Tested : TR7 vs Beta vs X1/9 vs Alfasud Sprint

Seven of the best

The Triumph TR7 was misunderstood when new and lacked a certain something, but has since emerged as one of the classic car industry’s most enduring starter cars. But one of the best 1970s sports cars?

Read on to see whether cheap parts and simple mechanics are enough to make the TR7 a better bet than the vivacious Italian opposition…

Triumph TR7 vs Lancia Beta Coupe vs Fiat X1/9 vs Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint
Triumph TR7 vs Lancia Beta Coupe vs Fiat X1/9 vs Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint

Best 1970s sports cars: introduction

It’s funny how, when we talk about Great British sports cars, few of us remember to mention the Triumph TR7. With almost 115,000 examples built during its all-too-brief production run of six years and three factories, it was hardly a commercial failure – and, today, there’s great specialist and parts supplier support. So why, then, is the TR7 so overshadowed by the likes of the MGB and Triumph Spitfire?

It’s an interesting question, and one that’s going to take a lot of answering. However, that’s probably not a story for this page. The life and times of the TR7 were pretty traumatic – as you’ll read in the car’s development story, they were overshadowed by political and industrial strife. Which is a shame – because if things had panned out, the TR7 would have ended up replacing all previous Triumph and MG sports cars, and gone on to enjoy lucrative times being the UK’s only viable sports car throughout the 1980s. But it never happened, and what’s left is mere conjecture.

What of the car itself, though? Like all of Harris Mann‘s creations at his time in the Longbridge hot-house, it certainly looked bold and interesting. But unlike the mainstream Allegro and Princess, the TR7 was underpinned by sensible Spen King engineering, so it could be reasonably argued that the package the TR7 presented to customers should have been the best of both worlds. The TR7’s faintly exotic looks didn’t come at a price – and the car had a wide selection of rivals to go up against, most notably from the Italians.

Meanwhile in Italy…

If you think the British manufacturing scene was a hotbed of industrial action and class struggles, consider life in Italy during the 1970s. It was a decade of extremist left/right political fighting, which more often than not, ended in terrorism and death. We may jovially look back on these dark time in the UK as being being ‘the decade that taste forgot’, but Italians will remember the 1970s far more seriously – as the ‘anni di piombo‘, or years of lead. And the country so nearly fell into martial law as all-out war between the neo-fascists and the Communists sabotaged all walks of life.

That the country managed to create some of the world’s most desirable car while all this was going on is an absolute miracle. Even in the relatively affluent north of the country, striking factories were killing manufacturing – Lamborghini nearly died because of it, but the giant Fiat Group remained on course as a result of its strong Government backing, the controlling Agnelli family’s huge political influence and, of course, the patriotic buying habits of the Italians. The selection of TR7 rivals here shows that one should also add desirability to that list.

The Fiat X1/9, launched in 1972, was clearly demonstrated that you couldn’t knock the Italian car industry’s creativity. As a replacement for the delectable 850 Spider, the X1/9 was bang on message. With its sharp, Bertone-penned styling (by Marcello Gandini) and an all-new platform underneath, which allowed for the mid-mounting of its powertrain (taken straight from the front-wheel drive 128), it was a true sports car of its time. For one, it was open, but still had hefty roll-over protection (that chimed well with the post-Nader mood of the time in the USA), and was light, economical and fun to drive. The X1/9 was the truly ethical Dino Ferrari for the masses.

Lancia’s new direction

Harking from the same year, the Lancia Beta, was also another advanced product of the Fiat Group. But Lancia had only been part of the ‘family’ since 1969, so the arrival of the all-new new mid-liner to replace the Fulvia within the space of just three years was remarkable indeed. All the more, so when you consider that Lancia was without a Technical Director at all, and it wasn’t until Sergio Camuffo’s appointment in the role in 1970, that the Beta’s development began in earnest. There remained more than enough legacy Engineers to ensure that the new front-wheel-drive car followed in the footsteps of its innovative predecessors.

Lancia man Romanini worked on the chassis design; Zaccone Mina honed Lampredi’s brilliant twin-cam, and Gilio and Bencini tested the new car. Many people wrongly assume the Beta was a re-purposed Fiat but, other than its engine (which received a number of changes for use in the Lancia), there was little shared across the marques. In fact, Fiat’s move to larger front-wheel-drive cars wouldn’t come until the 1980s. And another little-known fact about the Beta is that it shares its SMAE gearbox with the Citroën CX – a hangover from the PARDEVI project of the early 1970s…

The Beta initially appeared in two-box saloon form (like the Princess, it looked like a hatchback, but it wasn’t) at the Turin Motor Show in 1972, but the coupe appeared a year later. The coupe was certainly attractive, styled by Aldo Castagno and Pietro Castagnero, and proved that the front-wheel-drive platform was nothing if not adaptable. Further versions followed – the Scimitar GTE-like HPE, Zagato-styled Spider and Trevi ‘three-box’ saloon. Lest we forget the Beta badge was also screwed to the mid-engined Montecarlo, but that was going to be the Fiat X1/9’s big brother, and only became a Lancia at the last moment.

Last but not least… Alfa Romeo

As for the Alfa Romeo Sprint, it’s an extension of one of Italy’s biggest engineering triumphs (and production disasters), the Alfasud. You can read the full story of this amazing front-wheel-drive pioneer at your leisure, but here are a few bullet points – it set the dynamic benchmark for well over a decade, looked amazing, was an act of packaging genius and, apart from its lack of a hatchback (for the best part of decade) and slap-shod build, it was as close to motoring perfection as you were ever likely to experience during these torrid times.

