling out of control – way beyond the level of buying a superb car in the fi rst place. However, it’s worth persevering when doing your shopping and tracking down a genuinely good car because the Stag really is in a class of its own. This BL missed opportunity (and there’s been several-ed) is a superb long-distance cruiser which remains far more of a bargain SL that it should be – as long as you do your homework when buying.



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