The Standard Motor Company’s Triumph division built its fortunes on selling sports cars to the world and in particular to the United States.
Much of its success was down to the contribution of master stylist Giovanni Michelotti, so when in 1966 he asked for a 2000 sedan to turn into a soft-top show car, Triumph happily sent him an old and tired test ‘mule’.
Eighteen months later the result was ready and impressed Triumph management so much they authorised its adaption into a production model. However as was often the case, corporate rivalries intervened and by 1970 when the Stag was ready for market it had gained a distinctive but ungainly ‘T-Bar’ roll cage and an engine that was destined to deliver numerous problems.
‘Stag’ was the in-house project name for the car and in production it stuck. The roll bar was included probably as a cheap way of achieving rigidity but officially because Triumph believed the US market would soon require them.
Britain saw its first Stags late in 1970 with North American sales commencing a few months later. Australia needed to wait until 1972, by which time alarm bells regarding engine reliability were making an immense racket. However, local dealers were apparently not given any special service instructions.
Had Triumph management displayed a gram of commonsense, it would have set rivalry aside and used the 3.5-litre alloy V8 from stable-mate Rover. That however would have suggested a lack of developmental nous within Triumph’s ranks and threatened the brand’s autonomy. Instead it joined two 1.5-litre four cylinder engines from the Toledo around a common crankshaft.
The V8 was of sound design but too little time had been spent testing and remedying issues with the cooling system which, especially in hot climates, was inadequate. Less than a year after the Stag’s release, dealers were reporting engine failures due to excessive heat and corrosion of the alloy cylinder heads. Timing chain failures were also reported; allowing pistons and valves to meet. Various cures were proposed but regular and scrupulous cooling system maintenance is the most effective. Some owners who loved their Stags but hated the engine woes paid big money to have the Triumph V8 replaced by a Rover 3.5 or Leyland 4.4-litre. These engines, being lighter, required front springs to be re-set and other alterations and in the end, the change achieved little except to devalue the cars.
Early Stags came to Australia as a soft-top with steel ‘Rostyle’wheels. Most cars sold here from late-1973 are the Mark 2 versions with sills in black, a hardtop and coach-lines painted the length of the body. Manual cars, should any survive, have later ‘J Type overdrive but the majority sold here were three-speed automatics. Prices began in 1972 at around $8000 and during the ensuing five years increased by 75 per cent. However, sales at the end of the Stag’s local tenure seemed better than in the early days.
For 1976, body embellishments included stainless-steel sill covers – renowned as rust traps – alloy wheels and better carpets.In 1977 the long-serving Borg-Warner Type 35 automatic was replaced by the Type 65 which was being used throughout Leyland’s range. Excellent cars are reasonably easy to acquire – head to a display of British cars and ask around – and virtually all of them will sell for less than $30,000.
(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)
SMART BUYER’S TROUBLESHOOTING
1970 - 1978
Solid construction with a minimum of rust traps has helped Triumphs survive for longer than many British designs, but time and neglect eventually take a toll. Check wheel-arches for filler, bubbling around the windscreen, sills and floors. More serious problems affect top suspension strut mounts and attachment points for the rear axle assembly. Make sure that the bonnet closes squarely and the boot seal isn’t damaged and allowing water to collect in the boot or spare-wheel well. Body panels and rust repair sections are available from UK suppliers but here they will usually need to be sourced secondhand.
Overheating destroyed many Stag engines and replacement blocks are hard to find. New internals are available but bearing noise might mean the crank journals have been ground once too often. Ensuring engine health demands an annual reverse flush of the cooling system and new coolant. Timing chain quality has improved but if you buy one and the chains haven’t been recently replaced, do it for peace of mind and thereafter every 40,000 kilometres. A bigger radiator than standard and thermo-fans help deal with Australian summers. Manual/ overdrive Stags aren’t common here and make sure the engine speed drops when O/D is engaged. Two different automatic transmissions were used and both are easily overhauled or replaced.
Stag suspension is based on the proven design used for years prior in 2000/2500 models and simple to maintain. The only major weakness is sliding-joint half-shafts which seize if not regularly greased. These may have been modified by a Triumph specialist to take the more durable Datsun shafts. Listen for clicks and clunks from the rear when accelerating or cornering. Worn bushes send road shock through the steering wheel, notchy power steering points to a rack that needs reconditioning. Low-profile tyres and wheels with the wrong offset put strain on other components and at the rear can cause tyres to rub on the body or suspension components.
Seat trim kits are available from Triumph specialists or can be matched by a trimmer if the splits aren’t extensive. Brand-new carpet sets, sunvisors and door seals are also available. Dash veneer will split with age and heat exposure and UK suppliers ask around $1000 for kits of replacement veneer in various finishes. Check whether a car with a hardtop also comes with a soft top and inspect it for damage. Soft-top coverings in various material are available but not frames. Some people remove the rear seat to add storage space so make sure it comes with the car.
NUMBER MADE: 25,939
BODY: all-steel combined body/ chassis two-door convertible
ENGINE: 2997cc V8 with overhead valves, twin down-draft carburettors
POWER & TORQUE: 109kW @ 5700rpm 226Nm @ 3500rpm
PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h 11.4 seconds 0-400 metres 18.1 seconds
SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, MacPherson struts, lower control arms, anti-roll bar (f) Independent with trailing arms, coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers (r)
BRAKES: disc (f) drum (r), power assisted
TYRES: 185/70HR14 radial