The original targa-topped Triumph Bullet and its fastback Lynx cousin were originally conceived to replace the GT6 and TR6 – it was a long-running project.
However, internal post-BLMC merger politics got in the way, and it made way for the altogether more avant-garde looking Harris Mann-styled TR7.
Anglo-Italian Triumph outvoted in favour of Mann’s wedge
Entering the 1970s, Triumph decided on a two-pronged attack on the sports car market: Bullet (above) was the TR6 replacement incorporating, like the Stag, a roll-over bar and T-bar. Lynx (below) was the closed coupé, to replace the GT6. A good place to get the full story is David Knowles’ excellent book, Triumph TR7: The Untold Story.
Initial work on the Lynx and Bullet programmes had begun in Canley before the British Leyland Motor Corporation merger of 1968. The proposal was for there to be a pair of conventional front-engined cars, based on saloon car running gear. The cars were styled in Canley, but Michelotti was heavily involved in the process of building full-scale models, as well as the running prototypes.
Following the merger, it became clear that the Bullet/Lynx and the promising MG ADO21 project would be competing for a similar audience, so both came under scrutiny. BLMC management knew it had to pitch any new sports cars at an increasingly sophisticated clientele with care. In the USA, the company’s biggest export market, buyers were turning to the Datsun 240Z and VW-Porsche 914 in increasingly large numbers – and BLMC needed an answer.
Looking to the American sports car market
Because of these commercial pressures on BLMC, and the fact that there was a massive need to develop a viable range of family cars, money and resources would only be released to develop one ‘corporate’ sports car. That’s why, according to the BMC Board Files, all the company’s efforts were put behind the Triumph, with the MG being killed off in August 1970.
In late 1970, Mike Carver, then a Manager in Central Product Planning, and Spen King travelled to the USA in order to sound out the dealers and try and understand what it was that would be required. The fact that King (at the time, the Chief Engineer at Triumph) would be so intimately involved in the early stages of the new car’s development ensured that Triumph as a marque would get the inside track in terms of development.
Triumph Bullet wins over MG – despite the sales story
This would be in spite of the fact that, of the Corporation’s sports cars, it was the offerings from MG that were most in demand. Carver stated subsequently, that this was in no way intended to be a full market research programme, but a series of, ‘extended conversations with relevant parties.’
The result of these findings would prove surprising because they indicated that what the Americans really wanted was a conventionally-engineered front engine, rear-wheel-drive car. The reasoning behind this was that the Americans wanted reliability and the ability for a ‘quick fix’ should the car fail. Once back in the UK, the Product Planners reasoned that this format also had advantages in terms of development – and the fact that it would be less costly for the company both in terms of time and finances.
Donald Stokes wanted the company to have a product ready to sell by the mid-1970s and this tight deadline would be easier to meet if the product the company was developing shared a platform with its mass-produced stable mates.
Triumph Bullet deadline: 1975
Donald Stokes made it clear that it should be ready for introduction in 1975. The Bullet was being developed as a cheaper front-engined version of the VW-Porsche 914 and, as such, was not a full convertible, but a targa-top, rather like the Fiat X1/9 – this left a gap in the range for a full convertible and the MGB would be left to remain in production for as long as regulations allowed the company to sell rag-tops.
Product Planning decided that, even though the new car was conceived as a straight replacement for the MGB, it should be priced above the older car so there was no clash between old and new. Already, the Bullet was being moved away from its intended market, by the Product Planners.
Spen King was placed in charge of the development of the new car, and it offered no technical surprises. The engine would be a development of the slant-four Dolomite engine, initially coming with a four-speed gearbox and live rear axle. Now that the ethos was for the production of a BLMC sports car, the option of a Triumph straight-six powered version was dropped in favour of the use of the Rover V8 engine, which at the time was being used in the Rover P6B, P5B and Range Rover.
King was an expert of honing conventional components into something comparable with more exotic rivals – and, even though the rear suspension was not independent, with careful development and thoughtful axle location, it proved possible to make the car ride and handle at least as well as its foreign rivals – and certainly better than the aged MGB and TR6.
Where TR7 the wedge comes in
At this point in time, Donald Stokes and senior BLMC management were becoming less than satisfied with the styling of what was going to be the corporation’s new flagship sports car. It was going to be marketed as a Triumph, but the new sports car would receive a reskin, penned by Harris Mann’s Longbridge-based Design Team, fresh from its work on the ADO71 programme.
It was a blow to Triumph and, in a late-project attempt to regain control of design, Canley came up with a sharper-nosed Bullet (below). But Longbridge had won the argument thanks to Stokes’ backing, and so the dramatic TR7 wedge became the production car we know and love today.
The Lynx name would live on in the form of the un-released four-seater coupe version of the TR7/TR8 that was canned late in 1977, but essentially the Canley Bullet/Lynx programmes made it into production as the TR7, but with Longbridge styling.