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Triumph Acclaim

Published: 17th Jul 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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After an illustrious model line up, Triumph’s curtain call was a Japanese saloon care of Honda. And yet the Acclaim was one of Triumph’s best ever cars

After an illustrious model line up, Triumph’s curtain call was a Japanese saloon care of Honda. And yet the Acclaim was one of Triumph’s best ever cars

In many ways, the Acclaim was Triumph repaying British Leyland for saving the company 20 years earlier. For all the good quality cars it made, Triumph was always fi nancially in the mire, so much so that the bankrupt company had to be rescued by The Standard Motor Company just after the war, to form Standard-Triumph, only to lose its identity after the Leyland takeover in 1961, to save the ailing outfi t. Now called British Leyland, the once giant corporation was also in deep trouble by the mid 1970s.

Not that Triumph saved BL single-handedly. No, thank Honda for that. By the late 1970s it was obvious that BL had no new cars to offer an increasingly discerning buying base. The Allegro and Marina had become motoring jokes and the Maxi and Princess came good too late. Worse still, the supposed Mini replacement, the Metro, was two years away, while the next new family car, the Maestro, was due in 1983 at the earliest.

What British Leyland desperately needed was a stop-gap family car – and fast! A tie-up was the only answer and, after surveying the market, the company believed Honda was as the best partner, thanks to its regarded engineering expertise, although it did try to jump into bed with Chrysler UK and market the Horizon first.

A collaboration deal was finally signed on Boxing Day 1979, just in time for the new Ballade (Civic) to be singled out. Just 18 months later, in October 1981 and two days after the last ‘real’ Triumph – a TR7 was made – the Acclaim saloon was launched.

Why BL chose the Triumph company was said to be due to that brand having the most appropriate character for the car, but it also has to be said that, after the demise of the dated Dolomites a year earlier, only the TR7 kept the badge alive. The Acclaim was basically a rebadged Honda, although BL stressed that its Midlands engineers re-tuned the suspension for European tastes. Anyway, BL was a master at badge engineering, so did it really matter that it was effectively a Honda being built at Cowley?

Not at £4688 for starters, which made the 1.3-litre car the same price as the old Dolomite 1500HL, and therefore very competitive in the market, although the VW Jetta (a booted Golf) was slightly cheaper, but half as well equipped. With the Acclaim’s HL pack you got laminated screen, cloth trim, door mirrors, side window demist, heated rear screen, levelling headlamps, radio and more – such as a proper fi ve-speed gearbox and not the usual overdrive Triumph always stuck to.

‘Totally equipped to Triumph’ was BL’s sales pitch and certainly the Acclaim was a well engineered, well appointed front-wheel drive saloon, that was bang up to date and just right for the times – just like the Triumph 1300 was 15 years earlier.

Here’s the irony of it all; Triumph stumbled upon the right recipe all those years before and dumped it, just as its rivals were cottoning on to it, stepping back in time to rear-wheel drive.

Apart from an economy trimmed ‘L’ model, the Acclaim remained largely untouched during its short production life, although there was a highly potent Turbo model, badged Avon, after Avon Coachworks who provided a helping hand with the car. It may have looked a bit boy-racer like, with its two tone paint and Turbo side stripes, but Avon Turbo Triumph Acclaim – to give it the full winded title – had the pace of a Dolomite Sprint.

Japanese carmakers change their designs regularly, so the a new Civic was just three years away, by which time BL had decided that the Triumph name no longer fi tted the bill, and so it became the Rover 200 series, and the onceproud name was shelved. However, the Honda tie up was much more fruitful and went on to provide the bases for the 600 and 800 ranges, only for the honourable car maker, that excelled with its engineering and integrity, to be shabbily dumped by its British partner (now known as Jaguar Rover Triumph) in favour of a fl irtatious BMW. And the rest is history… except to say that the Triumph name may yet return – on the rump of a BMW MINI!

It was a triumph of good common sense

One magazine said that the Acclaim was the best Triumph since the Dolomite – the pre-war one that is, and certainly there’s was a feeling of modernity that had been wanting ever since the 1300 was launched in the mid 60s. The 1335cc ohc engine was extremely lively for its size and modest 70bhp output, endowing the Acclaim with the performance of an 1850 Dolomite, but providing up to 40mpg on two-star. Handling was tight and secure, with no Herald-like traits, and even the ride (something the Japs hadn’t yet mastered) was deemed good… so perhaps BL engineers really did work their magic?.

In fact, apart from its heritage and rear seat room, which was no better than a 1300, there’s was little not to like about the classy Acclaim, although there was never an estate version to compensate for the meagre boot. And, didn’t BL miss a trick (as usual) by not offering the cute Capri-like coupe and the similar badged Prelude as a modern day Vitesse?

Motor called it right: “Despite being a nearperfect Honda clone, it would be churlish to criticise the Honda for that. The important thing is that Triumph now has a car of the right size, performance, economy and price,” adding that, “By the same token, buyers who value traditional Japanese virtues now have no excuse not to buy British.”

What we got instead was a taste of modern motoring, where reliability and build quality wasn’t the domain of the expensive prestigious brands. Apart from the thin metal and resultant rusting, the Acclaim was a brilliantly durable dependable buy, new or used. It also subconsciously brought many round to owning a Japanese car, where before the thought of something foreign was just too ghastly to contemplate – perhaps Honda ultimately benefi tted from this?

Agreed, the Acclaim was never a true blue Triumph, but it did give some much needed credibility to the British badge, before it fi nally faded away. It also made history by being the fi rst mainstream vehicle to be made in the UK, in collaboration with a foreign vehicle manufacturer, paving the way for Honda to set up shop in England along with Nissan and Toyota. The sad thing is that, even with so few left now, one of the best Triumphs for decades may never become a true classic car.

 

When The Car Was The Star

There are those of us who are old enough to remember Stirling Moss testing the Acclaim on Top Gear when it was a serious motoring programme… but aides from that the last Triumph car (to date) has not really made much of a screen impact. When it was not decorating the background of Dempsey & Makepeace, or long forgotten sitcoms such as Two of Us and Mother’s Ruin, an Acclaim L was a car destined to be the star prize of Sale of the Century or 3-2-1 – “The family car with a two band radio as standard!”. All together now, Woo…



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