People : Harry Webster on the Triumph 1300

Autocar 18 February 1966

Triumph 1300

Triumph 1300
Triumph 1300

Harry Webster Talks To Ronald Barker About Its Background And Evolution

Ronald Barker – My first question, Mr Webster, is when did you initiate the 1300 project?

Harry Webster – About three years ago, I suppose – anyhow, some time after the Leyland takeover.

Ronald Barker – So this is the first true Leyland car since the 8-cylinder of the early 20s?

Harry Webster – No, it’s the second really, following the 2000. When Leyland came in here fully, the new board at that time – and we have only had one man here from Leyland, you know – insisted first that the quality of the cars then in production should be improved : secondly, that the cars then on the stocks and ready for production, such as the Spitfire and Vitesse, should be put in hand. In the next phase we would start designing a new range of motorcars ; primarily a replacement for the Vanguard, which was looking a little bit dated, at least style wise. So the 2000 really was the first to be designed completely under the Leyland banner.

Harry Webster

Ronald Barker – So how much of the 2000 was absolutely new?

Harry Webster – Well, like any other labourers, most of the time we have to deal with the tools we have around us. We already had the engines, gearboxes, axles and such-like. So what we did, in effect, was a completely new body with new front and rear suspensions. Of course, before the 2000 was introduced we knew there was going to be a need for a car between it and the Herald, and the 2000 was such a success that we felt we had to do this new car in the same image. And that was our guiding principle all the way along. In fact, the Triumph 1300 body structure is very like that of the 2000, and so are a lot of other things such as the semi trailing arm rear suspension, the boxed front wings and so on.

Ronald Barker – It has the same feel as the Triumph 2000, when you shut a door, for instance, and inside looks much the same thing on a reduced scale.

Harry Webster – It has the same look and quality – it’s a 2000 junior. The change in outlook that has taken place around here follows the Leyland influence. That’s the way they have built up their business in the commercial vehicle field. Only the best is good enough for them, and a lot of this has rubbed off on us.

Ronald Barker – Can you tell us how the new philosophy has been made to permeate the factories, and what this has meant in terms of development costs, and in the ratio of inspection to productive staff?

Harry Webster – The revised attitude naturally began at the top, with the engineering management, who in turn indoctrinated their immediate staff. They, in turn, have passed it on through the whole of engineering. The production and tooling people have passed the message through their operatives, right down to the shop floor. As for inspection, what had been considered acceptable previously was not good enough for the new regime. We merely raised our standards.

Ronald Barker – You don’t have a bigger inspection staff or spend more time on inspection?

Harry Webster – No, we merely insist that the quality is better. This inevitably increased the cost of our products to a certain extent, but eventually one reaches the point where education puts quality into the product. It’s always been a philosophy here – and it’s true of course – that you can’t inspect quality into a vehicle. The only people who put quality into a vehicle are those who design it and those who make it. The quality has to be there for the inspector to see.

Ronald Barker – Do you think that building a quality car, as compared with a less expensive one, stimulates the people who make it to do things better?

Harry Webster – Certainly, but the great has been that the Triumph 2000 was such an immediate success ; and the jolly old proverb, that success breeds success, is so true. I would say this for the engineering department, that the fact we have improved our quality standards makes people think of quality all the way along the line. We say to them in effect : ‘Would you yourself buy it at a price?”

Ronald Barker – At what stage was the decision taken to have front wheel drive?

Harry Webster – I have always wanted to do that, ever since 1949 when I took over as chief chassis engineer here, but was never allowed to. Back in 1953 I did produce some drawings with my old colleague Albert Coaley, now chief engineer with the Skefko bearing people at Luton. It’s amusing to recall that the engine at that time was the Triumph 2-cylinder motorcycle unit place across the chassis with the gearbox in the sump, front wheel drive, rack and pinion steering and so on. When the Triumph 2000 was being considered, FWD drawings were made – freehand sketches which have long since disappeared – but we had to do that car quickly and felt there wasn’t time for experimental development to do FWD properly.

Ronald Barker – You would have considered it more closely, had time allowed?

