Sunday, June 17, 2012

Triumph Stag
Restoration World Review #7

The Beginning of the 
End for British Leyland

It was 1970, and Triumph needed a car to compete with the Mercedes SL, but still met new American rollover laws.

Harry Webster, director of engineering at Triumph, asked his friend and Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti - who'd penned the terrific '64 Triumph 2000 - to work his magic again.

 The result was a beautiful, sporty car that had light steering, a smooth ride and an ingenious T-bar when the top was down....the Stag. Elegant to look at with performance to match. 

What could possibly go wrong?

Things were looking up for British Leyland. And then they weren't. The Stag was riddled with faults, including the most important component of all.

The motor.

I really have no idea what those guys at Triumph were thinking. 

To meet American headlight height requirements they put blocks into the suspension to raise the vehicle rather than redesign. The cars were transported - unpainted, mind you - across salty roads in all types of weather to the paint booth.

But the biggest bungle of all was the engine.

And, seriously, it should never have happened. 

Triumph had the licencing rights to the Buick V-8, an engine that could be found in nearly every British car of the era. Rover - another manufacturer under the BL umbrella - owned the rights, and the motor is still used to this day in the Morgan, Land Rover and TVR. 

It was wonderfully reliable, as it had been designed as a marine engine.

Triumph designers decided, for reasons unknown, to go in a different direction with two unreliable 4-banger Dolomite motors welded together to form a V-8.

Those crazy guys. 

The result was a disaster.

The motor overheated constantly, and warped the heads every single time. 

The timing chains failed with spectacular results, the main bearings were much too small and the water pump would stop working without warning - often clogged because of casting sand left in the passages during production. Casting sand. Sigh.

The Stag was killed off within two years in America and the British buying public walked away a few years later. 

The Stag was one of the worst cars ever made and Triumph never really recovered from the bad press. 

A shame, really. It was a lovely looking car, and still is, even now.

Today, the Stag owners club has a strong following in England, although British Leyland is long gone. 

Back in the 70s, this car could have propelled British cars into the world market, but Japan had already stepped up to the plate and taught all of Great Britain that their car could and would actually start in the morning and take them to work or get their kids to school. 

Thanks for nothing, Triumph.

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