In 1976, Giorgetto Giugiaro’s sporting Sprint derivative was unveiled, offering Alfasud buyers the opportunity to own something a little racier. The Sprint had a tough role in life – to replace the smaller-engined 105-Series Giulia coupes but, thanks to the brilliance of its saloon underpinnings and the sheer desirability of its styling, most commentators at the time considered that Alfa Romeo had pulled it off.

These four cars, all from 1979 represented the sweet-spot of their respective production development cycles, and are probably the best you’re going to find of each today. The question is, could the five-speed 2.0-litre slant-four TR7 deliver a knock-out blow to the 1.5-litre X1/9 or Alfasud Sprint, or the 1.6-litre Lancia back then? And does it today?

Best 1970s sports cars: character

When the TR7’s styling and packaging were honed, the two benchmark sports cars in the USA were the Datsun 240Z and Porsche 914. Compared with the beauty of the first of these two cars, the Triumph’s styling must be seen as a failure – but then, compared with the Porsche, the TR7 did look rather good. The problem with its styling is a reflection of the shifting moods of the legislators at the time – as a targa or convertible, the TR7 looked quite good, but BL simply didn’t have the confidence to take a risk, and produce anything other than a closed car.

By the time the first US dealers caught their first glimpse of the car in late 1974, it was clear that the threat to the open-topped car as a breed had already passed. But this notwithstanding, the TR7’s looks weren’t all that bad, and they certainly remain interesting to this day. Yes, it was dominated by those impact-bumpers (which were better resolved than some of the opposition, most notably the Fiat X1/9), and that gave it extra length, which then led to a gawky short-wheelbased, high-riding stance, that wasn’t truly fixed until sometime later with the arrival of the convertible.

Under the skin, it was a conservative affair, but also a bit of a delight for BL fans, thanks to its shared DNA with the ill-fated Triumph SD2 and Rover SD1. So, that meant MacPherson struts up front and a well-located live axle at the rear. The engine was effectively an eight-valve version of the Dolomite Sprint, pushing out a relatively modest 105bhp, and the emphasis was on easy drivability and a roomy, usable cabin. All of these objectives were met – although the downside was that a standard TR7 is hardly sporting to drive. However, on today’s roads, a well-presented and cared-for TR7 still turns heads – because it’s visually interesting and, for men of a certain age, it reminds them of Purdey from the New Avengers.

The Italian view of things

In comparison, the Italians are from a different planet. Visually similar to the TR7 the X1/9 might be, but with a targa roof for its turret top, and an engine mounted midships, it’s a far more advanced package. It also gives away half a litre of engine capacity to the British car, but then the Italian has an interesting and rorty soundtrack which encourages the driver to make full use of those 85 horses. As we’ll see later, that’s not always a good thing – especially in the wet.

The Lancia’s 1.6-litre twin-cam puts out almost as much power as the Triumph, and like all Lampredi-powered cars, simply adores being revved. Being front-wheel drive was seen as a technical advantage back then (oh, so different to today’s drift-obsessed culture), but there’s no denying the Lancia was a more advanced car than the Triumph – especially with those four, big-disc brakes to keep it in check. As Lancia’s been out of the UK since 1994, and most younger people have no real idea what the marque’s about, beyond the rallying exploits of the Integrale, it’s fair to say that most people will greet a Beta Coupe with a sense of curiosity – but they’ll be sucked in by its great styling.

It’s much the same situation with the Sprint, but Alfa Romeo as a marque has such a following in the UK, there’s no doubt that enthusiasts will know exactly what you’re driving. Like the Beta, it’s a great-looking car, all dainty and beautifully detailed, and on today’s roads, an outstanding looking sports coupe. With its flat-four up-front and fizzing exhaust note, there’s no doubt that Sprint absolutely loves to be driven hard – and, with an X1/9-matching 85bhp, you can drive it almost flat-out everywhere without being  anti-social. And we like that a lot – so much that out of the four, it’s the ‘Sud that gets the award for being the most characterful.

Best 1970s sports cars: performance

It’s interesting that, in such a disparate bunch of cars, the on-paper performance figures are so closely matched. Ultimately, the Triumph TR7 is the quickest of the three, but we’re talking in terms of fractions. And the difference – today – between having your carbs set-up correctly or not. For those who like the figures, here’s what the testers at What Car? magazine came up with when they originally pitched these cars together for the May 1979 issue: 0-60mph, 10.4secs (Triumph and Lancia), 10.5secs (Fiat) and 11.5secs (Alfa Romeo). Maximum speeds, 112mph (Triumph), 110mph (Lancia), and 105mph (Fiat and Alfa Romeo).

What it comes down to then is how the cars feel when you want to crack on in them. The TR7 might well be the quickest, but it’s also the most relaxing, and that’s down to the extra torque delivered by its larger engine. As you might expect, it’s smooth enough, but hardly thrives on high revs, delivering more than plenty of acceleration on part throttle and early-ish upchanges. On today’s mean streets, it keeps up with the flow, but that requires work – and that means going beyond the 4000rpm smoothness threshold. On the motorway, and in long-striding fifth, the TR7 cruises very calmly indeed.

Interestingly, the Alfasud Sprint comes out as the slowest of the quartet, but it’s also the one that’s the most enjoyable to take to the red line. A lot of people describe the ‘Sud as a screamer but, in 1.5-litre form, it actually pulls really well from low revs, and has a wide power band and an agreeable long-stroke feel endlessly revvable feel in the intermediate ratios. The off-beat engine note feels quite subdued in this installation and, although it runs quite short gear ratios, at its 4000rpm 70mph cruise, the Sprint never feels fussy or stressed. That’s a good thing, because the ‘Sud has a rubbish gearchange – indirect, rubbery, and all very disappointing considering the excellence of the drivetrain.