Harry Webster – Yes, had we had another year or so as on this 1300 job, probably we would have used front wheel drive. I’m not sure, though, because there becomes a size of motorcar where FWD may not provide all that the public might want. I would have wanted to try both to make certain. We didn’t enter into it lightly, and in fact we did a complete brochure of various types of engine-transmission layouts including the across the chassis type ; but in the end we came up with the one we have. If I had another chance I would do something very similar – not identical, but still with the engine fore and aft, because this has a lot of benefits for a company like this. We wanted fairly big wheels and tyres, combined with a really good lock ; then we preferred to keep the transmission oil separate and we wanted to preserve of combining engine variants with this transmission. I think Alec Issigonis was right to do it his way for his company, but, for a company like this, if we put a transmission into production on fairly exotic transfer plant, we have to see how many times we can use that in other versions.

Ronald Barker – Have you room for an overdrive?

Harry Webster – A leading question : Yes, we are already experimenting with an overdrive design for it.

Ronald Barker – And, presumably, you could substitute almost any type of automatic transmission for the gearbox?

Harry Webster – Another leading question : But yes, we have several automatic transmissions designed for it ; however, these might possibly be some time away yet. If you consider the 1300, in proportion to its overall length we’ve probably got more fore and aft seating capacity than any other car we’ve ever made. The interior dimensions of this car from the toeboard to the rear squab are only about 1 ¼ inches less than in the Triumph 2000, on a car which is only just under 13 feet compared with 14 feet 5 ¾ inches, so we’ve achieved something there. We fiddled the steering lock a little by moving the differential centre forward of the wheel centre line ; so when you consider the Ackermann angles of the wheels, the outer one doesn’t go round so far as the inner one, of course, and the inner one can turn sharper than 45 degrees because it starts with a positive angle relative to the drive shaft anyway. In fact, we’ve got 6 degrees trail angle, so when that wheel is turned 45 degrees relative to the shaft, it’s about 51 degrees to the chassis. It’s a catch! An incidental benefit is that having the shafts at a permanent angle while the car is running straight makes the constant velocity ball joints work all the time, avoiding the surface fatigue of balls and tracks that can otherwise occur. Quite a lot of people are doing this now ; it was something that Hardy Spicer showed to us in the design stage.

Ronald Barker – How have you achieved such refinement in the drive and insulation from wind-up with torque reversals at low speeds?

Harry Webster – Several factors enter into it. For one thing we’ve got a very thin diameter quill-shaft between the clutch and primary gear acting as a torsion spring ; from that point we have no torsional flexibility in the drive right through to the Rotoflex couplings, which are fairly closely controlled for hardness and, in fact, wind up a fantastic amount. We seem to have achieved a well balanced design in terms of absorbing torsional vibrations, giving a good take up and so on. The last job to be tackled was the clutch, which has a very light feel. We have a very, very good lining on that ; at the moment it’s an American lining but steps are being taken to manufacture it in this country, since we pay quite a premium for it at the moment. It has the characteristics we’ve always been after throughout the history of clutches ; the static frictional coefficient is as near to its dynamic one as it is possible to get it. In other words, the slipping and static frictions are almost the same. Most clutch facings will give a very good static friction and dynamically a very poor one until they suddenly reach the point where they’re nearly engaged, and then they bite suddenly. This new lining works, and we understand several companies in this country are interested in producing it. We are going to introduce it on most of our vehicles as it becomes available because it’s so good.

Ronald Barker – How much of the cars general quietness and refinement is by chance, and how much by design?

Harry Webster – Here and now I would like to pay a big tribute to all the people in our electronics laboratory in connection with the quietness of the car, and the freedom from transmission vibrations. They’ve done a fantastic job of work. We’ve left nothing to chance concerning gear noise, realizing that with the gearbox where it is and the transfer gears at the back we had to be quiet.

Ronald Barker – What other factors made you decide on FWD?

Harry Webster – We wanted the longest possible wheelbase within an established overall length. With rear drive this would have meant using a divided propeller shaft, and with engine speeds going up and propshafts getting longer the vibration and noise problems are more difficult to overcome than most people imagine. In the long run it’s best to get rid of the propeller shaft – irrespective of the extra room you get inside by losing the tunnel.

Ronald Barker – Roadholding is usually better with FWD, isn’t it?

Harry Webster – Yes, roadholding is better, of course ; but there are cons as well as pros. For instance, with FWD you are driving, braking and steering all on one pair of wheels, and tyre wear wants watching carefully. With so much of the weight at the front you have to proportion your braking effort carefully, or install a pressure limiting valve or some form of mechanism between front and rear systems.

Ronald Barker – Well, if you look at our test of the 1300, on a wet surface we recorded 0.98 g, which was astonishingly good. Do you find FWD more costly to make, initially at any rate?

