On the road: Reassuringly familiar
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.