Sunshine Seven

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The Triumph TR7 Drophead 

A breath of fresh air wafts through all the gloom and despondency surrounding BL this month as the Triumph TR7 loses its head. No doubt to the chagrin of some of the more outspoken MG enthusiasts among our readers this statement should not be read as “given the chop”, more “a touch of the tin-snips”, for the TR7 Drophead has at last been directed into the UK’s great convertible void after some nine months of successful sales in the USA.

In line with some of those vociferous MG “nuts” (meant in the nicest way), Motor Sport, largely through the pen of this writer, has been pretty harsh about the two-seater Dolomite since we saw the American version unveiled in the then British Leyland’s Piccadilly showrooms in January 1975. After the brickbats, of which many were thrown in last June’s road test of the fixed-head version, it’s nice to toss out a few roses to BL’s harassed folk. The soft-top conversion has been very well executed indeed and what we have thought of as a rather tasteless looking lump in FHC form has been trimmed into something really quite pretty. All the mechanical components are identical to those of the road test FHC, yet though the inherent deficiencies remain, they seem either less obvious or less consequential in this new identity. 

BL reminds us that this is the first mass-produced sports convertible to be introduced in the UK since the Triumph TR6 was revealed eleven years ago (not twelve, as the BL Press Release has it), a sad reflection on the restrictive policy which stymied various Abingdon sports car projects. It is also a sharp reminder of inflation. In January 1969 you could buy a new fuel-injected, six-cylinder, 2½-litre TR6 for £1,334, without the optional overdrive. The TR7 Drophead, with 2-litres, four-cylinders, carburetters and a five-speed gearbox as standard, costs £5,958, which isn’t a bad price by present standards for a specialised car and some £794 more than the now, alas, rather ponderous and less well equipped MG-B. The Drophead is £217 cheaper than the 1980 specification Fixed Head, a little bit of a catch because the latter now has alloy wheels fitted as standard, a £260 extra on the Drophead. They do a great deal for the looks of the car and seem well worth the extra cost.

Proposed regulations to ban the soft-top in the USA forced BL down the path of the fixed-head when the TR7 was conceived, much as it caused Jaguar to miss out on an open replacement for the E-type. By the time a US court ruling forced the proposals to be dropped in the early ’70s it was too late to engineer a soft-top version for the TR7’s introduction. 

The basic conversion is not restricted to removing the roof; the rear deck has been dropped too and it is this which gives the Drophead a pleasanter profile and less heavy-looking rear end. The walloped side panels, doors and the whole of the front end are unchanged, except that a front spoiler has been added to both versions. Some convertibles look beautiful with their hoods down, horrible with them up; the TR7 hood is particularly well designed, sloping rakishly down to the top deck. It stows very neatly under a hood cover. 

Torsional stiffening comes from an additional box section behind the seats, tying into the base of the “B” posts. The rear quarter panels are extended down to join more rigidly into the body side sills. There are additional tongue and groove, fixings mounted above the normal anti-burst door latches, the doors themselves being inherently strong because of side-intrusion beams. The stiffening works in combination with an ingenious system of torsional damping provided by an harmonic front bumper. The substantial front bumper armature is pivoted at its centre and fitted with carefully tuned weights at its ends to provide “an effective and weighs-saving antidote to scuttle shake”. 

Weight saving was of prime concern in the design. Many convertible versions of fixed-head cars have been heavier than the closed cars because of the amount of extra metalwork incorporated for stiffening purposes. At 1,036 kg. (2,284 lb.), the open TR7 is 5 kg. lighter than the fixed-head. 

There was a slightly ironic twist to the choice of Woburn Abbey for the Press launch of the TR7. The Marquis of Tavistock, whose home it is, is a great Aston Martin-Lagonda fan and friend of Aston Martin Managing Director Alan Curtis, the man currently leading the fight to save MG, whose MG-B is scheduled for replacement by TR7 derivatives in the BL scheme of things. Indeed the new Lagonda was launched at Woburn and the Marquis owns the first production example. But he also swears by his Range-Rover and Rover V8S, the latter launched at Woburn too. 

