Concepts and prototypes : Triumph Bullet and Lynx (1967-1971)

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

The original targa-topped Triumph Bullet and its fastback Lynx cousin were originally conceived to replace the GT6 and TR6 – it was a long-running project.

However, internal post-BLMC merger politics got in the way, and it made way for the altogether more avant-garde looking Harris Mann-styled TR7.


Anglo-Italian Triumph outvoted in favour of Mann’s wedge

Profile view of the Bullet shows delicious proportioning. (Picture: "MG: The Untold Story", by David Knowles).
Profile view of the Bullet shows delicious proportioning. (Picture: MG: The Untold Story, by David Knowles)

Entering the 1970s, Triumph decided on a two-pronged attack on the sports car market: Bullet (above) was the TR6 replacement incorporating, like the Stag, a roll-over bar and T-bar. Lynx (below) was the closed coupé, to replace the GT6. A good place to get the full story is David Knowles’ excellent book, Triumph TR7: The Untold Story.

Initial work on the Lynx and Bullet programmes had begun in Canley before the British Leyland Motor Corporation merger of 1968. The proposal was for there to be a pair of conventional front-engined cars, based on saloon car running gear. The cars were styled in Canley, but Michelotti was heavily involved in the process of building full-scale models, as well as the running prototypes.

Following the merger, it became clear that the Bullet/Lynx and the promising MG ADO21 project would be competing for a similar audience, so both came under scrutiny. BLMC management knew it had to carefully pitch any new sports cars at an increasingly sophisticated clientele. In the USA, the company’s biggest export market, buyers were turning to the Datsun 240Z and VW-Porsche 914 in increasingly large numbers – and BLMC needed an answer.

Looking to the American sports car market

Because of these commercial pressures on BLMC, and the fact that there was a massive need to develop a viable range of family cars, money and resources would only be released to develop one ‘corporate’ sports car. That’s why, according to the BMC Board Files, all the company’s efforts were put behind the Triumph, with the MG being killed off in August 1970.

The grille/headlamp arrangement of this Michelotti Lynx bears a remarkable resemblance to the that of the P10 proposal from 1970. As with much of the design house’s work of the era, the styling is very attractive – notable in this case, for its long, elegant bonnet and kamm-tail. (Picture: "MG: The Untold Story", by David Knowles).
The grille/headlamp arrangement of this Michelotti Lynx bears a remarkable resemblance to the that of the Rover P10 proposal from 1970. As with much of the design house’s work of the era, the styling is very attractive – notable in this case, for its long, elegant bonnet and kamm-tail. (Picture: MG: The Untold Story, by David Knowles)

In late 1970, Mike Carver, then a manager in Central Product Planning, and Spen King travelled to the USA in order to sound out the dealers and try and understand what it was that would be required. The fact that King (at the time, the Chief Engineer at Triumph) would be so intimately involved in the early stages of the new car’s development ensured that Triumph as a marque would get the inside track in terms of development.

Triumph Bullet wins over MG – despite the sales story

This would be in spite of the fact that, of the Corporation’s sports cars, it was the offerings from MG that were most in demand. Carver stated subsequently, that this was in no way intended to be a full market research programme, but a series of, ‘extended conversations with relevant parties.’

The result of these findings would prove surprising because they indicated that what the Americans really wanted was a conventionally-engineered front engine, rear-wheel-drive car. The reasoning behind this was that the Americans wanted reliability and the ability for a ‘quick fix’ should the car fail. Once back in the UK, the Product Planners reasoned that this format also had advantages in terms of development – and the fact that it would be less costly for the company both in terms of time and finances.

Donald Stokes wanted the company to have a product ready to sell by the mid-1970s and this tight deadline would be easier to meet if the product the company was developing shared a platform with its mass-produced stable mates.

Triumph Bullet deadline: 1975

Donald Stokes made it clear that it should be ready for introduction in 1975. The Bullet was being developed as a cheaper front-engined version of the VW-Porsche 914 and, as such, was not a full convertible, but a targa-top, rather like the Fiat X1/9 – this left a gap in the range for a full convertible and the MGB would be left to remain in production for as long as regulations allowed the company to sell rag-tops.

Product planning decided that, even though the new car was conceived as a straight replacement for the MGB, it should be priced above the older car so there was no clash between old and new. Already, the Bullet was being moved away from its intended market, by the Product Planners.

Triumph’s proposed sports car range together in miniature. Certainly, this gallery would seem to show that the plans of the company made a great deal of sense. (Picture: "MG: The Untold Story", by David Knowles).
Triumph’s proposed sports car range together in miniature. Certainly, this gallery would seem to show that the plans of the company made a great deal of sense. (Picture: MG: The Untold Story, by David Knowles)

Spen King was placed in charge of the development of the new car, and it offered no technical surprises. The engine would be a development of the slant-four Dolomite engine, initially coming with a four-speed gearbox and live rear axle. Now that the ethos was for the production of a BLMC sports car, the option of a Triumph straight-six powered version was dropped in favour of the use of the Rover V8 engine, which at the time, was being used in the Rover P6B, P5B and Range Rover.

King was an expert of honing conventional components into something comparable with more exotic rivals – and, even though the rear suspension was not independent, with careful development and thoughtful axle location, it proved possible to make the car ride and handle at least as well as its foreign rivals – and certainly better than the aged MGB and TR6.

Where TR7 the wedge comes in

At this point in time, Donald Stokes and senior BLMC management was becoming less than satisfied with the styling of what was going to be the corporation’s new flagship sports car. It was going to be marketed as a Triumph, but the new sports car would receive a reskin, penned by Harris Mann’s Longbridge design team, fresh from its work on the ADO71 programme.

