Abingdon finds a new Healey called Triumph

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“It’s fantastic this car . . . maybe the best in the World for tarmac. You know, we don’t think Pond needed even to drive at maximum speed to beat the Stratos… and the Escort.”

Daniele Audetto, Lancia-Fiat competitions manager, at an Abarth factory visit after the TR7 with V8 engine had beaten Tony Carello (Stratos 2.4-litre V6) and Gilbert Staepelaere (Ford factory Escort RS 2.0- litre four) at Ypres earlier this year.

“My greatest ambition would be to go out and win the 1,000 Lakes with Tony Pond and the TR. I’d like to show the Finns that there are other nations who make rally drivers – and Tony is the Briton to do that job.” – John Davenport, competition director, Leyland ST, before that Ypres performance.

Just as tortured as recent company history, that is the only way one can describe the emergence of the most exciting rally car to come out of Britain since those classic Austin Healeys. As with the car on which it is based, the rallying TR 7 four-cylinder, the TR7 with V8 engine has shown great promise – enough for the shrewd Italian team manager to make that comment above.

However that is very far from the whole story, and John Davenport’s patriotic remarks beneath point up the crisis in the TR7’s growth: its loose road rallying performance: Although there have been smaller scale successes, the rallying fraternity has been full of people nodding their heads sagely and saying that the TR is fine for sealed roads, but. get it on the loose and there is no way to make it handle in a predictable manner.

Such comment may be amplified among the uninformed, but it is based on the most despairing remarks coming from within the Abingdon camp when tackling the sort of opposition Davenport knows they have to beat on home Internationals like the Welsh and Scottish rough road events. Not that the Abingdon men themselves said much: observers could see Pond visibly agitated and cursing the way his machine would not respond in a constant manner to his demands. The car was actually frightening its driver.

A number of reasons were advanced as to why this should be. The perfect weight distribution was blamed – so more weight was inserted in the boot, to try to make it respond in tail-happy Escort style. The wheelbase was too short, just like that of a Stratos, so the car responded too quickly and wouldn’t settle into the corner. I was told the Stratos was never a particularly good loose surface car, and that it was no good for fast corners: “Not so,” said. Sandro Munari in Italy last month when he took me for a ride in the 270 b.h.p. works example. “We have to change the suspension to suit each event, but the car is fine if the suspension is properly adjusted. It is the best rally car in the world, we can win on the loose if we have the practice,” the Italian star told me. He also remembered that the car suffered very bad luck when he and Waldegard came to Britain for the 1975 RAC Rally, when the Swede set a string of  fastest times, which showed everyone how fast the car itself could negotiate what Audetto describes as “the most different mud in the World: it’s really hard to get grip!”.

Other factors against the TR on the loose include poor vision, limited rear axle travel (3 1/2 in. is the figure mentioned between casing and chassis rail) and the V8 engine’s enormous torque, for they’ve had to change the axle ratio several times to stop this TR just spinning its rear wheels helplessly in almost any gear on the loose.

But all this denies a basic point: Why shouldn’t the TR7 be just as good a basis for rallying as a great soft saloon car, or a mass-manufactured box? There is nothing much in the Escort’s favour, but pin-sharp homologation and development have overcome the Ford’s drawbacks. Any skilled and wealthy manufacturer could beat Ford if they have the will power and can acquire the expertise…

If we thought that these points were insuperable barriers to the Triumph’s further progress, or that there was a big publicity campaign to persuade us of this car’s merits in the same way as the Jaguar and TR7 projects were originally fanfared, then the subject would not be worth the column inches of Motor Sport.

The facts are that the biggest danger to the TR’s future lies in company politics, not its loose surface performance. Far from a publicity campaign to herald its already good preliminary outings, Leyland have remained silent, and with good reason.

When we first went along to Abingdon on April 26th of this year, it was not clear if the TR7 would even continue to be made, for the car production was to be moved from Speke, Liverpool, to Canley, Coventry plant. If it was moved successfully (they, workers and management still had not produced a Canley TR when this was written in August!) then there was still politics over the car’s name.

 
Journalists have been asked not to call the car TR8, because that is the car the Americans have been waiting so patiently for – the car they have ordered in considerable numbers, and which they could only get when the British had finished their noble orgy of self-destruction. Yet the car is truly a TR8, actually springing from that production origin – not an homologation special like the Vauxhall Chevette, Ford Escort RS1800 or Fiat 131 -Abarth.

So Leyland had, and still have, a better story to tell than their rivals . . . but they cannot tell the World!

