Was the Triumph Broadside one of the biggest missed opportunities of the British Leyland era? It was designed to take the best bits of the TR7 it was based on, and sling out the bad bits to create the perfect sports car for the US market.
However, events overtook it and, just at the point it should have been readied for production, it was cancelled – and with it went the future hopes and dreams of Triumph.
Broadside: sports car revival scuppered before launch
The Triumph Broadside could also be known as son-of-Triumph Lynx. This was a last-ditch attempt to spin the Triumph TR7 into a viable range of cars. Broadside was designed to be sold in US-friendly MG and Triumph versions powered by a Federalised version of the O-Series engine, as well as an injected Rover V8.
The thinking behind Broadside was solid enough. Rover-Triumph Engineers had worked on several versions of the Triumph TR7’s platform in a variety of wheelbases, taking in the four-seater Triumph Lynx and MG Boxer (RT078) sports car, the Triumph SD2 hatchback and the Marina-replacing TM-1 programme. By the time the sleeves were rolled up to work on Broadside, Rover-Triumph knew exactly what it was doing with the simple, scalable TR7 platform.
So, what was Triumph Broadside?
In a nutshell, the Triumph Broadside was a coupe and roadster pairing based on the Triumph TR7, but with a lengthened wheelbase, updated interior, the passenger doors from the Lynx, and new rear-end styling. In early 1979, the brief was laid out under the project code RT061, and work began on creating the new coupé and convertible.
The first mention of the car appears in the 1979 Jaguar Rover Triumph Product Plan, where it was known initially as the SC1 (Sports Car 1). A ‘phased introduction’ was planned for the a pair of cars, initially designed to replace the Triumph TR7, but also to form the basis for the MGB and Midget replacements.
Even as this point, ‘a high level of common mechanical components’ would need to be shared. At this stage, the smaller version, powered by a 1.7-litre O-Series engine was mooted for a Autumn 1983 launch, with the larger 2.0-litre sports car arriving in the autumn of 1984. All SC1-coded cars would be designed to conform with EEC and North American legislative requirements.
What were the Broadside’s biggest obstacles?
For the long-term survival of MG and Triumph in the USA, there was no question at this point that both marques needed to represented by the new model range. Styling certainly looked good, with an agreeable mix of TR7, SD1 and Lynx in its DNA, but a whole lot more balanced, too – especially in 2+2 convertible form.
The coupe Broadside was a little more compromised, with a truncated rear that didn’t marry well to the wedge-like front-end. Towards the end of 1979, Italian design house Michelotti was asked by David Bache’s flat-out Design Team to restyle the car – and promptly produced a sleeker, less TR7-like front end. At this point, it’s clear that the project had the style and appeal to succeed.
How the Broadside developed into 1980
By the time the newly renamed Rover-Triumph 1980 Product Plan was unveiled, there was certainly more flesh on the bones of the Broadside project. Notwithstanding the spring 1981 launch of the MG Boxer to replace the MGB and MGB GT and the autumn 1981 arrival of the O-Series-powered TR7 to replace the existing slant-four, the launch date for Broadside was brought forward to spring 1983. Plans for a 1.7-litre Broadside were dropped at this point.
According to the product planning document, the Broadside was a direct replacement for the TR7/TR8 and short-lived MG Boxer. It was very much shaping up to be a new-looking sports car based on existing hardware, and a new intermediate wheelbase, stretched by five inches over the TR7.
Interestingly, at this point, Broadside’s life was mapped ahead of it:
- Autumn 1984 Electronic instruments introduced
- During 1985 Engine updates to meet emissions requirements
- During 1986 Engine updates to meet emissions requirements
- Autumn 1987 Runout models: Dependent on the future possible opportunity of developing a new car in collaboration with Honda, together with a successful launch
- Possible opportunities on base plan
Dependent on Austin-Morris engine strategy, an opportunity exists to install a turbocharged version of the O-Series from the introduction of the Broadside.
Engine issues and project struggles
Tony Cooke worked on the Broadside’s O-Series engine conversion for BL, and it wasn’t an entirely happy experience. ‘Somewhere else in the back of my mind is an image of a sunny afternoon at Fletch North engineering,’ he said.
‘I was told O-Series would not pass North American emissions specification, and the project was cancelled. We had just wasted months. Bad feelings like that are hard to quantify.’ – Tony Cooke
‘I was working on the TR7 O-Series and was just checking out a car for finalisation of the cooling system, outside in the car park. Then a more senior manager came up to me and told me the news. The O-Series would not pass North American emissions specification, and the project was cancelled. Stop right now. Apparently that it would not pass had been known even before the fit was suggested. We had just wasted months. The bad feeling events like that generated are hard to quantify.’
Triumph Broadside: death comes swiftly
Unfortunately, along with such projects as the AM2 (Metro saloon) and Princess estate, the Broadside project was cancelled by BL management. This decision was a difficult one, borne from interest rate changes that had made exporting cars to the USA unprofitable – thereby killing the benefit from the Broadside’s largest sales market. The closure of Speke, Abingdon, Canley and – ultimately – Solihull also meant there was no longer production capacity.
In addition, BL was in meltdown by 1980 and the simple fact was that the only finances being released to the company by the Government were going to be channelled into the development of the LC8 and LM10. Anything else on the agenda was too low down in the list of priorities and so was cancelled – in a stroke, closing off the company to the US market after years of strong sales in the sports car market.
The formation of the Light Medium division in 1980 put an end to the idea of Rover-Triumph design and development autonomy – and ended any chance of continuing in the sports car business. It would take until the mid-1990s, and the arrival of the MGF, before the TR7 and MGB were replaced – a tragedy in itself.