Like Earth shoes, pet rocks and other inexplicably dopey fads of the time, the TR8's wedge styling was all the rage in the mid-1970s

Good news from the other side... Just when we thought we'd never see another lusty, open-top British sports car, along comes the Triumph TR8." That's my recollection of how the buff books put it when they tested their first TR8 in 1980. Essentially a TR7 stuffed with the ex-Buick 3.5-liter aluminum V8 that was then powering the Rover 3500, the new Triumph model was the first volume produced, V8-powered, open British sports car since the Sunbeam Tiger of the mid-1960s.
Like Earth shoes, pet rocks and other inexplicably dopey fads of the time, wedge styling was all the rage in the mid-1970s. This was especially true on the other side of the Atlantic, most notably in the Lotus Esprit and Lancia Stratos. But it was Triumph that took the doorstop look to the extreme when it introduced the TR7 for the 1976 model year. Legend has it that British Leyland stylist Harris Mann sketched out the original concept on a cocktail napkin. His choice of media may speak volumes about his state of mind at the time.
When Jaguar-Rover-Triumph (the moribund British Leyland's then-current nom de plume) eventually decided to lop off the ungainly top in 1979, it vastly improved the car's looks. Performance was another issue entirely, with the TR7 cruising to 60 mph in all of 11.5 seconds. This lack of power was rectified a year later with the introduction of the TR8, a respectable performer that could make the sprint in the 8-second range, thanks to its 135-hp, emissions control-strangled V8.
Unsurprisingly, the minuscule budget with which Triumph had to work left no room to visually differentiate the TR8 from its predecessor. Most estimates, in fact, place the actual dollar value at somewhere around $98.50 per car-or about the cost of a leather Moto-Lita-style steering wheel, some trendy metallic colors and new vinyl decals.
The interior was also the same as the TR7's, which is to say, devoid of charm. The acres of plastic would look at home in any sedan of the period, and those looking for the cool Smiths gauges and real timber of a TR6 will be sadly disappointed. The low point comes in the plaid seat inserts that look like the double-knit slacks sported by the "wild and crazy" Czech lounge lizards played by Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin on "Saturday Night Live."
On the plus side, the TR8 could be ordered with factory air conditioning that some owners report can actually be made to blow cold. The cockpit was also wide enough to be generally accommodating for most. Even so, just 2,497 examples (including a handful of coupes) were built before JRT pulled the plug on the Triumph marque after just two years of TR8 production.
Behind the wheel, the TR8 acquits itself well. The V8 has a nice burble at idle through its dual exhaust. Underway, the exhaust note remains wonderful, and because of the V8's abundant torque, the car feels faster than it really is. All in all, the engine is actually pretty sweet for something designed for a Buick in the late 1950s.
A reasonably sharp handler on ideal pavement, a stock TR8 will feel distinctly under-tired riding on the same 13-inch alloys that were optional on the TR7. Autocrossers maintain that a set of 15-inch Panasports and modern rubber will do wonders to transform the handling. Although Triumph reverted to a live rear axle after the independent design of the TR6, the unit in the TR8 is reasonably well located and the ride quality of the unibody TR8 is considerably better than the body-on-frame TR6. Still, an open TR8 is anything but stiff.
If you're thinking about buying a TR8, be aware that it and the TR7 are not as well supported by parts suppliers as earlier Triumphs. Normal maintenance items aren't problematic, but trim pieces like original-style seat covers and door panels don't grow on trees. Some body panels can be tough to source as well, so it's best to steer clear of projects. If you are in need of wedge parts, The Roadster Factory ( in Pennsylvania, and Rimmer Bros. ( in the U.K. are the first places to turn.
As would be expected, the hastily developed TR8 is not without issues. First and foremost, following in the rich tradition of the Jensen Interceptor and Sunbeam Tiger, cooling the V8 can be a problem. Fortunately, after over 20 years, most cars have probably been retrofitted with more efficient electric fans or higher capacity radiator cores.
California and late-production cars got Bosch L-Jetronic electronic injection, but the rest were fitted with two ancient Zenith-Stromberg carbs-somewhat shocking considering this was the 1980s. At least these carbs are simple and familiar to a British car mechanic. A Holley conversion existed at one time and this modification is sometimes encountered. Though I've never driven one set up this way, I have to believe that it would be preferable to the factory units.
The other areas of concern are more typical. TR8s are not as rust-prone as earlier Triumphs, however, oxidation is an issue and one that should not be ignored, since the TR8 is a unibody design. Lucas electrical components can cause the occasional headache, but most British car owners are familiar with that. Leaking power steering racks are not uncommon in TR8s, but are reasonably easy to rectify.
TR8 convertible values have been stagnant at about $8k-$10k for a nice driver for as long as anyone can remember. That makes these cars a tremendous bargain, one of the most affordable V8-powered sports cars on the market. And next to some of the contrived modern convertible designs like the BMW Z4 and Toyota MR-2 Spyder, the old cocktail napkin wedge doesn't look so bad after all.

Comments are closed.