Testing the Triumph 1300

A Well Appointed, Fully-Equipped Front-Drive British Saloon of Great Promise

OUTWARDLY, the Triumph 1300 looks like a scaled-down version of the popular six-cylinder Triumph 2000. Technically, it is of entirely new conception, a four-cylinder front-wheel-drive small family car of ingenious mechanical layout, the gearbox separate from and below the crankshaft, different lubricants being used for engine, gearbox and final-drive, and the transmission to the front wheels passing through Metalastik universal joints.

I suspect that this clever f.w.d. power pack is as useful for light commercial vehicles as for this latest private car from the Standard-Triumph organisation. But this does not alter the fact that this car is a significant new comer and one which has been the subject of almost unprecedented acclaim and praise by some of those who were priviledged to make an early appraisal of it. Incidentally, if I am inclined to think of it as a Leyland 1300, this is the opposite of disparagement; it is simply that the f.w.d. Triumph 1300 is the first private car to be produced since the Leyland Motor Corporation, for which I have the greatest admiration, took control of Standard-Triumph.

Because of the high praise bestowed on the car in some quarters —”Stands Alone as The Best Small Car Currently Available” for instance, I was very anxious to form my own opinion of it. This proved less easy than I had anticipated. I remarked last month that the test, which was originally planned for the Whitsun week-end, when there was considerable motoring to do, was postponed at short notice so that, according to a Standard-Triumph spokesman, current mods. could be incorporated in the car Motor Sport had been allocated. Another date was booked but that morning I was asked to call as late in the day as possible as they had discovered a fault in the radio, which Standard-Triumph’s service depot at Hanger Lane hoped to rectify. When we collected the car the radio was still suspect and one brake stop-lamp wasn’t functioning; the other failed later.

The next day I pottered about in the 1300, using it to visit a 1908 racing Napier and a 1910 Mercedes. The following morning it refused to start. What had happened was that the dynamo charge was excessive and, no doubt on the fast (sic—this is England!) delivery run down M1 from Coventry to London this had effectively cooked the rather small battery, which had boiled away its fluid, and was completely ruined.

I borrowed a rather larger Lucas battery from my M.G. 1100, which, if the air-cleaner was removed, could be fitted onto the Triumph’s battery platform, and all was well — except that not wishing to ruin my own battery I contacted Standard-Triumph after the week-end to request some service for the car. This they promptly agreed to lay on with the local agent, whom they telephoned. But when the Triumph 1300 was presented at these premises I was informed that no spare batteries were in stock; two days elapsed before an Silver Exide of correct size could be located, the constant-voltage control adjusted or replaced, and the new battery fitted.

However, we were off at last, testing thiti new wonder car, although an opportunity to thrash it through some Welsh rally terrain had by now passed me by.

Is this interesting new Triumph as excellent as some people would have us believe? After sampling it in average type town and country driving I would put it in the category of a curate’s egg, that is, good in parts, and with the proviso that generally the better aspects of this good-looking 1300 outweigh the less attractive features. Moreover, it is possible that inefficient preparation of the car, which the foregoing sad little tale suggests, and which otherwise need not have been accounted, was responsible for some of the items criticised, including, perhaps, rough idling on the part of the engine. It had, incidentally, done 13,600 miles when handed over to us.

The Triumph 1300 is of a sensitive size and is outwardly a handsomely unobstrusive 4-door saloon, the test car being finished in a pleasing shade of green. The interior is of true luxury demeanour, with a polished walnut facia, the instruments accommodated on a hooded, matt-black non-dazzle-panel, projecting slightly, in front of the driver (a much nicer arrangement than that of the Triumph 2000). Walnut capping is used for the windows, the floor is heavily carpeted, while the generous seat area appears to be upholstered in leather, although Ambla stretch p.v.c. is used, tastefully pleated.

