Historic Car Brands
The Triumph Cycle Co Ltd was formed in 1897 and in 1902 began producing Triumph motorcycles at its Coventry factory. Triumph’s first car was produced in 1923 and the brand came to a sad end, typical of many British car brands, in 1980.
At first, Triumph used bike engines purchased from another company, for its motorcycles, but the business prospered and they soon started making their own. Major orders for the 550cc Model H motorcycle were placed by the British Army during the First World War and by 1918 Triumph was Britain’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles.
1924 Triumph 10 – 20FDS2
In 1921, Triumph acquired the assets and premises of the Dawson Car Company and start producing a car designed for them by Lea-Francis, to whom they paid a royalty for every car sold. The resulting Triumph 10/20 was powered by a 1.4-litre, side-valve, four-cylinder engine.
The first all-Triumph car was launched as a steel-panelled,two-seat, open tourer with provision for a third passenger in a dickey seat. A sports model with aluminium body panels and long wings soon followed. In 1924 came a fabric-bodied, four-seat, Weymann saloon, featuring a single door on the driver’s side and two doors on the passenger side.
Sales of the 10/20 were modest, but it made a great introduction for the 1927 Triumph Super 7 that sold in large numbers until 1934.
1930 Triumph Super Seven – Malcolm A
The Super 7’s target was the successful Austin 7, which it absolutely outscored. For starters, the Triumph was 150mm longer and 50mm wider than the Austin. Its brand-new, 832cc, four-cylinder, side-valve engine was designed by Harry Ricardo with a three bearing crankshaft that was pressure lubricated and a monobloc crankcase made from cast iron. In contrast, the Austin 7 had a two-bearing crankshaft, drip lubrication of main and big-end bearings, and the cylinder block and crankcase were separate castings.
The Triumph had Lockheed hydraulic brakes, with internally-expanding shoes in 240mm drums and the handbrake operated on the transmission. A closed saloon and sporting models with boat-tail bodywork joined the former body choices, and there was also an 80mph, supercharged 750cc model.
The Super 7 morphed into the Super 8 and the Super 9 that was the first Triumph to be Coventry-Climax powered, by a one-litre, in-line four, with inlet-over-exhaust, F-head configuration.
Triumph Gloria – Malcolm A
On the eve of the Great Depression, in 1930, the newly-named Triumph Motor Company abandoned the mass market to the big-volume makers and released the up-market Gloria and Southern Cross range.
Between 1934 and 1938 Triumph made a large and complex range of Gloria sporting saloons, coupés, tourers, two-seater sports cars, drop-head coupés and golfer’s coupés.
Early Glorias were powered by 1.1-litre or 1.2-litre, four-cylinder or 1.5-litre or two-litre, six-cylinder Coventry Climax F-head engines that were modified and built under licence by Triumph.
Triumph Gloria – Mick
In 1937 Triumph started to produce engines to designs by Donald Healey, who had become the company’s experimental manager in 1934. These engines powered the final two Gloria models: 1.5-Litre Saloon and Fourteen 1.8-Litre Six-Light Saloon. (‘Six-Light’ denoted three side windows on each side.)
However, the company encountered financial problems in the early 1930s and in 1936 the Triumph bicycle and motorcycle businesses were sold.
1934 Triumph Dolomite straight-eight engine – Triumph Motor Club
Healey purchased an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 and, by blatantly coping it, developed a new Triumph model with a straight-eight engine, named the Triumph Dolomite. It even looked just like an Alfa 8C! Three of these cars were made in 1934 and one was destroyed in a race accident. The Dolomites manufactured from 1937 to 1940 were unrelated to these prototypes.
Triumph Dolomite Roadster – Malcolm A
The Dolomite range was produced from 1937 to 1940. The cars were initially powered by a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine and the bodywork was aluminium over a rot-proofed, ash frame.
Triumph had been moving progressively upmarket during the 1930s and the 1938 Dolomites were very well equipped, with winding windows in the doors, automatic chassis lubrication, a leather-bound steering wheel adjustable for rake and reach, dual hydraulic brake circuits, twin trumpet horns and spot lamps. There was a tray of tools beneath the driver’s seat cushion and for an extra 18 guineas buyers could specify a radio.
1940 Triumph Dolomite Drop-head – Andrew Bone
In April 1938, an increased compression ratio, twin SU carburettors and mild engine tuning justified a changed designation from 14/60 to 14/65, when power went up from 60hp to 65hp.
An open version of the 14/65 had seating for three people on a single bench seat and ‘two additional, outside seats in the tail, reminiscent of the dickey seat that was at one time common’. The hood folded completely into the body, giving the appearance of an open sports car.
In July 1938 a slightly longer-wheelbase version made room for a two-litre six, fed by triple SUs. Also in 1938 came a 1.5-litre four option.
1940 Triumph Dolomite Roadster Coupe – De Facto
In July 1939 the Triumph Motor Company went into receivership and was bought by the Thos W Ward scrapping company, which put Healey in charge as general manager.
However, the Second World War stopped production of cars and the factory was completely destroyed by bombing in 1940.
In November 1944, what was left of Triumph and the Triumph trade name were bought by the Standard Motor Company and a subsidiary Triumph Motor Company (1945) Limited was formed. The reason soon became clear.
Standard had been supplying engines to Jaguar and its predecessor SS since 1938, but Standard’s managing director, Sir John Black, had a falling-out with William Lyons, the owner of Jaguar. Black’s objective in acquiring Triumph was to build cars to compete with the coming post-War Jaguars.
1946 Triumph Roadster – Ricardo Diaz
The pre-war Triumph models were not revived and, in 1946, a new range of Triumphs was announced, starting with the Triumph Roadster. The Roadster had an aluminium body, because steel was in short supply and surplus aluminium from aircraft production was plentiful.
