Only the Americans will have the initial pleasure or otherwise of the long rumoured TR7, which goes on sale in the USA this month. Contrary to expectations this ultra-modern looking, wedge-shaped, 2-litre, two-seater will not replace the TR6, for the time being at least, and will be sold alongside the TR6 in USA British Leyland showrooms.
We have no driving impressions yet, for this interesting new sports car was introduced quietly to the Press at a cocktail party in British Leyland’s Piccadilly headquarters, a sneak preview for us before the official launch to the American Press at the end of last month. As the first all-new sports car to come off the British Leyland lines since the Corporation was formed it shows that the company’s designers and engineers are being given reasonable freedom of thought.
Mechanically it is conventional front engine, rear-wheel-drive Dolomite, a disappointment for those expecting a mid-engined layout. But the body, which resulted from a futuristic sketch made by Austin-Morris stylist Harris Mann, has lines in keeping with the 1970s and 1980s fashions and bears more than a passing resemblance in some respects to British Leyland’s SRV2, Marina-based safety car. Its frontal aspect is attractive, in the flesh if not in photographs, for, like many of these modern shapes, it is not photogenic. Unfortunately the rear end looks as though it has been shunted by a London ‘bus, largely because of American regulations relating to lights and “5 m.p.h. bumpers”. The centre section, with dummy fluting on the rear quarter panel, is reminiscent of the pretty little mid-engined Fiat X1/9 and the steeply sloping, large area windscreen is a Solbit fixed laminated screen, which does not use a conventional rubber seal, the windscreen fitting flush to the body, minimising wind noise.
Retractable 7-in, round headlamps, their action powered by electric motors, have allowed the designers to adopt the low, wedge shaped nose, though this makes for a lot of wasted space ahead of the cross-flow radiator. There are pronounced lips over the wheel arches, the forward-hinged bonnet is louvred and a curved flare in the side panels is presumably intended to give an impression of speed.
“Speedy” this car is not, the maximum speed being 107 m.p.h., but it is said to be economical. The in-line, slant-four Dolomite engine is fitted with the single-overhead camshaft, eight-valve head of the standard 1854-c.c. Dolomite, uses the 1998-c.c. block from the Dolomite Sprint, runs on 175CD instead of the Dolomite’s 150CDS Stromberg carburetters, has a compression ratio of 8-to-1 instead of 9-to-1 and uses a new Lucas miniaturised transistorised magnetic impulse ignition system which fits inside the contactless distributor. No power-output is quoted for the emission-controlled, US specification engine, probably because we would all laugh at the figures. Prospective European customers can rest assured that this power-consuming equipment will be absent from the home market cars when they are introduced at this year’s Motor Show, in which case something over 100 b.h.p. should be produced. The emission-controlled engine manages to drag the exactly one ton of weight to 60 m.p.h. in 11 sec. and 70 m.p.h. in 14.5 sec., which could be a lot worse.
We won’t dwell too much on the performance aspect of this TR7, for much quicker derivatives will follow once the car is established in Europe: there will be a Dolomite Sprint-engined version utilising Bosch fuel injection for certain and, depending upon the state of the economy and the fuel crisis, there could be an even more exciting version powered by the Rover V8 engine. If one uses the economy of the MG-B V8 as a yardstick, the V8 TR7, with what one assumes is a much more efficient body shape than the MG-B, should be capable of 30 m.p.g.
The drive line is identical to the Dolomite in everything except length of the propshaft: the same 8½-in. diameter clutch, even the same gearbox ratios and 3.63-to-1 final drive. An overdrive is not yet offered, but presumably might follow if the chassis can accommodate it.
Dolomite suspension layout is followed, too. This means MacPherson struts, coil springs and an anti-roll bar at the front, while the live rear axle is suspended by the Triumph four link system with fore and aft location provided by two longitudinal trailing arms mounted to the body and the underside of the axle casing and two semi-trailing arms mounted to the body and the top of the axle casing. Coil springs are carried on the trailing arms and the telescopic dampers are mounted to the floor pan and the rear of the axle. The use of this arrangement should guarantee a comfortable ride from its long suspension travel and moderately soft springing, but we note that no attempt has been made to improve axle location to obviate the poor traction which the Dolomite, particularly in Sprint form, suffers from.
The front disc brakes are an inch larger than those of the Dolomite, being of 9¾ in. diameter, but the same 8 in x 1.5 in. rear drums are employed. A split circuit hydraulic system is fitted, in the rear one of which is a line-pressure reducing valve to maintain balance between front and rear brakes, and a Lockheed direct-acting servo reduces the right-foot’s effort.
The most disappointing aspect of the TR7 is the poor utilisation of space within what is quite a large car: at 13 ft. 8.3 in. long it is 2.3 in. longer than the Dolomite while it is no less than 4.45 in. wider than the Dolomite, being 5ft. 6.2 in. wide. Yet this is a strict two-seater with very little space even for oddment stowage in the cockpit. The rear bulkhead, behind which lies the 12-gallon fuel tank, is situated right behind the seats, with hardly room for a handkerchief between when the seats are fully back. There is a shelf above the bulkhead ahead of the shallow, heated rear window, but anything left on there would shoot forwards under braking. Admittedly there are trays within the vast acreage of facia top, but articles left in front of a low-seated driver tend to distract and reflect in the screen. There is a fairly roomy lockable cubby-hole, however.
All the space between the cockpit and illuminated boot is taken up by fuel tank and double bulkheads and, like the TR6 and the Stag, the boot is ridiculously shallow in relation to the depth of the car tail, the spare wheel and extraneous bodywork taking up all the space beneath the boot floor. This luggage space is also shallow front to back, though it runs the full width of the car and has a couple of unprotected bolts ready to maul luggage.
The driver and passenger are not troubled by lack of personal space and are surrounded by what in our view is one of the most attractive interiors to be put into a modern sports car. Seats are the usual very comfortable, Triumph-style, broad-cord trimmed ones and deep pile ‘carpets trim the floors, very high sills and bulkheads. One sits in this car, not on it, burying one’s feet into deep wells on the driver’s side of which the pedals were none-too-well spaced in the left-hand-drive examples displayed at the preview. We agree with Triumph’s claim that the TR7 has one of the best and most functional interiors of any sports car (disregarding the stowage complaint): all the major functions are controlled by that brilliant Triumph switchgear on the steering column and less frequently-used switches are within easy reach on the facia or centre console. The steering wheel is trimmed in imitation leather and has a massive crash pad in its centre. The comprehensiveness of the instrumentation is spoiled by the lack of an oil-pressure gauge. All the instruments and panel and warning lights are built into one printed circuit unit.
The air-blend heating system threatens to be one of the best employed in a sports car, while air-conditioning is offered as a factory fitted option. For even better ventilation, a full-width sun-roof will be made available in due course, but there will not be a full-open version, for this car was planned at a time when the Americans intended to ban open cars by 1975.
We have gone on at length about a car which will not be available on the British market until the end of the year because, in spite of British Leyland’s quiet introduction, it is a vitally important car to them in the export market, it shows the way in which British Leyland’s sports car thinking is going (disappointingly to some extent because it seems that they are avoiding the mid-engined concept) and most of all because this will be their major home-market sports car next year. You can make up your own minds as to whether it’s worth waiting for! —C.R.