was a time when I nearly bought a TR7. Nearly. It was while driving my
first set of wheels, a Spitfire Mk IV, and getting fed up with the unfair
ratio of water inside the car compared to water falling outside. Then there
was the need to regularly rebuild the float chambers every morning when
I got to work, to stop the SU carbs flooding and throwing Petrol all over
the hot exhaust manifold. The fact that it only maintained a state of tune
for a matter of a couple of days at time, wouldn't tick over in traffic
and, if you stalled, the starter motor used to stick so you had to jump
out and bray it with a socket extension, might have had something to do
with it as well. So, you see, my thoughts drifting towards a TR7
were brought about under provocation, your Honour.
The TR7 I went to try at the time was pretty awful. It had no less than three replacement sills on the driver's side during the course of its career, but they had just been put one on top of another so you could hear them rattling when you nudged the sill with your boot. When the car had been its last blow-over re-spray they hadn't bothered to mask up the bumpers, so there was over-spray all over the place. The interesting 1970s' tartan trim needed a strong stomach to climb into first thing on a Monday morning. Oh, and the mechanicals were shot. Needless to say, the leaks, stalls, thump-starting and a bit of hot petrol didn't seem so bad after all and so I stuck with what I'd got. However, if the TR7 had been given the update treatment by Simon Carr and Steve Wilcox, that Spitfire would have hit the classifieds before it even had time to eat a drive-shaft UJ -and it used to get through those at a rate of knots. Simon and Steve, who go under the collective name of S+S Preparations in Ramsbottom, near Bury have appeared in CCC before, back in 1988, when their TR8 conversions began attracting favourable attention. For this latest conversion, however, S+S have not gone for the capacity and grunt of the old Buick V8, but for a four cylinder 2.0 litre engine. Now this might, on the surface, seem little different from the Triumph's standard four cylinder 2.0 litre lump. However, 15 years of development technology separates the two.
"The car really was ahead of its time," Simon explains, "but the engine and transmission was a big disappointment." To try and drag the TR7 kicking and screaming into the 1990s' S+S have replaced the original 8v unit with the 16v l994cc engine from the Rover 820i "We just wanted something that would bring the power plant up to modern times," he continues "This was one of the most modern engines that Rover are using, plus it's fuel injected, which helps bring it up to date."
Not, you understand, that it was a straight swap to shoe horn the Rover engine into that distinctive wedge-shaped nose. For one thing the 820i drives the wheels at the other end from the TR7 and S+S had no plans to convert the Triumph to front-wheel drive......... But the main Problem was the engine's height. It is more of a high-rise than a bungalow and the TR7's bonnet does tend to drop away like a Black Run ski slope. One of S+S's aims was to pack the new engine under there without any unsightly bulges and this they've achieved, maintaining smoothness of line with the ease of a tight corset. "It took a lot of playing about to get it all to line up. "Simon adds 'lt turned out to be a lot bigger job than we anticipated"
No cutting and shutting was needed to the inner wings of the car itself,
but new mountings were made up, plus a new
The main sticking point then was the sump being a tight fit up against the steering rack, but alterations to the sump itself have given everything enough elbow room. The car still has reasonable ground clearance, managing to climb over the ruts into a remote fell side car park without losing vital bits of its anatomy in the Process.
The new double overhead cam power unit, when slotted into the Rover 800 Series, comes complete with a three-way controlled catalytic convener. S+S have not fitted this to their car, although they are more than happy that it can be done and it will run an unleaded fuel. internally the engine has remained unchanged, just having a K&N filter grafted on. All the electronic ignition system from the Rover has also been retained.
Cooling for the engine is provided by an uprated TR8 spec radiator, with electric fans, on mountings to match. "If anything the radiator is a bit too uprated," he reports "The temperature gauge doesn't get over a quarter. You can leave it going in traffic and it never overheats, the fan rarely cuts in."
The transmission of the standard TR7 was always one of its failing points, "When they first came out they had a four speed gearbox out of the Marina which used to whine away even from new and it gave the car a bad name from the start," Simon comments "The last dropheads are a really nice car to buy and they don't fetch a lot, but give a dog a bad name and it never gets rid of it."
The S+S TR7 has a five-speed gearbox from the Rover SD1, attached to the Rover engine using a Sherpa van bellhousing, backplate and clutch. "The Sherpa's got the same bottom end and it all mates up great." After experimenting with a variety of different ratios, they have plumbed for the standard TR7 back axle and diff. "We tried a high ratio one before, but it was too high, there was no go in it at all - typical twin cam characteristics, nothing low down."
The suspension has also been brought up to TR8 spec, adding 2001b road springs all round, Spax adjustable shock absorbers, and uprated bushes. The brakes have not been altered in size from the standard items, but Ml7l pads have been put in at the front, and the wheel cylinders and rear linings have been beefed up.