BL were intent that none of the softer journalists would escape the Drophead’s raison d’être. Every car had its hood furled ready on this late February day and a supply of green woolly hats, scarves and anoraks was available to combat those who pleaded lack of suitable clothing. We meandered into the Bedfordshire countryside like a collection of motorised gnomes, blessed, fortunately, by mild weather and sunshine, except for a blanket of fog in parts of Buckinghamshire, which enabled us to test the now standard rear fog lamps.

We have always praised the cockpit design of the TR7, if not much else, and that same excellent layout is retained in the Drophead, with improved trim and carpets and different interior colour combinations common to both TR7 models for 1980. The seats are first class, the driving position good and the small size of steering wheel ideal. The deep screen slopes at a shallow angle beyond the extensive facia top and has a very thick top rail. Front quarter-lights are fixed. The result, particularly with the wind-up door windows raised, is a commendably low level of back-draught and turbulence.

Nobody would describe the exhaust note heard with the hood down — such an integral part of open air motoring — as sporting, and the s.o.h.c., 105 b.h.p. engine threshes fussily if pressed. There is still a trace of that inherent transmission vibration we criticised on the fixed-head, and the gearbox whines in the lower gears, but one benefit enjoyed by the soft-top, hood furled or raised, is reduction of the body boom above 4,000 r.p.m. we complained about in the closed car; the “tin-top” obviously acts as a resonance box. Spring and damper rates are unchanged, so handling is unaltered from the fixed-head. It doesn’t point particularly accurately, though the steering is light and smooth in feel, and the front end is a bit woolly in its behaviour, but it can be pushed along quite quickly and holds the road well. The worst point is its dislike of bumpy corners. But really the best way to enjoy this Triumph is at more modest speeds with the hood down. 

Operation of the double-skinned hood is relatively easy. There are two quick-release catches on the screen rail and plastic press-studs round the quarter sections. To furl it, the convertible top is folded back, the loose material pulled back and laid flat on the rear deck, the hood mechanism and rest of the material folded flush into the carpeted hood compartment, which doubles as a sizeable rear shelf when the hood is raised, the quarter-lights are folded over on to the centre section, which is then folded over the top of the mechanism and hidden by a press-on cover. Rear three-quarter vision, hood up, is much better than in the fixed-head car thanks to big, wrap-around quarter windows. Hood up at high speed on the M1, modest wind noise and lack of flap or draughts was impressive. 

Metallic body colours from the Rover Range become optional on both the soft top and fixed-head cars. The Rover SD1-type five-speed gearbox is standard, with automatic transmission a £278 alternative. 

BL expect to sell 3,500-4,000 convertibles in the UK in the first year, with fixed-heads taking the total to 6,000 or so. But the forecast for the following year predicts a swing back to the fixed-head, with a ratio of 65% against 35%. 

After several false starts the release of the emission controlled TR7 V8 on the American market is imminent, but it will be at least a year before the V8-engined car — without emission control — is available in the UK. It seems that the sixteen-valve TR7, at one time intended for the European market, is a non-starter. — C.R. 

. . . and Playtime Seven 

While Dad or Mum play with the real TR7 Drophead, what better for Junior than a ⅖th scale pedal car version, very opportunely announced by Hamilton Brooks and Co.? Jaguar-Rover-Triumph have co-operated enthusiastically with the design, which has a most realistic bodyshell moulded in strong, colour impregnated glass fibre, mounted on a steel chassis. 

Features include tartan cloth seat trim, a sports alloy steering wheel, electric horn, pneumatic tyres, and authentic badging. It is 69″ long, 26″ wide, 17″ to the top of the steering wheel or 19½” to the top of the optional windscreen and uses 10″ diameter tyres. Standard colours are red, yellow or blue, though others are available for £10 extra, number plates can be fitted for £3.00, twin spot lights for £10.00, the full wrap-around windscreen with quarter-lights costs £25 and in the absence of Denovo tyres of the right size the young TR7 driver might feel the need for a spare wheel for £10. 

The price of Junior’s TR7 Drophead? A little out of the Dinky Toy class at £275.00 plus VAT and £25.00 for delivery and packing within the UK mainland. Hamilton Brooks and Co. are at 1, Twyford Road, Rotherwas Industrial Estate, Hereford HR2 6JR (Hereford 50901). — C.R.