The Lancia, on the other hand, is a screamer. Its twin-cam loves revs, and needs lots of them to really punch onwards. Where you’ll see the best performance is above 4500rpm, and once you really learn to appreciate this, you’ll not be driving the Beta at all sedately again. Would that wear in the long term? Probably, but for a high-days classic car, it’s probably perfect.

Finally, we come to the Fiat. With its upgrade to 1.5-litres in 1977, it certainly felt more of a grown-up car than the 1.3-litre that preceded it and had a little more power that its brilliant chassis deserved. We have to say that the Fiat feels so much quicker than it is – and that’s probably a function of the proximity of the free-revving overhead cam located about nine inches behind your ears. You feel every beat and pulse of the sweet little engine – and this is a good thing, because it’s a lovely little thing, even if it’s the noisiest of these cars.

It’s a rev-happy car, like the Lancia. However, unlike its larger cousin, the X1/9 is also sweet and docile at low revs, and actually potters around town far better than the two other Italians, despite being outwardly the most sporting. Only the TR7 is more at home, playing babysitter in town.

Overall, though, we’ll give this one to the Fiat.

Best 1970s sports cars: handling and ride

Predictably, these cars are all fun and full of feel compared with their modern counterparts. Okay, they have laughably low limits of adhesion by today’s standards, but you could argue that this is central to their classic appeal. The most conventional to drive of the four is – predictably – the Triumph. Like the SD1 and (presumably) the SD2, it’s an accurate handler with relatively compliant ride quality (compared with the other three) and is probably greater than the sum of its parts. In standard form (and there’s so few like this left), the TR7’s handling balance is geared towards understeer, but there’s enough torque and throttle response to drive through this – if this is your bag.

Given its all-independent suspension (by Macpherson struts) the Lancia should be the best all-rounder here and, in terms of ultimate handling and behaviour, it does win out. It’s just as competent as the TR7 in the bends and on less-than-perfect roads, but what lets it down is the cumbersome and weighty steering – which just makes driving (and hustling) the Lancia a whole lot less appealing than it should be. We’ll live with a later (preferably supercharged) example with power-assisted steering, which is almost sublime… but here, the Beta is seriously out-classed.

Then we come to the Fiat. Clearly, it’s the most sporting of the four. It’s infectiously responsive and agile, and you’ll absolutely love the feel of stringing together a series of tight bends in this car. The steering is also direct, light and uncorrupted for a true racer’s feel. But push as hard as you’re encouraged to, and you could come to a sticky end, unless you’re gifted with the smoothness and car control of Jenson Button – the rear can break away a might too suddenly, especially if you’re tempted to fit lower-profile tyres. It’s always interesting asking an X1/9 owner how many times they’ve spun…

The Alfa Romeo, finally, has wonderful steering, both in terms of feeling and weight. It’s a great foil for the neutral handling set-up too. If you’re one of those people who assume just because a car is driven by its front wheels, it’s going to understeer, may we recommend an extended drive in a ‘Sud. In short, it goes where you point it, and delivers its best in a completely safe way – you really feel the low centre of gravity its flat-four brings to the party, as well as the supremely well-resolved dead-beam rear suspension that makes the most of its Watt’s Linkage and Panhard Rod set-up. It’s so easy to understand why so many manufacturers used the ‘Sud as its benchmark – and it’s the best here.

Best 1970s sports cars: cabin and controls

It’s an easy win for the TR7 here, assuming you’re after a two-seater. The driving position is excellent, the seats are comfortable, there’s plenty of oddments space, and the controls and dashboard are the most effective of the lot (for instance, it has heating and ventilation that just works). We’ll go further – as long as you like the tartan seats (and we’ll assume you do, because you’re here), then the TR7’s interior also looks the best, and is certainly the classiest.

This later Beta benefits from having the improved post-1978 dashboard, which compared with the original item, groups its controls quite logically. However, the driving position just isn’t right, there isn’t enough headroom in the front (and barely any in the rear), the stalk controls are rubbish and the instrument graphics are messy. A real disappointment compared with the timeless elegance of that wonderful exterior.

The X1/9’s visually appealing inside, and it’s easy for the driver to fantasize that he’s sat in a supercar of the 1970s, especially with that reclined driving position, small steering wheel and interesting instrument layout. In use, it’s almost as effective as the TR7, although the useless glovebox and pathetic night-time illumination are both more than mere irritations. But you don’t mind these problems so much when the car has such an endearing personality.

The Sprint is easily the most practical car, with decently-sized rear seats and a full-sized tailgate. But look more closely and it does start to fall apart. The rear seats don’t fold in order to maximise that hatchback, while the driving position is difficult to get on with, and takes some getting used to. But it’s nicely trimmed inside, and the dashboard looks conventionally handsome, even if in terms of material quality, it’s not good enough. Then there’s the actual control layout – whoever it was who came up with the idea of controlling the blower fan by a column stalk need their bumps feeling.

Best 1970s sports cars: running costs

When new in early 1979, all four fell between £4500 and £4800, which helps understand why What Car? came up with such an interesting grouping. Today, things are a little different – buying any one of these cars won’t leave you needing to re-mortgage your house, and for those who like a bargain, you’re best looking in the direction of the X1/9 or TR7 – both of which can be found in good working order for well under £5000. The Alfa and Lancia’s rarity mean they’re more expensive, with the best ‘Sud Sprints pushing £15,000 now.

Just because they’re all modestly powered and not particularly heavy, don’t expect to blown away by these cars’ fuel consumption figures, unless you’re the sort who drives their sports car in an unsporting way. At the pumps, only one of these cars will easily better that psychologically-important 30mpg that separates acceptable from oh-dear. As you’d imagine, it’s the Fiat that’s wins this one, easily averaging 35mpg – with the Alfa next up, delivering around 30mpg in real-world driving conditions. The Lancia and TR7 are nearer 25mpg – again if you’re a spirited driver. On a run, the TR7 closes the gap, but not enough to best the little Fiat.