Of course you can't just bung a new engine, gearbox and suspension onto any old dog and expect it to do new tricks. S+S wanted to end up with a car that would be good as new. Fortunately they already had a white TR7 convertible that had been brought in from the States a few years earlier and been bodily restored. S+S Pride themselves on the thorough standard of their work, stripping all cars in for a complete respray right back to a bare metal shell. Their very well-equipped workshop facilities include a Celette Churchill body jig - designed especially for the TR7 - and a heated spray booth.
The car was also converted to right hand drive. "Properly," Simon adds. "There are some where there are still holes left in the bulkhead, but you can't really tell this has been done." Having decided that this car was going to be a bit of a show Piece, they then began looking around for a good colour to Paint it. What they've come up with is Chrome yellow, which does suit the TR7's shape. At least it won't get referred to as a British Telecom reject now that company have gone to Prime Ministerial grey!
The body has been completely colour coded, including the door handles and bumpers, which helps make it look longer and less stunted than usual. The rear light cluster has been blacked in and the standard steel wheels replaced with a nifty set of 15x7in Compomotive split rim alloys shod with Bridgestone 205/50x15s. At the front S+S have added one of their own chin spoilers, which helps make the nose look less like the thin end of a door stop and, as a bonus, creates a bit of downforce as well. At the rear the boot lid is set off with a neat tail spoiler which comes from another member of the British Leyland family, though Simon was too embarrassed to reveal which one.
Also gone from the car are the front and rear vinyl decals, including the particularly naff laurel wreath from the nose. So the TR7 marked the death of the Triumph TR. line, but there was surely no need to send flowers. Some discreet badging would not go amiss, but it would have to be subtle to avoid looking home-made.
The only thing that looks home-made about the inferior is the actual plastic dashboard, which is about the only thing that is common to the standard car. "The interior was well designed, if was just badly carried out," Simon remarks. "We feel that if they had produced a car up to this standard all the way along they would have had a winner".
Gone are the original seats and that 'orrible tartan trim, replaced with Corbeau GTA recliners in black leather. The door panels are now stitched leather too, and this car had a good quality hood rather than a vinyl affair. The TR7 is one of the few convertibles of its era that looks really good with the hood up. The best thing Triumph did with the original car was chop the roof off.
Electric windows substitute the manual window winders. S+S have also
added central locking, operated by the Gemini remote control alarm, which
Out on the open road you are aware that this is not an all-muscle conversion. You cannot spin the back wheels in every gear change and rip cat's eyes out of the tarmac with this car, but that was not the idea. Simon and Steve just set out to build a modern version with a more efficient, up-to-date power train and improved standard of trim. Even so the performance is better than the old lump. According to RE Performance Centre's rolling road report, the 820i engine puts out 116bhp at the rear wheels at 5200rpm. This compares favourably with the 80bhp available from the original car. S + S reckon that the top speed will be up around the 130+ mph mark, but we didn't put this to the test on the twisty roads round Ramsbottom.
The engine is comparatively quiet on the induction and exhaust side. It turns heads more for its clean condition and blinding paintwork than for the growl from the engine bay when you blip the throttle to change down in towns, but there is a quite annoying whistle from the K&N filter. It is very different from the V8 conversions to drive, much less torquey.
Apply the throttle steadily, however, and the needles on the rev counter and speedo climb with pleasing rapidity. In fact, the car is deceptively quick. If you have a quick thrash through the country and then trail the throttle to gradually lose momentum coming into a speed restriction, you'll probably find you're still doing too much. Trying to keep to a 30mph village speed limit felt like a slow crawl. The presence of police motorcyclists with radar guns helps concentrate the mind wonderfully, though.
There is little wind noise and you don't get buffeted about with the hood down unless you break the air flow by sticking your elbow out of the window. The Corbeau seats don't sit you as low as the originals. With them, all you could see of the driver over the door was their head. This is an improvement for the under-tall, like me, but real long-bottoms will probably miss the lower seating position, especially with the hood up.
The steering was direct without being too heavy, but there was a good deal of thump passed up to your arms. Uneven road surfaces caused the suspension to crash and bang quite a bit at low speeds too, and if you hit lumps on corners you could feel the whole thing shimmy sideways. The brakes are very confidence inspiring, if rather dead at the pedal, but well up to the job.
So, what does this transformation cost? Well, Simon reckons that this complete car stands at around £11,000. If you drive your own vehicle into their workshop you can drive it out again complete with engine, gearbox, brakes and suspension with your pocket about £4500 lighter. "What we've done with this is take what was really a sub-standard car and brought it up to something more like a TVR in every way." If only Triumph had done the same thing.