Televised debut

Esgair Dafydd, a 1.2-mile section of this Welsh special stage in fact, was picked as the public debut for the new competition Triumph. Performing in front of the cameras for a Texaco-sponsored Rally Sprint may sound like a publicity gimmick, but Pond (carrying journalist Peter Newton as ballast) defeated Stig Blomqvist (SAAB Turbo, also making its British competition debut), Bjorn Waldegard and Russell Brookes in Escorts, and Pentti Airikkala’s Vauxhall, before ceding defeat only to Hannu Mikkola’s factory Escort. The margin was 2.2 seconds, but even at that stage the engineers were as cautious as, the driver about reducing the deficit to a top-class Escort. Days later the Triumph had won a round of the British national championship (the Granite City), but Davenport knew better than to celebrate. The task was to win on the loose against the qest opposition: on both the Scottish and Welsh events the car retired.

In May’s Welsh event the car lost 11 minutes with a suspected fault in the black box of the transistorised ignition system. It then threw its fan belt petulantly away; with so much already lost there was no point in Pond continuing. Scotland in June produced the biggest accident that Pond’s co-driver Fred Gallagher had suffered, even the normally imperturbable Pond wondering how they were going to get out of their bent and up-ended machine.

The team had enjoyed high hopes for the Scottish event, for Pond had finished second overall in 1976, driving a four-cylinder model. Incidentally, the mysterious electrical fault on the Welsh was solved by the use of similarly advanced rectification: “We took the rev-limiter off and threw it high over the trees,” said one expert! It did not prevent them pushing the car on Tv during the Scottish (a fuse had blown) when Davenport uttered the immortal line, “don’t panic,” and one of his senior aides said in a high pitched moan, “I’m not panicking … I’m NOT panicking.”

Since those dark days the team have tackled the Belgian Ypres road race- cum-rally with the crushing win commented upon at the start of this article, and the small Border Stages Rally in Scotland. North of the Border stages highlight all that seems to be wrong with the TR on the loose and Leyland ST used this low-key event to really get some testing miles in with two extremely pertinent technical developments.

The first was obvious and follows a trend Leyland were to pursue on the August Burmah Rally (a round of Britain’s premier rally championship), namely trying Goodyear tyres. This they were to do with Dunlop’s knowledge, though whether they were quite so happy at Pond’s ecstatic reception for this rubber, on which he scored all his fastest stage times and suffered no punctures on the Border Stages Rally, is not recorded. Pond is a Goodyear fan of some standing, his earlier career owing something to the association forged with a local West London branch of the Akron concern.

The second technical point, a broad one for details are explored a little later, was to reduce the track. It was found that the most important thing was to take 2″ away from the front, achieved by using 6″ wheels with considerable inset. At the rear either the previous 6 1/2″ rims with central spokes (and therefore some 3″ offset) could be used, or the inset 6″ wheels without dramatically altering the handling but at the front it had to be, narrower for the driver to be happy… and competitive.

Research into the advantages of larger diameter (15″) road wheels also continues, and this looks a likely development for loose and tarmac use.

Unusual origins

Competition rally cars today are usually purpose-built homologation exercises like the Escort RS 1800, Chevette HS2 300 and Fiat Abarth 131. These are all Group 4 cars, and so is the TR 7: there isn’t the space to explore why such different machinery shares the same grouping, but you can take it that Davenport is working very hard on trying, to return to some sort of order in international homologation.

The difference with the TR7+8 is that development started with a production car, instead of the other way about. In May 1977 Abingdon were able to take delivery of a new LHD TR8.They took the engine out, studied the installation and awaited a suitable opportunity to use the production V8 subframe and gearbox mounting in a RHD car.

This was done in time to start testing in October. KDU 496N, one of the original plates when the TR 7 rally car was first launched prior to the Welsh in 1976, was taken and lost her four-valve-per-cylinder engine of approximately 220 b.h.p. Instead of a unit capable of 8,300 r.p.m. KDU was filled with the 6,500 r.p.m. barely modified V8. The new unit pumped out about the same horsepower as the old one (actually I was given 200 as the figure for the V8) but had its torque peak of 218/220 lb. ft. at 4,500 r.p.m., instead of 212 lb. ft. at 6,500 r.p.m. from the four.

Barely modified? The V8 had new exhaust manifolds by Janspeed, the brief being to make it road legal and also to cater for RHD. Weslake had apparently carried out some initial development work, increasing the compression ratio, installing a new camshaft and mounting the curious crossover , manifold for two Weber 45 DCOEs. This , Offenhauser-branded inlet manifold has been on from the start, and will remain until fuel injection is adopted, feeding four inlet tracts into one central orifice.