Visibility from the separate driving seat is good, although the screen pillars are of average obstruction, and as the seat adjusts to any one of 81 permutations and the steering wheel can be raised or lowered and extended or retracted on its column after a knob has released it — one of the Triumph 1300’s several unique and practical features — a very satisfactory driving stance can be achieved. The seats are extremely comfortable, with rather slippery “beach ball” upholstery, but the backs of the squabs fall away from the shoulders so that squab adjustment as well as the means of raising the back of the seat itself would be appointed; the so-called ventilated seat cushions were not foolproof in this respect in hot weather but their fore-and-aft adjustment is very precise and generally the Triumph provides outstanding comfort for a small car.

The facia carries cranked flick switches for the main services, all symbolically-labelled, there is a lockable cubby hole of un-expectedly generous dimensions, supplemented by an under-facia shelf for driver and passenger, bisected by the push-button Radiomobile radio. The shelf is sensibly sub-divided to retain objects of various sizes and obviates the need for door pockets, so that the doors can be effectively upholstered. The doors themselves contain recessed dual levers operating as interior handles or for locking the doors if the shorter lever is pressed in — a luxury-cum-safety touch deserving top marks. The spring-loaded recessed, fold-away window-winding handles are rather fumbly to use in a hurry, but constitute another safety factor.

Reverting to the instrumentation, this is very neatly contrived, the 100 m.p.h. speedometer with red-tipped white needle. calibrated also in k.p.m., with trip and total odometers, and the combined matching dial containing thermometer, ammeter and fuel gauge, having between them the little Lucas warning-lamps cluster, which concentrates in one circular instrument the flashers, main-beam, low-fuel-level, ignition, handbrake-on, choke in use and low oil pressure warnings, in labelled segments which light up respectively in green, blue, red, red, amber, amber or green if any warning is required. Neat as this is. I felt I could do without the red fuel level warning shining in my eyes at night, especially when flanked by the blue main-beam light and bearing in mind the accuracy of the fuel gauge and the fact that the warning light showed with considerably more than a gallon in the tank.

However, the design team who engineered this excellent Triumph 1300 put in a petrol tank holding nearly 12-gallons, which means a very useful range of over 400 miles before re-fuelling is needed, so that timely warning when this is necessary is more desirable than usual. It is curious, however, that there is no “lamps alight” warning in spite of the separate lighting facia switch.

The single-spoke steering wheel has the horn push in its spoke, where it is less easy to find than with a horn ring but otherwise good planning is evident throughout the 1300. All three pedals are the same size and stand at the same height until they are depressed, the hand brake is between the seats with a precise pull-up action, and the central gear lever is cranked back from the bulkhead rather like that of a pre-2000 Rover, in a very accessible position. The action of the gear lever is less pleasing, the change being notchy and 1st gear very often almost impossible to engage while at rest unless the lever was first eased into 2nd gear. The accelerator travel seemed rather restricted and the choke imprecise, cold starts taking a few moments while the noisy exposed starter spun the engine, which would refuse to open up unless choked for the first few minutes after starting. The clutch is heavy and care is needed for a smooth get away.

I had no occasion to use the heater but selecting cold-air ventilation did not appear to make much difference to the comfort of the occupants. The full-flow ventilation system, however, with vents behind the shapely rear window sill, dealt effectively with misting up and general ventilation, without opening the windows. A lamps master switch has to be operated before the I.h./steering-column stalk will control the lamps. This stalk moves down from sidelamps, through full-beam, to dipped beam, whereas I prefer the full-beam position to be isolated; it also acts as the flasher. The turn-indicators are controlled by a well-placed matching r.h. stalk. Wipers and washers controls are convenient to the right hand, the heater tap can be operated from within the car, and big box-like lidded ash-trays occupy each end of the facia. There is a useful parcels’ shelf behind the back seat.

