Despite a seven-year struggle to bring the car to showrooms, the Stag met a warm British-market reception on its debut in June 1970. But to Triumph's dismay, feelings about the 1970-1972 Triumph Stag cooled once reports of engine maladies began flooding in.
The Triumph Stag, shown here as a 1971, had
engine trouble almost as soon as it hit the market.
Timing chains broke regularly after just 25,000 miles, the aluminum heads were often improperly torqued to the cast-iron block, cranks and main bearings were insufficiently case-hardened, and head gaskets blew from chronic overheating, the result of head corrosion that could choke radiators.
Tony Hart, whose Hart Racing Services began assisting UK owners even before the Stag's demise, told Britain's Classic Cars magazine in 1998 that the "BL maintenance schedule didn't even tell you to flush the cooling system and keep antifreeze in the engine, which is essential when you have an alloy head." Over here, Road & Track, in its 1971 test, complained of ill-fitting hard and soft tops, numb steering, and reluctant shifting with the optional Borg-Warner three-speed automatic.
Road & Track's Stag did 11.5 seconds 0-60 mph, the standing quarter-mile in 18.5 at 75 mph, and 112 all out. Other sources reported the standard four-speed manual gearbox chopped a second off that time, added three mph at the top, and made for more relaxed cruising with its optional overdrive on third and fourth, a feature standardized from October 1972.
Curiously, Road & Track's results were typical of Stag performance even though lower compression and other emissions-reducing measures left U.S. models with only 127 SAE net horses against 145 DIN and 142 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm versus 170 at 3,500.
Then again, the Stag was never supposed to have blazing speed or demon cornering. This was a car for ambling about town and country in comfortable, well-appointed style. Yes, it was supposed to be dynamically well-rounded, but not the ultimate in any one area.
Even so, Road & Track found Stag handling and roadholding quite good despite the anodyne steering and an occasional tendency for the rear end to do a little side step on throttle liftoff after hard acceleration. "[T]he Stag combines a good ride with its good roadholding; the suspension is supple, neither too firm nor too soft." And get this: "The body structure is adequately rigid, impressively so for its moderate weight -- and generally rattlefree, so that rough road driving is not a traumatic experience."
Summing up, Road & Track felt the Stag may "find its greatest potential market among those who want an SL but can't afford it. With upgraded assembly quality, improved power steering and a little recalibration work on the brakes [to prevent rear lockup] the Stag could fill that niche nicely, but as it stands it has too many distracting irritations to be a really satisfying car even after its basic character is accepted."
That, of course, is from the harsh perspective of a new-car review. More than 30 years on, the Stag somehow seems to have transcended its original image as a poor folks' SL. British writer Roger Bell looked back on it as "one of Leyland's more endearing misfits." We think that's part of the explanation for the Stag's current collector appeal and strengthening values.
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