Triumph Dolomite Sprint vs BMW 2002tii - The 2002 We Never Knew

A. J. Mueller

As far as we Americans could tell, the British weren't going down fighting; the forward-thinking industrial enterprises and engineering wizards that had managed to captivate us in the 1950s and 1960s were now mysteriously going dark. The wedge-tastic Triumph TR7 of 1975 was not without interest - its optional five-speed gearbox and well-located rear axle seemed modern - and actually sold pretty well, although indifferent build quality would quickly lay its reputation low. With its V-8 engine and sleek lines, the four-seat Triumph Stag of 1970 also seemed a promising entry, but just about every one of them blew a head gasket on the maiden run home from the dealer.

And so came the view that if you wanted a reliable, sporting ride, you'd henceforth be buying German, or possibly even Japanese. Britain had run out of gas, er, petrol. While BMW had courageously faced adversity down, Mother England was taking a powder. The automobile industries of both nations had known adversity. But, the story goes, the war-ravaged German company successfully capitalized on the popularity of the microcars it had been reduced to building in the 1950s. In the '60s, the boxy but impressively competent 1500 and 2000 gave birth to the 1600 and the 2002, which were able to expand BMW's forward momentum and keep it going. These cars' success funded the 2500, in turn giving us the 3-series, the 5-series, and the many other cash-spinning delights that have since cemented BMW's reputation as the world's preferred sport sedan, or, as the company has it, the Ultimate Driving Machine.

Meanwhile, the British were busy sticking rubber bumpers on crappy sports cars with boat-anchor engines, lever shocks, and body pressings dating back to the 1950s.

But the truth is that the British industry was a lot closer to getting the future right than we in America ever knew. Its engineers actually performed remarkable feats on shoestring budgets, relying on pure smarts rather than huge volumes or mighty capital investments to achieve near-wonders. And Triumph, one of many former self-sustainers that were part of troubled British Leyland, came remarkably close to pulling off the exact same miracle that BMW achieved, in terms of technology and in terms of correctly identifying the fertile field of upmarket yet relatively affordable sedans with serious sporting credentials. For reasons of brokeness, inept management, labor intransigence, and internecine corporate squabbling, some of BL's cars fell just shy of hitting the mark, and the ones that hit it never got to the States. Triumph, in short, could have - and should have - been BMW.

Jamie, thanks for this article; one of the best car articles I've read in a long time. You're making me want a classic British car for my own, headaches and all.

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