The 1977 Triumph TR-7: My Rocket Ship

Only twice in my life have I found myself behind the wheel of a car I thought I couldn’t handle. Once was with an 1985 Jaguar XJS Convertible which is a story for another day. The other time was when I owned a 1977 Triumph TR-7 soon after graduating from college. It was my rocket ship.

I graduated from Manchester University, England in 1980 and was pleasantly surprised to learn that my parents planned to upgrade my old Mini, to a nicer car, more befitting my new role as an intern at a textile manufacturing company. I had also just returned from my first trip to the USA and had a hugely inflated opinion of myself that needed constant nourishment. As a result, one day, I became the proud owner of my first sports car, the Triumph TR-7. It was beautiful. Shaped like a Porsche in the front, it was fast, and green! Unfortunately, not British Racing Green but Poseidon Green, a bright, bluish shade that was a color unique to the car. I can remember to this day, the full page ad in the newspaper revealing that mysterious “wedge” appearance. It was spectacular.

Fortunately for me, my new workplace was about an hours drive away along a stretch of motorway in England that had a 70mph speed limit. I was short on money of course, and this car was a gas guzzler at high speed, so I could only make the motorway run once a week. Yes folks, Friday night and “The Drive Home”. This stretch of road was like a race track with everyone chasing to get back for the weekend. I had that car up to 100mph on many occasions, jockeying back and forth with other idiots like myself. Frankly, I’m shocked I wasn’t killed but I was lucky. This car had speed and a ton of it. Statistically this was the fastest car on the road at the time from 50-70mph (in about 3.5 secs) which suited my purposes perfectly. The hairs on my neck still stand up now even as I tell this story!

Obviously, it was a girl-magnet – shame that I wasn’t, but oh well! The unfortunate part about the Triumph TR-7 was that it suffered terribly from bad workmanship at the factory. Back in those days, the union workers were hell bent on torpedoing the British car companies to force their hand in negotiations and so British cars were a reliability nightmare. Personally, I had little trouble with it except its electrical system was built by “The Prince of Darkness”, otherwise known as Lucas Electronics. Again, a story for another day. The pop-up headlights were a constant aggravation too, although they did have a nice little feature where it would allow you to hand-crank the headlights into the up position during a particularly vicious monsoon.

The Triumph TR-7 came with a four cylinder 2.0L motor and a five speed transmission. Its top speed was over 100mph and it would only produce about 25mpg on the highway. For the US market, they put a V8 engine in the same chassis and called it a TR-8, but I think the extra power got drained off by the necessary emissions equipment. It was a hard, but stable ride with a nice interior. Certainly not the “Spartan” finish that you associate with many British sports cars. Its aerodynamic shape in the front gave it tremendous handling at speed around tight corners (documented personal experience available on request). It had a loud, rasping exhaust sound that wasn’t going to rattle your teeth but people knew you were there.

I had bought the car when it was three years old and only had 18,000 miles on the odometer, and to this day, it is the most exhilarating vehicle I have ever owned. Those that say it was slow never drove one, and those that said it was ugly, never polished one. Potentially, it could have been British Leyland’s “finest hour”, but it wasn’t to be.

Finally, my “ship” came to a bitter end as all that shoddy work done back at the factory caught up with her and she blew a rod through the crankcase, at speed, of course. She only had 42,000 miles on her, a relatively common occurrence for Triumphs in those days. It was a sad end for me to see her disappearing into the distance on the back of a tow truck one lonely night on some country road in Northern England. I didn’t have the money to fix her and I was about to emigrate to the US anyhow.

Rocket ships for me, simply haven’t been the same since.

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