Concepts and prototypes : Triumph SD2 (1971-1975)

Keith Adams gives the Internet’s most detailed account of the Triumph SD2. What it should have looked like, what lay under the skin and, ultimately, why it was cancelled so late in its design programme.

SD2: Tragedy out of Triumph

Triumph SD2
Premium version of the Triumph SD2, with its louvre panel covering the rear side widows (see image below for comparison). This styling was signed off for production in September 1973

The Triumph SD2 was the logical next step in the rejuvenation of the Specialist Division’s range of cars. The plan had been kicked off in 1969/70, when both sides of Rover Triumph produced their own big car proposals – that resulted in the Rover P10, being chosen over the Triumph Puma, as penned by William Towns among others.

When the Solihull Design Team won out in the internal design competition, they went on to create the Division’s first car, the Rover SD1. The formula was a simple, yet successful one – marry David Bache design with simple, yet well-honed Spen King engineering to produce a state of the art car… It worked, because the SD1 was a landmark car – both for the company and the opposition of the time.

The Triumph SD2 was conceived to replace the Dolomite.
The Triumph SD2 was conceived to replace the Dolomite

The SD2 was conceived as the much-needed replacement for the Triumph small-car range, which at the time, comprised of the Toledo/1500TC/Dolomite 1850 and Sprint (above). These cars, which dated back to 1965, occupied an interesting market niche, somewhat above the Austin Morris range in terms of cost, but not so much in size.

Replacing the Triumph Dolomite

In modern terms, these cars would be referred to as ‘premium’ products, and Rover Triumph was keen to capitalise on their popularity and produce an up-to-date interpretation of the theme. The SD2 was also designed with rationalization very much in mind – BLMC’s small specialist saloon cars, although outwardly similar, were a mixture of engines and transmissions – and their continued existence was proving to be a drain on the company’s finances.

Finally, and most importantly, as Malcolm Harbour – manager of the SD2 programme – put it, ‘the original concept of the SD2 was approved in May 1972 by the Triumph management, and the whole idea was of having a replacement for the Dolomite ranges in the upper medium sector, fitting in that niche in the market, as complementary to SD1.’

In the concept submission document for the Triumph SD2, the car was described accordingly: ‘The product strategy of replacing the Triumph small car range by a compact saloon, positioned a little up market, but fitting logically below SD1 was to complete the rationalisation of the corporation’s range of specialist saloon cars, and was planned to bring with it considerable rationalisation of component and facility usage.’

What lay under the skin

Technically, the SD2 followed a similar path to the Rover SD1, inasmuch as the suspension system was conventional: McPherson struts with coaxial coil spring and 28.6mm-bore cartridge-type damper up front, with single lower link and anti-roll bar. The front subframe would be shared with the TR7, to which the lower suspension linkage, steering rack and engine would be mounted.

At the rear would be a a live rear axle at the rear controlled by two trailing arms and a Watts linkage. Drive torque reactions would be absorbed by an extension of the axle-nose coupled to a crossmember. There would be 25.4mm-bore telescopic dampers mounted forwards of the axle, coil springs mounted on top of the axle.

The engine range was soon expanded following pressure from the Marketing Department, which considered that the upmarket little SD2 would not form an effective direct replacement for the Toledo and 1500TC. The 1500TC power unit was therefore chosen as the power unit for the entry-level model and, in order not to jeopardise the car’s chances in export markets, the SD2 1500 would only be available in the UK.

However, the slant-four engine was not the original proposal put forward by Triumph Engineers: right at the dawn of the programme, the six-cylinder overhead camshaft engines which were currently in development for the SD1 were also considered as a suitable base for a smaller power unit.

Triumph engine decisions

Triumph SD2
The entry-level Triumph SD2 looked cleaner than the higher models on account of its six-light window set-up. This was, in some ways, preferable to the four-light version shown at the top of the page, with louvres covering the rear-most side windows. According to Spen King and Malcolm Harbour, the Pininfarina proposal for the SD2 was an infinitely preferable design, but it was rejected in favour of the in-house design (Picture supplied by Ian Nicholls)

As Harbour related, ‘there was a very apt proposal within Rover Triumph to make four-cylinder versions of that engine.’ Prototypes were built and it was this that would have powered the new car had the programme gone to plan from the outset.

The ‘miniature SD1’ theme, as Harbour put it, continued with the car’s styling. The Solihull Design Studio, led by David Bache, produced a rather formulaic scaling down of the larger car. There were many appealing features on the SD2, most notably its front-end styling treatment that gave the car a sleek modern appearance, and the treatment of the front wheel arches and bumpers was especially neat.

Where the SD2 was let down was at the rear, where the semi-concealed rear wheels and rather heavy plastic appliqué aft of the rear side windows, fitted to the top-of-the range models, jarred with the rest of the car – the standard six-light entry-level model (above) was much cleaner. Be that as it may, the SD2’s styling was granted corporate approval in September 1973 and, at that point, looked set fair to make it into production.

Italian designs rejected in favour of in-house style

Pininfarina version of the Triumph SD2 was stylish, although it carried little over from either the Rover SD1 or the Dolomite it was set out to replace.
Pininfarina version of the Triumph SD2 was stylish, although it carried little over from either the Rover SD1 or the Dolomite it was intended to replace

If the photographs of the SD2 looked rather less than flattering, the design did work rather better in the metal, so to speak. According to Harbour, the style of the SD2 was not just worked on within Solihull: ‘There was one model design produced in the Solihull Design Studio by David Bache’s group, but there was also a competing style that was produced by Pininfarina.

‘There were many people, including myself, who rather liked the Pininfarina style: it was slightly less controversial than the final SD2 style, with a very pronounced swage, and the cowelled wheel arches, and there was quite a lot of discussion with management about which was the way to go, but in the end they chose the in-house style.’

As well as Pininfarina’s proposal (above), Michelotti’s 1972 Dolomite facelift submission (below) was also presented as a Triumph SD2 styling idea. It was a conservative effort, very much in keeping with the existing car, but with a very European feel. In light of the more forward-looking alternatives, it was easily rejected.

According to the SD2 concept submission document, ‘The vehicle style was given corporate approval in September 1973, and details of the proposed model range, with the information then current on the vehicle specification, the facilities plan, the market implications, and the financial status were set out in an interim submission made in December 1973.’

Michelotti proposal for the Triumph SD2 started out as a facelift proposal for the Dolomite...
Michelotti proposal for the Triumph SD2 started out as a facelift proposal for the Dolomite…

Triumph SD2 programme details

By November 1974, the Triumph SD2 product plan was looking very complete. According to the internal document, there would be four engine options: 1.5-, 1.7-, 2.0-litre twin-carb, and 2.0-litre 16-valve (all the slant-fours would be ‘cost reduced’).

At this stage, they were all Triumph-derived (so the Dolomite 1500 overhead-valve for the entry-level, a 1.7-litre version of the slant-four, and the TR7 engine and Dolomite Sprint engines). As we’ll see, that became a moveable feast as the British Leyland rationalisation programme, post-Ryder Report, began to take hold.

According to Triumph SD2 product planning document (below), sales would have been modest, but presumably highly profitable. Anticipated volumes for 1979/80 would have been 83,000 per year, with the car being offered across Europe (except Sweden), and all BL’s overseas markets, aside from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, which all offered their own locally-produced alternatives.

Promising early tests fuel optimism

The development programme had been capped with a £20 million limit, which resulted in the limited range and a reliance on carry-over parts, while the new platform would be used elsewhere in the Rover Triumph model line-up. Other problems concerned the cost of the gearbox/axle assemblies and whether they could be shared with the ADO77 project, which was being drawn up at the same time in Longbridge.

Management nervousness over the SD2’s chances of success was echoed within several internal documents that pointed to its production cost being too expensive to make a profitable return. They also made several unfavourable comparisons with the Audi 80 and Opel Ascona, which led to another examination of how further costs could be taken out of the SD2.

However, the internal documents also pointed to a potentially positive performance in the marketplace. ‘The market position of the SD2 should be enhanced by the performance of the 1800cc and 2000cc versions, and by excellent handling. The suspension is of a similar design to the SD1, which is producing quite exceptional results in ride and handling,’ claimed the document.

The programme comes under scrutiny

Continuing evaluation of the programme and its implications came to a head on 16 September 1974, when the Director of Product Planning, John Bacchus, held a meeting of the management team behind the SD2 in order to address the fact that it looked like the car would not return a favourable profit.

