Here’s an interesting one recently brought to my attention. AROnline Contributor David Harvey got in touch to remind us that it wasn’t just BMC that had missed the boat to replace the Mini and ADO16 with something resembling what we now know as a two-car supermini and Golf-class range.
Back in the mid-1960s, Triumph’s own Harry Webster had asked Michelotti to sketch out an idea of what a five-door, shortened Triumph 1300 would look like, and the above image is what we have of it. The basis of this car is easy to see – and I suspect that those passenger doors in the sketch are lifted straight from the car it’s based upon. And in this sketch at least, it looks none the worse for it, even if there are distinct Simca 1100 overtones.
The project was put together at least as early as 1964, and this image, taken from the April 1998 issue of Classic Cars magazine, shows just how prescient it actually was. Based in the clever engine and running gear of the front-wheel-drive Triumph 1300, the ‘Short 1300’ as it was known by Webster looked like it could have had some promise.
A Golf-class Triumph before the Golf?
Of course, Triumph has form for putting hatchbacks on its cars and building them into prototypes – before abandoning the idea. It had done so with the Herald, and would also go on to build a hatchback Stag… but this one’s different because, as you can see from the image of the scale model below, it did get moved on from its original concept of a bob-tailed version of the 1300 saloon.
Harry Webster recalled in the 1998 issue of Classic Cars: ‘Ah, yes the short 1300. We set the wheelbase big enough to accommodate four adults, and drew a line just in front of the front wheel and just behind the rear wheel and said to Michelotti, “design a car around that – forget the luggage space”.’
Webster went on. ‘A prototype was actually built of one of Michelotti’s designs, but never reached production. Ironically, one design from around 1964 bore a close resemblance to the Renault 5 of 1972, while another looked more like the Citroen LNA of 1983.’
The Triumph supermini that never was
So could it be that Triumph and Michelotti could have beaten Autobianchi and Dante Giacosa in building the world’s first supermini ahead of the A112 in the late 1960s? Based on the Triumph 1300’s running gear, but with a range of engines that also included the smaller 948cc and 1147cc from the Herald, this could have really hit a sweet spot in the market place as Mini buyers were looking for something to grow into for their next cars.
Being a Triumph, it might have been sold at a price premium against what BMC might have charged for such a car, but with that all-important hatchback and smart Italian styling, it might have been considered worth the premium.
Another, more interesting consideration is this: had Leyland Motors found the development funds for Triumph to bring this car to market, would it have left the company with another reason to rebuff the Government’s pressure to merge with BMC?
So, why wasn’t it built?
Quite simply it came down to cost and capacity. Harry Webster said in the 1998 Classic Cars feature: ‘Tooling costs were always a problem. We had loads of great ideas but could never put them into production.’
This would seem to be very much the case, but also down to be overtaken by internal politics and a loss of focus on Triumph as the group grew larger and increasingly unwieldy. Site contributor and industry man Graham Ariss said: ‘Tooling costs remains a significant expense for car manufacturing and in those pre CAD/CNC days was by far the greatest expense in bring a new car to production and so why you see so much carry over of panels between cars.’
But there could also have been a not-invented-here issue. Graham continues: ‘The Triumph 1300 was an orphaned child, with its father Harry Webster sent off to Longbridge and then fostered out to a new parents who cared little for it. Spen King who was eager to put his ideas as to how cars should be, and so with little interested in developing it any further than he had to.’
In short, this car was not far enough along its development programme to consider mourning its failure to make it into production – but what it does do is throw up some tantalising scenarios, and once again have us asking what might have been…