Concepts and prototypes : Triumph Puma (1967-1970)

The Triumph Puma was in development before the formation of British Leyland, and is an interesting insight into how Triumph saw its development as a premium carmaker going into the 1970s.

However, at the end of 1970, the project was canned due to internal rivalries with Rover.


Triumph Puma: where to go after Innsbruck

Triumph Puma clay model, which for many years was misidentified as a proposal for Rover by Michelotti. (Picture: The Rover SD1 story, by James Taylor).
Triumph Puma clay model, which for many years was misidentified as a proposal for Rover by Michelotti(Picture: The Rover SD1 story, by James Taylor)

The Triumph Puma and its sister car, the Triumph Lynx (below) were conceived as replacements for the 2000/2500 Innsbruck saloons and the GT6/TR6 sports cars, sitting below the Stag in what would become a fully-refreshed range of Triumphs for the 1970s. Work on the Puma started in 1967, and it was conceived from the beginning as a rear-wheel-drive saloon available with a wider range of engines than the one which powered its predecessor.

Details about this project are vague, but thanks to the input of a former Triumph Engineer, Nigel Garton, we’ve managed to piece together a little bit more about this fascinating project. ‘First thoughts of the Puma came about in 1966, when formulating a plan to maintain Triumph’s impressive growth. 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.’

Triumph Lynx scale model
The Triumph Lynx bears more than a passing resemblance to the Puma, because they were intended to sell alongside each other  (Picture: MG: The Untold Story, by David Knowles)

A Triumph through and through

Being a Triumph, the Puma followed a well-established pattern. The Standard Triumph International (STI) Styling Department was assisted by freelance Designer William Towns in creating the look of the car and, although a number of Designers produced proposals, it was the Michelotti style which was favoured by management. The Italian Designer had been partly responsible for Triumph’s 1960s renaissance and it made sense for it to develop that into the 1970s. The Puma emerged as an appealing long-nosed concept that looked progressive and modern enough, although some within the Design Team felt it wasn’t quite ‘Triumph’ enough for their liking.

However, it translated well into short-wheelbase form and even in early mock-ups, the closely-related Lynx coupe looked like a winner. The Puma was engineered by Harry Webster, and it appears that the Triumph V8 was earmarked for the car along with a brand-new overhead-cam inline-six cylinder that began development in 1970. The ‘all-new’ range of six-cylinder engines were actually a development of the 2000/2500’s straight-six that would eventually become the Rover SD1’s PE146/166 engine in the 2300 and 2600. What we have yet to ascertain is whether the Puma would have also been powered by a four-cylinder engine – such as the slant-four that was under development for the upcoming Dolomite.

The rest of the Puma also looked pretty conventional, and probably none the worse for it. Suspension would be a carryover from the 2000/2500, which meant an all-independent set-up with MacPherson struts and lower wishbones up front and coils with semi-trailing arms at the rear, and the transmission would have been a new Triumph-developed five-speeder that ended up emerging as the LT77 gearbox as used in the Rover SD1.

What happened to the Triumph Puma?

As can be read in the Rover SD1 and the Rover P10 development stories, the Puma ended up fighting for its life within the merged British Leyland Motor Corporation. That’s because, although its development didn’t cross over with the P8 programme post-Rover takeover by Triumph in 1966, it did end up competing with the nascent Rover P10 once that car’s development started to gather pace in 1969/70.

With the two projects competing for a position in the same market within the same group of car companies, it was only a matter of time before they would end up being rationalised. On 11 December 1970, the inevitable happened. The Triumph Board met to discuss the situation as it had been instructed to drop the Puma programme. This decision seriously dented an independent Triumph’s future, as it left just the small Bobcat saloon project to replace the 1300/Toledo as an ongoing concern.

