News : It was 30 years ago…

Keith Adams

Triumph TR2 was introduced in 1953 as a direct response to MG.
Triumph TR2 was introduced in 1953 as a direct response to MG.

The final Triumph TR sports car rolled off the line at Solihull exactly 30 years ago this week. It’s difficult to believe that one of the UK’s most influential sporting lines has been out of production now for some three decades – especially considering its enduring popularity, but when that final TR7 emerged from its factory in October 1981, few people would have been prepared to bet that there would never be a follow-on TR9 some time in the future.

The TR line started in 1953 after Sir John Black, Standard Motor Company’s chairman, decided to build an affordable sports car to challenge MG’s dominance – as well as push his company’s export drive in the face of what had been an unexciting performance by the Vanguard saloon. The TR2 was developed in lightning quick time, being based on a shortened version of the Standard Eight‘s platform, and powered by the Vanguard’s well-proven engine. The TR2 might have been a bit of a ‘bitsa’ and considered far from perfect when it was first unveiled at the 1952 London Motor Show, but from these small beginnings came one of Britain’s most successful export products…

The car was quickly developed into 1955’s TR3, which then went through both (unofficially) A- and B-designations during the side-screen cars’ eight-year production run, before moving on to the Michelotti-styled TR4 in 1961. In 1968, the TR4A was restyled to become the six-cylinder TR5. That was then restyled just a year later to become the TR6. Unlike the rest of the Triumph range, the ‘new’ car’s design was handled by the German company Karmann (instead of Michelotti), which knocked out a new front- and rear-end theme.

The big change – and final evolutionary break with the TR2 – came in late 1974, when the TR7 was unveiled to the world’s press, with a US introduction mere months later (and a year ahead of the UK and the rest of Europe). The new car was designed to be simple and visually appealing – as well as being BL’s response to the Datsun 240Z and VW-Porche 914. It was something of a sales success, too, with 112,375 sold between 1975 and 1981 – despite the quagmire its maker found itself in during the 1970s, and the three factories it went through in the process.

But due to the contraction of BL during the late-1970s, the Triumph sports car could no longer carry on, despite continuing strong sales. By 1981, it was being built in Solihull alongside the Rover SD1, and it was one factory too many for its maker to bear. The factory was put on ice, and with it came the end of the TR line – and unlike MG, which had also seen its factory at Abingdon close in 1980, there would be no come-back.

Triumph sports cars were dead… and the marque died out completely a mere three years later, when the Anglo-Japanese Acclaim was replaced by the Rover 200.


[Source (and full story at): Octane magazine]

Keith Adams


  1. You’re right Keith – hard to believe it’s 30 years since the TR7 ceased production. I liked the look of those 60’s & 70’s Triumph sportscars and the TR7 was futuristic in its time, despite criticism in some quarters. Great shame the Triumph brand ended with the “Acclaim”. Just as well we have these wonderful photos to look back on.

  2. I loved my TR7. It STILL looks futuristic 30 years after its demise! A bold and brave decision to break with retro tradition which would have been proved right had everything else not gone wrong.

    Even Jaguar with their recent anti-retro stance are harking back with their 2 seater to golden oldie times. If you want an anti-retro looking futuristic 2 seater sports today, where can you get it?

  3. Times may have been terrible, but it was a bad strategic error to desert this sector, as it left ARG as a medium sized manufacturer of volume cars, with not enough scale to compete against the giants, and mainly dependant on Honda.

    Niche products, where the brand and heritage could be exploited were the best hope of future success, and surely a Triumph TR8/Lynx/MG Boxer in the showroom would have given some much needed glamour to the range, and could have kept Abingdon open…

  4. The Acclaim was a good car but it should have been badged as an Austin or Morris rather than a Triumph.

    I had two TR7s. The first was a complete dog, breaking down at every available opportunity before eventually setting itself on fire courtesy of dodgy electrics. The second was a convertible which looked fantastic, was great to drive but not very reliable. Shame, but I have fond memories of it still.

  5. I always liked the styling of the TR7, loved the detailling, even though the awkward window frame shape didnt look right somehow. Otherwise it looked right even in the 80s alongside the likes of the dull, square Mk1 MR2 and the cheesy Manta…

  6. @Richard… maybe the Acclaim would have suited a Morris or Austin badge, but perhaps BL used the “Triumph” moniker as they saw it as a more upmarket brand for their first partnership with Honda. We’ll never know now.

    I know what you mean about good memories of your TR7’s even though you had problems… time is a great healer!

  7. Not sure the Solihull factory closed down at the end of TR7and SD1 production i think it went over to Land Rover and is still going strong.

  8. I’ve always had a hankering for a DHC, ideally a TR8 but a TR7 would do just as well, but never liked the hardtop model. It’s a shame I don’t have one instead of the 114 Cabby, it’d be a very appropriate garage-mate for Keith’s Rover (currently sharing space with the NSU and a repro Raleigh Chopper)…

  9. Hi, i am currently restoring a 1980 W reg TR7 fhc with webasto full length sunroof, started resto in feb 2009 about 80% through,only get 1 day a week to work on it (sat) and 2 days if bank holidays,would like to finish either 2012/2013 fingers crossed.

