News : New Triumph TR7 book goes on sale

Mike Humble

The Triumph TR7, which was developed under the codename of Bullet, was British Leyland’s audacious bid to storm the North American sports car market in order to earn the much-needed export dollars to reinvest in their ageing model ranges. Despite ever increasing and savage US safety and emission regulations, Leyland stepped boldly forward while many European manufacturers retreated from the American market. Leyland was famously dogged by poor industrial relations, lack of investment and economic crises that devastated the British car industry.

The styling has mellowed over the years yet the TR7 made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Steve Jackson has done a pretty good job of explaining the stormy story of BL's wedgy wondercar.
The styling has mellowed over the years yet the TR7 made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Steve Jackson has done a pretty good job of explaining the stormy story of BL’s wedgy wondercar

The purpose-built Triumph factory at Speke on Merseyside was shut down just three years after the TR7 was launched and production then moved another two times before the model was killed off in 1981. However, over in Japan, Datsun had created the now-revered classic 240z coupe proving rather convincingly how our own opportunity to produce a compact coupe for one of the biggest market places in the world was criminally squandered.

Steve Jackson has written TR7 – The Bullet that Backfired on British Leyland – a softback 160 page title published by Lily Publications. We were asked to review the book very recently and can confirm that it’s a good read from cover to cover with just the right amount of balance to keep the reader informed and engaged. There have, of course, been a few books written about the TR7 in the past but it’s always good to revisit an old car in print from different authors’ points of view and style.

It’s nicely formatted with some tasteful pictures, too – an nice companion for the coffee table or motoring book shelf. Steve also has a more general interest in British Leyland’s products but his passion and enthusiasm doesn’t seem to bias his opinion in the book – always a tricky thing to avoid when it comes to writing.

The title has just been released for sale, costs £16.99 and the ISBN is 9781907945885 – it can be ordered from the publishers by clicking here.


Mike Humble


  1. Just imagine if the TR7 was built correctly, had a five speed gearbox and a V8 option, it probably would have taken on all comers and continued the fine Triumph tradition of building affordable and good looking sports cars. Yet being built in a strike torn and quality free factory in Liverpool at the height of the city’s union militancy severely harmed the TR 7. It did come right by 1980 when it moved factories and quality was improved, and the Yanks got a V8 ( but why not us), but it was too late and the car was killed off a year later, ending a long range of Triumph sports cars.

    • From memory I think we ‘unofficially’ got 35 examples of the TR8 here in the Home Market.

      A shame the TR7 Sprint version powered by the 16-valve slant-four engine from the Dolomite Sprint was never launched, even though sales brochures and, I think, 16 production examples were produced (again, I am working purely from memory on production numbers). That would have helped to lift the TR7’s sporting role.

      Look at the more recent conversion work by Grinnall involving colour-coding the bumpers, flaring the wheel arches and fitting different wheels and uprated suspension (along with the fitment of the Rover V8 engine), and it makes you think there could have been life for the TR7 well into the 1980s. After all, look how well the wedge-shaped TVRs such as the 350i and 390i were received in the 1980s. However, better quality materials for the dashboard etc. and better attention to fit and finish generally would have definitely been needed to enable the TR7 raise its game and keep its appeal buoyant.

      • That’s right David 35 TR8 RHD examples,

        A customer of grandad’s turned up in one in 1982, he wasn’t a car enthusiast and was surprised that I took an interest in it?
        I often wonder how he came by it?
        I only saw it once.

  2. Did it beat BMW and the Mark 1 Ford Focus to “flame” styling – maybe Harris Mann, etc, were decades ahead of their time?

  3. I had a 1980 Persian Aqua convertible from new and it was a lovely , and in that colour pretty , little car which was totally reliable until in 1985 I managed to run the gearbox out of oil . That was the excuse to fit a V8, which I did at very modest cost, and I had another 4 years or so of considerable fun with it , wiping the grin off many a 911 driver’s face ! The acceleration was stunning because I retained the original axle ratio, and its 4th gear pace was unbeatable whilst still being reasonably relaxed in 5th

  4. I’ve always regretted that the TR7 wasn’t kept in production in some form after 1981 (at Abingdon say), as it did give something different to the increasingly dull ARG range of the 1980s. The convertible still looks stylish now it’s one car which has aged well.

