Concepts and prototypes : Triumph Bobcat (1967-1969)

Triumph Bobcat scale model in beige

AROnline is obviously fixated on the past. This is probably understandable, given that the site was conceived to recall the history of Austin, Rover, Triumph, Jaguar et al and view their cars, not from how we consider them now, but how we rated them when new. So, you know the drill – the company’s products were often controversial, but it’s the cars that weren’t made that are truly interesting. I mean, here’s one worthy of conversation – the Triumph Bobcat.

First thing’s first – we don’t know an awful lot about this one as it stands right now. The image appears in the Giovanni Michelotti: A Free Stylist book, and it depicts a mid-sized four- or five-door fastback, very much in the mould of the Lancia Beta or Citroën GS/CX. What makes this particularly interesting is what this design was set to be.

According to site correspondent ‘Nate M’, this was a styling proposal for the short-lived Triumph Bobcat project. It was conceived in the late 1960s to replace the 1300/1500/Toledo as well as the upcoming Dolomite 1850HL and Sprint. He said: ‘I sent an email to Giovanni Michelotti’s son Edgardo, who runs the Archivio Storico Michelotti regarding the image and he pretty much confirmed the yellow prototype is indeed the Triumph Bobcat.’

So, what was Bobcat?

As you can probably guess given its feline-derived codename, it was conceived a little time after the Puma and original Lynx projects and would have been based on a platform which utilised elements from both of these cars. Former Triumph Engineer, Nigel Garton, confirmed that the Bobcat’s design process started in 1967, about a year after the Puma, and it didn’t progress very far beyond the drawing board.

‘We wanted to clean up the model range and rationalise it down to just three basic cars: Bobcat (1300 replacement), Puma (2000 replacement) and Lynx (GT6 replacement). They would have modern, Italian, styling, be conventionally engineered and powered by a new range of engines that had been developed from existing Triumph units.’

As the firm had moved away from front-wheel drive with the demise of the 1300, it’s logical to assume that it would be powered by an evolution of Triumph’s still-competitive 1300/1500cc ohv power unit as well as the upcoming slant-four being developed for the upcoming Dolomite 1850HL.

Where did the Italian style come in?

Given the close relationship between Triumph’s technical chief, Harry Webster, and Michelotti – as well as an impressive back catalogue of successful previous models, the Italian Designer was given an open invitation to work on a proposal for the Bobcat.

Working from a rough brief, the Italian came up with this interesting looking design which would have been a progressive offering from British Leyland to fight the upcoming onslaught of imports to land in the UK during the 1970s. Given its interesting styling (arguably better resolved in this very early proposal than what followed) and solidly capable underpinnings, it would be interesting to contemplate how a production version would compete against European rivals such as the Audi 80, Lancia Beta and Saab 99 had it made it into production, sometime around 1973.

Alas, though, that wasn’t to be. The Bobcat project was an early casualty of Triumph and Rover’s merger and subsequent absorption into the lumbering British Leyland empire. Once it was clear that the two companies would be pooling their model programmes under the auspices of the Specialist Division, the spirit of the Bobcat project could be revisited as the basis (at least in concept) as the Triumph SD2.

Do you think it could have saved Triumph had it gone into production?

Keith Adams

28 Comments

  1. Amazingly modern looking for the late 60s, and could easily have been popular. This is how the SD2 should have looked.

  2. Having a 70s-looking car in the 70s would definitely have helped Triumph!

    Is the photo of a (large?) scale model, rather than of a full-size car? The interior is blanked off at waist-level as was common on exterior bucks.

    • Somehow it looks like a model. It could almost be a still from a Supermarionation TV show. I half expect it to move off with that skipping, hopping motion so characteristic of the automotive scenes in those shows.

  3. I really like the look of the Michelotti Triumphs around this period. They could have had an integrated and good looking range of cars in the 1970s.

  4. A good looker, that! Much more finished and resolved than the later Maxi-based Aquila prototype. But with Maxi already launched there can have been no place for it in the BLMC lineup.

  5. The Bobcat was a lost opportunity and could have made an excellent Dolomite replacement in the mid seventies, or even a combined replacement for the Marina and Dolomite, as the car would have been rwd and pitched at the light medium sector of the market.

  6. If the Puma became P76 and the latter shares similar dimensions as SD1, then logically the projected dimensions for Bobcat should not have been too far removed from either P82 or SD2 / ADO77 later TM1.

    From the P82 article its dimensions were said to stand at 170.9 inch length and 65.7 inch width vs TM1’s projected overall dimensions of 167.5 inch length and 67.9 inch width (or basically the same length as SD2).

    Both the P82 and ADO77 were envisioned to have a 100 inch wheelbase, with John Barber reputedly suggesting at a meeting in late-1973 after the Bache SD2 proposal was chosen that the Pininfarina SD2 proposal might be a contender for ADO77 as the dimensions are the same.

    • That’s interesting. I wasn’t aware that P76 came from the Triumph Puma proposal. I always thought it was either a stand alone design or in some way derived from the Rover P8? Is there evidence for it being from Puma?

      • Would say it is likely to be an indirect link with the P76’s being an evolved version specific to Australia, yet was thinking of the following excerpt from the Leyland P76 story: “We already know that the P76 and SD1 share a lot of componentry under the skin, but it’s an easy conclusion to arrive at that the Michelotti-styled body of the P76 was closely related to one of the failed Michelotti-styled proposals for the Triumph Puma project – that ended up being passed over in favour of the Rover P10/SD1.”