When it comes to parts and servicing costs, the TR7 has to win out. Availability is almost total, while very few garages will turn away a TR7 due to its simplicity. The Fiat’s parts availability isn’t bad, whereas the Alfa is a bit more of a struggle, with the Lancia proving a far more tough gig. But it has to be said that all three Italians have enthusiastic club back-up, and that counts for a lot. Overall, though, the TR7’s a winner here, by dint of being the most painless to keep on the road and the cheapest to buy.

Best 1970s sports cars: verdict

Triumph TR7 vs Lancia Beta Coupe vs Fiat X1/9 vs Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint
Triumph TR7 vs Lancia Beta Coupe vs Fiat X1/9 vs Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint

All four cars have oodles of appeal, and will keep their owner more than busy over the winter months following a hard summer’s driving. None of these cars would be bought on logical grounds either – the Triumph represents one of those cars that’s good at what it does, but can be improved significantly by its owner. One only needs to see the number of Sprint- and V8-engined conversions still in regular use to see that.

The Lancia, on the other hand, is the thinking man’s choice, and one that rewards an owner who likes to drive hard, and appreciates the engineering strength in depth that went into its creation. It’s overshadowed by that heavy steering and odd driving position to such a degree that it’s not a car for the casual classic car enthusiast, but someone who really gets Lancias. Sadly, that’s not too many people in the UK.

The Fiat is a lovely thing, and still criminally undervalued for a car that delivers that budget supercar experience that so few classics are capable of. As a weekend tearaway, it’s the purest of the four, and certainly wakes-up even the sleepiest of car enthusiasts. You can’t really enjoy and X1/9 if you’re over 5ft10in, nor can you if you don’t like being looked at by other drivers, but get by that, and it’s a near irresistible proposition. And all for the price of a boring MG Midget.

Then there’s the Alfasud Sprint. Ah, the Alfa. Before you drill down into what makes this car great, even the name resonates the most within this grouping. But add up its principal charms – its wonderful roadholding, endearing engine note and fabulous styling, and there’s more to this car’s appeal than the evocative grille badge.

Back in 1979 when What Car? tested them, it declared the TR7 the winner on practical grounds. We wouldn’t disagree with that – but then, this isn’t a practical decision. This comes from the heart and so the Alfa wins.

[Original photo, thanks to What Car? magazine]

Keith Adams

55 Comments

  1. Hmm….. A difficult choice!

    Assuming I had the funds, today I’d have all four!

    I’ve always liked the TR7. As a young lad, I remember thinking those that criticised its styling were old fashioned, narrow minded.

  2. The Alfa for me too- I had a mate who aquired a bog-standard Y reg Sud 1.3 for peanuts when it was a few years old (it had been mildly crash damaged but the owner bought it off the insurance company who sold it to my mate). Ah, what a car that was! It went far, far, better than a 1.3 had any right to, with an epic soundtrack to boot… Too bad that it was constructed from par-boiled lasagne and that the wiring was unspeakable.

    I’d love a Sud or a Sprint, except that the appalling driving position and the need for double-jointed ankles causes me actual physical pain within a couple of minutes of sitting behind the wheel. Clearly Italian drivers have the proportions of a Urang-utan, but with offset hips. I’m 6′, and my mate with the Sud was a couple of inches taller, so it is a wonder that he could drive the damn thing for hours and isn’t crippled for life.

    People knock it’s successor, the 33. But I’ve driven a few, and the driving position at least is better (if far from good), and the soundtrack is as good as ever, but with very vivid performance indeed, especially the 1.7s, although the handling isn’t as good, and torque-steer makes for ‘interesting’ progress particularly on wet roads. It’s is certainly very involving…

  3. Of the 4 in terms of appearence I prefer the Beta the most, the rear end of the Alfasud Sprint is its only flaw that for me ruins an otherwise pretty car (and could have done with a rear resembling the regular Alfasud), while both the TR7 and X19 would have looked so much better if the large black bumpers were binned and donned body-coloured bumpers instead (from the late-70s to early-80s).

  4. You’re right David about TR7’s detractors.
    I owned an X1/9 for 2 years, “Renatto” was a toy, a real joy, always wanted one, since I was a lad, our neighbour had one… It’s cheap as chips to run, 35 mpg is true, no need for unleaded conversion, brake disc cost less than a cd at HMV, same for pads, filters… a good one is hard to find though, carb does need to be spot on, add a K&n filter, it’s got a gorgeous rasp. found memories and a couple of sweats as well, skinny 165/70X13…
    Obviously, What car? took price into consideration, otherwise a Montecarlo, GTV and Beta coupe in 2L form would have shown the TR7 what a 2L is about!!! At least they didn’t add the tractor in this test(that’s Capri for me)

  5. I’d also choose the Alfa first and the TR7 second… a tie for third with the Lancia & Fiat. My former boss had an Alfasud Sprint as his company car for a while and I occasionally got to drive it (collecting it from service trips etc). Great acceleration and rorty engine noise, sporty looks and low driving position.

    Downside was the cheap feeling interior particularly the feeble window winder handles which felt like they would break when you used them… oh and that rubbery gearchange too.

    I recall seeing another version called the “Veloce” which presumably offered more power?