    • If it was uneconomic to build MGs at Abingdon – an assembly shop remember rather than a proper car plant – it would have also made no economic sense to put the TR7 there. However, must agree that its a shame the TR7/8 wasn’t given another chance in 1981 just as it was coming good – V8 and convertible. I seem to remember reading though that the sterling/dollar exchange rate at the time meant BL was losing money on every car it shipped to the US – its main market. This was the era of Thatcher’s monetarist policies to bring inflation down. Sky high interest rates coupled with the effect of North Sea oil coming on stream pushed the pound to stratospheric levels. This prompted Michael Edwards famous speech to the CBI in 1980 where he lamented the impact North Sea oil was having on the pound and exports and encouraged the government to “leave the bloody stuff in the ground”.

  5. British Leyland should have gone all out to improve the TR7, which was maturing into a decent car, once MG was finished off. The V8 should have been made available in Britain as a cheaper alternative to a Jaguar XJS, and the Triumph engine should have been given fuel injection. Just imagine, an entry level model offering 120 mph, and a TR8 with 140 mph peformance, I think British Leyland could have had a winner and the Triumph brand would have been saved.

  6. I’m surprised the 16 valve engine from the Dolomite Sprint wasn’t used in the TR7, & some owners have have transplanted a 16v unit in.

    The TR7 seemed to suffer from the usual BL problem of taking years to get to how it should have been launched, but by then too many potential buyers had gone elsewhere.

  7. @ Richard 16378, like most British Leyland cars of the seventies, the TR 7 had a rotten start and when it came good, it was too late. Also being built in a factory where the shop stewards were of the Derek Hatton/ Bobby Grant mentality can’t have helped and wrecked the car’s reputation as the ones that made it out of Speke between strikes were rubbish.

  8. I’ve got the David Knowles book “Triumph TR7: The Untold Story”. It’s an excellent read, highly recommended to anyone interested in the TR7 and I wonder what else can be said by a new book. How does “The bullet that backfired…” compare with the Knowles masterpiece ?

  9. Nearly got a second life being built in the DeLorean plant in Dunmurry.

    Could it have been a DMC-7?

    With the flush grille and square quad headlights?

  10. I had a Argent Silver TR7 drophead – wonderful car. Also have David Knowles book. I would really be fascinated to know if there are any pictures of one of the three TR7 dropheads built 6 inches narrower for roads of Bermuda – or was that just a myth?

    • I believe it was a length restriction for Bermuda. Vauxhall built some Victor 101’s with abbreviated wings and bonnet – they obviously still had craft metal workers in those days!

  11. Everyone says this car had potential and by 1980 was coming right with a big improvement in quality, a lift in performance with modifications to the engine and a five speed gearbox, and a V8 version doing well in America. British Leyland, with the end of MG and the Triumph Spitfire, could have spent the money on the TR7 and turned it into a decent range of sports cars and maybe launched a 2+2, which was under consideration in the seventies, to make the TR7 more practical.

  12. The Lynx & other sports estate concepts look very interesting, it’s a shame they didn’t see the light of day.

  13. Always fascinating to read the opinions of armchair product planners! Can anyone just give consideration to the idea that Michael Edwardes might just have been telling the honest truth when he said that BL sports car sales in USA were losing serious money because of the artificially strong UK Pound ? Sports car sales at that time were too low in non-USA markets to sustain production on their own – it was a simple no-brainer when BL simply had to cut its losses.

    Ironically, a similar argument was used by BMW to help justify its dumping of Rover Group in 2000 – the strength of Sterling was making export sales uneconomic. (They didn’t mention that it also greatly inflated their UK profits from selling BMWs !)

    Several nonsenses in the above thread, but the ultimate one is Kev’s suggestion that Spen King deliberately killed off SD1 competitors. None of the actual or proposed Triumph models were in competition with SD1 anyway, but it is a gross defamation to suggest that Spen did anything but his level best to improve the Triumph models and projects that fell into his lap in 1968. Sadly, some of them were already too compromised to be rescued at that stage – e.g. boosting the Stag engine from 2.5 to 3 litres didn’t solve the inherent problems in its design and manufacture.

    • Ian……I was never an armchair ‘product planner’. I won’t bore you with my CV, but I will say a few things: I was there and saw many of the things we discuss first hand. The internal politics were a constant battle and what was built or not built was seldom to do with the market or product merits. And Michael Edwardes was an unmitigated disaster in his time at the company – his record was a long list of mistakes and poor judgements. That’s why Thatcher replaced him so quickly.

