Marques : Triumph Story – Part One

Triumph’s history was an interesting one but, following bankruptcy on the eve of World War II, it was left to The Standard Motor Company to pick up the baton and shape Triumph’s brave new world…

A potted history

(Picture, Our Warwickshire, copyright Graham Richardson) 

Triumph was a relatively late entry into the arena in 1923, but the company had been a successful producer of motorcycles since 1901. The entry into car production was facilitated by the purchase of the recently defunct Dawson factory in Coventry and soon the first Triumph road car was launched.

It was the 1.4-litre Triumph 10/20 which lasted two years before the 1.9-litre Triumph 13/30 replaced it, in 1925. This car was notable for being the first British production car to be fitted with Lockheed external contracting hydraulic brakes.

The 832cc Triumph Super Seven was launched in 1928, which was a light and well-designed car, as was its replacement, the 1931 Scorpion, powered by an unusual 1.2-litre six-cylinder engine.

Triumphs get Coventry Climax power

The following year, the first Triumph powered by a Coventry Climax engine was launched, the Triumph Super Nine. The power unit used in this car was interesting for being overhead-inlet-side-exhaust configuration. After that, the Triumph Ten joined the Super Nine.

In 1934, Donald Healey joined the company as Chief Experimental Engineer and he pushed ahead with the two-litre, eight-cylinder, double overhead camshaft Dolomite sports car. It was noted by contemporaries that this car was an obvious plagiarism of the Alfa Romeo.

Whatever, the specification of this car was exceptionally advanced for its day. Unfortunately, this car did not prove popular and was only produced in small numbers, but it did lead to a family of Triumph engines, which were made available alongside the Coventry Climax unit.

Dolomite and Gloria expand the range

In 1937, the range had expanded to include the 1.5-litre Gloria and the four and six-cylinder variants of the Dolomite, which shared only their name with the Healey-designed straight eight of a couple of years before.

On the eve of the War in 1939, Triumph was declared bankrupt and it was not until 31 December 1945, that the Standard Motor Company paid £75,000 for the Triumph name (and goodwill). Now, Triumph amounted to little more than a defunct nameplate owned by the Standard Motor Company.

Once production resumed, all subsequent Triumph-badged cars built at the Standard factory in Canley were Standards through-and-through. The engineering behind the next generation of Triumphs was down to Harry Webster, who rose to prominence within the Standard Motor Company. The cars that initially sported the Triumph nameplate were the razor-edge 1800 saloon and roadster (the latter being infamous for being the last series production car to feature a dickey-seat).

Standard-Triumph’s brave new Vanguard

It was not long before the Standard Vanguard engine supplanted the Triumph units and, in 1949, these wet-liner engines were standardised across the range. In 1953, a 1991cc version of this was used in the first of the long line of Triumph TR sports models, the TR2.

Decendents of this car remained in production until the Harris Mann-penned Leyland devised TR7 took over the mantle in 1975. The 2.1-litre engine remained as part of the TR line until 1967, when the (ex-Vanguard) 2.5-litre straight six from the Triumph 2500 saloon replaced it.

Triumph saloon car production faltered in 1955, when the Razor-edged Renown saloon was phased out (but Canley was still occupied with the production of Standard Eights, Tens, Vans, Pickups and Companions).

Heralding a new start

The Triumph side of the business did not really pick up again until Standard’s replacement for the Eight – the unconventionally engineered Triumph Herald – was launched. Thankfully, this car was a great success and this popularity would lead to the adoption of the Triumph badge for all future Standard cars.

Triumph’s rise to prominence continued and, in 1959, a holding company called Standard-Triumph International was formed (where Standard was the manufacturing subsidiary). In 1961, Leyland engulfed Standard-Triumph and continued the policy (that was defined following the launch of the Herald) to badge all future products Triumphs, thereby laying to rest the Standard name…

…except, of course, in India!