The timing of the SD2’s development and introduction was described as thus:

  • December 1974 (end): Finish BIW engineering
  • October 1976: Start pre-production
  • June 1977: Start volume production
  • October 1977: Launch (2.0-litre models)
  • January 1978: UK launch (O-Series models)
  • March 1978: European launch (O-Series models)

The main issues at the time were that the car was described as being overweight, and that the engineering changes required to accommodate the O-Series engine would add extra time and resource to the programme, which was already under pressure from elsewhere within British Leyland.

However, there was much positive language being used about the programme internally: ‘The SD2 will be extremely well-priced (the anticipated list prices were below those of the Alfa Romeo Alfetta, Audi 80, BMW 3 Series and Lancia Beta), and it’s well placed to maintain the loyalty of a high proportion of the current Triumph owner body in the UK.’

In addition, the internal memo, titled, ‘Concept submission for a minimum investment programme‘, stated: ‘The SD2 is positioned in what is predicted to be the most rapidly growing market sector during the next 5-10 years. In addition, Rover Triumph believes that the compact specialist nature of the SD2 means that it is the best position to complement the less expensive compact cars and the larger front-wheel-drive cars manufactured by Austin Morris.’

Where would the Triumph SD2 be built?

Given the desire to keep investment to a minimum, the SD2 would be built at existing BL facilities. The idea was to use what was essentially the same set-up for body build, paint, trim and assembly as the Dolomite. The breakdown below gave the company a capacity to build up to 1950 SD2s per week – room for expansion over the initial volumes.

  • Body build: Liverpool Wood End
  • Prime: Tile Hill
  • Final Paint, Trim and Assembly: Canley

It was a set-up that would compromise the introduction of further body styles, updating facilities and most importantly, if the SD2 was a substantial success, there was no upward movement in the production volumes. It was anticipated that it would cost £20m to get these three sites ready for the SD2 – although, as the document stated, ‘this investment could be avoided if Stag production ceased before September 1976. The future of the Stag is at present under review…’

How profitable would the SD2 be?

According to the internal documents from September 1974, based on the production plan, the SD2 was going to be very profitable for BL. So much so, that if UK and European sales were disappointing, the shortfall could be made in the USA, maintaining required production volumes of 50,000 per year.

‘It is sensible to assume that Level A profitability is a target level of achievement, which is not conservative enough for financial appraisal,’ said one internal document. ‘At the other end of the spectrum, Level E profitability probably does not present a real case. The most reasonable level for a conservative financial appraisal lies somewhere between these two extremes, and is probably in the region of 25%.’

Compared with the Austin/Morris ADO71…

Interestingly, in justifying the continued development of the SD2, an internal comparison called Comparison of ADO71 and SD2 was produced. It came up with some very interesting contrasts between the two seemingly rival cars.

  • Name and Franchise
    Different marque name and, in the UK, different franchise
  • Body style/concept
    ADO71 is a medium family saloon competing mainly with cars such as the Ford Consul/Granada and Vauxhall Victor, while SD2 is a compact specialist car, which is fairly unique among UK products
  • Overall size
    ADO71 is 8in longer than SD2. However, ADO71 is in general competing with rather larger cars and its overall length is very much a function of its transverse front-wheel drive layout. Visually, SD2 appears much more compact than the ADO71
  • Accommodation
    Although SD2 provides a substantial improvement over the current Triumph small cars, it is not competitive with the ADO71, which for instance, offers 5in extra rear legroom. ADO71 also has a large boot, which is a prerequisite in its class. SD2 has a rather smaller boot, but offers the important advantage of a fifth door and folding rear seats.
  • Mechanical layout/concept
    ADO71 has a transverse engine, front-wheel-drive layout with Hydragas suspension, and power steering on some derivatives. SD2 has an inline engine with rear-wheel drive through a live rear axle.
  • Performance
    SD2 will have a considerable emphasis on performance, assisted by the low-drag shape, and the excellent speed and acceleration of the 2000 derivative. Considerable effort will go into reproducing the outstanding road behaviour of the SD1.

At the time of the production of this document, Rover Triumph planners clearly acknowledged the overlap between the Dolomite and the Allegro/Marina, and concluded that the upward movement of the SD2 would, ‘complete the realignment of the Rover Triumph range and move it away from directly competing with Austin Morris.’

The model range anticipated for the late-1970s would look like this: Mini, Allegro, SD2/Marina, ADO71, SD1 and Jaguar at the top. The document continued: ‘The SD2 also provides an important step forward in the long-term rationalisation of the corporation’s car range. Its floorpan, suspension and major components will provide a suitable basis for the Marina replacement at some future time.’ That, of course, would come to pass, even if the TM-1 project never actually made it into production.

The accountants strike

The idea was to continue with the SD2 but, wherever possible, make as many savings as possible. Without being able to expand slant-four production, the powertrain choice was revised to incorporate a 1.8-litre twin-carb version of the upcoming O-Series engine alongside the 2.0-litre slant-four, now described as ‘not cost reduced’.

After much deliberation on the matter of the gearbox, the plan was to use the LT77 gearbox as used in the SD1, alongside a BW three-speed auto, which could be offered across the entire range. Production targets were also dropped to 50,000 per year in order to give Rover-Triumph the option of selling the car for more, thus raising its profitability.

Much discussion ensued and, in the face of increasing internal resistance, it seemed that only Spen King continued to have faith in the concept of the SD2. When the collapse of BLMC followed in December 1974, and with the Ryder Report then recommending rationalisation across the range, it was inevitable that the SD2 was doomed.

Over by Spring 1975

Triumph SD2 and Rover SD1

The above picture c.1972 shows the two SD products together for evaluation and comparative purposes. It has to be said that, in this photograph, the styling does not look quite so ill-balanced as the two others, but compared with the SD1, the SD2 is still not quite so well-proportionedEven though there were last-minute attempts to revive the project, by suggesting far-reaching component sharing with the ADO77, the programme officially died in the spring of 1975.

Under the auspices of the Leyland Cars regime and in the spirit of increased inter-divisional partnership, the SD2 was replaced by the TM1 project (for Triumph-Morris). TM1 was formalised as a proposal to the Product Planning Department in September 1975 and the reasoning behind its creation was described in the document: ‘The case for commonality has remained a strong one, even though in the UK the current models compete in largely different market sectors. Moreover, recent events have made it clear that resources do not exist to develop two separate models in reasonable time.’

As this was a hastily conceived plan, there was no time to start with a clean sheet, so the joint Triumph-Morris car would use the SD2 as its starting point. This evidently made sense given the fact that several SD2 prototypes had been built, whereas the ADO77 appears not to have made it beyond the clay model stage.

Towards a front-wheel-drive future

Even so, there was an increasing feeling within the company that the rear-wheel-drive package – no matter how well developed – was not the ideal solution with which to mount an assault on a middle market that was rapidly moving towards front-wheel drive.

Malcolm Harbour stated that the argument had been voiced within BLMC many times and rear-wheel drive was possibly the way forward for a Triumph car company that was, ‘positioning itself against BMW, but there was not really the volume to justify it.’

Spen King knew this, as did Gordon Bashford who, since the middle of 1975, had been working on what would become the LC10. Sensibly, the TM1 programme that would have produced a four-door Morris and a five-door Triumph was quickly passed over in favour of the new front-wheel-drive model.


Was the SD2 a missed opportunity for British Leyland? Indeed it was, but Rover Triumph was always going to be constrained in developing the car because of its lack of the so-vital off-the-shelf 2.0-litre engine and gearbox that could have been used without any significant debate within the company.

Also the cost factors involved in developing a new rear-wheel-drive platform were prohibitive, especially within the climate of austerity that was prevalent in the company at the time. Given a more favourable climate, the SD2 might have seen the light of day – and, given its five-door layout, well-honed chassis and interesting range of engines it would have been an interesting car indeed.

On the road, the car promised much and, according to Malcolm Harbour, the prototype that he drove around the lanes of Shropshire under cover of darkness was a genuinely entertaining car.

What do you think?


