Can (and Should) This 1979 Triumph TR7 Be Saved?
On the latest episode of Wheeler Dealers, flipping this British "classic" might be a stretch.
British sports cars have a well-deserved reputation for indestructible build quality and stolid reliability, and the Triumph TR7 is possibly the crown jewel of them all. Between Triumph's reputation for building affordable and credible sporting cars and motorcycles, coupled with the "Shape of Things to Come" styling, the 1979 Triumph TR7 was one of the greatest sales successes of its time and segment. This flaming orange example, still with its original Zenith carburetors (maybe not where you'd expect them), is coming to the Wheeler Dealers garage for the sorting out it deserves and direly needs.
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Okay, we can't keep it up anymore. There are only two true statements in that first paragraph, namely that Triumph made affordable sports cars and still makes fantastic motorcycles. Famous for reliability and sales success, they ain't. Even so, Mike Brewer couldn't be happier with his recently purchased and very orange 1979 Triumph TR7—a stark contrast to Ant Anstead's reaction on the latest episode of Wheeler Dealers. Anstead intensely dislikes the TR7, and is far from excited to see Mike show up with this particular orange wedge of sports-car cheese on a trailer. And that was before he found the Zenith carburetors in a box in the trunk, instead of bolted to the intake where they should be.
Triumph TR7: Right Car, Wrong Time
The TR7 was exactly what the British population needed, but it launched when they were the least receptive to it. The 1970s were a difficult time in many countries around the globe, and in Great Britain regular auto union and sanitation strikes with rolling blackouts made the atmosphere, well, not as cheery as that of the 1960s. British auto manufacturers in general were struggling to keep up with the advancing technology coming out of Japan and elsewhere in Europe, and while British sports cars still sold reasonably well, most designs were getting very long in the tooth.
In a last-ditch effort to save the car company, Triumph came up with the radical wedge-shaped TR7, which many Britains took as an affront to traditional sports-car styling. The TR7 and TR8 (that's the V-8-powered version) were the last cars Triumph ever made, which is a complete shame because, despite its polarizing styling, the TR7 was one of the best cars the firm produced.
The TR7 is possibly the most agile Triumph, and the 86-hp, twin-Zenith-carbureted inline-four has enough grunt to propel the 2,200-pound package. Ignoring that its body is a literal wedge dividing fans and detractors, the TR7 is a quintessential sports car: two seats, folding top, engine in front, drive out back, as few controls as possible inside. Unlike some of its domestic and foreign competitors, the interior of the TR7 was very well laid out and comfortable. The convertible top didn't even leak, mostly! That's like an old 454 Chevy truck getting double-digit gas mileage—it can be done, but you've never heard of anyone actually doing it.
But even in the best of times, British cars were never known for their reliability and build quality. At a failing company like Triumph, during some very hard and lean years for British auto workers, build quality suffered even more and early production runs of the TR7 were delayed. Ultimately, that was the end for Triumph and its sports cars.
Is the TR7 Worth Saving?
Mike Brewer knows what he's getting into with an old British lump, especially a Triumph TR7; he admits the only reason he's looking at this one is because it's cheap. Cheap usually means issues, and while the angular body is clean enough and could look good with a bit of elbow grease, the ride is bad, the wiring is a rat's nest, and the previous owner couldn't figure out how to tune and sync the twin Zenith carburetors and backyard-engineered a single Solex and a very interesting air cleaner setup that now robs the zippy little engine of nearly all its power. But it's cheap!
Ant Anstead is all for the weekend warrior digging in and troubleshooting their car issues, but the things done to this TR7 are just criminal. And Ant hates the TR7, swearing he would never in his life own one. But Mike is forcing his hand here, so if Anstead he's going to do the job, he's doing it right. That means rebuilding the original twin Zenith carbs the previous owner had the foresight to keep, sorting out the outright dangerous wiring, and figuring out what is hampering the ride quality. Ant can do the work, but will Mike be able to sell the TR7 for a profit?
Photos courtesy of Discovery