At this stage the chassis was as for the four-cylinder version described in Motor Sport when we accompanied the team on the Tour de Corse (Motor Sport, January). The brakes, springs, dampers and weight distribution remained unaltered, the V8 completing five test sessions and used in the role of back-to-back comparison. One can only marvel at those American engineers who designed and produced a V8 in aluminium in the early sixties that proved to weigh within lbs. of an alloy-head, cast iron block, four. Though Rover rightly receive the credit for this now thoroughly proven design, it was the engineers of Oldsmobile and Buick who created the 90 degree V8 originally in 208 cu. in./3,408 c.c. size.

In production form the Rover engine measures 89.9 mm. by 71.12 mm. and 3,532 c.c. The compression is set at 9.35 : 1 and maximum power is quoted at 157 b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m., coupled to 198 lb. ft. torque at just 2,500 r.p.m.

Those early test sessions were a success and, after their completion, I was allowed to drive the car briefly on the road, covering 20-odd wet road miles in exciting style on a set of broad Dunlop A2 competition tyres (which are legal). Aside from the glorious V8 beat giving way to the induction roar of the four chokes as we shot toward the equivalent of 120 m.p.h., my outstanding memory is of the heavy brakes. There was an obvious need for care when prodding the torquey engine for more urge at any point in a power band that seemed to extend from 3,500 to 6,500 r.p.m.!

At the time, and -this must have been late September 1977, the talk was mainly of how much faster the new and relatively undeveloped device was than the previous four-cylinder car. However, testing over a known road and rally driving are totally different, a point emphasised by the car’s TV debut at an event comprising a number of runs over a known format. Under such circumstances Pond can compensate for any quirks in car behaviour. Confronted with the unknown, the V8 develops the teeth you would expect and may even understeer heavily; a word and characteristic so foul to the loose surface rally driver that it is uttered with complete contempt.

The engine developed rapidly and Leyland ST took on the preparation as part of a future policy that will involve constructing more and more of their cornpetition cars themselves. In fact a Heenan and Froude dynamometer is, planned to cope with 400 b.h.p. and up to 10,000 r.p;m. soon, replacing Abingdon’s present small portable unit. Competition engineer David Wood points out that, very little was known about this engine for sporting use, so they started off with a collection of branded speed parts and gradually put the whole motor together themselves in a rather more homogeneous manner.

Rover, had originally manufactured a batch of 200 pistons with slightly less dish and a 10 : 1 c.r., so these were installed. They were in turn replaced by Mahle forged alloy pistons offering an 11 : 1 ratio and valve pockets, which would be required following camshaft and engine r.p.m. changes.

Wood drew and had manufactured (mainly at Abingdon) a 2 1/2-gallon dry sump oil system that included a neat and heavily webbed sump pan to replace the production item. Not only were the benefits of 80 p.s.i. dry sump lubrication then available, but also the new casting brought anew structural rigidity to the block in anticipation of yet more power than the 240 and subsequently (for the Scottish rally in June 1978) 260 horsepower being produced. In fact it was designed to help with the rigours of 300 b.h.p. over rough going, but a lack of power was never going to be a problem in this 3-litre car!

For the Scottish the TR featured a slight closing in of top strut mounting points (at the front) and the 260 horsepower tune. The hydraulic valve lift operation of the production unit was dispensed  with and normal pushrod operation installed, raising the valve float point from 6,500 to 7,200 r.p.m.

A new camshaft profile, down from 302 degrees to 280 degrees, added 20 lb. ft. to peak torque of 244 lb. ft. at 5,500 r.p.m. The point was that no less than 222 lb. ft. torque was presented at 3,500 r.p.m. and 233 at 6,500 r.p.m. 

In the early testing a heavy “mid-range axle” had replaced the 4HA competition axle normally used, for it was felt that development on the lighter 4HA might leave them as heavy a unit as the one they finally settled for, which proved more reliable. The problem with the torque of the engine came to a head when the team changed from the normal 4.5:1 final drive to 4.8:1 for the Welsh. It just did not seem possible to stop spinning the wheels, so the team went back to 4.5:1 for Scotland.