The Triumph SD2 viewed from its best angle: the front. The overall package was very appealing, and it could be argued that had BLMC produced it, it could have put them to the forefront of the emerging premium car market. However, the project was scrapped, and with it, the idea of an up-to-date Triumph range of upper medium cars
The SD2 viewed from its best angle: the front. The overall package was very appealing, and it could be argued that, had BLMC produced it, it could have put them to the forefront of the emerging premium car market. However, the project was scrapped and, with it, the idea of an up-to-date Triumph range of upper medium cars
Bold Triumph badging for the new car, even though it was a Specialist Division effort, and it may say '1500', but its actually a 2.0-litre...
Bold Triumph badging for the new car, even though it was a Specialist Division effort, and it may say ‘1500’, but it’s actually a 2.0-litre…
Triumph engine looks lost under the bonnet: prototype uses fuel-injected version of the 16V slant-four found in the Sprint
Triumph engine looks lost under the bonnet: prototype uses fuel-injected version of the 16V slant-four found in the Sprint
Dashboard shows much design commonality with the SD1. Steering wheel design and instrumentation look particularly appealing, as do the multi-coloured auxiliary switches
Dashboard shows much design commonality with the SD1. Steering wheel design and instrumentation look particularly appealing, as do the multi-coloured auxiliary switches
Rear legroom looks tight - especially when viewed alongside that of the front wheel drive LC10, which replaced it
Rear legroom looks tight – especially when viewed alongside that of the front-wheel-drive LC10, which replaced it

Triumph SD2

See also:

Blog : Reunited with SD2… and it feels no better

News : New Triumph SD2 image emerges on Motorgraphs

Keith Adams


  1. Yep, the SD2 was another surefire winner and therefore destined to be totally overlooked by the BL bosses who couldn’t pick a winner if they were standing next to be finishing post presenting the gold, silver and bronze medals.

    The SD2 was a smart, roomy, practical, quality car which would have sold by the bucket-full to discerning buyers looking for quality family transport or a versatile company car – or just about any other permutation that could be devised!

  2. Sadly, when compared to the SD1, this car just does not tick any boxes for me. I’ve tried liking it but it just doesn’t have anywhere near the same impact as its larger sibling.

    I have always thought that the Dolomite styling should have been evolved in the same way as BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz did with their ranges. The Dolomite had the makings of a genuine 3 Series rival which may well have still been in production today.

  3. I think that there is always a risk when basing the design on a stylish ‘big brother’ and I think that has affected the overall design of this car. The SD2 is a poor, if well-intended, attempt to shrink the SD1.

    That being said, I am sure the SD2 would have sold well enough considering what the opposition was at the time.

  4. I reckon that, as a fwd family car hatchback, the SD2 was way ahead of its time and could have been British Leyland’s alternative to the similar Citroen BX.

  5. I think there is a hint of the Lancia Gamma around the rear of the SD2 and that’s not a bad thing. The SD2’s in its raw prototype guise here but, with a few tweaks, I think it would have been a worthy successor to the Dolomite range. Will’s BX observation is spot on.

  6. Malcolm Harbour stated that the argument had been voiced within BLMC many times and rear wheel drive was possibly the way forward for a Triumph car company that was, “positioning itself against BMW, but there was not really the volume to justify it.”

    Several million rwd BMW 3 series later…surely, as around that time the rwd SD1 and TR7 were being developed, there were enough common parts to make the programme viable?

  7. I have seen a model of the Michelloti effort in Classic Car mag when it did a special on Triumph – looked far better and would have probably sold in large numbers. Shame BL were run by a bunch of muppetts and built by striking staff.

    • Sadly, nothing could save BL. Surprised that some think this was a good looking car. It was an ugly thing, would have done better to more closely copy the SD1, especially at the back. Or the Pininfarina version, or updated Michelotti. But while the SD1 was a great design and a good looking car, it still failed because the build quality was terrible. Appalling management at BL who thought this SD 2 was a good design, unions that forever went on strike, terrible build quality from management focussing on cutting costs and workers who couldnt care less about the quality of the cars. What’s amazing really is that anybody thought this combination would ever be anything other than a total disaster.
      Never understood why BL realised that their cars would not be profitable, but as this article says they were priced way below the competition and quality was cut to save costs. Why not increase prices and use the money to actually build decent cars. It all smacked of a salesman approach (as Lord Stokes was), cut prices to make a sale, cut costs to try and offset pathetic productivity levels, and who cares if the cars are crap because it is the customer’s problem once they buy the car.

  8. I agree with#2, a slightly bigger Dolo was a better bet. The Michelloti re-jig was akin of the 3-5 beemer, classy and svelte. This sd2 looks ungainly, front reminds me of the lada samara, side is heavy and it’s small inside. Definitely not the upmarket model they were aiming at!!! On the other side, it would have been a great replacement for the marina and princess.

  9. It appears the real reason for the SD2’s demise was financial , following the damage caused to BLMC’s coffers by the 3 day week in early 1974 .The company needed to cut spending to stay afloat and stave of its creditors .
    The SD1 , SD2 , TR7 , TR8 and Lynx were all part of Rover Triumph’s expansion plans . Without the SD2 , Triumph had only the sportscars built at Speke .
    It was announced in April 1976 that all car production would end at Canley in 1980 .
    Was the cancellation of the SD2 a mistake ?
    Quite possibly yes , but even if it had gone into production at Canley , if would have been built by a strike prone workforce led by Eddie McGarry who seemed to think the world owed them a living whether they stayed at their work stations or not .

  10. I think the styling would have been helped if the swage line curved up at the rear to reflect it curving down at the front. This perhaps combined with the bottom edge of the rear windows/C post curving up would have improved the styling IMO.

  11. Rover-Triumph where constrained in developing the car because of the lack of a so-vital 2 litre engine and gearbox off the shelf – How so? They had the O series and the still current Triumph slant 4 along with the newly developed 77mm gearbox. Throw in TR7/SD1 suspension and the whole mechanical package was handed to designers on a plate. Amazing they managed to get themslves so tied up in knots over what should have been a relatively simple job with a car that effectively designed itself.

  12. ‘As the project progressed, it ran into increasing financial difficulties. Firstly, the engine range was revised so that the O-Series engine in 1.7 and 2-litre form would be used, in order to bring the SD2 in line with the Austin-Morris – the 16-valve version would continue right at the top of the range, but only to be built in relatively small numbers. This was actually a very sound and rational decision to make, given the fact that the programme had been capped with a £20million limit. Other problems concerned the cost of the gearbox/axle assemblies and whether they could be shared with the ADO77 project that was being drawn up at the same time in Longbridge. The SD2 programme continued through 1973 and 1974 and even though elements of the design were given corporate approval, final sign-off for production was never given.’

    It’s all there. During the programme, engineers, designers and planners didn’t think of this as a BL car, but a Triumph – so a Triumph powertrain solution was sought before going down the ill-fated O-Series route.

    You’re right about the ex-Saab slant-four from the Dolomite and used in the TR7, of course, but they initially wanted a new engine, which was to be a four-cylinder version of the PE166 straight six that found its way into the Rover 2300 and 2600.

    It’s all so logical now, but for different divisions within a sprawling ill-considered corporation struggling to maintain their identity it wasn’t always so clear cut.

  13. What say Triumph designed a modular floor pan, for TR7, Lynx and SD2, sharing crash structures and all drive train components. The PE166 engine be co-ordinated with the Austin/Morris O series, creating a modular 4 / 6 cylinder range, with parallel valves for A/M, inclined valves for Triumph / Rover, etc. Shared components, shared development costs. Maybe even share platform component with A/M for a new Marina?

  14. That interior looks straight out of a 1980s Renault, even the Beige/sandy Colour scheme, its all a strange but intriguing concept though still not sure it represents a Triumph, perhaps it they bolted the SD1 suspension to the Marina, then gave it 2 slightly different makeover’s (Michelotti /Pin farina/ Ital etc?) it may have stood a chance, instead of spending a few £££ on the ITAL body changes.

  15. Re; Comment No.2 “I reckon that, as a fwd family car hatchback, the SD2 was way ahead of its time ”
    It was RWD (mentioned several times in the article and obvious from the pics). Chrysler were doing FWD family size hatchback at the same time with the Alpine, Renault had been at it for ten years with the 16, and BL themselves 6 years with the Maxi.

  16. God, what a bunch of duffers. Talk about not seeing the wood for the trees!
    A new Triumph had to be rear wheel drive, fuel inj slant 4 2litre, derived from the Dolomite. Throw in some decent development and build quality and price it just below the 3 series- job done.

  17. What was happening here (and so often happens in Britain) is that two utterly opposed aesthetics were in opposition;
    a Euro box, front wheel drive socialist Renner type thingy, and Triumph, maker of conservative, RWD gents carriages.
    In hindsight we can clearly see which direction should have been taken.

  18. Not mentioned is that the Princess was under development at the same time as SD1 and SD2 – compare the legroom of the Princess to the SD2. Today it’s almost incomprehensible that the Princess didn’t get a hatch, and the SD2 didn’t get a boot.

  19. Dear all,

    I was rather supprised to find this picture of a Rover (sic!) SD2 on the BMIHT-site. Is new to my eyes and looking rather good I’d say, with clear contempary Italian overtones (Giulietta, any one??), so I guess this is either the Michelotti proposal or the Pininfarina’s. Very nice to’ve finally seen it!

