The 1975 Triumph TR7, a replacement for the aging TR6, was a thoroughly modern sports car sporting the latest in trendy ‘70s wedge-shaped design. The TR7 was all new, sharing nothing with its predecessor. Unfortunately for British car fans, British Leyland selected its plant at Speke to produce the car. Speke had a history of labor and management strife, and was seemingly always subject to strikes and walkouts. The labor/management conflicts were never effectively resolved and the TR7 arrived at dealers with such poor build quality that later improvements were unable to overcome the public’s initial negative reaction.
All-New Triumph TR7
The Triumph TR7 was a complete departure from the outgoing TR6. The TR7 had a monocoque body construction, giving it a more rigid chassis than the body-on-frame construction of the TR6. A 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine and a rigid rear axle replaced the 6-cylinder engine and independent rear suspension of the previous model. The TR7 interior was updated to give the occupants more room than the TR6. Add the modern, wedge-shape exterior design on top of all the mechanical and structural changes, and the TR7 was seen as a complete break from the past by the Triumph faithful.
The wedge styling was quite polarizing – people either loved it or hated it. Detractors called it the “flying doorstop”, and the London Times said “it has the profile of half a pound of cheddar.” Road & Track, on the other hand, looked beyond the appearance and recognized the improvements over other sports cars of the day, saying, “The TR7 is miles ahead of any Triumph sports car ever built…with cornering power to spare…the ride is outstanding for a small sports car.”
With the 2-liter engine producing 92 horsepower and the TR7 weighing about 2350 pounds, Road & Track found the 0 to 60 time to be 11.3 seconds; the quarter mile could be covered in 18.5 seconds at a speed of about 76 mph. Not brutal acceleration, certainly, but prospective buyers were impressed by the car’s nimble handling, roomy interior, and reasonable price. Motor Trend put the TR7 handling in same league as Ferrari Dino & Lotus Europa, cars costing much more than the TR7’s price of about $5,100. Triumph designed the TR7 primarily for the U.S. market and initially produced only a coupe version, thinking that U.S. safety regulations would soon prohibit convertibles. When that didn’t happen, Triumph unveiled a convertible version of the TR7 for 1979.
Abysmal build quality ruins reputation
Sales of the TR7 started off well, thanks to the positive initial reports from car magazines and initial enthusiasm from buyers. But it didn’t take long for before buyers to realize the magnitude of problems ruining their enjoyment of the TR7. The build quality was abysmal, electrical gremlins caused maddening short circuits, timing chains snapped causing severe engine damage, constantly maladjusted carburetors made smooth running impossible, and oil and water pumps didn’t pump. It wasn’t long before the truth started to come out about the TR7.
A Road & Track survey on the TR7 found that 43% or the respondents, more than double the usual response, had cars out of service awaiting parts; 40% said poor overall quality was the worst feature of their cars; and nearly one third rated the dealer service as poor. Fully 35% of the owners said they would not buy another TR7, the poorest brand loyalty of any R&T survey. As the word spread around the automotive community resulting in sales dropping off, British Leyland finally realized that something had to be done.
Change of venue cures quality issues
The labor/management relations issues at the Speke factory proved to be unresolvable, so production of the TR7 was moved to the Canley plant in 1978. The quality of the cars produced at Canley, and later Solihull, improved greatly, but sadly it was too late to save the TR7’s reputation. The British Motoring Journal ranked the early TR7 as number 47 on its list of the “100 Worst Cars of All Time,” saying the TR7 was “British Leyland’s lame attempt to reinvent the British sports car for the 1970s. An underpowered, four cylinder wedge-shaped hardtop that seemed to disintegrate around its owners.”
The reputation in the U.S. was no better. Time magazine included the 1975 TR7 as one of its “50 Worst Cars of All Time,” saying that Triumph’s ad slogan, “The shape of things to come,” quickly became “The shape that came and went, in a great cloud of good riddance.” Other cars on Time’s list included the 1975 Trabant, 1976 Chevette, and the 1971 Pinto – not a good group to be in.
Triumph TR7 values
If you’re in the market for a reasonably priced, great-handling, and comfortable British sports car, Hagerty lists the average value of a 1975 TR7 as $4,000, with a #1 concours condition TR7 going for $10,200 and a #4 car in fair condition bringing $2,000. But beware of false bargains, as an early TR7 built before 1978 may easily turn out to be a money pit. Triumph expert and author James Taylor notes that, “A rough early TR7 is likely to be a constant source of trouble and disappointment.”
If you love the wedge look and simply must have a TR7, do your homework before spending money. There are numerous websites devoted to wedge Triumphs where you can learn how to interpret the Triumph build data plate to determine when a particular car was built. Remember – the later cars, built after 1978, had better build quality to begin with. Happy hunting!
Classic Motorsports Magazine – https://classicmotorsports.com/articles/the-last-waltz/
NEO Industrial Design – http://www.neoindustrialdesign.com.au/product-design/the-shape-of-things-to-come/
Classic Triumph TR7 Buying Guide – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/classiccars/6840589/Classic-Triumph-TR7-buying-guide.html