On the road: Re­as­sur­ingly fa­mil­iar

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Epic Battle -

No one would ever con­fuse th­ese two cars, even if they were wear­ing earplugs on the dark­est of nights, and each of­fers a highly dif­fer­ent driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

With the pass­ing of years, both cars are neatly and at­trac­tively styled. Let’s be hon­est, the rub­bery bits en­forced by US leg­is­la­tion don’t look bad on the MG, es­pe­cially when viewed along­side pe­riod ri­vals, such as the ghastly Fed­eral-spec Lan­cia Mon­te­carlo.

The TR7 looks smaller and neater – and while some 1970s de­tails can look tacky, the styling has aged well. Think of all those mod­ern cars that now have a pro­nounced swage line and you’ll re­alise just how for­ward-think­ing the TR6’s wedge-shaped suc­ces­sor was. Yet it’s the dis­dain for the two cars’ styling that has kept prices low. This re­ally is no bad thing, be­cause both are huge fun to drive.

We’ll sam­ple the MGB GT first. It’s a car you lower your­self into with care, and it im­me­di­ately feels sport­ing, thanks to its crackle-black dash­board. The chunky four-spoke steer­ing wheel, the re­clined driv­ing po­si­tion and the view along the bon­net get you in the mood for com­pet­i­tive driv­ing.

It’s all very work­man­like, but the seats of­fer plenty of sup­port for driv­ers. Your legs seem to be able to stretch out for­ever in that vast canyon of a footwell, and the GT’s rel­a­tively high roofline means you won’t be brush­ing the head­lin­ing with your perm.

Turn the key and you’re de­fifinitely in sports car ter­ri­tory, with a won­drous en­gine note from the B-se­ries, and pur­pose­ful throb from the ex­haust. On the move, the four-pot feels torquey and the gearchange has a lovely, clicky feel. The car is rather low-geared, but this is put to good ef­fect, with re­spon­sive mid-range ac­cel­er­a­tion.

In ad­di­tion to the car hav­ing a rea­son­able amount of urge in the mid-range, the op­tional-fit over­drive makes for rel­a­tively re­laxed cruis­ing. The B is quite noisy over­all, but not ex­ces­sively so at con­stant speed – good if you like mo­tor­ways.

The real de­light is the han­dling. Get hold of one of the early rubber-bumpered MGB GTs and the raised sus­pen­sion can feel a lit­tle spindly. But that’s not the case with this later car – put that down to the retro­fit­ted front and rear anti-roll bars, which re­ally do tame the body roll and un­der­steer. You could eas­ily for­get you’re sit­ting on a live axle and cart springs, thanks to per­fectly-judged damp­ing.

Steer­ing is sharp and free from wan­der, but you pay for its di­rect­ness with your bi­ceps – it’s a heavy set-up. But over­all, it is great, great fun at the wheel.

The TR7 is a very dif­fer­ent beast. En­try into the car is a lit­tle more dig­nifi­fied and, once you’re in­side, you’ll be sur­prised at the amount of space in the rather at­trac­tive cabin. The over­all lev­els of com­fort leave the MGB GT in the shade, and who could fail to love the tar­tan up­hol­stery, seem­ingly in­spired by the trousers of one Rupert Bear Esq?

De­spite the ob­vi­ous fact that this is strictly a two-seater, it’s a less sport­ing en­vi­ron­ment than the MGB GT. There’s an enor­mous and use­ful glove­box, and the in­stru­ments are housed in a large, ob­long bin­na­cle. It’s all very er­gonom­i­cally laid out, al­though you get the im­pres­sion it might have been crafted on a bud­get, and the driv­ing po­si­tion is ex­cel­lent, with eas­ily ad­justable seats.

It’s rather a fun view down the bon­net, too. You could be in a Lotus here, with those popup head­lamps ris­ing at the touch of a but­ton. When the TR7 was new, Tri­umph was keen to draw com­par­isons with sim­i­larly-snouted supercar brethren – the Fer­rari BB, for in­stance – but there’s noth­ing in­tim­i­dat­ing in the way the TR7 drives.

The gearchange, shared with the Rover SD1, is lovely and has a smooth and slick change. The only bug­bear is that the ped­als seem a long way apart, which is an­other facet of this car that con­spires to make it feel un­sport­ing. You soon get used to this.

A lot of work must have gone into the sus­pen­sion, as the ride is re­ally good from the oh-so-sim­ple in­de­pen­dent front and beam rear axle set-up not un­like that of the MG.

The steer­ing of­fers up plenty of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, em­pha­sis­ing its neu­tral han­dling. There’s a feel­ing at low speeds that the rear of the car could be a lit­tle twitchy if pressed, but this turns out not to be the case, the car’s low cen­tre of grav­ity surely mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion here. There isn’t quite the sporty feel of the MGB GT, but body roll is largely ab­sent and the TR7 is cer­tainly safe and pre­dictable.

Nei­ther car is go­ing to catch you out in a nasty way. Both are ac­tu­ally rather for­giv­ing, al­though the MG would be the first to give you a tap on the nose if you re­ally tried to press it too hard.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the TR7 feels the more re­fined cruiser of the pair, as well as be­ing good on low-end torque, but the MGB feels more flex­i­ble mid-range.

The brak­ing on both cars is smooth and pro­gres­sive, fine for nor­mal driv­ing, with those in the Tri­umph hav­ing a slight ad­van­tage over its ri­val, we’d say. In short, you’ll not go wrong with ei­ther.

The Pin­in­fa­rina-penned rooflfline of the MGB GT still looks great – and it pro­vides a lot more head­room than its pricier rag­top sib­ling. While the TR7’s wedge styling looks cleaner on the con­vert­ible, it was de­fifinitely the shape of things to come – plenty of mod­ern of­fer­ings share its swage lines.

The B-se­ries of­fers up a won­der­ful en­gine note and thank­fully has both car­bu­ret­tors, rather than just the sin­gle one the US mar­ket got on later cars.

The TR7 shares its 2.0-litre en­gine with the Tri­umph Dolomite and feels all the bet­ter for it. Un­like its US coun­ter­parts it hasn’t been stran­gled by emis­sions reg­u­la­tions.

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