My Summer of Stag: Confronting The Fear
The freshly painted black 1973 Triumph Stag standing in front of me is taken so far apart that it’s making me nervous. In my 35 years of restoring classic cars, I have never owned one so disassembled. Right now, the Stag is little more than a just a rolling shell, with not only all the trim and every mechanical system removed and every wire out of place, but all the body hardware is gone, too. That means every grommet, clip, nut, bolt, screw and plastic trim part is off the car.
I’ve waited 13 months for this, the chance to build one of the nicest Stags on the planet. And now that moment has arrived and brought with it what I call The Fear. The paint job, I believe, is one of the best ever applied to a Stag anywhere at anytime. Every body panel was removed and made perfect, given six coats of the shiniest, glossiest, deepest, darkest blackest black you’ve ever seen, and then the panels were reattached. Every gap is uniform, straight and perfect. No Stag every looked so good upon leaving the factory.
That’s partially why it took more than a year at the body shop. I fear my restoration skills are at a level that can’t do justice to the high quality of the paint and body reassembly. You don’t just reinstall the new parts, you fit them and sometimes newly remade parts for classic cars don’t fit the same way the originals did.
I know that putting this Stag back together so that it can reach its potential will test me in ways I have failed in the past. It will require patience, where I have shown little; it will take skills I don’t have; it will call upon me to demonstrate a degree of precision I am not known for.
That’s The Fear. Or at least part of it.
The rest of The Fear is this: even if I do succeed in an immaculate conception and fit everything properly without damaging the paint, the car will be too nice to drive without worrying about it constantly. Every potential pebble in the road that could go airborne, every inattentive driver fiddling with his cell phone in the next lane, every speeding car at an intersection could mean trouble.
That’s also The Fear.
Still, there is no choice, really, but to see the project through. And I can’t quit now. This particular Stag has been waiting a very long time to rejoin the world of the living.
The car, born in November of 1972, was one of the first Mark II Stags off the line. It was was born Magenta with a black interior, fitted with air conditioning, a four-speed gearbox, hardtop and AM/FM radio and sold to a doctor in Florida. He was not a fan of Magenta and he had the car painted metallic blue with yellow accent stripes.
Somewhere in its early history, the right rear fender was hit. The repair was adequate, but not great. Bondo was used, and it showed. The car was traded in and purchased by its second owner in the late 1970s. By 1984, it needed a new convertible top. One thing led to another and the car was stripped for restoration. Except the restoration never happened.
The car sat under a cover in a garage in Miami until around 2000. Then it moved along with the owner to Sebring, Florida, where it sat another dozen years. The most recent economic downturn forced the owner to start selling off the parts until he was just down to the shell.
And that’s where I enter the story. I was just looking for a perfect dash assembly for my green 1973 Stag when I saw the car on eBay. The body didn’t have a spec of rust and I knew that, with a new paint job, it would be better than my current emerald green 1973 Stag, which had been hit hard in the rear many decades ago, and fixed poorly.
The plan became this: since I had just finished an extensive mechanical restoration of my green Stag – with all major components completely rebuilt – I would buy the Florida Stag and restore the body, then transfer all of the mechanical components from my green Stag. In affect, I would reshell the green Stag, but then several things intervened and changed those plans.
First, I read the Triumph development story on AROnline and saw where Triumph’s Chief Engineer, Harry Webster, said he always intended the Stag to be born with the proven 2.5-litre six-cylinder engine, with the V8 coming on stream after launch when the engine was perfected. Well, we know how that turned out.
Further research showed the Triumph six to be a straightforward bolt-in swap using Triumph designed, engineered and built parts. No modifications to the car would be necessary. No fabrication would be necessary. You could simply use the front engine brace from a late 2500S Estate fitted with PAS and a front anti-roll bar along with the rear transmission mounting – the six-cylinder powertrain then fits right in.
I knew where I could buy a nicely rebuilt TR6 engine for a very good price. I also knew where to find a very affordable TR6 J-Type overdrive ‘box that needed rebuilding. Then, a friend bought a rough 1973 Stag to restore, but subsequently decided the car was too far gone. Instead, he would just part it out. All of the sudden, I could see how to fit all the puzzle pieces and build a complete car without disturbing my green Stag, which I would use as a template to build the new one.
In America, many Stags have lost their original Triumph V8 engines and are powered by Ford, Chevrolet and Buick/Rover V8s. Most of these vehicles are sloppily done, with grotesque hood scoops ruining Michelotti’s beautiful styling and with less than ideal engineering.
Having owned seven TR6s and a 2500 S saloon, I am well aware of what the Triumph 2.5 engine can deliver with a few performance upgrades. TR5 S2 cam, tubular exhaust and the triple carburetor setup should see the 2.5’s power output in the same league as the Triumph V8 with none of the latter engine’s legendary reliability issues.
So, that was the plan that led me to where I am today. Sitting three feet to the left of the Stag is that rebuilt TR6 engine fitted with the performance parts mentioned above. Chris Witor, a Triumph sedan spares stockist, supplied the rest of the parts needed for the engine installation. The TR6 J-Type ‘box has been rebuilt, but with the heavier duty Stag internal components.
You might ask: why create one of the nicest Stags around only to put the wrong engine in it? To that I would answer: I don’t consider the 2.5 to be the wrong engine. The fact that factory parts exist to easily bolt it in place, makes it a proper engine for the Stag. Further, my Stag 2.5 will still have about the same performance as the Stag V8 and it will still be powered by a Triumph engine.
And so it begins, my Stag summer. By the time you read this, the build will be well under way. All new exterior trim from Rimmers has been ordered, delivered and is nearly all installed. I was able to pickoff on eBay NOS taillights and a few NOS parts.
I’ll be keeping you up on the project regularly. What’s keeping me awake tonight are the brake lines. The original ones on the car are missing and I have to fabricate new ones. We don’t use copper for those here in the USA, so it will be steel. I have never done this job before, so I feel a bit like a drunk stumbling around in the dark trying to find the light switch.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.