Read on for Part Two >>

Post-War Standard and Triumph models

Triumph 1800/Renown
This six-light four-door razor-edge saloon was introduced in 1946. Called the 1800, it was powered by an ohv version of the pre-war Standard 1.8-litre engine. In 1949, the model was named Renown and a long-wheelbase version remained in production until 1955. The wet-liner Standard Vanguard engine was fitted from 1949.
Standard Vanguard
The first of many Vanguards – a car that has been described as the UK’s first attempt at a World car.
Triumph Mayflower
Little sister to the 1800 and Renown razor-edge saloons, this quality-built and individual car doesn’t yet seem to have achieved the cult car status predicted for it by some. The side-valve engine was donated from the pre-War Standard Flying 10.
Triumph TR2
First in a long line of Harry Webster-designed roadsters.
Standard Vanguard II
Updated version of the long-running Vanguard line.
8hp Standard Saloon
An economy Standard designed to compete against the Austin A30.
Standard Ten/Pennant
The Standard mainstay – although this new Ten sported a 948cc engine and higher equipment level. This bodyshell was also used for the Standard Eight De Luxe. Pennant (a restyled Ten) appeared in 1957.
Standard Vanguard III/Ensign
The Vanguard became the Vanguard III when it adopted a monocoque body. Down-specced 1.6-litre Ensign appeared in 1957. Vanguard Six introduced in 1960.
Triumph TR3/3A
A revised version of the Triumph TR2. The TR3A appeared in 1958.
Triumph Herald/Vitesse
Replacement for the Standard Eight, Ten and Pennant. Michelotti-styled and sporting a separate chassis, the Herald marked the point in Standard history where the cars would stop being marketed as Standards. Vitesse Six (Herald plus Vanguard Six engine) launched in 1962.
Triumph TR4/4A
As per the TR3A, but with an enlarged 4 cylinder 2138cc engine and bodywork changes.
Triumph Spitfire/GT6
The Spitfire was Triumph’s answer to the Austin-Healey Sprite and MG Midget sports cars. Mechanically, it was based on the Triumph Herald. It had an 1147cc engine which produced 63bhp. GT6 derivative sported a pretty hardtop and in-line six-cylinder engine from the Triumph 2000.
Triumph 2000/2500
Long-lived six-cylinder executive saloon car – Michelotti-styled replacement for the Standard Vanguard, using its in-line six-cylinder engine.
Triumph 1300>Dolomite
Compact luxury saloon, continuing the Michelotti/Webster theme so successfully employed across the rest of the Triumph range.
Triumph TR5
Six-cylinder version of the TR4A.
Triumph TR6
Karmann restyle of the TR5.
Triumph TR7/TR8
BLMC’s corporate sports car – Styled by Harris Mann, engineered by Spen King.
Triumph Acclaim
The first fruit of the collaboration between BL and Honda. Proved to be the last Triumph-badged car and was replaced by the Rover 200.

Written by Keith Adams, with reference to the Standard Motor Club’s website and Phil Seed’s Virtual Car Museum.

Read on for Part Two >>


Keith Adams


  1. The engine sizes for the wet liner motor are slightly awry. The Vanguard appeared with the 2088cc version. The TR3 was not the 2.1 litre as it is described in the text, but was 1991cc . The same block was used on all, whether 1991, 2088 , or 2138 cc , the only difference being liner and piston sizes, and the capacity could go up to 2.3 litres if 89mm liners were used . A nice article, thank you , and could we have a section on the board for the Spitfire please – it is curious that it is one of the few cars missed out

  2. I know it’s been mentioned before somewhere, but who owns the Triumph name these days?

    For me, perhaps the only “old” name which could be revived to be used for a modern range of cars. Austin and Morris carry too much baggage as old-fashioned, old men’s cars; but I don’t have that problem with Triumph.

  3. I agree with KC. The Triumph name still sounds marketable to me. Of course there are Triumph motorcycles but I believe that is a totally separate entity. I worked on a Video for them in 1992 manufactured at Hinckley.

    Some elderly neighbours in our street owned a Triumph Mayflower in the early 60s. I think it was metallic blue (perhaps one of the first metallics but I may be wrong?)

  4. I still find it difficult to believe that Morris and Austin out lived Triumph… From 1960s rising star to 1970s strife, There has been a few mutterings of BMW of bringing the name back to life (Auto Express/Autocar… usually when there is little in the news..) Still one day it could happen.

  5. As the owner of a pair of TR’s I would love to see the name Triumph back on the road as a car but please no BMW involvement and made in England. BMW managed to wreck what was left of MG, Triumph and Rover quite quickly through greed and incompetence and the fact that they didn’t want competition in certain markets. Once all the information on 4×4 needed had been stolen the whole group was of no interest so it was sold on to a bunch of homegrown crooks.

    Ideally JLR would bring back Triumph as a brand for lower priced cars and above all a new range of TR’s. Although BMW would never sell the name even though it is unlikely they would ever use it.

