Triumph TR7 sports car or two-seater saloon?

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Fifteen months ago we described the Triumph TR7 on its introduction to the US market. Last month we published colour photographs of the works Abingdon-built rally TR7, two of which competed in—and retired from—the Welsh International Rally at the beginning of May. In spite of such public knowledge of the car, we were bound by a thus fairly nonsensical May 19th embargo date not to reveal details of the UK production version, which went on sale on that date. In this issue we had hoped to publish a full road-test of this new UK sports car; though a variation of the car has been in production for the best part of eighteen months, Leyland claim to have insufficient UK cars to enable them to commence their road-test schedule and we had to be content with a 200-mile run into Wiltshire in company with 19 other TR7s and 38 more journalists.

As it happened, J.W. and I were able to shake ourselves well clear of the pack and stretch the Goodyear rubber of two different ‘7s on our own choice of twisting lanes. Whatever else we thought about the car in detail there was no escaping the fact that in the handling and roadholding department this front-engined, rear-wheel-drive two-seater from Leyland is absolutely outstanding. It is also supremely comfortable, has brakes which we found positively inadequate–and if it has more than enough power for the brakes, has far too little to exploit the exceptional characteristics of its handling.

Our biggest disappointment and one surely shared by enthusiasts throughout Britain, is that the UK-market TR7 comes with a very modest output, eight-valve, 1,998-c.c. version of the original 1,850-c.c. slant-four, singleoverhead-camshaft Dolomite engine; as the rally TR7s have been homologated and built with 16-valve Sprint engines can we be blamed for anticipating a similar production concoction? Similarly, the rally car’s 5-speed gearbox is eschewed in favour of a standard Dolomite four-speed gearbox without even the Dolomite’s overdrive option, perhaps because of the short propshaft length.

At least our UK model has more hairs— well, fluff—on its chest than the emission-strangled US version: 15 b.h.p. extra, to be exact, lifting output to 105 b.h.p., combated against a kerb weight of over 19 cwt. Leyland claim a useful 0-60 m.p.h. time of 9.4 sec. (US version 11 sec.) and a top speed of around 110 m.p.h., though neither of the cars we tried would reach that maximum without help from inclines.

The muscular looks and driving characteristics of earlier TRs have been abandoned; in fact there’s no trace of the classic ancestry suggested by the type number and totally different nomenclature would have been appropriate. The Harris Mann-designed, monocoque construction wedge-shape is a strict two-seater (no perching a small third passenger or piling soft luggage behind the seats, as I can in my TR6). It is also a fixed-head, without even the Beta Monte-Carlo’s option of a Targa top, which completely alienates it from the traditional sports car market.

The large, soft, well-shaped seats have headrests and Broadcord nylon trim; the bulkhead immediately behind makes their reclining mechanism useful for modest adjustment, not for sleeping nor “snogging”. The instruments (including a 140 m.p.h. speedometer—suggestive of more power to come?) are particularly clear, but where is the TR’s traditional and essential oil-pressure gauge, surely preferable to the tiny clock? Pedals are wide-spaced, family-saloon style, but there is a left-foot rest. The steering-column switchgear is exemplary, the multi-duct fresh-air system was excellent on the hot test day (though no substitute for a “rag” top), we both found the driving position ideal, apart from the pedal spacing, and liked the feel and sensibly modest size of the soft-thick-rimmed steering wheel. The indented shelf behind the seats took a couple of briefcases and jackets. Oddments trays are provided in the vast expanse of facia top, where the painted gauze demister vents look crude and the lockable glovebox lids of both cars carried bubbled, cheap, TR7 transfers. The shallow rear screen is heated. The floor and deep sills are neatly carpeted, the doors carry arm-rests and ash-trays and the seats are split by a spoil-sport console.

To re-cap on the suspension described in that February 1975 issue, the TR7 has taken a leaf out of Ford’s book and adopted McPherson strut front suspension (which simplicity the Dolomite does not have, though I see I credited it with having in that issue), along with a four-link located live rear axle sprung by coils and aided by telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar.

The long travel of this suspension gave an excellent ride over most surfaces, combined with really tenacious roadholding on 5 1/2J wheels and 175/70 SR 13 in. steel-braced Goodyear radials. I found it too soft, particularly at the front, for personal preference, but on the other hand I must admit that this was one of the most neutral and bestbalanced handling cars I’ve driven for some time. For the man in the street the 3.86 turns lock-to-lock steering will be satisfactory; I would have preferred a slightly higher ratio and a little more feel, particularly in the straight-ahead/small movement area. Although the bonnet beyond the screen base was invisible from the driver’s seat, it was an easy car to place. Through twisting lanes the handling was something of a revelation, but the same sense of security was certainly not given by the brakes; we were hampered by severe fade, the front pads of the Dolomite Sprint disc-drum set-up almost caught fire and the braking instinct of the brain had to be engaged well before we would have had to do so for any other car driven equally exuberantly in the last couple of years. Nor were either of us happy with the feel of the brakes at more modest speeds.

This new Leyland sports car wound itself up through the range to 90 m.p.h. or so reasonably quickly, but the 119 lb. ft. torque engine showed less alacrity for overtaking in the mid-ranges. It was hampered by the over-high ratios (about 45 m.p.h., 65 m.p.h. and 97 m.p.h. in the gears at the 6,500 r.p.m. yellow line), of the notchy Dolomite box. The engine became very buzzy at 5,000 r.p.m. or so and cried out for an overdrive for high-speed cruising. Wind noise was reasonably subdued, but the TR7 is certainly not the quiet car Leyland would have us believe.

All in all we were left a bit cold by this new two-seater. It felt characterless, largely because the roadholding and handling were too good for the performance. Hence boredom. In most respects it felt like a good saloon car, with performance similar to that of the RS2000 and handling even better, but less entertaining. At £2,999, the TR7 is just £16 dearer than the RS2000, yet has two seats less and reduced boot space and lacks the traditional sports car advantage of fresh air motoring. It will no doubt prove a good ladies’ car, but until more powerful versions are available the true enthusiast might look el sewhere.—C.R

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