Triumph TR7 – The Untold Story. Click image to enlarge
By Paul Williams
For many people, the words “Triumph” and “TR7” don’t mean anything, and if there’s a story at all, let alone an “untold” one, it’s news to them. The last Triumph was built in 1981, and since then, the controversy about the TR7’s styling, build quality, performance and legitimacy as a member of the TR sports car line has pretty much disappeared.
But wait a minute… This book has a lot more to offer than a standard history of a largely forgotten British sports car. In fact, this was one of the best automotive reads I’ve had in a while, as its story has significant relevance to the state of the global automotive industry today.
The TR7, you see, was part of a last ditch effort by Triumph and parent company British Leyland to save the domestic British automobile industry. The fact that it failed — the “how” and “why” of it — makes truly fascinating reading.
To backtrack a little, the British brands of the 1960s to 1980s — Jaguar, Rover, Land Rover, Triumph, MG, Mini, Morris, Austin, Hillman, Sunbeam and others — faced stiff competition, industry woes, an often unfavourable exchange rate, outdated management and costly duplication of resources and products during those decades. Once a dominant industry of worldwide proportions, the British government nationalized Jaguar, Rover, Triumph, MG, Austin, Morris into British Leyland in the mid-1970s, and set about modernizing, sometimes quite ruthlessly, this huge company.
“Triumph TR7 – The Untold Story” interviews numerous key figures from the shop floor to public relations to senior management, and highlights the collision that takes place when you amalgamate companies, their workers and management that have been competing for years, into a single corporate entity.
The labour issues at the factories in England (some of these people were downright dangerous), a senior management seemingly out of touch with reality or simply ill-equipped to manage coherently, the beleaguered public relations departments (the reflections of Mike Cook, PR Manager for British Leyland in North America, are particularly interesting), and the hopeful work of stylists and engineers charged with developing future models, all combine to create the image of a giant, dated, ocean liner heading straight into a jagged coastline.
But there were positives. Bob Tullius’s Group 44 race team was very successful with its Triumph (and later, Jaguar) vehicles in North America, and British Leyland was well represented on the international rally circuit. As far as the TR7 was concerned, the automotive press was likely kinder than it should have been, and consumers on both sides of the ocean still wanted sports cars and performance sedans, so the market was there. British Leyland, however, just couldn’t adapt quickly enough, and when it did jump, it jumped magnificently in the wrong direction.
So what does this have to do with today? While the circumstances aren’t exactly the same, I think if you want a glimpse behind the scenes at General Motors (whose market share is dropping every year, despite the company’s best efforts), Chrysler (now owned by a venture capital company talking of selling off divisions of the company) and Ford (battling to produce profitable alternatives to fuel inefficient trucks and SUVs), you’ll see some parallels between the challenges these companies face, and the Untold Story of the Triumph TR7.
Or simply as an interesting read about the development, marketing and demise of a rather radical car, “Triumph TR7 – The Untold Story” works as well.