However, the Puma wasn’t quite dead yet. Although the engineering for Rover-Triumph’s new car was going to be handled by Solihull and not Canley, the Puma’s styling was still in the running. Both projects were brought together for assessment on 11 February 1971, but the Board opted for Rover P10 hatchback ahead of Triumph’s three-box Puma. Canley’s car was thought to be too conventional in style for a late-1970s executive car, and it effectively died. But it wasn’t completely over for Triumph engineering. The Puma’s front suspension, transmission and six-cylinder engines would make it into the 1976 Rover SD1.

Rear view of the Triumph Puma shows there was much conventional thinking at Michelotti in the late 1960s. Didn't do BMW any harm, did it?
Rear view of the Triumph Puma shows there was much conventional thinking at Michelotti in the late 1960s. Didn’t do BMW any harm, did it? (Picture: The Rover SD1 story, by James Taylor)

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

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.
Keith Adams

9 Comments

  1. Interesting article. The car looks pretty, well thought out and would have aged well I think.

    It also seems to have quite a stylistic resemblance to the ill fated Leyland Force 7 in Australia, developed in the early 1970s and cancelled due to Leyland Australia’s collapse in 1974.

  2. It is possible the Puma like other planned models including Bullet (later TR7) and the Stag at one point were to carry over the 2000/2500 Triumph I6 engines (or even the OHC development that became the PE146/166), which in the Puma’s case would mitigate the need for the Triumph Slant-4.

    Otherwise is it known whether the Puma, Lynx, Bullet and Bobcat were to all be derived from a modular platform with Triumph’s plan basically twinning the Puma with Lynx and Bobcat with Bullet respectively, an early foreshadowing of the later BL plan for the SD1, SD2 (plus TM1), Lynx and TR7?

    The Bobcat also stands out since one suspects it eventually evolved into SD2 as opposed to simply falling to obscurity.

  3. I love reading these articles about cars that never made it to production. I agree the Puma would have been a decent looking executive saloon and sold well alongside the sporty Lynx. Both cars could have been serious challengers to Ford in the late 1970’s.

    Obviously just as the Triumph 2000/2500 had to give way to the SD1, the Puma wouldn’t have stood a chance under BL Management.

    • Very much agreed that reading about all the might-have-beens and what-ifs makes this site as great as it is (however sad the real course of events may have been)!

  4. Ironic that the Puma name resurfaced in the 90s as a small coupe/hatch from Ford…which was almost an updated version of Triumph’s proposed Lynx.

    • There was also a sports car in the 1970s, which was like a ready assembled kit car,

      I did wonder if the big car names were just for the projects or actual proposed names for the end product,

  5. Dearie me, that doesn’t look good at all. I know it’s an early styling buck but still. I can see Opel Rekord in the rear end, Vauxhall FE in sagging window line of the front doors, the front end I think I’ve seen on a De Tomaso or something similar, and the C-plillar makes me think of Jensen Interceptors somehow. it just doesn’t hang together for me, there”s no flow if you see what I mean. I would have been sad indeed to see the Innsbruck Triumphs replaced by this horror. in the same way that I was dismayed to see the P6 go in favour of SD1. I know it was old and needed replacing but it should have been by something with style and class.

  6. I love the Lynx, a proper rival to the 240Z etc. Not so convinced by the Puma, the model looks like 3 separate cars merged together. However, I prefer the general idea of a 3 box exec saloon to the hatchback SD1, which however smart it might have looked wasn’t what a lot of buyers wanted.

    There was a real chance of a coherent range of Triumphs. Instead we got the wedge TR7, and the cancelled podgy SD2.

  7. To my eyes the Puma model looks impressive at the front with P76 Force 7-like lights, grille and detailing. At the back it takes a step back with proportions and detailing of a Mk IV Ford Zodiac.

    The Lynx is great at the front and awful at the back. The profile of the C pillar and bodyside is all wrong.
    Much more interesting is the white car in the drawings on the wall behind the Puma model. The proportions look good, although the rear needs some retouching. If I squint I can see the mark one Cavalier.

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