    • Hmm, a cross between Accent LCII (shape), Fiat 131 (taillights) and Marina (handles) with a SD1 swage.
      Have to say this does look better than the other one, that kind of looked pregnant.

  20. By 1977 British Leyland was quietly abandoning Triumph. The TR7 had been a disaster, the 2000/2500 models were replaced by six cylinder Rovers, and the company wanted to steadily phase out Canley and closed the Speke plant after a huge strike in 1978. It was clear the cancellation of the SD2 was game over for Triumph, as by the end of the seventies they were producing the elderly and soon to be scrapped Dolomite and Spitfire and only had the TR7, which was struggling to shake off a terrible early reputation. I think under Edwardes by 1979, the company was moving towards Austin for small and medium cars, Rover for executive cars and Jaguar for luxury cars. Brands like MG, Vanden Plas, Triumph and Morris were in the process of being killed off.

    • By 1977, it was 2 – 3 years after the SD2 had been killed by the Ryder plan.

      Had the Pre – Ryder plan continued then you would have had Stag, TR7 (Coupe, Roadster & GTE) and SD2 as the Triumph range in the late 70s. So in the earl British Leyland period Triumph was seen as an important brand (it had still a strong following in the USA).

      The period you refer to is post Ryder when it became the TM1 which still showed some commitment to the Triumph brand, which the TR7 was part of as well.

      But yes in the Edwards period the TM1 was quickly canned in favour of the LC9/10, which along with the LC8 the only car anywhere near production when Edwards arrived after the failure of the Ryder Plan.

    • Which was insane. Triumph had the potential to be BL’s mainstream brand – with Austin and Morris pensioned off. Morris had no cachet by the 70s and Austin very little but Triumph at least had some aspirational sportiness attached to it, even if their products were getting to be ancient or underwhelming.

  21. Dreadful looking car. Looks like a combination of a small Volvo and a Citroen, both hideous. The interior reminds me of a Renault 9 interior, cheap, nasty and very plasticky. Thank god they never built this monster, it would have been a disaster. The only thing going for it is the front of the car. As someone mentioned earlier why not develop the dolomite into a BMW brasher at the time.

    • Notice as well the front seats are fully fabric, but the rear seat is a mixture of cloth and vinyl. Also the dashboard looks cheap and resembles that of an Austin Ambassador. Somehow the SD2 looks botched and would have struggled with such a strange interior and a Citroen GS type body.

      • I suspect the two sets of heater controls, different seats, 1500 grille plus 2000 engine etc were tests of different grades/trims. I wonder what would happen if someone like Rimmers borrowed that fi manifold for a while & made some kits for Sprint Dolomites… Another 15hp I’d imagine.

    • The problem with trying to take the fight to BMW with the Dolomite was it was a design dating back to 1963, not to mention the low number of crankshaft bearings which seemed to the the Achilles heal of many Triumph engines.

      • There was the Triumph Bobcat project, which was conceived to replace the Dolomite predating the Triumph SD2 project and allegedly resembled a downsized version of the Triumph Puma prototype, however little else is known about the Bobcat.

      • I seem to recall the Sprint’s problem was the munchies when it came to cheaper camshafts that had a poor finish, not unlike tuned K series apparently (although those have problems with out of balance cranks mashing themselves to bits too).

  22. Once you take the wood away you are left asking what tells me this is a premium car rather than a mass market car. Visually, the interior and exterior of the SD2 miss the mark. It may be that it would have been very comfortable and refined but if there are no visual clues may potential purchasers would not have found out.

    I have a thing about refinement in small and lower medium cars at the moment having stepped out of my XJR recently to try something smaller and more upright that might suit my wife’s back problem. We were both left a bit disappointed.

  23. SD2 as designed was hideous, but the IDEA of a RWD Dolomite replacement is entirely correct as BMW have showed with the 3 series

    One issue that hasn’t been commented on so much here, is the badging. If SD2 was to be a junior brother to the SD1, a visually identifiable member of the same family, then calling it a Triumph doesn’t make much sense; it would be like having a DKW 80 and Audi 100 in the same range, instead of badging them both Audi.

    IF, on the other hand you want to keep Triumph saloons, and align it more with the TR7 etc, then separate styling to the SD1 then makes more sense, e.g. the Italian proposals

  24. That interior is hideous and cheap looking. The Dolomite had a fantastic interior with wood on the dashboard and the warning lights arranged in a circle, the dashboard for the SD2 makes that of an Ambassador look good, not forgetting the weird seats in the back. I’d think the SD2 would have been far better with a Dolomite dashboard, velour or leather seats, and wood cappings on the doors. Thank goodness it never made it into production.
    However, I do feel sad for Triumph as the Dolomite was a good looking car that never really had the reliability woes of other British Leyland cars and was loved by its owners. Yet by the end of the seventies it was an old design and the suits were determined to kill off Triumph, and the brand ended assembling a Honda( still a good car and very reliable, but not a real Triumph).

  25. The thing I find is hard to understand that having designed the SD1, how do you end up with this as an SD2.

    Surely logic would have given you something looking like the Cavalier Mk2 5 door, which adapts the SD2 style to the 100inch market far better than the SD2.

  26. ADO71 was originally designed as a hatchback; it ‘lost’ the hatchback to avoid competition with the SD2 (a hatchback), but SD2 was cancelled and the ADO71 – as the “18/22 series” – came out without a conventional boot of course. ADO71 did not get the hatchback until the “Princess” version was launched.

  27. I feel that cancelling SD2 was a huge mistake and had it made production it could have changed BLs fortunes dramatically.

    First of all- it was so close to production- and bearing in mind BL had no other new product to be launched between SD1 and ADO88 – it would have generated much needed showroom traffic and helped preserve the perception of BL producing advanced vehicles. .

    It would also have given BL a much-needed boost in the company car market. It would have worked for those who didn’t trust FWD and those that didn’t want to be seen running a Ford. Being under 2-litre it would have kept the tax low and a prestigious, sporting 2-litre saloon for the boss may have generated sales of lesser Austin Morris products for sales reps and the likes.

    Although it would have been impossible to predict at the time- had it made production it would probably have taken up a lot the slack when people downsized from larger cars (SD1 in particular) during the oil crisis of the late 70s. As stated above the sector of the market it was aimed at was one of the huge growth areas – and one in which domestic manufactures had no strong competition. AUDI 80, Lancia Beta and BMW 3 Series all became strong sellers in the UK in late 70s.

    Another possible benefit could have been that it could have made the basis of a relatively cheap Marina replacement- rather than going down the Ital route allowing more time to develop LM11 into a stronger product.

    Finally- had it been a sales success it may have persuaded BL to move away from producing mass market competitors for Ford and Vauxhall sooner and move LM10 and LM11 more upmarket filling similar roles to that which AR8 adopted in the 1990s.

  28. The vehicle in the last image looks very much like the still-born Leyland P82 sedan that Leyland Australia was developing when the Zetland plant was closed down and sold by the British head office

  29. Strangely the SD2 proposal by David Bache seems to resemble a downscaled down hatchback version of the non-Michelotti Triumph Puma proposal possibly penned by William Towns.

    Compared to the SD2 proposal by Pininfarina, the David Bache version of SD2 in styling terms looks more a replacement for the Morris Marina then a Triumph Dolomite replacement despite being developed around the same time as the ADO77 Marina replacement (and prior to TM1).

  30. Always suspected there were plans at Triumph to develop a 4-cylinder version of the six-cylinder overhead camshaft SD1-Six / PE166 engine to largely replace the old Standard-Triumph SC 803-1493cc 4-cylinder units, given a diesel version of the inline-6 was considered and provided the engine family was properly developed would have enable a fairly complete range of engines.

    From a 1.6 derived from the 2.3-litre SD1-Six to a 2-litre / 1952cc derived from a hypothetical 2928cc SD1-Six, along with a possible 1.3 derived from a hypothetical 2-litre SD1-Six.

    One of the main questions that comes to mind however is why was an SD1-Six based inline-4 engine considered for the SD2 when Triumph invested so much in developing the Slant-4 with Saab along with the related V8?

    Did Triumph or BL begin to get cold feet with the Slant-4 / V8 engines (until they later reconsidered) and thus originally intended to replace them by the late-1970s with the 4/6-cylinder PE166 engines, especially after failing to produce the Triumph 3000 V8 saloon let alone persuade Saab or Morgan to use the Triumph V8?

    • I think the planners in the company didn’t know what was the right hand and the left. Possibly that slant four/V8 plan was dropped because Jag had been planning the V8 engine and as top dog everyone else had to compromise (like the SD1).