  10. By having some similarities and market positioning to BMW, Triumph in my opinion could still have some faint signs of life as a brand again. JLR must surely be looking at a more eco-freindly ‘sub-brand’ – wouldn’t triumph be a great fit – small cheap(er) saloon and sports cars to sit below Jaguar, in the same way that BMW have Mini?

  11. I loved the TR7 at the time – I know that the traditional enthusiasts hated it, but I loved it – it looked modern and futuristic, unlike the boring 60s styled TR6 that preceded it.

    Mind you, I’d rather have a TR6 now.

  12. @ Steve Bailey

    Most of those traditional enthusiasts probably don’t reckon it is possible to call cars built after 1979 as “classic cars”.

    As for the TR7? I recently saw one of the Grinall conversions featuring colour-coded bumpers, a Rover V8 engine under the bonnet and some tasteful-looking alloy wheels. The whole effect made the TR7 look remarkably fresh. This suggests that the design itself was actually rather good when it was first unveiled back in 1975.

    As with the Rover SD1, it was a real shame that British Leyland never invested more time and effort into getting the build quality right and offering a more upmarket interior ambience – yes, I know, a more upmarket interior was introduced on the Rover from 1979, before you correct me.

    A shame the Sprint version with the Slant-four 16-valve engine was killed off after just sixteen pre-production examples had been built. And a further shame that the standard 2.0-litre version did not have the brawn of its predecessors or the MGB.

    The TR7 had the potential to be a far better proposition that it was ever given the chance to be. Too right I remember it with fondness.

  13. @David 3500

    I’d forgotten that the TR7 came out in 1975. Makes you realise how good it was, and how, if they had done something similar to the Grinall conversion then they could have easily sold it well into the 1980s in my opinion. Why facelift rubbish like the Marina and Allegro and not do something useful with the TR7?

  14. @Taggart If I recall correctly, it was the brand new and massive assembly hall at Solihull, built for the SD1, that was closed down and mothballed.
    Subsequently, am I right in saying that Freelander 1 was assembled there, but after Freelander 2 went to Halewood, it isn’t used as an assembly plant any more?
    Thinking about it, there is a symmetry in the TR7 starting up in Merseyside and ending up in Solihull, whereas the Freelander started off in Solihull and ended up in Merseyside!

  15. @Rob C – I believe BMW still have the rights to the Triumph name as well as Riley – I have a picture somewhere of the roadster BMW proposed to make at the turn of the century . . .

  16. Being a Triumph tragic I long for the day when the name would be resurrected. The TR series is certainly the type of car that could slot into the BMW range of 2 door sports cars & considering they’re making mini’s again I live in hope.

  17. Liked the TR7 then and love it now. It really was the last of the Triumph line – on the Acclaim it was a flag of convenience to avoid breaking up the Austin range, and to give it an air of class – and because it was a reasonable replacement for the cheaper Dolomites which had just been dropped.

  18. @Hilton Davis – time is a great healer so I only really remember the good times with the TR7. Somehow I’ve just about managed to blot out the bad memories. I find whisky helps that process.

    @Jonathan Carling – I had forgotten that the Acclaim replaced the cheaper Dolomites. The Acclaims were nice cars but they just didn’t seem to fit the Triumph image for me.

  19. Another flawed gem from BL. Brave attenpt to move away from ‘traditional’ TRs and attract people who didn’t normally ‘do’ sports cars. Too compromised in terms of engineering and styling, too damaged by horrendous industrial relations at Speke at the start of the Edwardes era and ultimately killed as an export by the high value of Sterling in 1980/81 this product was never going to be commercially successful despite being the best-selling of all the TRs. Edwardes reflects in ‘Back From The Brink’ that the car was only continued as an attempt to keep BL alive in the US, otherwise it should have probably gone along with Speke.

    And as for the Acclaim, I think it really was a ‘proper’ Triumph – it was a compact and well equipped car in the mould of the 1300 and Dolomite, and definitely a step up from more humble Austins and Morrises.

  20. Gosh, how time changes memories; the TR7 was completely despised by virtually aeveryone that had an opinion during its short life and only started to become accepted (especially with the soft top and the very-nearly-launched RHD V8 TR8) just before it went to the wall! 

  21. I have a TR7 dhc in my collection and I believe it is a very good package which stands up well in the modern world. I describe it as ‘the first of the modern sportscars’. It is reasonably fast with good economy and the handling is good albeit I’ve uprated the suspension and brakes(needed). Whilst it is different to the chassis TR’s I believe it was a sensible update of the series (if only they had brought the dhc in earlier). At present prices it is a good buy.

  22. I’m not a TR7/8 guy but I do have a TR3 and a TR6, plus many friends with all Triumph marks. I’m really interestd in where the picture of the TR3 came from. Any chance you can tell me.

  23. I owned two FHC TR7’s (one still in the family) and a genuine factory TR8 DHC. Both TR7’s were purchased new in Australia. The first was stolen very early on and never recovered. In the short period of ownership, it never missed a beat. The second TR7 replacement has done 1 million k’s and looks like it but still goes and will be taken off the road for restoration. There was always something wrong with it but it was always fun the mileage it has done says it all.

    The TR8 is a mind blower. Fantastic performance and a real eye catcher. When people are told it is 32 years old they don’t believe it. It was futuristic and would still sell to-day.

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