It was a blow to Triumph and, in a late-project attempt to regain control of design, Canley came up with a sharper-nosed Bullet (below). But Longbridge had won the argument thanks to Stokes’ backing, and so the dramatic TR7 wedge became the production car we know and love today.

The Lynx name would live on in the form of the un-released four-seater coupe version of the TR7/TR8 that was canned late in 1977, but essentially the Canley Bullet/Lynx programmes made it into production as the TR7, but with Longbridge styling.

The Triumph Bullet offered everything that the Americans told the British what they wanted from their sports cars: it was simple mechanically (front engined, rear wheel drive), which gave a greater potential for long term reliability. As far as BL was concerned, that made it a preferable option to the ADO21 for the company's corporate sports car.
The Triumph Bullet offered everything that the Americans told the British what they wanted from their sports cars: it was simple mechanically (front-engined, rear-wheel drive), which gave a greater potential for long-term reliability. The above full-scale model was a last-gasp facelift of the original Triumph Bullet before the Harris Mann wedge (below) breezed in

The Harris Mann-led Longbridge design team's effort was chosen over Triumph's more conservative scheme...
The Harris Mann-led Longbridge design team’s effort was chosen over Triumph’s more conservative scheme…
Keith Adams

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

6 Comments

  1. As an American alive at the time, I can say that Michelotti’s Bullet and Lynx would have gone over well here–if the quality and performance had been there. The only other cars that might have made it were the Project Broadside vehicles, with the same caveats and some design detail clean-up. Instead, we got the oddly styled TR7 with its abysmal quality, and a TR8 that was, finally, more to our liking but overpriced.

  2. Back in 1975 a stylist from Rover-Triumph was nice enough to come to our house and showed an aspiring 16 year old car designer(me) the drawings for the Michelotti Lynx (with the name cut out), and to say I was impressed was a total understatement.
    He told me how the design was dumped in favour of what he called “A Kojak Car” (TR7)as the management didnt see the kids driving around in british sportscars that looked like Lamborghini’s.
    Sadly I cant remember the stylists name, I do however remember he drove a grey Mini Van fitted with a roofrack and disliked David Bache with a passion!

  3. Every time I look at the pic of Broadside, I wonder why on earth BL management killed it off – as the car (unlike the TR7) looks like something that could easily have carried on into the early 90s with minor tweaks to bumper/lights – and would have been an ideal recipient of the 16v Sprint engine with fuel injection as well as the V8.

    Not convinced by the coupés, but the DHC is simply a very stylish, well proportioned car.

  4. Lynx would have made a good Stag replacement although as it looks like a three door SD1, I suspect that car’s front would have suited it better.

    Broadside would have made a very good facelift TR7/new MGB.

    Lynx II would have been a good successor to the MGB GT & would also be a worthy successor to the GT6 (without that name for obvious reasons).

    Don’t like the split tailgate though.

  5. A 71 hp 1.5 engine presumably from the Spitfire that it was intended to replace(or less likely a slant-4 basically half a Triumph V8) was apparently considered for Bullet, while the former along with Lynx were to also feature a 105+ hp 2-litre Slant-4, the 115-130 hp 2.5 Triumph I6 and 145 hp 3.0 Triumph V8 (plus a higher-performance version of the latter with 233 hp via 4-valves per cylinder and fuel-injection).

    At the mid to lower-end (in between the 105+ hp 2-litre Slant-4) Triumph would have been better off using the 123-150+ hp 2.3-2.6+ SD1-Six / PE166 in place of the proposed 115-130 hp 2.5 Triumph I6 and spawning an entry-level 82-91+ hp 1.6 4-cylinder in place of the 71 hp 1.5 Spitfire engine.

    The Lynx coupe could have done with more work since from the rear it resembles an Alfa Romeo GTV on the one hand yet features unappealing elements of the Sunbeam Rapier Fastback Coupe on the other.

  6. As the proud owner of a Buick V6 powered, Chevy TH700R4 automatic with the TR8 3.08 axle ratio 1980 convertible TR7 I’m always amused by all the ‘experts’ that say the Lynx or Bullit designs were better. Yes, the US cars got the lamest slant 4 engine because it was SMOGed. It was supposed to produce >90 bhp. Hah. I doubt if the POS made >70. The ‘Dolly’ engine would have been vastly superior. But the 5-speed gearbox was good. I bought mine slightly used over 30 years ago and almost immediately replaced the engine and transmission. Sticks are okay but daily SoCal driving calls for an automatic. Why didn’t I install the Rover V8? Because at that time that engine had the reputation for dropping cylinder sleeves and I wanted rock solid reliability. Over 30 years later I can say I got what I wanted. Oh and the ‘upgraded’ Buick V6 weighs less than the Rover V8 and produces more power and torque.

    Whenever I stop for gas or to do some shopping in my TR7 people are always asking me ‘What is that car?”, quickly followed by “Where can I get one?” They are shocked when I tell them it ceased production over 35 years ago. They are dumbfounded. The styling of Harris Manns TR7 and TR8 was so far ahead of the alternatives it is still pulling envious looks. Whereas the Lynx and Bullit went the way the Allegro and Marina should have. In the bin.

    I still drive mine regularly, now with big Wilwood brakes, 15″ MGF wheels, aluminium intake, 4bbl, headers and updated facias front and rear without the hideous lawyer mandated bumpers. At car shows, I’ve had people ask why my car is parked with the ‘old’ British cars. I love it. Long live the TR7 and TR8.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.