What might have been — if only … While the Triumph Stag is best known for negatives rather than positives, it is nonetheless a quintessential British classic sporting car of the ’70s with some special features.
There was clearly much in-house fighting between Triumph and Rover under the Leyland umbrella, and most of the Triumph V8 development costs had already been committed when Triumph and Rover got together. Because of money already spent, Triumph was reluctant to use anything other than its own power unit, and some executives erroneously claimed the Rover power plant would not even fit.
Technical director Spen King, who had moved from Rover to Triumph, wasn’t sure and hadn’t checked, but, not many years later, some Stag owners were repowering their cars with Rover and Ford V8s, and the straightsix-cylinder Triumph motor that was initially mooted by the factory as a power source. Politics aside, though, production constraints at the time meant there would never have been enough Rover V8 engines available to satisfy the number of Stags.
Those in-house who claimed to know reckoned that the Triumph V8 was fine during development while, alas, the problems only arose later in the field. Cylinder-head warpage due to poor castings, water-pump failures, inadequately sized main bearings, and timing-chain failures plagued this engine in what was more than a bad dream and condemnation of the car. Yet the mechanical problems were perfected years ago, long after its makers had given up, testament to the high proportion of owners who keep their Stags and who today apparently enjoy relatively trouble-free classic motoring.
Only a few Stags came to New Zealand, partly because, initially, the model encompassed a time when fully imported cars were severely restricted by licensing. Some might reckon this was no bad thing, given the problems with the car — even the clock was prone to misbehave. At its UK introduction in 1970, the elegant grand tourer cost a mere £2K, or £2159 if specified with the optional hardtop and overdrive. By the time production ended, in June 1977, the ravages of high inflation caused by the first oil-price shock of 1973 had elevated the price to £6K. Meanwhile, its New Zealand retail was a hefty $15K, when a new MGB GT was $7645.
How it began
In 1964, Giovanni Michelotti, the Italian who had styled so many Triumphs, was asked to come up with a concept show car based on the Triumph 2000 sedan, which was much loved by New Zealanders. However, the twodoor, four-seater concept he suggested looked so impressive that the heavies at Triumph decided to put it into production. Michelotti styled the successful BMW 1800 and 2002 touring cars, the Ferrari 340 and the Monte Carlo–winning Alpine A110. At one Turin motor show 50 years ago, his styling inspiration was seen on 40 of the display cars.
Michelotti is rumoured to have spent just 20 minutes penning the body shape for the Triumph Herald, and he was also responsible for the styling of the Triumph GT6, TR4, TR5, and Dolomite. Sadly, dust from plaster clay models he had been working on over several years caused a skin infection that became cancerous, and he died in 1980 at just 59. His last design was the Reliant Scimitar SS1, probably one of his least successful.
The Stag’s full-length grille, encompassing twin quartz-halogen headlights either side, looked so neat that it was also applied to the facelifted Triumph 2000/2500, while the attention-grabbing B-pillar roll-over bar was as much a response to tightening
WAS THE TRIUMPHS TAG A MISERABLE FAILURE ORA STYLISH TOURER THAT WAS UN FAIRLY MALIGNED? DONNA ND ER SON RECALL SAN 800 KM DRIVE 43 YEARS AGO WHEN NOTHING WENT WRONG …
North American safety regulations as it was to improved body rigidity. Installing a V8 engine was also expected to be a plus for trans-atlantic buyers, but, ironically, the Stag flopped in the US, and was withdrawn from there at the end of the 1973 model year. In 1971, Triumph expected to sell about 12,000 Stags in the US, but actually retailed 3687. Quality problems and long waiting lists were too much to bear for many prospective owners. Sales were also lost in Europe, where dealers were unable to deliver or even quote a delivery date. British Leyland had launched a highly attractive car, only to fail to meet production targets. In Britain, there were waiting lists of up to a year, and used examples swapped hands for well over list price.
Over a seven-year production period, just 25,939 Stags were built, of which most were automatics, and both the design and appeal are such that many have been preserved. Yet market values have not altered much in recent years, with prospective buyers rightly concerned about the high cost of restoration. Recent UK prices start from the equivalent of about NZ$20K, and a highly original 1972 example with 50,000km behind it had an asking figure of NZ$35K.
The car’s low point came in 1980 when so many were experiencing engine problems, which have since been resolved. But a reputation once earned is invariably difficult to dispel. With its cast-iron block and alloy heads, the Stag’s engine remains the only British-designed and -built eight-cylinder V-configuration power plant for a volume production car.