At that stage the progressive rate coil springs were still set at 140/240 lb. front and 240 lb. rear, but in the effort to find some traction on the Scottish they softened off the rears to 215 lb. This merely highlighted the axle travel problem, mentioned earlier, but it was hoped to get up to 4 1/4″ travel at the back, which compares with / approximately 6″ allowed between axle and Escort body shell for loose surface events. 

For the successful foray to Belgium, extensive testing and reconnaissance were part of going rallying in the European manner. A period with Hugo Emde and personnel at Bilstein produced some stiffer settings for the gas-filled dampers and contributed much to the feeling of security and superiority the crew displayed on that event. 

Testing for the Isle of Man tarmac rally (the closest to home, closed road, pace-noted event) was initially a little disappointing as it rained all week. Where the Belgian settings might have been thought adequate, the bumps and crests of Manx proved otherwise and it seems likely that a further damper rate stiffening will take place. 

The engine and ancillaries show evidence of further work. The drive for the dry sump pump is taken by a vee belt from a pulley on the nose of the crankshaft, and the exhaust manifolds have evolved a stage further. What one cannot see is a significantly lighter flywheel coupled to a bigger diameter lining and pressure plate for the clutch. The standard cast iron crankshaft whirls within,its two-plane and five-bearing layout unaltered save for Tuftriding. The connecting rods are not altered, but a batch had just been ordered from an alternative supplier when we called in: these production rods are manufactured in steel.

The five-speed gearbox, now shared by Jaguar as well as Rover and Triumph, is in the competition form we described for the four-cylinder, but is apparently a lot happier to work with the V8. Wood reported: “We do not have to use the gearbox as much as before. On our test route the V8 demands only five changes, where before we recorded between 14 and 15.” The higher engine speeds of the smaller units were blamed forfrequent selector troubles, and the bearings are also given an easier time by the V8, although how long that will last in the light of future developments is hard to say…. Even with carburetters I could hear an engine bellowing briskly over 60 miles of telephone line. It was ready for the Burmah Rally and offered 293 b.h.p. at the flywheel!

Engine cooling has naturally been the subject of some attention too. The TR radiator has always offered more gills per inch, though in the same number of rows, as the Dolomite Sprint, but a new radiator with extra rows was a priority that has probably been adopted by now, as have a number of different configurations for the bonnet louvres, though none involve the removal of metal, I was solemnly told. The engine does have the benefit of twin electric cooling fans, and the oil cooler has been enlarged compared with the smaller engined TR7. The water pump has now been geared down to avoid damage consequent upon the high r.p.m. in use.

Aside from the new livery adopted for the V8, these special Triumphs (there are now four competition models: over 400 road cars must have been made already for the American market to satisfy the FIA Group 4 regulations) show evidence of constant development.

The interior roll cage now spreads out beyond the central cockpit area, extensions leading forward to the front spring abutments and to the rear, so all suspension loads can be fed directly into this Leyland-manufactured cage. It is a principle that the Americans have used for years in racing saloon cars, but I have not seen it so thoroughly carried out in Britain before.

I was quite surprised to see the oil lines from engine to dry sump and back passing through the cockpit on the driver’s side, for it looked as though they might be firstly obstructive and secondly a touch warm, but Pond’s mind is obviously taken up with the car’s future, and his own. By which I mean that Pond is talented enough to have to move elsewhere if the Triumph does not show itself to be competitive on the loose as well as the smooth, and there are opportunities to do so at present.

The future holds the magic of Pierburg electro-­mechanical fuel injection to boost power past the 300 horsepower level, retaining the engine’s inherent beefy pulling ability. The injection system is a truly international effort, Pierburg of Neuss, near Dusseldorf, being the new name for a conglomerate of famous carburation names in which both Lucas and Bosch also have investment. Kugelfischer, as such, is no more but Pierburg carry on the good work acting as researchers as well as induction system manufacturers. The Kugelfisher name continues to be used on existing injection systems for competition.

The Leyland version of the system has been developed inside the company, principally through the energies of David Wood, and will mount onto a sand cast alloy induction system drawn and designed inside the company. The injection equipment is likely to put in an appearance in tarmac events towards the end of the year: possibly the Manx, maybe even in November’s Tour de Course too.

The injection system is activated by an electronic sensor in the distributor: the message is fed into a mini-computer, which relays appropriate mixture instruction on to a servo motor, mounted on the metering unit.

It would be unlikely but magnificent if the TR7+8 could prevent Ford scoring a seventh win in the RAC Rally this November. If they do not, it will be for lack of effort… but maybe the aims of the company and the character of the car could coincide by tackling an extensive programme of European events in 1979? – J.W. 
 

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