Harry Webster – This is something which we are still pondering on, quite frankly. Apart from the technical reasons for having FWD, we felt we needed to be free to make as many derivatives of the basic theme as we choose, and while I know many nice estate cars and commercial have been made with rear engine rear drive, they’re a bit convenient. We have no plans but we might want to use this transmission arrangement for commercial vehicles at a later date. You never know. Incidentally I wonder whether you spotted that with the mainshaft, by putting a flange on the end of it one could easily make a very nice 4-wheel drive of it! Anyway, that’s something to think about for the future too.

Ronald Barker – What are your views about four wheel drive, Mr Webster? Will it eventually come for ordinary passenger cars?

Harry Webster – I guess so, but not for years on popular cars. It may come sooner on very powerful passenger cars with a very high torque to weight ratio. With passenger cars you really want the same size tyres front and rear, and if the front or rear ones alone will not transmit the torque available, you’ve got to put it through all four ; whereas with a racing or sports racing car one can quite happily fit bigger tyres at one end than at the other.

Ronald Barker – You told a mutual friend at the Motor Show, I believe, that the only sacrifice in the Webster layout was that the engine had to be set and inch or two higher than normal in the body structure.

Harry Webster – Yes, it’s about 1 ¾ inches up, that’s all. I must tell you about the Bug, incidentally. It was a little war time job we designed, to be dropped by parachute to form a sort of basic transport. Well, we had just finished designing the 1300 and had taken out one or two patents on it when somebody remembered we had done it all before ; the patent taken out then between the Standard Motor Company and the Ministry of Supply had long since lapsed, of course. But there it was, sure enough – a patent on the crown wheel and pinion in the sump, admittedly driven by a shaft, from a gearbox outside.

Ronald Barker – Were these decisions on the 1300’s layout yours as an individual, and to what extent were they influenced by management? And was final approval more or less universal?

Harry Webster – Final approval was more or less universal, but the product itself is the work of a splendid team of enthusiastic designers. My senior designers and executives in this department are – like me – mostly Standard Triumph ex-apprentices ; they’re all my immediate colleagues and a great bunch of fellows. As for the control of what we did, obviously the board decided on the type of motorcar they required in concept – in broad outline, something between the Herald and 2000. We didn’t want to do a new engine and there was a lot of plant tied up in crown wheel and pinion manufacture – these are the sort of parameters one is given. Sir Donald Stokes puts it something like this : ‘You go ahead with a completely free hand : You carry the responsibility and you come up with the goods, and that’s it. ‘ This is the way we work most of the time.
Naturally Engineering work very closely with other departments – production and cost engineers come into it right from the word go. Take the transmission, for example : Our production engineers have been saying for years that we must have some new gear box plant one day, and when we did, why not put all the transmission into one casing? Whether it be FWD or rear wheel drive made no odds. They said, in effect : ‘ If you put all the gears into one casing, at least we’ll be able to make that a lot more accurately for you, if it’s put on good plant.” When you think about it, there’s the clutch housing, gearbox, gearbox extension, axle nose piece and cover – all in one casing now. The main reason for making it of iron instead of aluminium was because we wanted to mount the gears properly. The differential expansion between steel and aluminium can lead to a lot of noise ; in its very nature aluminium reflects more noise than iron. Also, bolting this fairly rigid casing to the engine has made it smoother by giving its out of balance forces more inertia to work against. It also helps in absorbing road noise, of course.

Ronald Barker – To what extent was the body design dictated by the mechanical design and vice – versa?

Harry Webster – Well, we laid out the mechanical side of the job, put the seats where we wanted them, likewise the scuttle, wheels and so on. If we can, we control Michelotti these days to outside dimensions as well. To tie him down to a short bonnet and a short boot, as we have done on this job, this is the greatest challenge any stylist can have.
On the 2000 poor old Mickey kept coming up with them too long, just to get these beautiful things on the front. We kept saying : ‘ No! shorter! You’re wasting metal, your wasting space. Get it down! ‘
Eventually he came up with the 2000 and I presented him with just the same challenge with the 1300 ; and of course it had to look like the 2000. Michelotti was never hesitant about the 1300 at all. Normally we let him make a full size running prototype in Italy, but in this case he only made the full size wood model for us.

Ronald Barker – He’s pretty clued up on the pressing side, isn’t he?

Harry Webster – He’s a very clever engineer as well as stylist. He’s never designed a line on these models that can’t be made on a press tool. That’s one of the beauties of having it done by him, of course.

