Road impressions: British Leyland's Triumph 1500

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A refined, safe-handling, expensive FWD saloon

I call the Triumph 1500 rather odd, because it manages to be a nice family conveyance in spite of a quite old-fashioned specification. Eventually, one assumes, more British Leyland technicians will discover the overhead camshaft, as some of them have done for Stag and Maxi. Meanwhile, the Triumph 1500 makes use of push-rods, in an engine which has a long stroke in this age of square and over-square power units. The bore and stroke measure 76 x 87 1/2 mm., giving a capacity of 1,493 c.c. to this four-cylinder iron engine, which reflects its Standard Eight origins in having only three main bearings. However, as maximum power (61 net b.h.p.) is developed at 5,000 r.p.m. and the engine is able to run safely to 6,250 r.p.m., to give 70 m.p.h. in third gear, while developing plenty of torque, which reaches its peak at 2,700 r.p.m., perhaps there is every justification for the Triumph technicians having been content to stretch the old 1300 power unit. Incidentally, when I first drove a Triumph 1300, which was four years ago, it impressed me as very effectively filling a need—that of a well-behaved, luxury small car. The 1971 Triumph 1500 supersedes both Triumph 1300 and 1300 TC and just as both this small Triumph and the Rover 2000 did not really satisfy enthusiastic drivers until they were available in twin-carburetter form, so the 88 m.p.h., 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 16 1/2 seconds Triumph 1500 might well be even better liked if it were given two carburetters instead of the present lonely SU HS4.

But like it, with these reservations, the two experienced drivers of different sexes who drove the Triumph 1500 before I took over certainly did, praising its good ride, safe handling and general refinement in a compact car. If British Leyland continue as they have started, with this 1500 as an example, qualms for Britain’s future in the Motor Industry will be calmed…

It seems that they decided the Triumph 1300 needed more room within and more luggage space, hence the redesign into the present 1500. But it is a redesign which not only provides more power from beneath the bonnet but a new rear suspension which has improved the road manners. The old i.r.s. of this front-drive car has been changed for an axle beam sprung on coil springs and, this is important, located by trailing lower and inclined upper arms, as well as an anti-roll bar. Front suspension is by wishbones, with coil springs, there is rack-and-pinion steering, disc/drum brakes, and 13 in. tyres.

If it seems odd that this Triumph has front-wheel-drive but with the power pack in-line with the car, when the BLMC has engulfed the BMC which pioneered the production of space-saving transverse-engined small cars, this emphasises and explains the manner in which the component firms in this vast Corporation remain separate entities—for while Issigonis perpetrated East/West fraternisation, Harry Webster was concerned with more conventional front-drivery. (That Webster now controls the engineering destiny of Austin/Morris but Sir Alec Issigonis has not taken Triumph affairs under his wing, is a policy matter on Lord Stokes’ part which does not change the explanation.) In like fashion, there is no point in thinking it odd that this newer Triumph 1500 has only four forward speeds in its gearbox (and might profit from a fifth) when the Maxi has always had five; both Triumph and Maxi are Leylands, but of different parentage.

What we are primarily concerned with here, however, is what the new Triumph 1500 is like in its own right. It is a four-door, 97 in.-wheelbase saloon of compact good looks. Its driver is confronted with a typically Triumph facia, of matt-walnut, with a good cubby-hole on the left, three vertical heater quadrants with finger-tip-light controls recessed in the centre, effective fresh air outlets at each extremity, and triple “dials” before the driver, comprising speedometer, the all-services warning-lights cluster, and combined heat, fuel and battery gauges. This is quite neat except that the curved instruments’ section clashes with the flat cubby-hole side and I have never liked the Triumph warning-lights cluster, essentially practical as this is. Indeed, from the days of the first 2-litre Triumph I have preferred Rover interiors and this feeling remains, particularly with the improved arrangements of the latter. On the other hand, apart from bright plating around the 1500’s dials and a tunnel between the front seats, which cannot be for a propeller-shaft (a sop to the Toledo), which ends in a rather low oddments tray, the decor of the 1500 is reasonable. Moreover, the original folding window winders of the 1300 have been changed for ordinary ones, there is a full-width under-facia shelf, the inside door handles are neatly recessed and the generous-sized seats have shiny expanded-p.v.c.-upholstery with ventilatory holes, while the rather shallow boot takes 8.8 cu. ft. of luggage (the catalogue says 13 1/4 cu. ft.). The steering column adjusts for height and length (which outdoes Rover!) and the two stalk controls, which move with it, are clearly labelled as to function—washers and two-speed wipers from the l.h. one, lamps’ dipping, flashing and horn from the r.h. one—very convenient. This control system leaves the hands on the wheel and the facia decently devoid of knobs (indeed, merely the facia-lighting rheostat control), because the side and headlamps are put on from a very convenient rotary switch on the right of the steering column, such as I first encountered on the Chrysler Avenger, and cigarette-lighter and choke knob are on the rotatable heater-outlet grille panel, above the rather low-set Triumph push-button radio.

