THE LAST thing anyone needs when they are in the middle of moving house is another old car, especially if said old car doesn’t run – and hasn’t run since the days of Reagan and Thatcher – and yet, at the exact moment the movers were collecting boxes and relocating furniture from my old house to my new one, I was eagerly peeling off hundred bills and handing them to an elderly lady for another old car that didn’t run – and hadn’t since the days of Reagan and Thatcher.
What provoked this irrational behaviour, of course, is not just any old car, but a classic British sports car. A Triumph. Specifically, a rare fuel-injected 1981 TR7, one of the last ever made. With only 712 total original miles, this particular TR must be one of the lowest mileage Triumphs left on the planet that is not in a museum.
How could I, a lifelong admirer of Coventry’s second-most famous marque, resist the opportunity to own this TR, especially since some inspired bargaining reduced the asking price from $2500 to just $1250?
With the car came every scrap of paperwork one could hope for. The most telling is the dealer sales order which details the price of the car. It’s those numbers that help to explain why, even after Triumph and BL invested major development money to upgrade the fuel system from twin Zenith Strombergs to Bosch fuel injection and installed a nicer interior, the TR7 still did not sell in large enough numbers to justify its existence – on 28 May 1982, Mr. Andrew Wansach, handed over the princely sum of $13,992 for the TR7.
He ordered everything you could want in the car, including air con. Still, for that kind of money, any number of American muscle cars, such the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird — all with V8 engines – could be had for less. Worse than the high price was the interest rate on the loan, 16.5 per cent. With interest, then, the TR’s total purchase price was an astounding $17,350.88. That’s Chevrolet Corvette money.
Extracting the dusty, dirty TR7 from its narrow storage facility when it had been entombed along with boxes of unopened dolls, model aeroplanes and other artefacts from a life spent collecting things, required the business end of a powerful winch. Two of the original Goodyear tyres were not just deflated, but rotted halfway off the rims. As the TR emerged into the sunlight, I felt a little like Indiana Jones unearthing some rare and coveted artefact.
Once outside, I was able to have a good look at the TR. The boot contained some interesting items that had never been installed by the selling dealer. There was the original AM-FM radio, still in the unopened British Leyland box. Also in the original packages: a stainless steel BL luggage rack for the boot lid, door edge guards and two sets of heavy rubber floor mats with the Standard-Triumph logo.
The original convertible top cover had never been removed from its bag. Mine were the first hands since the car left Solihull to touch the spare tire and jack. That was the end of the pleasant surprises, however. Over the years, critters nested and nestled all over the TR, leaving behind debris and damage. The driver’s seat had been chewed.
Shells of chestnuts and acorns, twigs, leaves, grass and other botanical objects were in just about every crack, crevice and corner of the TR. The body had suffered a few small dents during its long imprisonment. Still, you could see that with a good cleaning, the TR would be very respectable.
Anyway, an hour after the money and ownership papers changed hands, the TR7 was deposited in the driveway of my old house. Two days later, with my new house up and running, I started down that long road of bringing the TR7 back to life.The engine would not turn over and so I removed the spark plugs and rocker cover and marinated the engine in Marvel Mystery Oil.
Three days later, the engine was free. Using a strong wet-dry shop vacuum cleaner, I cleared the TR of its rodent faeces and other natural compost, including the bodies of four deceased mice. Then I washed down the dash and interior, cleaned the boot and gave the rest of the car a bath with warm, soapy water. As I expected, the TR7 cleaned up well.
Now it was time to focus on the mechanicals. I connected up a battery to see what would work and what wouldn’t. To my great surprise, there was not so much as a single burned out light bulb in the entire car. Everything worked just as it should, including the annoying federally mandated door buzzer which squawks at you if the key is in the ignition while the driver’s door is open. Curiously, the relay for the fuel injection system had been unscrewed and was dangling below the cubby box.
The fuel injection system, a Bosch L-Jetronic affair, is generally very reliable but who can say what effect 25 years of dormancy will have on the best of German engineering?
I took off the air filter, disconnected the fuel line and tried the electric fuel pump. It didn’t work. I switched the fuel injection relay for a spare leftover from my TR8 EFi conversion and within minutes the fuel pump was humming quietly and pumping brown, smelly goo from the tank. Seven gallons later the tank was empty. In went fresh gas for a flush of the system. A compression test started off with encouraging results. Cylinders one and two tested at 160 pounds.
Number three sported a worrying 130 pounds but number four showed only 30 pounds so I know the TR has either a blown head gasket or needs rings or valves. I have driven a TR7 with three cylinders so I knew it would run. Back in went the spark plugs. I hit the key and was shocked beyond belief when, after a loud backfire, the engine started immediately.
The clutch plate had frozen to the flywheel, so I couldn’t put the car in gear but I was eventually able to break it free. With it running just well enough, the TR7 limped into the garage and that’s where she stands today. In the coming weeks, the cylinder head will come off. If the bores are in good shape, the 8.0:1 compression USA pistons will give way to some proper UK market high compression pistons.
While we are lucky to have gotten fuel injection on the TR7 and TR8, this didn’t do anything for power. The 1981 TR7 injection is rated at a measly 88.9hp. The UK pistons should see power safely over 100hp. I also plan to install a sports exhaust. Otherwise, no other modifications are planned.
Now I am pondering the big question for after the TR is made roadworthy: What does one do with a TR with so few miles? If I drive it, it just becomes another old used British classic sports car. Letting it sit also is no good. It’s done enough of that.
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.