New Zealand Classic Car - - CONTENTS -

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.

Im­ported Stags

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


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.

Bri­tish V8

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

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