In terms of classic cars, I was virtually raised on Triumphs. I’ve owned a total of five of them, one of which is the car I have owned for the longest. I’ve been the chairman of the Danish owner’s club, and I’ve read practically everything that’s ever been written about the marque. Or so I thought. And then this peculiar little creation came along and disturbed my worldview.
I love cars from Triumph – a marque which I haven’t been without since my very first careful steps into the classic car world in 1993. But it’s a marque which the broad public have largely forgotten, as it’s been dead for almost 35 years now. And probably also because they never managed to produce a true and proper game changer.
None the less, in my opinion, considering their modest financial means, the company gave us some of the best British ingenuity. In no particular order, consider the sexy little Spitfire based entirely on the Herald, the rapid and accomplished saloon 2.5PI equipped with the engine from their sportscar TR5, and the world’s first mass-produced 16-valve engine in the Dolomite Sprint.
And there was even more of course. As Triumph were absorbed into – and then slowly murdered by – the colossal catastrophe which was British Leyland, they even played a significant role in the development of the Rover SD1 from 1976. Another British car which I currently enjoy having in my garage. But as we all know all too well, British Leyland were doomed and when they eventually folded, they took Triumph with them to the grave along with the whole of the British automobile industries good name and reputation.
I’m certainly not done with Triumph yet. Besides still having Spitfires in the garage, I’m constantly drawn to TR7’s and Estates. Frankly, as already mentioned, I thought I knew every Triumph model worth dreaming about. But then this funky little bid for the future appeared on my microfilm reader: The XL90 from 1967.
Needless to say, it’s the design which immediately stands out. Triumph’s goal was to create their interpretation of the car for anno 2000 – a full 33 years into the future. From my perspective, they managed that beyond all expectation. The design is ultra-modern regardless what else from 1967 you compare it with. Seen through our current rose-tinted retroglasses, it’s futuristic in the funkiest of ways, and it would have no doubt moved the goalpost significantly back in 1967. Besides its extreme one-box design, it’s littered with ingenious aerodynamic and design details no matter where you look.
Yet the car isn’t even designed by Michelotti, who at the time was responsible for all of Triumph’s cars. Instead it was Triumph’s own and young designer, Ed Pepall, who came up with this inspired look into the future. Yes, it was in fact a truly British design.
All that fabulous futurism didn’t stop at the looks either: The vast windshield was engineered to vibrate at an ultrasonic frequency, thus flinging both raindrops and dirt off the glass and making windshield wipers unnecessary. The car was also equipped with a radar and a combined engine- and brake management system which could adjust the speed in order to always maintain a safe distance to the car in front. Both the suspension and the brake system was hydropneumatic, and steering wasn’t achieved through a conventional steering wheel, but rather with a handgrip. A brave new world!
As for the drivetrain, the engine was meant to be a sealed unit and only need servicing every 50,000 miles. Admitted, the suggested 2-litre 6-cylinder engine sounds an awful lot like the engine used in the Triumph 2000 saloon (thereby dating back to 1963), so quite how they expected to increase the service intervals by eight times is probably a both good and fair question. But regardless, the aerodynamics would no doubt lend the XL90 several advantages, and the suggested topspeed of 120 mph sounds perfectly plausible.
On the whole, there’s really only one little problem with the grand XL90 concept: It was never physically grand, as a full-scale car was never built. The scale model reveals its true size by Ed Pepall being sat next to it.
So realistically, there might very well have been a few minor details which were either exaggerated a bit, or which would have slipped in the process of making the concept production ready. For instance, I can’t help but wonder where they found space for the long straight-6 engine? But maybe that’s just me being pessimistic? Something which Triumph clearly were not in 1967.