Story and photo by Bill Vance

1949 Triumph 2000 Roadster
1949 Triumph 2000 Roadster. Click image to enlarge

The Triumph Motor Company, famous for its motorcycles, began making cars in 1923. Like many others it was hard-hit by the Depression and fell into receivership just before the Second World War. That would have been the end of Triumph cars if the Standard Motor Car Company, under managing director Sir John Black, had not bought Triumph in 1944.

Triumph had been making some interesting sporting cars, such as the Dolomite and the Southern Cross, before the war. After it came under the control of Standard, its products would all be based on Standard heritage.

Black wanted to get into the post-war sports car business and produce a competitor for the SS100 Jaguar, which William Lyons had been building before the war. If Black had known what Lyons was preparing as his new post-war design, the fabulous XK120 Jaguar, he might have given up right there.

It was decided that Triumph would produce two new cars after the war, a roadster and a sedan, both based on the same running gear. Black had had Triumph stylists draw up a design for his personal car in 1944, and it was used as the model for the production roadster.

The Triumph 1800 Roadster, as it would be called in spite of its wind-up windows, was heavily influenced by the styling of the 1930s. It was almost a caricature of the “very British style.” There was, however, a classic attractiveness that was quite appealing. The front end was dominated by big bulbous fenders, large free-standing headlamps with horns underneath, a vertical bar grille, and a classically long hood. Three wipers swept the narrow, one-piece windshield. The doors were of the “suicide” type (hinged at the rear) and the trunk contained the car’s most interesting feature: rumble seats. Called “dickey” seats in Britain, the two separate seats mounted on the trunk floor folded forward when not required. They rested behind the bench-type front seat, leaving a generous amount of cargo space.

The trunk lid was divided horizontally. The front part, which contained two windows, folded up to form an effective windshield for the rear passengers. It was an ingenious arrangement, and the last use of a rumble seat in a production car. The spare tire was mounted inside the trunk lid.

The Roadster had a lavish wooden dashboard and wooden caps on the window sills. The lack of a tachometer indicated that it was more sporty car than sports car.

Power came from a 1,776 cc, 65 horsepower overhead-valve four cylinder engine that Standard had been supplying to Jaguar before the war, and would continue to sell to them for a while after the war.

Suspension was independent in front using a transverse multi- leaf spring, while at the rear were longitudinal leaf springs and a solid axle. The frame was a tubular steel ladder type, and the aluminum body panels (the front fenders were steel) were supported by ash framing, a common construction method for British roadsters.

A four-speed manual transmission with a rather circuitous column shift sent the power to the rear wheels.

The 1800 Roadster was introduced to the public in March, 1946, to a mixed reception, in part because of its relatively high price. It would stay in production until 1948 when it changed into the 2000 Roadster through the fitting of the modern and sturdy 2,088 cc, 68 horsepower overhead-valve Standard Vanguard engine. This engine would prove very versatile, being used not only in the Roadster, but in the Triumph sedan, Ferguson tractor, and Morgan sports car. In modified 90 horsepower form it powered the Triumph TR2 sports car which came in 1953.

In the 2000 the four-speed transmission was replaced by an all-synchro three-speed, still with column shift to facilitate three-abreast seating.

With its modest power and almost 2,500 pound (1,134 kg) weight, the Roadster was a leisurely tourer. The Autocar magazine tested a 2000 in February 1949, and reported a stately “from-rest-through-the-gears” time of 27.9 seconds to 96 km/h (60 mph), and a top speed of 77 mph (124 km/h).

Sir John’s aspiration to compete with Jaguar must have been completely dashed when the stunning XK120 roadster made its appearance late in 1948. Here was a moderately priced car whose 160 horsepower, double-overhead cam six could propel it to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 10 seconds, and go on to a top speed of 193 km/h (120 mph). All that, and modern, sensuously stunning styling that made the 2000 Roadster look baroque and old fashioned.

Production of the Triumph Roadster continued into 1949 with a total of 4,500 being built – 2,500 of the 1800s, and 2,000 of the 2000s. All except 300 export 2000s had right-hand drive.

The Triumph Roadster was an interesting and unusual car, but it was too little (performance), too late (styling), and too expensive ($3,000 range), to really catch on. But it does make an eye-catching collectible today.

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