Ronald Barker – Italians can do it very quickly and cheaply, can’t they?

Harry Webster – Yes, they’re used to it. Michelotti can do a prototype like that in a complete metal body in between two and three months after agreement has been reached over the styling impression. It’s the speed at which the Italians do it that keeps the cost down. These days it’s better for us to concentrate on making the model in exact accordance with the drawing, whereas he just shapes metal over a wooden buck, and can walk into his place and say : ‘ Let’s reshape this,” and somebody gets a spokeshave and takes it off, you see. There are no drawings – we get the complete car or wooden buck from him and make the drawings from that.

Ronald Barker – What changes did the body press engineers require for productionising?

Harry Webster – Very little indeed. This is the joy of working with Michelotti – he studies every joint line, and very rarely styles a line that cannot be made. As you know, this body is made entirely within the organisation. We have our own tool making company down at Dunstable and make our own tools, dies and fixtures. It is pressed at our own factory in Liverpool, where we have some very good planning and production engineers. They worked in close co-ordination with us all the way through on this body.

Ronald Barker – So you do make your own car really from one end to the other?

Harry Webster – Yes, were getting more and more self contained all the time. The 2000 is the only body we have made outside, by Pressed Steel.

Ronald Barker – What steps did the body press people take to ensure quietness, or does this problem have to be tackled only when the shell is complete?

Harry Webster – They didn’t have to take any steps to ensure quietness. We worked all that out in the prototype stage, with our electronics people. Where we’ve got panels likely to give noise problems we made sure that they were stiff enough with some sort of styling feature in, or something which pulled the panel or changed it’s frequency. And we aimed at a very high torsional and bending stiffness all the way through for the shell as a whole – it’s approaching 9000 lb.ft per degree as a complete body.

Ronald Barker – Some manufacturers seem to have had great difficulty in keeping down road noise when they use subframes. Was this a big problem for you?

Harry Webster – We’ve use subframes, and we reckon to be able to ‘tune” our rubber mountings to eliminate almost any annoying noise frequency.

Ronald Barker – How do you establish seat profiles, spring bases and so on? Do you use an Oscar?

Harry Webster – Yes, we’ve got two – an independent one which conforms to the SAE spec, and I’m the other! It’s a fact – if a seat suits me, then it nearly always seems to be all right.

Ronald Barker – In particular, we like that little bunch of coloured tell-tale lamps in the instrument panel, the best we’ve seen.

Harry Webster – That’s mine entirely. I’m tired of my wife rubbing out the rear brakes through running about with the handbrake on, or scoring cylinder bores by leaving the choke out. ‘ One of these days,” I told her, ‘ I’m going to design a car in which, when a light goes on, you must do something about it or ask someone else what’s wrong.” It was a little bit of frustration on my part that hatched this.

Ronald Barker – How do you decide on spring rates and damper settings for a new car with, for you, a new weight distribution?

Harry Webster – We choose an arbitrary spring deflection to give us a certain natural frequency for the car. The test results, I must confess, are purely subjective. If we think it’s too hard or too soft at the front, we first of all adjust the shock absorbers, and if we still don’t achieve a successful ride we would start changing spring rates up and down. But my technical staff are training themselves on the computer, and I have eight or nine chaps in my technical office who could be termed computer programmers. They’ve all been through the exercises of programming their own work, whether it be gear teeth, cams, ride, springs, stresses and so on, and they can now get through in a couple of days what used to take two months.

Ronald Barker – Will the next Triumph be a computer job?

Harry Webster – I hope not. Computers cut out a lot of things that one had previously done by experience and gives you a chance to try the variables above and below the norm, but you can’t pour lots of facts and figures into a computer and get a motor car out of it.

Ronald Barker – How is the cars performance set and adjusted in the development programme, and how near the original targets is the car now?

Harry Webster – We already had the engine, ready and complete. It’s not generally known but when we uprated from 948 cc to 1147 cc the prototype engines were in fact 1300 cc. But that size was never used in production for some particular sales reason, so it’s not an expanded or stretched engine.

Ronald Barker – It’s common knowledge already published, that you are developing another engine, in conjunction with Saab.

Harry Webster – Naturally we cannot yet release details and it’s several years away. We can certainly live with our existing engine range for several years. But henceforth an enormous amount of time will be taken up in conforming to the emission regulation which are appearing in the States. This new engine will have to conform to those regulations anyway, because I’m sure they will come in this country, too. It means a complete new parameter in engine design.

