24 November 2014

BOTTLED IT!: Triumph Stag

It had all the right ingredients for a great recipe. Shame that it wasn't cooked properly and more the pity for it...

THE Triumph Stag was one car that had lots of potential. The idea and concepts behind its creation without question were great. Launched in 1970, the Stag was initially designed to be a pretty, brisk, open top, four-seater, long distance cruiser.

The crisp, clean, elegant lines styled by Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti was a work of art. It’s aged well like fine wine, and still looks amazing today. But the Stag wasn’t just a poseur where you can get the wind in your hair. The Stag also had a great growling noise with its beefy V8 engine. It even had a great name too – particularly if say it like an American. Staaaaaaag!

One clever feature on the Stag was the T-bar arrangement on the roof placed on the B-pillar. Which meant the car retained it structural rigidity when the roof was down, which kept the car's bodyshell stiff thus better handling – but that's also thanks to its all round independent suspension as well. It's also a neat idea from a safety perspective should you flip it over.

Triumph also offered buyers the choice of having the Stag with a hard top or a soft top. But the Stag was also going to be sold in the US, which of the time, were entering a proposition of banning convertibles. Which is another reason for having that T-bar to pass US safety regulations and so it could be sold there. As the States was a big export market for Triumph.

That all sounds like a recipe for a great car doesn't it? Whereas most would use fresh meat from a butcher, Triumph decided to make theirs with Spam.

During the Stag's development and production, Triumph was taken over by British Leyland. It was plagued by strikes, with industrial unrest between management, workers and the trade unions. That affected the quality control and the Stag's reliability which didn't help either.

The BL takeover could have – and should have – been used to Triumph's advantage. BL also had the Rover V8 in their backyard. That was a light alloy block, compact, endlessly tunable, powerful, made a great noise and - above all else - reliable.

Those chaps won't be glancing at the grumbling V8. They'll be checking the coolant.

So that begs the question: Why did Triumph not put the Rover V8 into the Stag?

Triumph spent a lot of time and money on making their own V8 engine – which was proving to be a costly affair. Triumph bosses argued that scrapping their own V8 – which was essentially two Dolomite Sprint engines welded together – would have been money wasted.

But the circus that also ran in British Leyland, was the internal rivalry with the car brands in the BL empire. Triumph's rivalry was with Rover, and it could be suggested that Triumph was denied of any access to Rover's V8. Which could be also on why it was never put into the Stag hence using Triumph's own V8. With the decision of not putting Rover V8 into the Stag proven to be a costly mistake.

Sadly, the Stag was not to be Triumph’s triumph. Its fundamental flaw was that V8 engine. Which always got hot, prone to overheating and breaking down in a cloud of steam. Other horror stories were failing crankshafts and slipping timing chains. That often meant big bills and expensive engine rebuilds.

The troublesome V8 quickly earned the Stag a reputation for fragility – of which it earned its nickname as the Triumph Snag. It was sold across in the United States, which was a big market for Triumph. But customers were so fed up of their V8s overheating, and with numerous warranty claims on the Stag. This resulted in poor sales, and Triumph withdrawing from the US market in 1973.

After pulling out of the States, the Stag continued to be manufactured and sold in the UK. The car was updated with mild tweaks. The Series 2 models got smart black alloys and a stainless steel chrome covers on the sills, as well as more creature comforts. Foolishly though, that fragile V8 remained in place. Consequently, that had an adverse effect on the Stag's sales and any potential of success.

In 1977, Triumph called it a day and the Stag was phased out of production, and by then had produced 25,939 cars. It simply goes without saying that the Stag would have been a success had it not been for that fragile V8 engine. It would have gone down a storm – particularly in the US.

STAG-GERING: Nowadays, the Stag is a sought after and widely admired classic.

Ironically since its demise, the Stag has become a highly acclaimed classic. A classic car survey suggests that the Triumph Stag is one of the most desirable cars on par with Jaguar E-Types, Ferraris and Aston Martins. Over the years, it has become a widely admired and coveted classic amongst enthusiasts.

Today, Stags are very much sought after classics, and this is reflected on the market value of these cars. Thanks to its army of fans, the Stag also enjoys a big following with a thriving owners club. As a result, the Stag's survival rates are high, and it is reported that around 35% of Triumph Stags are still on the road today. Some might say it's simply Stag-gering!

A number of owners have slotted Rover V8 engines into their Stags. Some purists may call that blasphemy. But in their defence, this would have made the car more reliable and enjoyable to own. In short, it would be the car what the production car should have been.

Specialists though, have worked their way round the problems on the troublesome Triumph V8 engine. By making a raft of changes, and fitting more robust components for the engine; to improve reliability and prevent them from overheating and breaking down in a cloud of steam. But they've cleverly done this also not to take away the good things that made it appealing.

It would be harsh to say that the Stag was a total muck up. An elegant convertible with a great noise that's rough round the edges. It would be fair (and more accurate to say) on saying that the Triumph Stag was a flawed gem. A car that's shy of perfection.

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