      • Was of the view Triumph reconsidered dropping the Slant-4 / V8 engines mainly for financial reasons, which also precluded them from developing the 4-cylinder version of the SD1-Six / PE166 engine to replace the Slant-4.

        Agree it was all a mess and the fact everyone had to compromise for Jaguar’s shelved 60-degree V8 instead of the latter properly developing the Daimler V8 or developing a proper 90-degree V8 from a V12-based Inline/Slant-4.

        • The other reason that the slant four was looked to b replaced by a 4 cyl version of the PE166 engine was cost? They probably looked to see if they could make a 4 cyl on the same line as the 6, so cost of tooling and production could be cut.

          • Yeah, right: developing an almost completely new 6-in-line (PE) instead of using a very suitable E6 that could be produced on the same line as a related E4, followed by developing another 4 cylinder derived from that unnecessary 6 to complement or replace the 3 different 4 cylinders already available (E4, Slant 4, B), 2 of which were underdeveloped to say the least. Not to mention further development of the oldest 4 cylinder available in favour of either newer engines.

            Brilliant managerial vision…

    • Or another option – the 2.2 to 2.6 litre E series straight 6 as fitted to the Marina by Leyland Australia. Slot it into a decently developed Michelotti restyle of the Dolomite and you’ve basically got a three series.

      • Doubt the E6 would have fitted into the Dolomite, SD2 / ADO77 and TM1 are possible though it seems there were vague plans for a V6 either speculatively derived from the Rover V8 that seems more likely or less likely the Jaguar V12 and Triumph V8.

        • We packaged ADO77 engine bay to use the (at the time projected) K series v6. The Buick-derived v6 wasn’t ever seriously considered for ADO77. It was seen as out of date and difficult to make compliant with anticipated US emissions regulation.

          • Would it be correct to assume this is the same K-Series V6 that later appeared in 1996 or a different design altogether (as in derived from the H/K-Series engine originally intended for ADO74)?

            If the former it would suggest the K-Series V6 (plus V8) and 4-cylinder were intended to appear much earlier than they did, in which case had ADO77 received production when would it have received the V6?

          • To clarify the last part, how long was ADO77 to remain in production for by the time it was to receive the V6?

  31. Reading this latest update leaves me thinking that BL maybe missed a trick by not prioritising this platform for a Marina replacement in the early 70’s. Bringing it to market in 75/76 would still have been bang on for a rear drive rep-mobile that would have given the Mk4 Cortina and Mk1 Cavalier a real run for their money, especially with that Pinninfarina styling. That would have also got volume up on the platform that would no doubt have helped the TR7’s long term commercial case. Instead of replacing the Dolomite with another overlapping saloon/hatch, that slot could have been taken by a Triumph badged Coupe version of the “New Marina” marketed as a more sophisticated, thinking mans Capri, a bit like an Opel Manta. Under this golden scenario the Princess would be Austin only with a hatchback to complement the RWD Morris Saloon and allow the Maxi to be pensioned off!

      • You’re close…..that’s what ADO77 was to be. A common platform for Austin/Morris, MG, and Triumph. It was mothballed (then briefly morphed into the TM project), after the disaster of SD1. We simply didn’t have the money left to proceed. With that, ADO73 had to struggle on, and the company lost any chance of being a serious player in the volume/fleet market.

        • While hearing about the ADO77 platform being capable of spawning an MG Midget replacement, could it have also been scalable enough to form the basis for a smaller hatchback / saloon (upper B-Segment to C-Segment) let alone capable of being converted to FWD if needed (as was said to be the case with the Avenger platform during the Alpine project)?

          Additionally was ADO77 designed to be fitted with much larger engines then the 2-litre O-Series?

          • The MG derivative was to have been a ‘B’ type car, not a Midget replacement. The ADO77 platform was to have been a modular platform, similar to VW’s approach since the early 80’s. The largest engine anticipated was a V6.

          • Thanks for clearing up things. Was the anticipated V6 to be an in-house design or sourced from outside?

            Unless the V6 was to be an all-new design, the only three potential in-house V6s that come to mind are the 90-degree Rover V8-based V6, the 90-degree Triumph V8-based V6 or the 60-degree Jaguar V12-based V6.

        • What exactly was the SD1 disaster that I often see referred to here? I know the SD1 was always a bit of an underachiever, but never realised it was so pivotal in BL’s downfall? Above I assumed that SD2 never happened and this platform was prioritised for a Marina replacement instead.

          • I wonder the same Paul- what differentiates the SD1 disaster from the Maxi, Stag, Dolomite, Allegro, Princess, XJS or TR7 disasters. Most failed to meet their planned launch dates, were over budget, all failed to meet their planned production levels and suffered from horrendous unreliability and warranty costs. Perhaps the SD1 was the one where the money ran out. In fact in this respect the only 1970s successes were the Range Rover and — Marina!

          • Just speculating, but I think the disaster was financial, as in the SD1 was all new. It wasn’t based on anything and it was built for volume production. New platform, new body, new factory the investment must have been huge, as were the warranty claims. It was really the last car BL developed from the ground up, and after that I’d guess there was no more money

  32. I agree with some others here, that the SD2 Pininfarina design was better than the in-house version. I can’t imagine why BL Management would think otherwise.
    Some of the interior design looks “cheapish” but there again, it would be because they were comparing different materials and designs.

  33. As an aside in that section comparing SD2 with the Princess, they suggest that Princess was a rival to the Granada/Consul and Victor. Surely the SD1 (especially the 6 cylinder models) was the main BL rival to the Granada, and the Princess was more aimed at higher end Cortinas?
    What a mess the BL mid market range was in by the late 70s, with NONE competing properly against the Cortina and the Cavalier, and no competitive rival for the premium products either.

  34. I’ve tried to rationalise Kev’s argument about the SD1 being a failure for a couple of years now. I think what he is saying is that, when SD1 was signed off, BL had the resources to develop one completely new car and build/ re-equip a factory to make it. This could either be SD1 or ADO77. SD1 got the money – presumably because it was replacing two elderly (and formerly profitable) cars – the Triumph 2000 and Rover P6, whilst the Marina was fairly new when the decision was being made in the early 70s and not in such immediate need of replacement. However, SD1 sales did not perform as forecast – therefore the cost of the big, expensive factory was never repaid to BL – and the result of this is that the investment to put ADO77 into production (and use its modular platform to replace everything from the Marina to the Dolomite, MGB and Stag) could not be released. And this crippled the volume car division to the extent that it was never again properly competitive. As such, SD1 was the last throw of the dice for BL, and it went wrong (for whatever reason – and that doesn’t mean it isn’t an admirable machine in its own right – it just didn’t deliver the required financials to support the required ongoing investment). Have I got that right, Kev?

    • Pretty much Julian. Both Rover and Triumph were in dire need of replacement – both were old fashioned, expensive to build, and struggled to pass crash test. In the face of the completion, sales were falling off markedly. Both meant little in export markets. A new product was needed. The trouble was, it wasn’t the SD1. What the market required was a 3 box saloon, with an estate derivative. What they got was a hatch back. There was no real market for the SD1 then, and still isn’t now. If you look at Rover/Triumph competitors in the market – Volvo, BMW, Mercedes – that’s were their success came from.

      All that ignores the awful build quality, low productivity, and dreadful industrial relations, at Solihull. Or to put it another way…..there was never enough demand for SD1 to run a regular night shift on it.

      • I beg to differ. Renault’s excellent 16 had proven before that more expensive hatch/liftbacks could be succesful, as did Citroën’s CX.

        After launch, critical acclaim for SD1 was overwhelming, as was public reaction: waiting lists unknown to BL began to build. However, production couldn’t keep up with demand because of inexperienced workers and strikes. When those were more or less solved, it became clear that build quality was appalling. The rest is history but I dare to disagree the concept was to blame.

        You’ve testified your dislike of SD1 before and Spen King for that matter). I don’t know what you experienced that makes you think like that about the pair, but I’m not sure many people would agree on these subjects. As an aside: just view what’s topping the current poll of best ever BL product.

        • Well yes but topping the poll of best BL car in 2018 means jack shit if your trying to sell the things in 1978! If the hatchback configuration was an issue and I’m prepared to believe it could have been when you look at the competition, then surely it would not have been a massive investment to develop a booted derivative? I also think the lack of a 2 litre engine from day one held the SD1 back. Couldn’t the TR7s 2 litre slant 4 have sorted this?

          • I think the SD1 shows the lack of vision in the marketing teams and the lack of funds that the development teams had. BL were propping up the mass market side of the business with the profits from Rover, Triumph and Leyland’s Bus and Truck business which dragged everything down.