  6. Difficult decision, in that I adore all of these cars. I’ve driven many Alfa Romeos, and owned 2 – the ‘Sud Sprint is on my car bucket list, but I’d have a later Green Cloverleaf model. I very nearly bought a late Bertone badged X1/9 a few years back – still love them, but I’m not sure I’d like the rust. I also very nearly bought a TR7 – but it was the much more desirable convertible. The V-8 model is still on my list. I have a huge soft-spot for the Beta, but again, it would be a later Volumex HPE that I’d go for. However, if I had my cheque-book in hand, and was ready to buy one of these cars I think I’d be writing a cheque for the Lancia – a car that I’ve always loved, from my favourite Italian marque (although the ultimate for me is a Gamma coupe)….

  7. @3 Sadly I’ve never driven a 33 – another Italian car I’ve always liked- especially the original Sportwagon (another car I nearly bought….). But I did test-drive a 1.7 boxer engined 146. The car’s weight and poor gearchange did the boxer engine no favours, but my, did it sound good! Once it got going it went well, but you could feel the car working against it. I bought a later Twin-spark 145 and grinned from ear to ear for 7 years!!

  8. Reading again how BL had created a platform of components to underpin the SD1 and TR7 again makes me wonder why this component set wasnt used to produce a proper medium sized family car to compete with the Cortina and Cavalier. With the O series engine the car could have almost designed itself and been a far more competitive vehicle than the Princess.

  9. @6 ‘Veloce’ – such an evocative word! I loved that my Alfa 156 was a 1.9 Multijet Veloce. My road-bike is a Bianchi Via Nirone C2C Veloce, with Campagnolo Veloce groupset…It just sounds so much more romantic and exciting than ‘BMW320D’ or Trek 1.5 HC. Oh and it looks beautiful, and gets admiring comments whenever I ride it…….

  10. All the Italians are shapeless, uninspiring bricks to me, no stylistic flair whatsoever. They make the TR7 look beautiful by comparison!

  11. @9 Paul
    Agree 100%. The previous sports cars were all spun off saloon chassis, the TR7 mechanicals were surely perfect for a decent Cortina/Cavalier basher, let alone SD2.

    Incidentally, was the Slant 4 expensive to make, as why wasn’t this used in other models? SAAB used their version for a lot longer, and even mounted it transversely in the 9000 and 2nd generation 900.

  12. And, returning back to the cars, why can’t we buy the equivalent of them today, vehicles that look a million dollars, and are fun to drive, but are cheap to run and not that fast…

  13. Mickey C: Fiat had this absolutely fabulous coupe in the 90’s,the Turbo was mind blowing, n-a version was affordable to insure, then Hyundai had their mini-Ferrari 456 in the shape of the “Coupe” 1,6L are cheap to run, they also had a 2L and then a KV6 if you wanted more power, they somewhat diluted their DNA as time/facelifts went on, S1 looked superb at launch, there’s plenty “sexy” cars to choose from at reasonable costs… Keep in mind these cars were £5k or so in 1979!!! I have 2 Jag S-TYPE and a Golf Av-gde Cabrio, they don’t cost the earth to run, bus pass, so I don’t use them for “commuting”, less than £250 per annum to insure on 5000 mls.
    True, in 2012, there’s not much to get exited about as new cars are kind of samey-samey, and fashion is very rife, today’s must have is tomorrow’s has been, but you’re right, there’s no coupe on the cheap.

  14. I’d go for the Alfa out of this lot. I’d like to know how much more would a Capri 2.0 or BMW 323i would cost back then, or was having a reliable car a much more expensive prospect. They’d certainly be easier to keep on the road these days, and along with the TR7 offer a pretty easy route to (very) modern performance through an engine swap.

  15. @10 Nice ride, I’ve got a Giant TCR C1 and while thoroughly competent and light leaves me cold, bikes are like cars. It doesn’t make any sense but I want the expensive high maintenance Italian one, preferably a Colnago, alas they’re just as reasonably priced as their four wheeled Lamborghini brethren.

  16. Why was the 2 litre Lancia not tested instead of the 1.6 ?
    Must say the performance figures for the Triumph seem a bit on the quick side – I recall the TR7s being outdragged through the gears to top speed in various 1.6 litre 131 twin cams (0-60 11.5 secs, 105 top speed).
    The TR7 could have been so much better – a couple of inches off the ride height and a decent exhaust note.
    Another thing – was the TR7 engine used in any other application? If it wasn’t – why not use this instead of the O series engines?

  17. Back in the day, I tried the Lancia in 2.0litre, the Fiat and a 7. Couldn’t really fit in to the Fiat, as I’m 5′ 11′. 7 was okay but I didn’t think it ‘special’ when compared to the Lancia, plus I didn’t have confidence in the dealer. Mind you, the Lancia dealer wasn’t much better.I think if I’d tried a 1.6 then the 7 would have squeaked it. I went on and bought an Ascona 2.0 SR but, that’s another story. Great car though that Ascona!

  18. Lancia for me. Alfa second,
    I work with a bloke, lets be kind and say he’s a bit eccentric. He’s owned a Beta coupe since 1983, bought it as an ex demmo back in the day. Its only the second car he’s ever owned and its stil his daily driver, he parkes it in the street outside his house. He spent 20K on a full resto at a specialist 10 years ago.

  19. Lancia for me followed closely by the alfa, fiat then TR7 – unless it is a TR8 then no contest! Funny how the British car was seen as being shockingly built but against this opposition was probably just jo av!

  20. @15
    The success of the MINI, 500 and DS3 shows that a lot of people are happy to pay more for something with less space, but more distinctive style, but it seems that in the next class up, this is currently achieved with SUV coupes (e.g. Evoque, DS4) rather than coupes of the sort in this article.

    The Sud Sprint is all about style and handling, rather than ultimate performance around the Nurburgring, it’s a shame that there’s no equivalent modern Alfa or Lancia.

