Blog : Reunited with SD2… and it feels no better

Keith Adams

Triumph SD2

It was funny seeing the Triumph SD2 in the metal again after all these years, rather a case of ‘hello again old friend’. Back in the early days of AROnline, when life was a lot simpler and it was called, I remember the joy I had in researching this car, meeting the people behind it and poring over the internal documents that costed its production down to the last penny. It was – I like to think – the signature car for this young and growing website as it represented one of those many lost opportunities that have been presented along the way.

After documenting the history of the SD2, I remember, back in  2004, organising our stand at the BMC/BL Rally in Peterborough – and deciding that we definitely positively had to have the that car as the centrepiece. I called BMIHT at Gaydon and explained my wishes: I wanted the SD2 on our stand and was it at all possible? Well, according to John Bishop it was – and, so on a hot summer’s day in August, we had the car on our stand and the crowds came flooding in. That’s when I realised that I wasn’t the only one to find the true intrigue of our story didn’t lie in the cars that you could buy, but the ones that never made it into your showroom.

Yes, I’d obsessed about cars like the SD2 and others such as the Issigonis 9X or Austin AR6, but I thought I was pretty much alone – a bit of a head case. Thanks to this website and, ultimately the community that built up around it, reassuringly I found I wasn’t alone. Of course, the irony of Peterborough 2004, and the guest appearance of the Triumph SD2 (as well as my Midas Gold SD1) was that it coincided with my annual family holiday, so I didn’t actually get to see the car on the field despite being so obsessed by the damned thing.

Still, Alexander Boucke and Declan Berridge looked after it perfectly well and photographed the car – while Brian Gunn took care of my SD1 – and when I returned home, it was good to see the web report already online and an inbox full of images. Luckily, on one of my then-regular trips to the Heritage Motor Centre, I was lucky enough to see the SD2 for myself and have a good poke around it in the process. Like most unfamilar or new cars, it looked a little disproportioned, disjointed and clumsily styled, and I did wonder how the hell it would ever have sold – especially as it was intended to replace the elegant Dolomite. However, the more I looked at it, the more I took time to accept and get used to its styling, the more I realised that this car really did have a lot of potential.

The next time I saw it was in the infamous ‘Gaydon by the bins’ incident, in 2007, when I stumbled across a number of priceless prototypes left out back to rot. Of course, they were there while new accommodation was found for them, but the sight of an AR6 (which none of the community knew existed at the time), ECV3 or 6R4 number one left outside, windows open, subjected to the full fury of the British weather, was too much to bear. I made a fuss in the press, upset Gaydon, and saw the cars’ transit into safe storage hastened. SD2 was one of those cars and, once again, I had a good old poke around, taking many more pictures at the same time. Again, I found myself really liking the look of that strange green hatchback.

But since then, I’ve not seen the Triumph SD2. So being reunited with it today was a fairly interesting experience – I guess, because it represents a major symbolic figure my last ten years’ work on this website. More than that, though, the emotions were mixed because, shining under the sun, in better condition than I’d ever seen it before, it looked like a winner that never was. I overheard some in the crowd criticising its gawkiness and felt close to telling them to take time to let it grow on them – because that’s how car styling generally works. First sight, followed by recognition, then familiarity – which, in the case of the SD2, was something I’d been through a decade ago.

Anyway, as I said, it was funny seeing that car again – it brought back many, many memories of what is undoubtedly a funny old world.

Triumph SD2

Keith Adams
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  1. Keith:
    It is a bit funny looking because it is sitting on the base tires, and has “dog dish” hubcaps, no head rests on the front seats and little bright trim. Imagine it with larger tires on alloy wheels, a tasteful bit of trim, different color, etc. and the SD2 is a handsome car. Raise the rear lights up to modern heights, and you’d think it was, at most, 10 years old.

  2. The gawkiness doesn’t seem that bad today, either, with the trend toward cab-backward design (Golf VII, Mazda Axela III). You are right, Keith, SD2 does grow on you and there’s something to be admired about its departure from the Dolomite rather than the softly, softly evolutions we see today. The Japanese, of course, once were masters of changing models drastically while keeping their nameplates (the Nissan Leopard is a good case in point).

  3. Yes, it does look a little gawky – kind of unfinished – but the potential was there. I can almost see a fwd GM Cavalier hatch trying to get out, pity AR/BL didn’t continue to refine it.