            We forget back in the 70s the hatchback was seen as the way forward, with most organisations jumping on this vision of the future. BL were so badly run that they couldn’t see that a hatchback would actually harm sales in some markets, and they should have developed the range to incorporate a saloon, hatchback, estate and coupe versions. The Estate was planned but the money just run out. Remember Jag had a large say on what product Rover and Triumph could offer as they did not want their sales taken, but as VW have shown you can aim your vehicles at different markets and not cannibalise sales. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

            The most irritating thing is the slant 4 and the subsequent V8 are good engines just badly but together, as shown by SAAB’s development of the 4. If a joined up plan had been put in place, this engine could have been used as the mid to large size engine for the whole BL group, just like most modern manufacturers do today.

            If BL, and previously BMC had the right people at the helm, we may have still had a great car industry of our own. But as I said hindsight is a great thing.

          • Agree on the 105 hp 2-litre Slant-4 from the TR7 being used on entry-level versions of the SD1 since it could be argued using the 2-litre O-Series was a step too far in terms of prestige and taking the SD1 range downmarket.

            On the other hand, the Triumph engine was said to have cost significantly more to make compared to the O-Series, had limited production capacity to provide the necessary engines (it is a wonder the Dolomite never received a 105 hp 2-litre non-Sprint version of the Slant-4) and also reliability issues that were only remedied by Saab’s subsequent developments of the Slant-4.

        • The perspective in Australia was the SD1 was an absolute heap of brown stuff. The quality was so bad it ruined a really strong marque image in a couple of short years. Many posh Range Rover owners would just refuse to be associated with it and call it the “Leyland 3500”, almost seeing it as a 4 wheeled vindication of the evils of socialism and nationalisation (though somehow that didnt apply to Jaguar….)
          And the 5 door was a liability, especially the lack of an estate. They were competing at the bottom end with the 240 series volvo and at the top with the W123 Mercedes – both built like tanks – people put a million miles on them. And the silly thing is it was a simple car. The engine and gearbox were bullet proof, back was a live rear axle. Yet they still couldn’t build them.

    • The SD1 clearly didn’t perform as well as it should have in the market, but the investment in it was surely not “crippling” for what was back then still a massive organisation if it wasn’t for the massive failures elsewhere in the range? After all the TR7, Princess and XJS were also launched at around the same time.

      Personally the mistake to me was launching Princess INSTEAD of ADO77. The Landcrab had failed in the market, and while better the Princess was still a niche product when compared to ADO77.

  35. I think the problem with SD1 is that they just didn’t sell enough of them. What you have to remember is that they built a huge new factory to make them in – I think to the extent that it was the largest building project in Europe(!) when it was under construction. That would have been a massive investment for anyone, let alone a cash-strapped misfiring corporation like BL – and in a different league from re-equipping an existing factory to make a new model. I guess that when they decided to build this factory they worked on the basis that combined sales of the Triumph 2000 and P6 had been about 600,000 units over 10 years – and that the challenge for the P6 particularly (not sure about the Triumph) had been making enough of them to meet demand. They must also have been very conscious that Jaguar were failing to make enough XJ6’s to capitalise on the demand for that car, too. I guess they also perhaps thought the joining the Common Market would increase sales of this sort of car too – after all, that size and type of car had been a real growth area in the 60s – before the oil crisis of 1973 – so there must have been an assumption of some growth in the market too. And they also planned to sell a lot of them in the US too. James Taylor’s SD1 book says that the big, new factory was intended to make 150,000 SD1s a year.

    Now this isn’t too crazy a figure when you compare it to the production totals for similar cars made in France – e.g. 800,000 Renault 20/30s, 1.2 million CXs and 1.3 million Peugeot 505s (admittedly, the last two had longer production runs). The problem was that SD1 sales were about 300,000 over 10 years – and that just wasn’t enough to get a return on the investment.

    The decision to build the big new factory was pretty logical at the time – I mean, why wouldn’t the new car sell a few more than its two predecessors? Unfortunately it missed the targets set by the P6/ T2000 by a mile. For my money this was because:
    – poor and inconsistent quality – particularly amongst the first cars
    – labour relations problems meaning not enough cars were available when demand was highest immediately after launch
    – the poor quality of the first cars dragging down sales after about 1980 – because by then the early cars were already looking very tatty and clearly weren’t lasting as they should have done – hardly an inducement to buy a new one!
    – lack of a 2 ltr model for the first 6 years of production – a particular problem in Europe, which was also hampered by lack of a diesel. But it also perhaps shut them out of the market for families who just wanted a big car without the expense and complication of a large 6 cylinder engine
    – the problems with the 6 cylinder engine – and the 2300 feeling very pared down and unspecial
    – I don’t know where I stand on the hatchback issue. The fastback shape doesn’t seem to have done the CX or Renault 20 any harm.

    In hindsight, I guess it might have made more sense to make SD1s at Solihull and Canley – given the volumes achieved – but I can see why they felt that wouldn’t have given them the capacity. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

    Which takes me to ADO77. This is an interesting one. It would have given a Marina replacement, and also replaced all the slightly specialist rear wheel drive stuff. So it would have provided a volume car in a sector that was in decline (by the mid 80s, only the Sierra would be RWD in the fleet sector) – and low margin anyway, and specialist cars in a variety of sectors where sales were doing different things – e.g. sports cars (MGB/ Stag replacement) – in decline; premium saloons (SD2) – growing; coupes (Marina coupe replacement) – in decline. I guess the question about whether it was sensible to proceed is whether you’d be able to make enough money from the premium saloon to make it worth doing the other stuff off the same platform. The BL accountants must have taken the view that it wasn’t.

    • Rwd fleet cars were still the norm in UK in the 70s, as Europe didn’t really have this market as companies gave allowances for people to buy cars. Most fleet managers didn’t like fwd cars until the 80s showed that they were very reliable. So a marina based on the same flooring would have given bl a fleet market car, but the company couldn’t afford it. The struggled to get any funding from the government since the sd1 debacle (also the UK economy was knackered) and couldn’t bring the maestro and metro to the market at the same time. Because of this lack of cash they dropped everything that they didn’t think could make a big enough profit. But as we know with hindsight that the 80s were aspirational and people wanted posh brands. Rover found this out.

      • I agree moving the Triumph and Rover brands further up marked would have been much more realistic than what we have seen here with the AD1/SD2 project.However in my view Triumph should have actually been sold off or to become independent as part of the Ryder review as the two brands were stuggling to reposition themselves effctively in the market.I will be interested to see what Peugeot do with Vauxhall and Opel as these two companies are competing in exactly the same market and have to overcome many of the problems BL had with competing Triumph and Rover. In what direction do you think Vauxhall should go ? More Upmarket and specialised I would have thought.I am sure the people at Ellesmere Port are wondering exactly this.

    • The successful fastbacks you mention are both French, maybe it was something which worked there but not elsewhere? The Gamma is the only other fastback I can think of, and not a great success. After all most of the other rivals to SD1 were conventional RWD saloons – Granada, Rekord/Carlton, 5 series, W123, 240, Alfetta, 604 etc

      The ADO77 sector certainly wasn’t in decline in the mid 70s, when you consider the vast number of Cortinas, Cavaliers/Asconas, Fiat 131s and all the Japanese cars in this class. BL should surely have been able shift 150-200000 ADO77s alone when you consider that the ancient Marina still sold 100000 a year until the late 70s.

      • I think gamma was not a success because of its weird flat 4 engine, the woeful rust proofing and reliability issues. Also it was not really a looker compared to the sd1 or the cx. If the sd1 had been built properly from day 1 then it would probably been a success.

        • Nope….regardless of anything else, there was no market for an ‘executive’ hatchback (or fastback if you like). There wasn’t then, and there isn’t now. The market demands 3 box salons and estates (or SUV’s in the modern world). This is the market that has been so successful for Volvo, BMW, and Mercedes. Unless you think you think they went wrong somewhere along the line?

          • Well why have BMW produced them now? The new GT cars are hatchbacks. The SD1 received car of the year, and production could not keep up with sales so that indicates that people wanted this car until they realised that it was’nt actually built but thrown together and then sales dropped off.

          • Paul D……SD1 was so much in demand….that production never needed a night shift…..

  36. I think it’s not really that – just that SD1 was such a massive thing which BL needed to get right, that they took a bit of a gamble on the hatchback shape, which was higher risk than a direct replacement for the P6/ Triumph 2000 saloon/ estate, and it was a bit of a one-way bet that didn’t come off (like, in fact, so much in BL history). My thought is that this choice, though, probably lost it fewer sales than the SD1’s general fragility and love of rusting. Such a shame. I have a 2600 and (when on song) it is a truly great car. It has a sort of loping gait which somehow makes it a much more pleasant thing to drive than the Saab 9-5 I use most of the time. Something to do with how high geared it is, I think, the directness of the steering and the long-travel suspension. However, I can remember many of my parent’s friends with SD1s in the 70s and 80s finding the things an absolute nightmare – always confronting them with weird new faults. They were pretty much all driving Mercs and Volvos by the end of the 80s. Only the (minority) with 3500s seemed to replace their SD1 with an 800.