  14. Edwardes may have considered himself the saviour of British Leyland, indeed you can say he reduced the number of strikes, improved productivity and formed an alliance with Honda, but his legacy was the unreliable Maestro and Montego ranges, falling market share and a culture in the company where subsidies were seen as inevitable and the company could run to the government all the time. It was only when Graham Day took over and Austin Rover was sold to BAE that reality took hold, the company had to make money and decent cars to survive as the era of government bailouts was over. Edwardes was very much a product of the pre Thatcher era where, for all he got tough with the unions, he felt British Leyland would probably be better off as a nationalised corporation where the government would help it out.

  15. Triumph Cars in America by Michael Cook describes how expensive the TR7/8 was becoming because of the exchange rate, sales fell off a cliff in 1980/81 despite fuel injection (said to introduce Honda like smoothness to TR7) and the US TR8 being well received by the press. He states that the focus in the USA was switching to supporting Jaguar. With Dolomite gone the engine became unique to TR7 so the car was planned to be re-engined anyway, cost of manufacturing was going up. I think it was in David Knowles book where he states that the cancellation of SD2 released resources to enable the TR7 DHC to be introduced, if true its just amazing that an organisation of that size was so short of resource.. Now to play what if! if the Solihull TR7 DHC produced in 1981 with 5 speed gearbox, metallic paint and reliability etc had been planned, developed and out in 1975 along with the TR8? I also read that Michael Edwards was challenged by Harold Wilson to cancel TR7 when Speke closed, but the rationale to keep TR7 and transfer to Canley was in part to keep a viable US dealer network. At least that decision enabled us to enjoy what TR7 should have been all along, just for a little bit longer at least..

  16. After dropping the Triumph 2 litre engine would the have just used the V8 or would another smaller engine have been used?

    The O series seems the logical choice, but BL wern’t short of units that might have fitted.

  17. My understanding is that the O series was being tested as the replacement for the TR7 slant 4 engine and if I recall correctly was fitted in the surviving silver convertible Broadside model – which was a TR7 with a roll over T bar and Montego style side treatment replacing the TR7 trademark side sweep and SD1 rear lights) . I believe that Lynx was planned to have the V8 (as in the green surviving prototype) and TR7 the O series (replacing slant 4). I also recall reading that the performance difference between prototype TR7 Sprint coupe’s and TR7 coupe’s was not seen as significant enough (and I remember a road test which reported quite unsatisfactory comparison results) – so I guess the planners thought at the time that TR8 was seen as the solution if you wanted a TR7 with more ‘umph’. (and I don’t think Sprint would have got through USA emissions (?) apologies it was James Callaghan not Harold Wilson!

    • If the TR7 had survived until the mid eighties, then the O series Turbo and M16 would have become available…

  18. By 1980 Saab had turned the slant into one of the world’s best turbocharged engines. Did BL nerver consider buying it fr.o.m. Sweden? It would have given it performance to match the best of its day.

  19. Had the TR 7 survived beyond Jaguar splitting from British Leyland, then a TR8 would have been marketed as a more affordable and economical alternative to the XJS. I can imagine a Vitesse engined TR8 with the option of turbocharging being a real XJS beater.
    Also by 1984 the American energy crisis was a distant memory, the economy over there was growing strongly and demand for bigger engined cars was growing again, and combined with a weak pound, this could have seen demand for the TR7/8 being very high in America as the XJS was enjoying a boom in sales.

  20. Why didn’t they replace the MGB instead of building that TR7 thing? MG was a much better brand in the United States than Triumph ever was.

    • The kiss of death to replacing the ‘B’ was the cancellation of ADO77. This was to be a common platform with Austin/Morris, Triumph, and MG. When the Spen King SD1 caused the cancellation of ADO77, the MG sports/GT car was effectively finished. There was a plan at one time, for the TR7 to be marketed in some markets as an MG, but this died with the end of the badge engineering era.

    • Sorry but the MGB was way inferior the TR7 and the brand in the US was suffering from stale product for decades

  21. By 80-81 the Tr7/8 was really a good vehicle [especially for 1980 standards] but the reality in the US was that the poor quality reputation and the exchange rate killed off sales. In fact, I looked at one of the last TR8s on the local BL dealer’s lot in my sat there for months and was priced at about USD 11,500. The sales manager stated that TR8 was a dirty word with the US dealers by then as it was more expensive than a Chevrolet corvette, insurance was higher for most consumers, and the reputation for poor quality was well known to anyone that might consider one.

  22. Looking to get one or both TR7 books though interested to know how in-depth either is on the pre-TR7 Triumph Lynx and Bullet projects and any other little known titbits?

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