Ronald Barker – Finally, Mr Webster, we at Autocar think the quality of the 1300 in relation to its price is exceptional.

Harry Webster – We set out to give value for money and it’s as simple as that.

Ronald Barker – But, surely any other manufacturer would say the same thing?

Harry Webster – Yes, but we think we cater for a special market – ‘for the man who can’t afford caviar but doesn’t want to live by bread alone.”

Keith Adams


  1. “I’m tired of my wife rubbing out the rear brakes through running about with the handbrake on, or scoring cylinder bores by leaving the choke out.” Waht husband would dare to say that these days!

  2. The 1300 and later 1500FWD were great and classy little cars when first built. The only major problem was that 2nd gear synchromesh was appallingly bad and would sometimes pack in with less than 10,000 miles on the clock. Getting at the gearbox was an engine out job and hence one just re-learned that art of double-declutching (or learned it for the first time in my case age 19).

    The clutch, however, was relatively easy to do and was on the back of the engine (North-South installation like Audis). It was accessed by removing the parcel shelf and radio (fiddly but easy and just needed a crosshead screwdriver) after which the clutch cover was visible.

    The 1300 engine revved better than the long stroke 1500 which also had a habit of getting rattly big ends if thrashed or well worn.

    With a better gearbox these would have been real winners but were well advanced for the time (when Ford were making the cart sprung Escort Mk1 and the Morris 1100 was still being churned out in numbers).

  3. With this hardware available – and RWD conversion work well in hand in the early 70s, why in the name of all thats holy did Websters team spend a fortune putting Morris Minor suspension components back into volume production for the Marina? Surely a ready made platform that aligned with all the market norms at that time – MacPherson strut front suspension, live coil sprung rear end was here!

    • There allot of myths about the Marina. When it was first launched in 1971 it was reasonably competitive. It was always meant to be a simple RWD car and it succeeded at that. It wasn’t best in class but it wasn’t that much worse than the competition and if it had been replaced or properly updated in the mid 70’s, it wouldn’t have the reputation it has today.

      The car that killed BL was the Allegro, that was the car that was suppose to succeed in European markets and tanked. It looked hideous and that killed it.

  4. Not sure how a FWD Triumph 2000 would have worked, also despite Harry Webster’s ADO74 project suggesting otherwise it would be interesting to know if it was within his and Triumph’s capability to develop the Triumph 1300/1500 with a Dante Giacosa-style transverse engine / end-on gearbox layout.

    Surely a transverse / end-on gearbox Triumph 1300 would have been cheaper and easier to service compared to both the existing longitudinal FWD Triumph 1300 or transverse / in-sump gearbox BMC ADO16, at least in FWD terms as opposed to the RWD Triumph Toledo / Dolomite.

    The ideal would have been for the 2/4-door short-tailed version to feature Autobianchi Primula-style FWD and “Project Sherpa” inspired 3/5-door hatchback layouts in 1200-1500cc forms, with the 2/4-door long-tailed RWD versions slotting above the former in 1300-1500/1700-2000cc forms yet below the Triumph 2000.

  5. I think Webster comments “Sir Donald Stokes puts it something like this : “You go ahead with a completely free hand : You carry the responsibility and you come up with the goods, and that’s it” explains why it all went pear shaped!

  6. It was a great car, but then again, production was low, considering the outlay!!! Am I the only one to think that even Leyland was playing in a too small pond to spend this kind of money for a shrinking market( Europe was a gift token and there was very less chance to seduce old ex British territories…It seems UK was still “living on a dream” and sell success was not replicated in Europe for the salons, nor in USA, only outdated TR sold in the big apple, then came 240Z…
    Once again, “we know better”was the downfall… I love the 1300 for what it was, upmarket, pretty dear(€€€€) small family sporty car, in TC guise, it was certainly the best 1300cc aside of the Guilietta.. WHY DID THEY GO TO BED WITH AUSTIN??? Aside from getting a hold with Jaguar? funny this brand is still the talk of the pub, whereas Triumph is only about horribly leaking 2 seaters only??? A shame for me aged 55 but new generations see TR as an investment, they sometimes don’t have driving licences, such is life in the “Cities” I couldn’t put City s without red lining under it..

  7. Harry Webster – Yes, but we think we cater for a special market – ‘for the man who can’t afford caviar but doesn’t want to live by bread alone.”
    Tell me then, Harry, why did you get in bed with a very troubled company making NO MONEY???

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