    • There were waiting lists across Europe for the SD1 when it was launched in 1976, as it was such a good car looks wise and to drive, but strikes, terrible quality and breakdowns drove buyers away. Had the car been built properly from the start, it could have been a world beater, and when it came right( sort of) in 1982, most buyers had moved on to German and Swedish cars.

      • Don’t be taken in by such nonsense 🙂 The Chrysler Horizon was Car of The Year when it was launched, but would you want one? You’re right about the quality though….it wasn’t built properly until it went to Cowley.

  37. I just saw an original Alfa 33 this weekend and noticed how similar the Pininfarina SD2 design is to it.

  38. Wow! A lively exchange!

    Looking at this from 40 year’s distance shows there were a lot of pitfalls, and a lot of possibilities. If we put to the side the labor strife, one of the biggest problems was that BL management had an unerring ability to make stunningly bad decisions, and to do so time after time.

    It’s easy to get caught in the weeds, but there was no reason not to have front-and rear-drive cars of approximately the same size, but competing in different segments. Each could have been built around one, at most two, basic platforms, with Rover, Triumph and MG using the rear-drive architecture, and the rest the front-drive layout. Each could have supported three- and five-door hatchbacks, two- and four-door notchbacks, and wagons. These would be distributed based on the style and conservatism of each brand, and allow a limited amount of mixing and matching to create specialty models.

    Under the skin, there would be large-scale sharing of components and systems. Undoubtedly, the lack of funds would mean choosing the best heater matrix currently in production for each size vehicle, for example, and using it across the board until a more modern and cost-effective unit could be funded. The suspensions would be the same, though there would be the opportunity to replace the beam axle (front-drive) and live axle (rear-drive) units on specialty and high-performance models. With both layouts planned from the be=ginning, it would be relatively easy to make these bolt-in options with many shared components.
    Transmissions, brakes, steering systems, seat bases, etc. would be common across the board. The powertrains would move to common blocks, cams, pistons, etc. over time, but be limited to the best of what was currently available at the start.

    Ideally, you’d want to move to an engine family like the K-Series four and six in various displacements, but this would be a bridge too far in the 1970s. With the Daimler and Buick V8s in hand, I would consider making the Buick-based V8 exclusive to Rover and Land Rover. The Daimler V8, on the other hand, would provide a common base for Triumphs and MGs. This would mean an inline four and six that shared the V8’s bore spacing and internals, as well as an updated V8 in the 2.5- to 4.0-liter range. The six also could be used in the Rovers.With this lineup, it would be possible to justify the two separate milling lines, though I would think some bright fellow would have found a way to create a robust, dimensionally correct base onto which the inline blocks could be bolted so they could use the V8 machining center.

    Over time, and as finances allowed, overhead cam versions of these engine would be created. Building off common blocks and sharing heads between the four and V8 would allow a number of unique and sporty powerplants to be created. However, given the emissions performance and outputs available from modern pushrod designs, it would be possible but not imperative to create overhead cam heads.

    As I am not intimately aware of all the various models and brands at the time, I’ll stick with the ones with which I’m familiar. MG would borrow the small front-drive platform to create a fun-to-drive coupe and convertible to replace the Midget, and use the mid-size rear-drive platform to create a successor to the MGB and MGB GT, and a sporting small sedan. The inline four would be used in the front-drive cars and be the base engine in the others. Plus, there would be a 2.5-liter V8-powered version of the MGB/GT successors, with the inline six used in the sedan.

    Triumph, on the other hand, would start with a Pininfarina-designed TR7/8 using the SD2 above as a starting point. The coupe version of the TR7 would carry the Spitfire name, and offer the inline six exclusively. There would be no TR8 coupe, and this car would use a larger displacement version of the V8 than the corresponding MGB/GT. The “SD2” sedan would be larger than the MG sedan, offer inline four and six, and V8 power, and add a hatchback variant.

    The Rover lineup would overlap Triumph in that the mid-size would be the entry-level car. The inline six would be the base motor, with the option of the Buick-based V8. Less overtly sporting than the Triumph, the mid-size Rover would be more luxurious, and offer either notchback or hatchback, and wagon body styles. The SD1 replacement would be similar but larger, and offer the V8 standard, with the inline six as an option.

    We can always dream.

    • I think BL missed the whole think by a long shot. What was Rover chosen as the brand to front the mid market when it was unknown in large parts of the world, while Triumph was already known as a maker of sports car to the world (especially the US). Rover could have been used exclusively on the 4×4 range, Triumph on saloons and sports cars, which mean both brands could have sat side by side in the same dealerships.

      • Yes, that makes a lot of sense. Maybe Triumph could have ended up being the company Rover (with R8 etc) wanted to be at the start of the 90s, Jaguar and (Land/Range) Rover would have split up the top end between them with one taking prestige saloons and the other taking 4X4s. Then it would be MG for sports cars/coupes and Austin for smaller cars.

        Then, as VAG has shown, after each brand had weathered the 70s and 80s, they could expand back into overlapping but not identical niches: Jaguar into SUVS, (Land/Range) Rover back into saloons/estates, Triumph into coupes/convertibles, MG into affordable sports saloons/SUVs and Austin perhaps into slightly larger cars.

        That would leave a BL of 2018 with something like JLR at the top end (Jaguar and Rover), something like VW or lower end BMW in the middle (Triumph), a cross between Mazda, SEAT and Alfa (MG) and then a cross between BMW MINI and Citroen (Austin).

        What a lovely dream.

  39. Notwithstanding the rear accommodation and the ungainly styling, though in a scenario where SD2 was conceived as a small Rover instead of a Triumph (albeit an indirect replacement for the small Triumph saloons) could the SD2 have benefited from directly resembling the larger Rover SD1?

    Sure the SD2 already very vaguely resembles a downsized SD1, yet the fact it was conceived as a Triumph likely precluded from directly resembling the SD1 in order to further distinguish it from the larger car.

    So SD2 was to have a length of roughly 167-inches when compared to ADO71, in reality the car could have afforded an extra 5-inches to match the E21 BMW 3-Series and improve the rear legroom.

    Compared to the BMW, SD2 has rear-doors (and a hatch) over the former’s 2-doors though falls behind the BMW due to only being planned to feature 4-cylidner engines in contrast to the E21’s 6-cylinder models (not sure whether the abandoned “K-Series” V6 originally planned for ADO77 was also intended for SD2 at one point).

  40. The Michelotti proposal from the front looks suspiciously Yugo!
    I do remember reading that 1980s Yugos were styled by one of the Italian styling houses, but if I remember correctly it was Guigaro.

      • No it was by Giorgetto Giugiaro, and was one of his designs for the Fiat Tipo which was rejected by Fiat. The Sana or Florida as it was also known was based on that cars underpinnings.

  41. It is amazing that the horn rimmed, leather patched pipe smoking idiots that ran BL sat around a table comparing the crisp, attractive, contemporary Pinninfarina proposal with the flabby, disgusting in house effort and came to the conclusion they did!

      • I think it was a similar situation with the Austin Healey Sprite and Mini Cooper being dropped over royalties. Though the last 1000 or so Sprites were simply badged as Austins.

    • You do a dis-service to ‘BL’ management. The company was hopelessly cash-strapped for very many years and the management had to juggle with what they had available in terms of cash, out-dated machinery and methods, inadequate R&D facilities and persistent demoralising onslaughts from cheaper far eastern and European products, media who just loved to ‘BL-bash’ to turn an easy buck, and a public who simplistically fell for it (as in Brexit for instance). A few mis-conceptions then;

      In general terms, BL suffered from un-integrated staff at all levels (e.g., Austin vs Morris) and senior managers without the vision to understand and deal with this. Imported managers such as Barber, Edwardes and so on were ignored and gave up to pursue more rewarding roles. Much later, this persistent internecine rivalry and squabbling was spotted by BMW – a major justification for their pulling out. Consequently, a lot of good functional managers wasted too much energy on this. Those who flew the nest, popped up in senior positions elsewhere where their talents could at last be realised.