  4. I do think it was a car with a potential and the styling does grow on you over time. As has already been said it needed those final touches such as trims and different wheels but they would have been added at production stage.

    The thing with it is I just don’t see it as a Triumph, it has none of the Italian grace that the Michelloti designs carried – even the most miserly spec’d Toledo still managed to have a certain style about it where as SD2 just looks conventional family hatchback. I can’t help but wonder if it might not have been better to sell it as an Austin or Morris – or even as a Junior Rover. Perhaps with an Austin badge and suitably downgraded specification it could have been sold and built for a price that made more sense for it to see production.

  5. From the side profile its looks rather like the love child of the Lancia Beta 2000 which ended production in at about 1980/81; itself a rather nice car.

    For me, the design feature that comes across as ‘being at odds’ with the ‘accepted’, is the relationship between the sloping rear edge of the quarterlight glass and the D pillar. It does not quite work for me and I have to keep resisting the opportunity to grab a pencil and ‘rectify’ the disharmony on the computer screen.

  6. The photo as reproduced here is a bit dark (could a tech person adjust it?) I’ve tweaked the brightness on my own monitor, and for me what makes it gawky is something which isn’t apparent here. The rear wheel arch isn’t semi-circular; it has a flat top, which looks out of place and awkward.

  7. Good call Merlin Milner.

    Is this intentional, as per the Landcrab / Maxi doors?
    Worked well for Peugeot (205 -> 309) and Land Rover (Range Rover -> Discovery).
    Or was this just for rapid prototyping?

  8. SD2 is a car that was a masssive missed opportunity, and handed BMW a lucrative sector of the market. Millions and millions of 3 series later…

    Howeverm this isn’t the car that was needed, the various bits of BL seemed obsessed with hatchbacks and fastbacks in the 70s. Didn’t anyone notice that the rubbish Marina sold far better than any of the more modern FWD cars launched during this period, as it looked conventional. Why produce a gawky hatchback when other bit of BL already had the Maxi and Princess?

  9. I’ve always thought that SD2 SHOULD have looked like a Triumph. I.E. a handsome 3 box saloon with twin headlights.

    A contemporary of the e21 BMW if you like.

  10. Of course this is the David Bache design. I’d love to know what became of the Pininfarina design which Bache did his best to sideline…

  11. Its a bit odd looking from most angles, as if they had a design that they tried to squezee onto a smaller model. I have seen a mock up of Michelotti’s ideas as a dolomite replacement and they are far nicer, but as at the time at BL it had no chance as it was an external design.

  12. The SD2 has shades of the 1970’s Lancia Beta to me (not the coupe). Interesting to see…

  13. We may consider the Dolomite to be elegant today, but even in 1973, when the Sprint came out, it was showing its age (being based on the 1966 1300). I seem to remember the AA’s Drive magazine describing the Sprint (in its initial, yellow-only days) as “looking like a vicar in drag”!

  14. The Dolomite may have beeb ageing, but was hardly that out of date when you consider the styling of the 1975 3 series

  15. @ David Knowles.
    Did not know there was a Pininfarina styled version of SD2. Presumably photographs are hidden deep in the archive at the Heritage Centre.Or do you know otherwise?

  16. It says so on this very site:

    ‘If the photographs of the SD2 looked rather less than flattering, the design did work rather better in the flesh, so to speak. According the 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”.’

    See this page:

  17. @21

    I always felt that the Peugeot 305 was a nice alternative to the 3 series.

    The SD2 was risky, the Sierra or the BX didn’t take off in the UK until the late 80s.

  18. The SD2 does indeed grow on you though it could have definitely done with some body coloured bumpers along with some other final touches prior to entering production.

    It would be interesting to find out whether the SD2 would have spawned other bodystyles beyond the 5-door hatchback or made use of the SD1-Six engines from the larger Rover SD1.

    By the way, does anyone know if the SD2 was related to the stillborn Project Bobcat Dolomite-replacement?

  19. Very interesting to see the SD2 at Gaydon. Underneath is just as interesting as the styling and interior, it is very SD1-like. Same front suspension arrangements, though more interesting was the rear. Same live axle arrangement with trailing arms and Watts linkage, and though difficult to see for sure, the torque tube. Only obvious difference was the presence of a rear anti-roll bar, quite cleverly positioned around the axle.

