Triumph Sports Cars from the 60s & 70s – on display at Chillingham Castle Sunday 7th May 2023. 11am – 1pm

Triumph Sports Cars from the 60s & 70s – on display at Chillingham Castle Sunday 7th May 2023

Welcome to this rare display of memorable Triumph sports cars and sporting saloons; speak directly with the proud owners against the backdrop of 13th century Chillingham Castle, the most haunted castle in England!

Here is a brief history of the cars on display. Triumph began in the 1880s in Coventry making pedal cycles and during WW1 supplied 30,000 motorcycles to the British Army. In 1927 Triumph copied the iconic Austin Seven, full of the best automotive technology of its day, and launched the Triumph ‘Super Seven’, the grandfather of all subsequent Triumphs. Before WW2 Triumph was still making no more than 50 cars per week and the company eventually failed in 1939. The factory was bombed in WW2 then in 1944 the assets were purchased by the Standard Motor Company and Triumph saloons with dickey seats were made into the early 1950s.

Jealous of MG’s progress in the US, Triumph rushed out its first true sports car, the ground breaking TR2, in 1953 breaking speed records and winning rallies. During the 50s Triumph was big enough only to develop one car at a time and the TR3 replaced the TR2 in 1955; this was the start of the golden age for Triumph sports cars.

In 1960 Italian car designer Giovanni Michelotti produced a design for Triumph for a 2-seater sports car to challenge the Sprite / MG Midget; the design lay festering on the drawing board until 1961 when Standard Triumph was acquired by Leyland Motors and the Triumph Spitfire was eventually launched in 1962 – it had a remarkable turning circle and easy access to the engine bay for servicing and maintenance. The Spitfire was hugely successful and continued until 1980 with over 314k Spitfires sold. Towards the end of production rubber bumpers had to be fitted to meet US legislation. Ironically MG Midgets, later also to be owned by the BL group, were eventually fitted with Spitfire engines which were cleaner and more powerful.

TR mania was in full swing by the early 60s and the TR4, also designed by Michelotti, was launched in 1961 with wind-up windows, an all-synchromesh gearbox and the option of a 2-piece lift-off hardtop. In 1965 the TR4A incorporated independent rear suspension and by 1968 the TR4 had been replaced by the TR5 PI (and TR250 with carburettors for emission control in the US) with a bigger 2.5 litre engine.

Just as the Vitesse had been developed from the Triumph Herald, Michelotti designed a ‘Spitfire with a fastback and hatchback door’ in 1963 and in 1964 Triumph decided to install a bigger 2 litre 6 cylinder engine. This was the GT6 – the ‘mini E-type’ – which was launched in 1966. Following the merger in 1968 to form BL, Triumph sports cars had to live alongside MGs and the GT6 shadowed the Spitfire until the GT6 was withdrawn in 1973.

From 1964 Michelotti also started designing the Stag and in 1966 Triumph decided to develop it although after delays and upheaval following the merger of Leyland Motors (which owned Standard-Triumph and Rover) with BLMC (which owned Austin, Morris and MG) to form British Leyland in 1968 it was not until 1970 when the first Stags were produced. The Stag was intended to share many components with the 2000/2500 saloons but things did not work out; body rigidity required a T-bar, the US market required a new V8 engine and uprated brakes, wheels, gearbox and rear axle. However with the unique burbling 3 litre V8 engine there was a 12 month waiting list for a new Stag but they were withdrawn from the US market at the end of 1973 following poor sales – although today’s owners will say that unreliability problems are now well understood and sorted. Only 25,877 Stags were built and the last Stag was produced in 1977. An idea to restart Stag production was binned after key tooling had been destroyed.

Karmann of Germany designed the replacement for the TR5 and the more angular TR6 with optional one piece hardtop, assembled on the same Canley production line as the Stag, was launched in 1969. 95,000 TR6s were built, the last one in 1976. The early 70s were heady days of glam rock and Triumph sports cars were painted in a fabulous range of primary non-metallic paints which has not been seen since.

1971 was the peak year for Triumph sports cars with around 1,000 being made every week (compare this with Nissan now making 92,000 cars every week). Production figures for the whole of 1971 were Spitfire (21k), TR6 (13k), GT6 (6k) and Stag (4k).

Triumph built itself a strong reputation in the new ‘Premium Sporting Saloon’ market niche. The Triumph 2000 was launched in 1963 ending the Standard name. In 1965 the Triumph 1300 followed and, unusually for British cars, these were very profitable. By 1973 Triumph had a family of rear wheel drive sporting saloons, Toledo, 1500TC, Dolomite and Dolomite Sprint. Triumph 2000/2500 saloons were withdrawn in 1977 to make way for the new Rover SD1 and by 1980 the tired Dolomite range ceased when the Canley factory closed.

BL never really achieved the operational efficiencies expected from the 1968 merger and it was never financially secure; in 1975 it was ‘nationalised’. Problems with the Stag, 2.5PI and Dolomite engines damaged Triumph’s reputation, sales declined and plans were cut back. The Lynx, a replacement for the Stag, was cancelled following a 14 week strike at the Speke factory in Liverpool and management saw no reason to run with both MG and Triumph. The 4-cylinder TR7 was launched in the US in 1975 and in UK in 1976 but production suffered badly in 1978 due to industrial action and the resulting closure of the Speke factory. Production moved to Canley; the TR7 convertible was launched in 1979 but the Canley factory was closed in 1980; a V8 version, the TR8, launched in the US in 1980. Corporate politics, competition and exchange rates increased losses and after only 28 years the final Triumph sports car was produced in Solihull in 1981.