  21. @23 Seconded – Much as I like the MiTo, the lack of a decent coupe in the current Alfa range is shameful – why didn’t they update the gorgeous GT? And the Lancia/Chrysler hook-up I find both upsetting and insulting……The Delta showed promise when first shown to the press, but in the metal (and with ‘that’ badge and grille on it) it looks and feels cheap…..a crying shame.

  22. BL always had the sneaky habit of making press cars that little bit quicker than the standard car you or I would buy, and the wedge would have clearly been improved styling wise with colour coded bumpers. All of these cars had the same enemy too, rust, especially the Lancia. I do like the X1/9, but the crisp styling was ruined by those bumpers, and I feel that Toyota chose the X1/9 as a sort of styling benchmark for their mk1 MR2. For me though, that car of choice isn’t in this test, and it has to be the Capri, complete with 3.0 V6

  23. Lets not forget my favorite the VW Scirocco In injected form a MK1 is still a fast agile little motor
    Alas they have one thing in common with the above too RUST 🙁

  24. My aunt owned a gold Mk1 Scirocco GLi, and it was a crackerjack little car, and yep it rusted just as badly as my uncle’s Strada 75CL of the same vintage. Oh for the days though when cars were as simple and cheap to fix, and gave you smiles galore……..

  25. i bet parts are a lot easier to get for the tr7 than for the other 2. as for the rust issue LANCIA say no more.
    the tr7 is by far the best looking car here, the other 2 are bricks in comparison…

  26. @Ant80

    Er, didn’t I say that about the Trimph’s parts price/availability: ‘When it comes to parts and servicing costs, the TR7 has to win out. Availability is almost total, while very few garages will turn away a TR7 due to its simplicity. The Fiat’s parts availability isn’t bad, whereas the Alfa is a bit more of a struggle, with the Lancia proving a far more tough gig. But it has to be said that all three Italians have enthusiastic club back-up, and that counts for a lot. But overall, the TR7′s a winner here, by dint of being the most painless to keep on the road and the cheapest to buy.’

    Rust – didn’t even mention it. If they’ve made it this far, it’s safe to assume they’ve even been rust-proofed or covered all their lives. They all rust.

    And there’s actually three, not two, other cars in this test…

  27. yes there are three like i said the other 2 are bricks in comparison to the tr7s “modern” wedge shape!!
    i may be a bit bias as i had a white 77 wedge about 15 years ago lovely comfy car good power from the 2 litre and ultra reliable too.!!! even the headlamps popped up when needed…
    my sd1 won the battle though and the tr7 was sold you cant resist a v8 mate for that soundtrack. wish i still had it though.

  28. Mate of mine had a TR7, just like the car in the test, same colour too. Blew several head gaskets, and had a habit of “winking” with the headlamps (one up, one down). T’nother mate had a GT6, made a loverly noise with the “little” straight six, but god was it uncomfortable. Well I am a little over 6 foot. I was dead comfy in the TR, well when it was running right.
    Amongst our little circle of friends, one ran a little garage. He had to, he had an Alfasud, and ‘Sud Sprint! But again, when they were running right, they went far better than their modest “cc” would suggest.
    The Triumph engine WAS used by Saab, but only in the 99, before they moved on to a better design (I think they called it H type)based heavily on the earlier Triumph engine.

  29. A long long time ago i experienced all four of these cars in fact i drove a TR7 again about 5 years ago after a gap of some 25 years.
    The lancia drove well with a raspy exhaust note and a chunky gearknob which gave a good change but like all rod linkage FWD set ups could be snatchy. The inside had a vinyl leather look alike which past in the late 70s early 80s but would never today. Car handled well and had a good driving position.
    The X19 was horrible and certainly not suited to taller drivers, its switch gear was fiddly and small and the gear lever was a bit of plastic reminiscent of a toy bone for a dog. Everyting was awkward, getting to the engine, getting in and out and when it got a few years behind it didnt it rot…everywhere..to a point i was charged by a policeman for selling one that was so bad to a customer even though it was mot and run well [nothing came of it fortunatly for me].

    The Alfa handled and performed well comparable to the Lancia but like all Alfa of the 70/early 80s had gearbox synchromesh problems and rust at an early stage.
    The TR7 was fine i drove them all, best being an auto W plate in Inca, never experienced any mechanical issues but were poor for water leaks into the footwells.
    Like the X19 the car came in some bright and vivid colours which suited the time and the product.

  30. None of the above- IF you can find one a Fiat124 coupe.Twin cam power, great raspy exhaust note, seats four in comfort, good sized boot, quicker and better acelleration than all the above, great handling,pretty and a classic interior.
    If it has to be one of the four the Alfsud, although the design of the saloon appeals more to me.

  31. I have heard a famous Itailian automotive designer walked onto the stand at the TR7 unveling. With baited breath, the team awaited response. He walked down the left…said nothing, went to the right and uttered his review. “My God! It’s the same on this side!”

    An ugly duckling that in drophead form revealed itself to be a swan. Albeit one male swans would only have chatted up to get the number of her good looking friend.

    Bugs me still that it was such a mismonicker. TR = ‘Triumph Roadster’, and since a roadster is by definition open …so this was not a TR.

    I had the Lancia in 2 litre supercharged form…beautiful, capable and contrary to the public perception of Lancia… Rust free. Today the Lancia would be hard to use as a daily car unlike the Triumph. A nightmare fuel burn and even in ’89 a problem for many parts…small parts granted, but commonly just important enough to stop the car.