  20. Can’t really get beyond that rear arch treatment – just doesn’t look right, and the track is too narrow. the BMW3 series pic shows a much better stance in a car of similar size, and which would have been a competitor. And it does look too small inside. A pity because a really good Dolomote replacement, well made and fast could have done very well and drawn on the good reputation Triumph had at the time.

  21. SD2 looks like it was close to production. A Marina replacement was also planned at the same time with a new 5 speed box. If that had gone into production around 1977 it might have sold well and arrested JRT’s decline. However to sell in the states it would have needed a saloon version – look how a fed SD1 bombed being a hatchback. However with a sprint 2.0, 1850, 5 speed gearbox and V8 version with traditional Triumph interior as well as a saloon version it could have given 3 series a run for its money and kept Triumph going.

  22. Ok, so it’s a bit heavy at the rear, the front wing droops, it needs to sit on more attractive wheels, and ideally have a full rear quarter light. Oh, and a more attractive paint scheme can’t do it any harm……BUT – there’s a lot to like about the SD2, and the more I see of it, the more I like it. There’s a lot of Citroen in there, and also some definite SD1 (doors of course). I think with some refinement and detail work it could have been a winner. Unfortunately though, like the Maxi, R16 and notably the R14 a 5-door hatch was just a bit too ahead of it’s time, and I’m not sure how the market would have reacted to it…..incidentally, to the poster who was making a point about the 3-series being a successor to the Dolomite – you are aware that Michelotti was consultant to BMW’s ‘New Class’ design language in the 60s, which set the styling template for Beemers well into the 1980s……

  23. Simon H
    IMHO, it doesn’t make sense to design a RWD Citroen/R16 type hatchback, that’s the Austin Maxi’s job (or the Princess). The success of the 3 series shows the template of the Dolomite was correct. Conventional RWD saloon, slightly upmarket image, performance model at the top to give a halo effect to the cheaper models. Such a model would have been a goldmine in the yuppie 80s.

    Mid sized RWD hatchbacks tend to look awkward, the 3 series compact and 1 series hatchback spring to mind, as the proportions tend to be wrong, with the long bonnet making the car look unbalanced.

    Michelotti set the styling template for both BMW and Triumph, sadly only the former stuck with it…

  24. Pretty much all of my opinions on the car on summed up on some of the comments above.

    One thing I would like to add however is that with the benefit of the hindsight, it looks like the car would have been in the unenviable position of looking dated by the time people had got used to the styling.

  25. Can someone please make a photoshop saloon image from the side view picture?
    I’m thinking of a montego-type saloon?

    Would that work?

  26. Certainly had potential, for the time. More a Triumph than Rover in my opinion. So many lost opportunities. Nice to hear Keith’s views on the “AR community”. Don’t know what I would do without my fix!

  27. Looks a little unfinished ’round the C pillar & rear quarters. That said the overall shape is good, reminds me a little of a Lancia Beta Sedan.

    As above, some decent alloys or even rostyle wheels and some fine chrome mouldings would work wonders.

  28. Hi Keith
    The prototypes and development buck articles and photos are what drive me back to your excellent website.
    I saw SD2 a couple of years ago at Gaydon. To me as well, it looked with some more of the development that would have been undertaken, like a winner.
    It wasnt there last month when I went – I know Gaydon rotate cars and models.
    I have seen some intriguing models there, which I cant see match up obviously to planned cars or ‘prototype codes’ and wondered if there was a way to share them with you via email?
    Thanks again for all your work. This to me makes aronline a fantastic resource for others

  29. SD1 was the big Rover we all love.

    SD2 the Triumph BX

    SD3 the Honda Ballade Rover 200

    SD5 a Land Rover replacement

    So what was SD4? Project Bravo?

  30. Was SD3 an official code name for the Rover 200, as the specialist division was long gone by that stage?

  31. @23 and @24
    Pininfarina and the SD2…
    I came across it in internal board minutes in which it was recorded that although they had chosen the in-house style, the company wanted to maintain cordial relationships with Pininfarina and consider them for other commissions. Part of the problem was that David Bache was always very good at promoting his own/ his studio’s work at the expense of rivals – the same sort of thing happened with the Lynx prototypes (although in that case it was competing in-house styles). Malcolm Harbour confirmed to me too that the Pininfarina SD2 was nicer but I haven’t yet seen any photos. They may well be buried in a cabinet in Gaydon…

  32. @26 no, no connection there at all. Bobcat was a project from Triumph days rather than Rover Triumph days.

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