During ViaRETRO’s continuous attempts at looking deep into our crystal ball and predicting what the classic car market will do next, we now find ourselves looking at what is no doubt the most criticised car from this particular family of models: Triumph’s wedged fiasco, the TR8.
It’s no secret that I first dipped my toe into the fabulous world of classic cars with a Triumph. In fact, several Triumphs. And to this day, I still have strong feelings for the marque. Amazingly though, so many of the Triumph models have in common that they have remained remarkably cheap for many, many years. In the eyes of this vaguely biased enthusiast, also much cheaper than they ought to be. Granted, while the Herald, Spitfire, Toledo, Dolomite, big 6-cylinder saloons and even the Stag are still budget purchases in the world of classic cars, most of the sporty TR models have actually seen a slow but constant rise in value over the past eight years of so. But please note, that says MOST of the TR models. Because the last two from that model range – the TR7 and TR8 – are still criminally undervalued. But I personally believe that is about to change; at least for the TR8.
But the sad truth is that the TR8 has always been put in the same boat as the TR7, which is of course quite understandable seeing as they look exactly the same with only the drivetrain differing. However, that difference should really be plenty to justify the TR8 becoming the next big Triumph, while the TR7 won’t be. Of the two, it was the TR7 from 1974 which was introduced first, and it even sold quite well (in fact, in bigger numbers than its famous predecessor, the TR6). It was praised as well for both its handling characteristics and comfort levels, yet very few were as flattering when it came to passing judgement on its design. Admitted, it is rather controversial – to put it mildly.
The stylist responsible for the TR7, Harris Mann, deliberately pursued making the new TR7 the most extreme interpretation of the wedge, which was of course the hottest trend in automotive design at the time. It’s probably safe to say that he succeeded – maybe too much so. I personally feel that it’s especially the somewhat brutal finish to the roofline with a practically vertical rear window which emphasises the rather clumsy and heavy-handed design. The cabin and roof structure almost look like an afterthought.
As such, the design wasn’t really fulfilled until the introduction of the convertible all of five years later in 1979. Gone was the awkward cabin and what remained was a pure wedge. So much so, that even with the softtop erected, the convertible still looks better than its coupé sibling. The design of the open TR7 will no doubt still start a healthy debate, but it is nonetheless one of very few cars to counter the theory, that any design which started as a coupé will always suffer when the roof is chopped off.
Similarly, the TR8 will certainly counter any argument of the more economical, modern and effective engine being an advantage. If looking purely at the spec. sheets and numbers, some might come to the conclusion that there isn’t all that much of a difference between the TR7 and the TR8. But they would of course be wrong! With its charisma and soundtrack, that old V8 lump made a world of difference as it effectively converted the modern TR to a good old-fashioned sportscar. Just what the doctor prescribed
Or at least old-fashioned in spirit. Because the TR8 actually managed to retain much of the original cars comfort levels, and was certainly nowhere near as raw as the many previous TR models had been. But it was quite fast, and that always counts for something. And then there was the already mentioned charisma which probably counts for a whole lot more. Turn the key and the TR8 left you in no doubt: this was a car which meant business! I know, because I’ve enjoyed the same lovely V8 burble in my old Rover SD1. Though it’s not quite as pleasing a soundtrack as from Triumph’s own V8 which I recall from my old Stag – but that’s of course an entirely different story…
Yes, that all makes the TR8 a much more complete sportscar than the TR7 upon which it was based. But that’s not even my main reason for nominating it as the next big Triumph. Instead, it’s rarity which elevates the TR8 into another league. Consider this: The TR7 was produced in more than 100,000 examples where Triumph only gave us approximately 2,700 TR8s. As is customary with British sportscars, the precise production numbers are somewhat blurred, and some claim that Triumph also built several hundreds of prototypes before the TR8 finally entered production, and that these coupés despite their prototype status often somehow managed to filter through to customers before the production TR8 was even officially launched. But all of the later production TR8s were convertibles, so I suppose this is really the one to go for.
As a rule of thumb, that’s certainly the case if you’re looking for the best possible car as well. Quality control was improved towards the end of TR8 production (not that it ever got particularly good) and the last cars were equipped with fuel injection too. Many of these were silver metallic, and I mourn the loss of those funky seventies colours on the early TR7s, but I suppose they weren’t deemed trendy by time we entered the eighties. However, a few of the TR8s were brown metallic or even green metallic, and it would be such a car I would search out if treating myself to the rare V8-engined TR.
Unless of course one of the original early V8 coupés suddenly cropped up. Only about 300 of these were produced (yet again, a number which is surrounded by plenty of uncertainty), so these are even rarer still than the TR8 convertible. That of course also makes it the most difficult model to find, and it’s equally challenging to identify an original from the masses of TR7s which were converted to V8 clones later in life – some by enthusiast owners and others by established specialists. In this context of the next big Triumph, that obviously wouldn’t suffice – it simply has to be an original factory built car.
But what’s the verdict from our well-informed ViaRETRO readers? Is the TR8 a desirable British sportscar? Are prices on the rise? And if so, where does that leave the unloved TR7?