It was a development of the four-cylinder single-overhead-camshaft engine that
Triumph produced for Saab and its own Dolomite in 1968. Right from the outset, the in-line four was designed as one half of a possible 90-degree V8, so, effectively, the unit is simply two Dolomite engines stuck together.
Early prototypes were 2.5-litres with Bosch fuel injection, but low-speed torque was poor, and it was decided to stretch the capacity to 2997cc and replace the injection with a pair of side-draught Stromberg carburettors. Two valves per cylinder sit in wedge-shaped combustion chambers with a single chaindriven camshaft per bank, as opposed to the pushrod arrangement traditionally found in V-configurations. Holding nuts and studs for the crossflow cylinder heads are all accessible without removing the valve cover.
Peak power of 108kw (145hp) was produced at 5500rpm, with 231Nm of torque at 3500rpm, both similar figures to the largercapacity 3.5 Rover V8. Minor changes to the combustion chambers and pistons in 1974 gave a fractional increase in power and a small reduction in torque. With a higher first gear to cope with the extra torque, the strengthened four-speed manual gearbox was sourced from the 2.5 PI saloon, with a switch on top of the gear lever activating the Laycock overdrive on third and fourth. Automatics run with the Borg-warner 35 transmission, which was changed to a Type 65 unit for the final production year.
But it was the styling that made the Stag a real head-turner when launched, with the T-bar quite innovative for 1970. Of course, the main purpose of the roll bar is to protect occupants in an accident. It is tied to the sturdy windscreen surround and pillars, with stiffener plates in the angles, and remains in place when the car is open or if the pressed-step hardtop is in place.
The hardtop has large quarter lights, which are forward-hinged to provide anti-draught ventilation, a heated rear window is standard, and the soft-top remains in place when the hardtop is fitted. Triumph was unsure if buyers wanted a permanent T-bar, so, during development, the bar was bolted in position and could easily be removed. However, it made such a difference to body rigidity in reducing the amount of scuttle shake that the engineers made it a permanently attached fixture.
The MKI models were produced until 1972, and had Rostyle-type wheel covers fitted to 14-inch steel rims, although American-spec cars came with wire wheels. Low-profile tyres should not be fitted, because they do not suit the rear suspension design. In the English winter of 1974, I spent a week and 800km in a revised MKII with side stripes and matt black stone-resistant paint on the sills. By then, detail improvements included through-flow ventilation extractor vents in the rear screen pillars of the hardtop. The hardtop on my British Leyland–supplied test car fitted well, but there were creaks and the odd rattle on poorly surfaced roads.
With these cars, four strong hands are needed to fit or remove the heavy hardtop, and the soft-top is not easy to secure. From 1974, a triple-layer hood material with patterned light-coloured interior lining was used. The fascia design is almost identical to that of the Triumph 2000/2.5 PI, with a multi-coloured light warning system and generous batch of instruments, even if a battery-condition readout was standard instead of the more desirable oil-pressure gauge. Plastic bezels are chrome plated and the dashboard facing is plain veneer — always so familiar in Triumphs. Restyled instruments with clearer and more readable faces and anti-glare illumination are an improvement in later cars.
The MKIIS have a footrest, improved interior lighting in the footwells and on the underside of the roll-over bar, and intermittent wiper action became standard. From 1976, stainlesssteel sill covers, body-colour tail panels, and alloy wheels were standard, along with deeppile carpet, and, for the last production year, a smaller radiator was fitted — an optimistic sign, perhaps, that the engine cooling problems had been overcome? Maybe not.
Paint and panel fit was never as good as it should have been. Even so, while both doors on my Stag needed a firm action to close, the car had an air of quality, from the well-lined interior to the tidy engine compartment and comprehensive level of equipment for the day. Finished with vinyl upholstery rather than leather or cloth, the front seats were sumptuous, but thigh support was lacking and the cushion was too flat. Yet I had no complaints about the level of adjustment for a good driving position, with a steering column adjustable for rake and reach and the ability to alter seat rake and cushion tilt, although the steering-wheel offset was annoying.
The Stag’s engine is still the only British-designed and built eight-cylinder vee-configuration power plant for a volume production car
A 1970 British launch advertisement for the Stag, eyeing the Continental opposition. Triumph did not advertise the Stag after this, as it could not supply the product in sufficient quantities