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
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.’
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.