  6. I have long felt that it would have made sense to keep Rover as the big car (75 or larger) and badge anything else as Triumph. My memories of childhood and learning to drive (BSM!) are of Heralds and Dolomites – wooden dashboards, a cut above the Austin/Morris/Vauxhall mix – and of TRs, Spitfires, GT6s…… It would have maintained the semi premium image they were going for without diluting the Rover brand.

  7. &5 Oh yes a Triumph made in England with no help from BMW, I remember those! They used a factory in Speke to make those didn’t they. I use the word ‘make’ in the broadest sense of the word. I had a mate who owned a Speke built TR7, he took it for an MOT, the sills needed welding, not because they were rusty, but they had never been welded in the first place. Of course these cars were made by real English craftsmen, in between wildcat strikes, and if they needed to go to the canteen for lunch or go to another part of the factory they would use a freshly made car, and some got damaged.
    One of my schoolmates father had a very rare skill, he actually got his Triumph 2.5PI to run properly, the dealer couldn’t manage it. Triumph gave up on fuel injection – BMW didn’t.
    All those fine brands were comprehensively trashed, by us in England without any help from ‘Jonny Foreigner’ well before BMW came along.
    As for stealing Land Rover’s “4×4 technology” there was nothing to steal.

  8. @RobH
    The problem with reading history written by those who haven’t lived it is that it suffers from even more distortion than that written by those who did. We are of course dealing with percentages and whilst some of the most ‘headline’ stories will live on forever as ‘fact’ the truth is always less news worthy.
    Britain has always made great cars and we have always made mistakes – in design, engineering, production and sales. But so have all the other countries in the world. BMW were rescued by the Isetta Bubble Car; Alfa let the Spanish build the Sud (badly); Saab lost their way from brilliant aircraft inspired individualism and found mediocrity and demise; many French companies have been lost – even Panhard couldn’t survive even though it was one of the oldest car companies in the world; Renault has survived with more government help than BL could ever dream of; and so it goes on.
    OK, lets all have a good old laugh at the ‘British’ and their ruination of a once proud industry but also lets keep it in perspective. Despite everything we still made darned good cars compared with anything else on offer at a similar cost. We can all compare the BMW 1600 with an Allegro and find it Bl car wanting – but the BMW was not Allegro price. A Simca 1100 was a competitor and it was a good car – but better? Probably not.
    I have added memories of the 70’s to these pages – I am as guilty as anyone for remembering the ridiculous situations my father recalled being in the industry at that point. But lets keep these stories in perspective and not kid ourselves every day was ‘cock-up’. Unless you are more interested in the fable than the fact.

  9. Ironic that BMW own the name as the company was founded albeit Triumph Bicycles by a German émigré Siegfried Bettman and later on the German styling house Ghia was used for the TR6.

  10. And just to add to Wolseley Man’s well-crafted riposte to Rob H who seems to love BMW , the first injection BMW which was the 2002tii was hardly a howling success, ( the mainstream cars of that era i.e. 1602 , 2002 , 2500 and 2800 stuck to carburetters )and that was at least 6 years after the advent of the Lucas system on a road car with the Maserati 3500 and the TR5 . Mercedes had similar problems with their early fuel injected cars – both the 220SE and the 300SE suffered prerennial problems with cracked injector pipes which were not solved for quite a few years . There was, in fact, nothing wrong with the Lucas system except the fact that the system worked at 106psi and therefore required a much higher quality delivery pump than anyone could provide at the time working with only 12 volts . As Wolseley man has said, those of us who were there at the time and used and owned these cars have a rather more realistic idea of the true situation than teenage scribblers whose “knowledge” is at best derivative

  11. While understanding why Standard-Triumph was unable to use a monocoque design for Project Zobo, for the sake of argument how would the Triumph Herald (and related models) have benefited had it been built from a monocoque construction as originally intended instead of a separate chassis?

  12. I suppose the benefits would have been that it would have been more rigid , and probably that in the end it would have been cheaper to build . BUT … the latter would have required a much larger investment in press tools , and the former was never a problem provided the nuts and bolts were periodically checked

  13. Well, no chassis would have been available, so I suppose neither the Equipe nor the 2 litre would have appeared . Sadly, cars I had forgotten about , to be honest

  14. While Standard-Triumph were in a very tough position before it was taken over by Leyland, interested to know if the Wet-Liner engine have any further unrealised potential aside from the 2446-2499cc(?) Dry-Liner prototype?

    Especially given the Standard Wet-Liner engine was allegedly influenced by the Traction Avant design, which itself later formed the basis of the related DS / CX “Sainturat” engines and remained in production until 1991 (spawning both petrol and diesel variants)?

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