        Within the Triumph Puma article meanwhile, the SD1 was also said to have carried over the Puma’s front suspension, transmission and Sixes.

        It is also curious how the Force 7 coupe vaguely draws upon the visuals of the Puma-based Lynx model despite being bigger than the latter.

  7. In profile, this car has similarities to the later Chrysler Alpine and I agree it would have been a nice modern looking car for the 70s.

  8. The Bobcat would have been an ideal replacement for the Marina, which was only intended as a stopgap, and for the Dolomite, whose roots went back to 1965. Using the sweet and powerful Triumph engines, rather than the ageing A and B series used on the Marina, and allied to the modern fastback styling, the Bobcat could have really done well. Also base models could have been branded Morris 1300 and 1500, with the Triumph Bobcat name being used on the more upmarket 1500HL, 1850 and Sprint models.

  9. The SD1 was a world beater but didn’t. It’s not a car that would have changed the sector or have created something new. There are lots of prototypes of BL and BMC cars, but without a clear strategy, happy workforce, better management a defined range, better marketing etc, then I don’t think it would have made any difference I don’t think it would have made much difference.

  10. When this picture first surfaced in an email discussion a year or so ago, there was much speculation if this was Michelotti’s proposal for the SD2. The discussion was what would have powered it considering the direction that the SD2 went to become the TM1, with O series engines, and Specialist Division looking at making a four cylinder version of the SD1 PE166 lump. At the time the bonnet line was discussed as being too low, however with this being the Bobcat you now get the low bonnet line, as under it would have been the slant four, enabling a more sleek design.

    What I wonder is how would have the engine been fitted? We know from above it would be rear wheel drive but would it have been conventionally a longitude fitting, or would Triumph gone down a different route, using the idea of a transverse engine, and so enabling a 4wd drive car, and with the slant 4 a lot lower bonnet line? Webster was known for some strange engineering solutions, and was interested in 4wd as shown by his ideas with Ajax.

    • From what Former Triumph Engineer Nigel Garton said, Bobcat would have likely been conventionally engineered as was planned to be the case with Puma and Lynx / Bullet.

      Perhaps Harry Webster would have carried over his interest in 4WD and strange engineering solutions on a smaller car like he did with ADO74, if not basically seek to re-cloth FWD Ajax mechanicals (with newer gearbox layout – essentially enlarged ADO74 5-door) into a new C-Segment car below Bobcat like how what started as an ADO16 facelift evolved into the Allegro (albeit with a Michelotti twist).

      While it is easy to imagine Bobcat being powered by the Slant-Four with carry-over 1300/1500 SC engines covering the lower end of the range, equivalent Slant-Four replacements of that size for the entry-level engines would have likely not been a great improvement over the 1300/1500 SC without featuring 16-valves and Twin-Cams.

      The investigating of a 4-cylinder version of the SD1 PE166 6-cylinder during the SD2 project does open up the question of whether like how the PE166 evolved from the Triumph I6, the small block SC could have received similar PE166 treatment to create a new engine loosely based on the small four (likely starting from an OHC conversion akin to A-OHC) to cover the lower-end roughly reminiscent to the stillborn H/K-Series engines planned for ADO74?

      • I think as this was pre PE166 and started in 1967 I think the slant four was probably the engine if choice. As both Triumph, with the sprint, and Saab showed that the actual engine was capable to be adaptable and in larger forms produce very good power outputs. While early prototypes of the smaller variations were not seen as being better than the earlier SC, would have using the slant four saved manufacturing costs by sharing of both machine tools and parts? Another unanswered question.

        • The fate of the SC engine would have depended on what Triumph’s plans were with their pre-ADO74 Ajax-based Supermini and Golf-sized projects. Unless Triumph planned to mount the Slant-Four Saab 99-style, it would have needed to be extensively modified to be mounted transversely.

          At least initially Triumph was planning on retaining both the SC/Six and Slant/V8 engine families as Bullet was said to have been proposed offering a 1.5 SC, 2.0 Slant-Four and 2.5 Six. While Lynx was initially planned to feature a choice of carburettor and fuel-injected 2.5 Sixes and the 3.0 V8 in two states of tune (both in standard 2-valve carburettor and exotic fuel-injected 4-valve forms).

          The Jeff Daniels book on BL and Graham Robson book on A-Series claim 3-cylinder versions of the 1850 Dolomite and 1750 E-Series were tested in an Allegro with both 2-valves and 4-valves (along other experimentation that went nowhere), which may have eventually led to what would later become the ECV3 and the design of the K-Series.

  11. Regarding some of the concept cars there is a drawing of the triumph 1300 I have seen a drawing like this with the standard badge on the drawing my grandad know has Leslie Moore was chief stylist at the time I am his grandson John Moore

    • John do you have any info about the Lynx and Puma that your granfather worked on? I wonder if they and Bobcat were all one family.

  12. Its just come to me what the silhouette, roof line and window belt line of this car reminds me of – The Tesla Model 3.

    • The BL development dept are responsible crazy decisions, the 70’s designs came up with monstrosities like the Lynx while passing over this Bobcat, makes me wonder what they were smoking.

  13. The C pillar treatment slightly reminds me of the Ford Capri and other coupes of the era, which is a definite compliment.

  14. Those look to be plastic bumpers of the late 70’s style. Sure the P8 had plastic bumpers [would they have actually worked I wonder!] but these look to be later, which might suggest this is an SD2 proposal?

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