    • You could do with reading this page:

      http://www.aronline.co.uk/blogs/cars/triumph/tr7-tr8/the-cars-triumph-tr7tr8/

      It states:
      ‘In an amusing tale that has now entered into the folklore of motoring history, it was Giorgetto Giugiaro that summed up the feelings of many people: On his first viewing of the car at the Geneva motor show in 1975, he is said to have paused to take a long look at the TR7. Pondering its styling, he is said to have looked at it in a puzzled way and then walked around the car, only to say, ‘Oh my God! They’ve done it to the other side as well.’ This was no doubt a reference to the fact that in the development of new model styling, often different styling solutions are tried out on both sides of a clay model of the car – and Giugiaro obviously thought that the TR7 looked so bizarre that it could in no way be a production car!’

  32. I am currently restoring a 1980 X19 and have a 1982 X19 for parts.. I have experienced the TR7 V8 and had a cousin who owned a Beta in the day. I’m quite priveleged to have been around and seen these cars for I live in western Canada. The TR7 was a high school friends fathers (he was a doctor) Cool looking car AND FAST! Where the TR7 lacks is in handling.. suspention is soft.. I had owned a 73 toyota celica and it handled the TR7 easily on the winding roads in Kootenays in British Columbia. The Beta just looked at it for I was a child but remember it was a cool Italian Car! Now the X19 has HISTORY! Has spent the most time on a race track than any other production car for it was balanced and engineered at the roof top raceway in Turin. It was presented originally to Enzo Ferrari for a production for a economical Ferrrari that all could buy. Enzo was insulted> resulting in the production going to Fiat. The first year was the lowest production #’s with 1.3L carburated.. second lowest in 1980 1.5L FI under the Fiat… name that changed to Bertone in 1983. Bertone used all bodys left..changed the interior slightly, kept 1.5L FI to its Gran Finale run in 1989. In it’s day it was called a baby Ferrari. Still to this day it is one of the best balanced handling cars without the use of traction control.
    Though slow… get it to 100mph.. and go around all the corners! Probally the best part.. is all the looks you get.. just like a Ferrari! In fact, some parts used on the X19 were used on Ferrari’s and Lambo’s of the era! Door handles used on the Lambo Urraco.. The headlight Magnetti Marelli actuators used on Ferrari 308’s and Dinos. The wiper systems Magnetti Marelli as well. THE PITFALLS… This car is RUST HEAVY. and very prone to break downs… The era of production did not pay the workers to put them together well and the unibodys were (rumor) stamped with recycled military Russian steel… left in a field with primer only.. paited over existing rust. The GREAT THINGS!!!… Fun to drive.. easy to work on.. Appreciating every year!! If you are a Ferrai enthusiast from the day.. This is a great practice car! Happy Motoring! BJ

  33. Adjusting the prices of these cars for inflation, all four would be available for around £ 20,000 at today’s prices, the same as a Ford people carrier and easier to afford with better finance deals available these days.
    Now that Eastern Europe has opened up and Western manufacturers have offloaded some production there, but with strong controls on quality, surely it’s not impossible for Fiat to get their Polish factory to produce a modern X 1/9 for under £ 20,000. Surely a modern interpretation of the car with a 1.6 litre fuel injected engine, modern safety features, 120 mph plus performance and 40 mpg woulf be very tempting.

  34. Very interesting comparison for me having owned both a 1.6 beta coupe and a Gran Finale X1/9. Both cars have great memories the Lancia was my second car and felt well engineered with a superb free- revving engine. The interior was stylish with a jaeger clock in the centre console. It had an excellent ride and handing and was a joy to own. The X1/9 was purchased new as one of the last to be sold by Black and White garage near Newbury. It was a delicate machine compared to the Lancia but highly entertaining in its own right and always underrated by the opposition in their hot hatches, nearly always to their cost. I still remember passing a surprised fast BMW in the New Forest going out of Brockenhurst. The only real negative was a tendency to understeer in the wet due to lack of weight over the front wheels. The structure is immensely strong and on one occasion I was shunted from the rear by a fiesta XR2 that had been tailgating on the M27 when we hit a jam and he was comprehensively outbraked. The Fiat was catapaulted into the car in front bending a towbar,the ford was completely crushed at the front. The X1/9 was undamaged and driven away. The design was brilliant with two boots allowing space for enough luggage for touring round Europe and I took mine to the Alps and Mediterranean on several occasions. fast forward 20 years and I have Boxster S in the garage but guess what is parked next to it? Well I couldn’t really sell it could I?

  35. The Lancia all Day everyday, it looks so more classy, I am aware of chap from our French office, who has added a mild electric power steering and updated the interior, along with modifications to engine and brakes, when I saw the car in the car park it looked astonishing..having owned a 69 GT6Mk 2 and an MGB all be it a V8 my brief dalliance from 88-89 with a TR7 when I was a very young man, unfortunately leaves me with memories of a broken seat, headlamps stuck fortunately upright, and rust…the GT6 I loved so much last year I paid £19K for a nice example and it did not disappoint..sorry TR7 fans

  36. A curious choice of cars to compare with the TR7 perhaps the Lancia Beta Montecarlo should have been added to the list,it’s two litre twin cam engine mounted in the middle of the car would have been a better comparison than either of the smaller engined cars. I know that the Montecarlo was built tiny quantities compared to the TR7 but it also had the cachet of being built in the Pininfarina plant as well

  37. Had a 1987 Alfa Sprint. Hatch didn’t open, rev counter died on the first drive,passenger vent flew out of the dash on 2nd speed. Head gaskets went, fuel lines ruptured & was traded after the final straw of the front wings developing huge rust warts within a few weeks. But when it was running it was a wondrous thing. Sowed the seed for my current 2011 Abarth Essesse which I love to bits & hasn’t missed a beat; not surprising with the fanatical care lavished on it. Back in the day, despite being a BL lover, it would have been Beta as first choice, then the Sud.

  38. The reason that the TR7 is now a starter classic is the fact that inflation has put the other candidates out of the reach of those buying a first classic. If the MGB, Spitfire, the various TRs and Austin Healeys suddenly all crashed back to banger money, which would you have?