To the practical planning that characterises this Triumph or Leyland 1300 can be added very full equipment — rheostat panel lighting, automatic dimming at night of stop lamps and rear turn-indicators, much crash-padding, moulded deep-pile carpeting, four-door courtesy interior lighting with a facia switch and an adjustable glass on the roof lamp enabling it to be used tor map reading, good door arm-rests and a retractable one for the back seat, vanity mirror in the n/s padded visor, childproof door locks, two coat-hooks, full-flow ventilation system, stainless steel wheel trims, rubber inserts in the bumper over-riders, automatic boot illumination, two-speed heater fan, etc. The test-car had two Lucas spotlamps hung below the front bumper. Taking all this into consideration the price of £835 is modest, for the 1300 is that frequently asked-for package, the luxury family saloon. Incidentally, the minor controls have been located where they are accessible to a belted-in driver, and 18 colour combinations of body/trim/carpet are available. The 1300 is heavily endorsed with advertising motifs. The bonnet carries the word TRIUMPH and an unlabelled Standard-Triumph badge, the wheel nave plates the old “globe” Triumph badge, the boot-lid is inscribed with the word “Triumph” towards the o/s (as is the steering-wheel spoke) and the back bumper has ”1300″ inset into it. The front doors, by the way, have rigidly-mounted external locks; two keys sufficed for all locks.

On the road the Triumph 1300 could do with more urge from the bored-out single-Stromberg Triumph Herald engine, maxima of 30, 47, 70 and 85 m.p.h. in the all-syncromesh gears being about on a par with what one expects from twin-carburetter 1100s, likewise the acceleration, to the tune of a s.s ¼-mile in 21.4 sec., or 0-60 m.p.h. in 21 seconds, although the legal maximum in 3rd gear is useful. The gearbox has to be used to get such results, when the engine becomes noisy. The transmission is notably quiet and at normal throttle openings the 1300 is a happy car to travel in.

The suspension is hard and considerable shocks and jarring are conveyed on bad roads to the bosly and steering column, some ill them quite severe. At first I thought the Dunlop C41 tyres might have been overinflated but ,a check shov,ed them to be inflated at 20 to 22 lb./sq. in., the latter being specified.

The springing nevertheless gives a comfortable, fairly level ride, only becoming lively over abnormal surfaces. There is slightly more sway on fast corners than a f.w.d. B.M.C. car displays and less apparent front-drive cornering characteristics but the Triumph 1300 can be cornered fast with confidence on slippery surfaces nonetheless, although otherwise giving no clue to being hauled along by its front wheels. The accurate rack-and-pinion steering, geared three turns lock-to-lock, inherits the very excellent Herald turning circle for easy parking, is moderately light, has useful castor return action, and no lost motion. This is a very satisfactory car for hurried motoring.

The Girling disc/drum brakes felt spongy and tended to squeal, suggesting that feline malady, hard-pad. The Lucas sealed-beam headlamps, as adjusted were, inadequate for fast night driving.

The doors of this Triumph 1300 shut nicely and the low-loading boot gives an area of 11 cu. ft., the spare wheel is stowed under the floor and the lid is counter balanced. Not only is the correct grade of lubricant used for sump, gearbox and final drive but the two latter are filled for life, there is a patented no-loss engine cooling system, and the chassis requires no lubrication, so servicing charges should be low. I recorded 34.7 m.p.g. of premium petrol overall and after 850 miles added one quart of Castrolite, the sump level haying fallen to below the danger mark on the accessible dipstick. The only fault apart from those previously mentioned, in a test mileage of over 1,100, was a loose o/s quarter-light.

Altogether the small f.w.d. Triumph is a considerable achievement. The interior trim is really well contrived and this alone will endear the car to many discerning customers. I am sure the tuning-shops will soon have more speed and acceleration out of the 1300 but in standard form it is a very individualistic, beautifully appointed and contrived family conveyance. I would not class it as the best-ever small car at the price at which Standard-Triumph offer it. But it is certainly top of its class and with a little further developtnent should be a very significant car indeed. If it was built abroad and had a foreign-sounding name you would be loudly proclaiming its many merits. Britain needs a break. The Triumph 1300 is the sort of car which should stern many imports. In fact, I suggest there is no need to look further than Coventry if you are in need of a fully-equipped, very cleverly engineered medium-size family car.