The engine was a version of Standard’s 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, side-valve design that had been converted to overhead valves by Harry Weslake, increasing displacement to 1.8 litres.
This converted engine had been built by Standard exclusively for SS-Jaguar before World War II, but the Triumph version featured a downdraught Solex carburettor instead of the Jaguar’s side-draught SU and a 6.7:1 compression ratio instead of 7.6:1. A four-speed gearbox with synchromesh on the top three ratios was used.
Triumph Renown – David LaChance
The same engine was used for the 1800 Town and Country saloon, later named the Triumph Renown, which was notable for its ‘Razor Edge’ styling. Similar style was also used for the subsequent Triumph Mayflower light saloon.
Triumph Mayflower – Robert G
The Renown scored the Standard Vanguard’s 2.1-litre, OHV engine and chassis in 1949.
The Mayflower used a version of the pre-war Standard Flying Ten’s side-valve engine, updated with an aluminium cylinder head and single Solex carburettor to develop 38hp. The column shift gearbox came from the Standard Vanguard and had synchromesh on all three forward ratios.
1954 Triumph TR2 – SG2012
In the early 1950s it was decided to use the Triumph name for sporting cars and the Standard name for saloons. In 1953 the Triumph TR2 was released to become the first of the TR sports car models that were produced until 1981.
The success of the TR range meant that Triumph was considered a more marketable name than Standard, so an all-new small car was introduced in 1959 as the Triumph Herald. The last Standard car to be made in the UK was replaced in 1963 by the Triumph 2000.
TriumphHerald Coupe – triumph-herald.com
Standard-Triumph was bought by Leyland Motors Ltd in December 1960 and Donald Stokes became chairman of the Standard-Triumph division in 1963. In 1968 Leyland merged with British Motor Holdings – itself formed from the merger of the British Motor Corporation and Jaguar two years earlier – which resulted in the formation of British Leyland Motor Corporation.
Triumph was resized to produce 100,000 cars per year, but only a maximum of 30,000 cars was ever produced as the plant was never put into full production.
Triumph Spitfire Mk4
During the 1960s and early 1970s Triumph sold Michelotti-styled saloons and sports cars. The Spitfire was built on a shortened Herald platform and powered by a succession of four-cylinder engines from 1.2 litres to 1.5 litres. Its swing-axle rear suspension gave it odd handling characteristics a la VW Beetle, but this was tamed over its production life from 1962 until 1980.
1974 Triumph GT6 Coupe – Arpingstone
It was joined in 1966 by a coupe version, branded GT6 and powered by a two-litre six. That same engine powered the Vitesse, six-cylinder version of the Herald that was launched in 1962.
Then everything started to slide downhill.
Triumph 2500 – Robert G
In 1963 came the stylish Triumph 2000 that used an upgraded version of the six-cylinder engine first seen in the Standard Vanguard at the end of 1960. However, the compression ratio was increased to 8.5:1 for the Triumph and it had twin Stromberg 150 CD carburettors, so power output increased to 90hp.
The two-litre six was upped to 2.5 litres in 1968 and fitted with Lucas petrol injection. However, Triumphs of this era were unreliable, especially the 2.5 PI (petrol injection) model with its fuel injection problems. In Australia, summer heat caused petrol in the electric fuel pump to vaporise, resulting in frequent malfunctions and it also lacked altitude compensation to adjust the fuel mixture at altitudes greater than 910 metres above sea level.
Lucas was already derided as the ‘prince of darkness’ and the PI did little to eradicate that stigma, especially when Lucas did nothing to fix the issues.
1974 Triumph Stag – Vauxford
The very attractive Triumph Stag was launched in 1970 and was aimed at Mercedes-Benz’ SL models. It was powered by a new, Triumph-designed three-litre V8 that had the ability to be produced as a V6, or a slant four. In fact, the slant-four version went on to power the TR7, the Dolomite and the Saab 99.
Unfortunately, the Stag engine was horrendously unreliable, suffering a litany of failures from overheating, stuffed water pumps, failed camshaft chains, dropped valves and busted pistons. (Despite that, owners persisted and today’s collectors have rectified most of the issues, or replaced the Triumph V8 with the Rover 3.5-litre V8.)
The Stag had such a poor reputation that was dropped and was supposed to be replaced in 1978 by a Rover-V8-powered, fastback version of the TR7, code named Lynx.
1973 Triumph Dolomite Sprint – Arpingstone
In 1973 came the Dolomite Sprint that was powered by a half-Stag four, but fitted with a new, 16-valve head, into a market that was openly derisive of Triumph products.
The 1974 TR7’s radical wedge styling was a break with the TR traditional that many buyers didn’t like and it was initially available only as a coupe. Power of 105hp came from a half-Stag, slant-four, displacing two litres, but with only an eight-valve head. A convertible model was finally released in 1979.
Triumph TR7 – Charles 01
(Allan Whiting had a TR7 back in the day and loved its balanced handling, but those carbies…)
The Rover-V8-powered TR8 was short-lived, because of its poor build quality and high RRP in the USA. The Dolomite-powered TR7 Sprint was as quick as the TR8 and better balanced. It was homologated for a successful racing and rallying career, but had only limited series production.
Triumph TR8 V8 engine – Zoom Viewer
The tarnished Triumph brand was finally put out of its misery in 1978, when British Leyland shut the Triumph production line down and converted the plant to build Land Rovers – sadly, without improving build quality.
The last Triumph model was the Acclaim, introduced in 1981 and essentially a rebadged Honda Ballade, built under licence.