All the services in this Triumph 1500 are clearly labelled, the 110 m.p.h. speedometer reads in k.p.h. as well as m.p.h. and has trip and total mileometers, and the aforesaid cluster contains eight indications, for I. or r. turn indicator, low oil-pressure, handbrake on, choke in use, sub-standard battery charge, ignition on, fuel level getting low and headlamps on main beam, although it tells its appropriate story into the luckless drivers’ eyes. With window sills, sill locks, exterior door locks divorced from the key-holes, drawer-type ash-trays, a four-headlamp set and electric screen-washers, the Triumph 1500 carries on commendably the quality-tradition of the smaller car it supersedes, which British Leyland Triumph term limousine-style luxury. They also call it “The who-could-ask-for-anything-more car”, which is just asking for such comments as where are the reclining front-seat squabs, anti-dazzle mirror, cubby-hole light and maps-lamp, radial-ply tyres, etc. But certainly the Triumph is well carpeted, and has most of the present-day amenities like coat-hooks, pre-engaged starter giving instant commencement from cold, rear-seat folding arm-rest, front 1/4-windows, rubber-faced over-riders, zebra-zone toughened screen, adjustable roof lamp, twin-tone horns, cigar-lighter, height and rake adjustment of driving seat, etc. The catalogue mentions two-speed wipers with a flick-wipe position but the latter wasn’t evident on the test car. The 1500 badly requires a Triplex hot-point rear window. The sticking throttle became worse as the test progressed and the running-on when switching off was sometimes chronic, although four-star petrol of well-known grades was used. To demist the car satisfactorily requites practice.

What is this Triumph 1500 like to drive? Really, there is nothing particular to report. The steering is exceptionally light, getting heavier on corners under drive, transmitting mild kick-back and is sensibly geared at just under three turns lock-to-lock in conjunction with a Herald-like small turning circle. The Triumph swings nicely through corners but the test car, Pre-Production model No. 1. felt unadhesive on wet roads, both under cornering and when braking, on its Dunlop Gold Seal C41 tyres—no doubt the alternative Dunlop SP68 radials would cure this. There is a mild understeer tendency oncorners.

It needs a bit of encouragement from the gearbox to maintain a reasonable cruising speed and the engine hums busily above 60 m.p.h. or so, and idled too fast and tended to run-on on the test car, the mileometer of which read 3,300 miles. The long slender gear lever is notchy in the Triumph fashion and the movements across the gate are small, so that reverse (spring-protected) adjacent to bottom gear needs to be watched. But on a family saloon like this the gearbox is adequate, as are the brakes. The handbrake, with big grip, is a bit high-set, but excellently placed. The suspension is stiff enough to make the body shake and rattle a bit, at times.

On the whole, this “interim” offering from the BLMC is a pleasant car, likely to be even more in demand than the Triumph 1300s, which sold a total of 130,000, thus proving their acceptance without getting into the big mass-production stakes. It has a 12 1/2-gallon fuel tank, with small but secured filler-cap, giving a fast-driving range of over 300 miles. The fuel consumption of 99-octane fuel (c.r..=9.0 to 1) worked out at 26.9 m.p.g. and oil consumption approx. 500 m.p.p. Unfortunately due to raising production costs, this nice little family conveyance is decidedly expensive, at £1,113 6s. 5d, inclusive of p.t., or approx. £1,158, with extras, as tested.—W. B.