      SDI as a production project, was separately funded from start to finish. It was a determined attempt to break out of the cycle of under-investment and lack of customer acceptance. Due to under-investment in quality and a rush to move the metal to liberate cash early, initial cars were awfully built. When those problems were overcome, the 3500 plus were a strong force. The problem was that the hastily-designed 2300/2600 motors were under-powered, heavy and had persistent top end failures. The 2000 and VM diesel variants couldn’t even handle a rice pudding. If you now extrapolate that to SD2, you see the difficulty?

      It was incredible that BL did not invest in JUST ONE planning department and R&D facility. I cite engines as but one example. Separate departments designing (and building!) separate ranges of engine ‘families’, each with their own too small budget, headcount and facilities, competing against each other! Unthinkable today. Triumph for instance with their slant4/V8 disastrously designed with a block weighing a ton, inadequate waterways, a high-mounted water pump, a totally barmy head clamping arrangement, and intake manifold dreamt up by a refugee from Meccano. To Triumph’s shame (as well as Saab’s naivety) after Saab started building the slant 4 they realised they had been sold a pup and embarked upon a comprehensive redesign. I could quote more examples. Suffice to say the ‘K’ series was around many years and as a ‘lean-burn’ engine could not keep head gaskets but lacked the basic redesign to overcome this. It was eventually further compromised in terms of reliability by being re-designed to fit under a Metro bonnet. Both the ‘K’ series and the slant 4/V8 engines problems were much later simply overcome without huge investment costs by end users and enterprising garagists.

      It would be incorrect to say that the car divisions were baled out by the commercial vehicle operations. The core brand of Leyland Trucks was buying anything that seemed to be a truck or bus-related manufacturer, e.g., Crossley, West Yorkshire Foundries, SCG. National Bus at Workington mirrored the SD1 plant by using a similar fresh sheet of paper. Without appropriate investment in managing, talent, people and things, no profit was ever available to prop up BL Cars. Then in the 70’s Leyland designed a horrific engine they standardised in everything without due engineering diligence. That abortion sank Buck and Truss. RIP.

      Hind-sight is a wonderful thing. In 1964 I helped one financial genius pack and drove him home. His last words were “This corporation is dying. Look me up for a job”. Sadly I was too stupid to follow his good advice, or any of his investment recommendations.

      • I broadly agree with you about the lack of joined up thinking in BL and the amount of internal rivalry undermining things.

      • There are many things which are easy to say with hindsight

        Looking at the Pininfarina proposal and immediately thinking it’s far more stylish and desirable than the internal SD2 isn’t one of those decisions though! Especially as the internal design was signed off as early as 1973, before things had completely gone sour.

        • While I’d hesitate to describe the Pininfarina car as stylish and desirable, it’s at least inoffensive. The in-house SD2 is a mess. Remember this design is the product of professionals, ” car designers” who get paid to produce a saleable and competent product. If this car had hit the market looking the way it does in these photos… Well, I can’t imagine spending my hard-earned on one. No chance.

  42. The lack of availability of the O series engine at the time of development was the death knell for the SD2 in my opinion. I think it was a good enough car to turn a profit for the ailing BL organization but alas it wasn’t meant to be and it was a shame seeing as the Maestro and Montego were a fair few years away at the time the SD2 died

  43. I’m pretty sure that if the SD2 had made production looking how it did, then any surviving examples today would have TV shows dropping pianos on them.

    • The BL styling decisions during the 70s are baffling. So many cars they launched or nearly launched either look ugly or were way out of kilter with what the public actually wanted at the time.

      • It’s hard to credit, isn’t it? One desperately unappealing duffer after another. There have been reams of material written, analysing where and how it all went wrong the state owned car maker. Not least on this site. But look at the cars. The best ones were products of the constituent firms before they were absorbed into “ the firm”. I don’t rate anything produced subsequently.

        • The SD1 was a good looking car that won praise for its styling across Europe and the V8 was an excellent drivers car. Of course, strikes, poor quality and faults turned buyers away, and the six cylinder cars were unreliable and subject to cost cutting that made them look cheap and nasty inside. The one car that could have really made British Leyland look good and be a big export earner became yet another tale of woe.
          Ditto the TR7, which was supposed to be part of a new generation of sports cars and aimed at the American market, another car that was built by workers who were constantly on strike or disinterested in their jobs and was a lemon. It came right near the end, when a convertible was launched and became better made, but then the car was cancelled.

  44. For what was intended to be a premium car, David Bache’s Triumph SD2 proposal sure does not look like it belongs in the class. It compares rather unfavourably against the earlier Michelotti styled Triumph Bobcat proposal never mind his as well as Mark Cassarchis’s P82 proposals.

    Taking it further why didn’t they simply permit Michelotti to recycle Bobcat onto SD2 and why did Michelotti instead make the conservative Fiat 132-inspired Dolomite rebody that have seen was proportedly part of the SD2 project?

    • It was surely unsightly.

      I never knew why, when the company knew money was tight did they not combine the SD2 and Marina projects together from day 1. The fast back ideas for the Marina and hatchback SD2 could have used a similar structure and platform, with different skins, and use their own unique engines.

      • Do not disagree with an early TM1 as it were, otherwise cannot help but think the company should have had the Australians prioritise what became P82 (originally Model A before it was applied to the Leyland Marina) over P76 as the latter appeared in 1973 and before things really went downhill there were thoughts of bringing it over to the UK.

        Whereas the P76 would have likely been a white elephant that overlapped with the SD1 and XJ had the company decided to sell it in the UK, the P82 had it appeared in 1973 would have been able to easily find its place as an SD2-counterpart to replace both the Marina and Dolomite with projected engine options to also include mooted 1.3 A (with FI) and 1.5 E units at the lower end of the range.

        • Agree, but then the P82 was really s project that should have never existed. A small antipean outpost was allowed to spend millions developing models which sold in small numbers and nowhere else. Madness! The Aussies should have been given the 3000 to simplifiy and launch with the Tasmin/Kimberly look instead of spending on the P76. That cash could have been used to produce a new RWD platform which could have then be shared across Austin-Morris and Triumph.

          • It sounds crazy on the face of it, OTOH of the impression the local conditions necessitated the course of action they took. In that respect P82 as with P76 both reputedly being distantly related with SD2 and SD1 (as they wouldn’t have been developed in a complete vacuum), was not that different to Holden likely developing the locally produced 3rd gen Torana from the FE V platform (not yet known if it was born from Cerian project’s remains akin to the ADO16-based Apache/Victoria being born from a Michelotti proposal for ADO22).

            If anything it was what passed for management at home that was the issue for not applying the Aussie division’s developments more widely (nor for that matter including them at the start of major projects – leading them to develop their own) and that preceded the formation of BL.

            Recall reading on Tony Cripps BMC Leyland Cars of Australia page the two fatal mistakes of the antipodean outpost were developing the locally built Marina (particularly the Six) and prioritising P76 over P82.

            They also apparently looked at converting ADO16 to RWD at one time, which if true leads to the inevitable question of if a similar process could have been done to ADO17/X6 as a design that originally started out as RWD? That would probably be a better alternative than foisting the 3-litre in Australia, which from querying they had no interest in.

  45. Surely the logical outcome of this, as Triumph was to be wound down after 1976, would be to completely update the Marina, whicb was still selling in decent numbers. An Ital type update in 1977 with the new O series engines and improvements to the suspension and handling would have kept the car’s sales healthy. The SD2 was too controversial looking and could have been another Allegro moment and possibly aliented Triumph buyers, who loved the Michelotti sytling of the Dolomite and remained loyal to the end, even when BL announced the end of the car in 1979.

    • Nice thinking Glenn but BL had diddly squat cash and resources. The Metro was prioritised, which seem to be where all the resources went. I agree doing a good quality update and launching the Ital in 77 would have actually helped sales and the balance sheet. Instead BL seemed to be in a malaise to the public just tweeking old cars, which were not well built and always on strike.

      • The Marina was still selling well in the mid seventies, but the arrival of the Cortina Mark 4 and Cavalier with their crisp styling and better driving experience made the Marina seem old and sales started to fall. The Marina 1.8, despite the extra 200 cc, was no match for the smooth revving 1.6 Cavalier or the 1.6 OHC found in the Cortina, and the car’s handling and ride were poorer. If anything, the Marina was a car that should have been updated earler with the Ital programme brought forward to 1977.

  46. Thought this article would be of interest due to the distant relation between the Triumph and Saab’s later redesign of the B Slant-Four into the H engine, since although the H engine was mounted transversely in the 9000 it still required redesigns including one to help shorten the engine in order to fit into the smaller 900 NG.

    Which is something to take into account regarding ideas the Triumph Slant-Four could have been mounted in BMC’s transverse FWD cars and negated the need for the O-Series etc never mind the other challenges involved.

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