    I doubt most would have the TR7, which has nothing to do with the quality of the cars. In terms of handling and refinement, the TR7 is probably the best of the cars I have listed. Of course that is kind of the problem, the other cars have a character, with their wooden dashes and styling that the TR7 lacks.

    As for whether the TR7 was a failure, it did sell 14300. The problem is, it also represented the last of the British sports cars, there was no successor and the sport car market was then taken by the Japanese, with the MX5.

    Personally if I wanted a cheap British sports car, I would find an MGF and get the suspension re-gassed. Having driven one with working suspension, I have no doubts it would easily outpace a TR7 and it is cheaper as well.

  39. 1979 saw the Fiat X 1/9 get the performance its looks deserved and a five speed transmission to improve economy. It’s the sort of car the MG MIdget should have developed into, a cut down Ferrari with excellent performance and low running costs. When MG died in 1980, the little Fiat was a worthwhile alternative.

    • The MG Midget is an austerity front engined sports car, it has nothing in common with a mid-engined car and couldn’t have been developed as such.

      History tells us what BL should have developed is a reliable updated MGB style car, which did happen, it was called the MX5. The British car industry had the perfect recipe for a successful sports car and screwed up the execution.

      • Should have said, what should have replaced the Midget if funds allowed in the mid seventies, and possibly the ageing Spitfire as well. TBH purists will hate me for saying this, but the MG Midget, MGB and Spitfire were, by 1979, antiques that looked like they were from a bygone age with poor performance.

      • Why couldn’t the Midget have been developed into something like the Unipower? BL really had an unerring ability to miss the goal so completely that it wasn’t even funny. imagine being tasked with designing the successor to to the MGB and the TRs. And you’ve got a clean sheet of paper. It’ll be mechanically prosaic but the look, the style, it’s yours to create. And you design the TR7… Really?

  40. I don’t want to hurt the feelings of TR-7 enthusiasts. If you have a nice TR-7 and you enjoy it, all the power to you, and I mean it in a non-sarcastic way. However, the TR-7 did nothing for me as a teenager when it came out…and this hasn’t changed to this very day. When in 1975 I saw my first TR-7 fixed-head, I was totally unimpressed. An automotive writer at the time had said that the new TR-7 was a “caricature” of a sports car, and I fully agreed…and still do. Even when later the drophead version came out I felt the same. Performance was sluggish and the head gaskets had a tendency to blow regularly. That’s why back then I used to prefer to drive and be seen in older Austin-Healey 3000s than in a new TR-7. Not even the TR-8 with the Rover V-8 did anything for me. The mother of a fellow at work had just bought one, and all the North American de-smogging strangulation gave the 3.5 litre motor lacklustre performance. Even worse, though, almost anything you touched on that car would come off in your hand. The quality control seemed to have been non-existent.

    I once upset a friend who loved ALL the Star Trek spin-offs, when I tod him that as far as I was concerned, Star Trek had gone off the air in 1968 with the last of the Captain Kirk episodes. I will now say something similar: as far as I am concerned, the Triumph TR series ended with the TR-6. As we live in an era with little tolerance for other opinions, I know there are some who would like to burn me at the stake…Oh well…so be it…

    • You’re correct about the TRs ending with the 6. Those cars were the very epitome of the “hairy” British sports car. TR7 was a joke and a particularly unfunny one at that. I wish there was a bit less re-writing of history on this site, and an acceptance that BL and it’s successors failed because they made cars that people didn’t want and,more often than not, made them badly.

      • I agree, though there’s been a bit less pigheaded “it should have been a market leader & at the top of the sales charts” attitude recently.

  41. None of the Italian cars in this test will be remembered for their Germanic build quality or rust resistance, the X 1/9 might have looked fantastic but had rotten build quality and poor electrics, as well as rust, and the Sud and the Lancia had serious rust issues. By 1979, with production moved to Canley and much more stringent quality control, the TR7 was the best of this group if you wanted a sports car that was reasonably well built and rustproofed.

  42. I remember when the TR7 first appeared; I couldn’t believe how ugly and awkward it looked. I really don’t understand how anyone thought a TR7 was good looking.

    However the convertible, especially with the hood down, was an altogether different proposition. Amazing how the appearance could improve so much with the top half changed.

  43. I was very lucky to own an Afla Sprint, or as it was called in full ‘Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprint Veloce’ from 1982. It cost £5,995, was a 1500cc (rather than 1300cc engine) coupled with a twin choke twin carburettor. It was one the best handling, usable, and fun cars around at the time. So, I think that it was the next version up after the one in the article because I believe it had sub 10 second acceleration and a top speed closer to 110mph or higher.

    However, what made it brilliant was the mid range acceleration, where I believe to the carburettor configuration gave a second kick under aggressive acceleration accompanied by a racing car type wail and then popping when off the accelerator.

    The driving position was good, but the design of the plush seats was poor with padded cushioning pushing your backside forward away from crook of the seat, leading to an aching tailbone after a long drive, which I did regularly between London and Sunderland (the real North).

    It never let me down, but bits and pieces needed replacing, which would be covered under a standard 3 warranty today. There was already some rust that could be seen in a gap between the panels in the A frame and it got rustier.

    Nevertheless, What Car described it as a Baby Ferrari and that is exactly what it was.

  44. The Alfa would have been my choice as it was more practical and looked fantastic, as well as having excellent driving characteristics. By 1982, Alfa were rustproofing their cars better and the horror stories of cars developing serious rust under a year old were a thing of the past. Again, if you were only keeping the Sprint for 3 years, this wouldn’t have been such an issue, and the car was always a far more individual choice than a Golf Gti and cheaper.

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