1970-1977 Triumph Stag


A funny thing happened on the way to this story. Originally, we were going to treat the Triumph Stag's legacy as just another flawed British car with limited collector appeal in the U.S. -- and low asking prices to match. Then we checked some value guides and found not only unusual unanimity of opinion, but prices that aren't so cheap. Would you believe $10,000 or more for a top-nick original?

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1972 Triumph Stag
This 1972 Triumph Stag is one of only 2,871, from
the car's entire seven-year run, built for the U.S. market.
See more pictures of Triumphs.

The things are even dearer in Britain, where, as Mick Walsh observed in the October 2003 issue of Classic & Sports Car magazine, "[T]he Stag boasts the largest one-model owners' club in the UK and the reputation as 'the most stolen classic car.' " Word there is that a good Stag can fetch up to 15,000 quid -- about $24,000 in our money -- but then we all know how the English love the products of their native motor industry, weird and wonderful alike.

In any case, we were surprised by this market strength. After all, as a new car, the Stag was rather costly -- initially $5,525 in the U.S. -- yet was indifferently built and far from a neck-snapper dynamically or visually. This explains the two rather unflattering sobriquets it has acquired over the years: "Triumph's Edsel" and "Snag." So why the semi-lofty values now? Low production, for a start: just 25,877 in all, of which 6,780 were earmarked for export. Of those, a mere 2,871 were built for U.S. sale, which began in July 1972 and ended barely 24 months later.

Then too, there's nothing else quite like a Stag. Though it's been likened to a half-price Mercedes SL with a back seat, only Austin Powers would think it truly "shagadelic." Sporty, yes, but no TR. Not that this Triumph was meant to be a true sports car. It was, rather, conceived as a posh "gentleman's tourer," a sort of British Thunderbird. The Stag even had a V-8, one of the few born and bred in the postwar UK.

Another collectibility factor is the Stag's literal uniqueness. Though it began as a convertible version of Tri­umph's large 2000 sedan series of the Sixties and Seventies, the Stag ended up sharing few parts with any other Triumph -- or anything else in the sprawling British Leyland (BL) stable. Con­sid­ering that the 1968 wedding of Leyland-Rover-Triumph and British Motor Corporation ranks as the auto industry's all-time merger from hell (at least before DaimlerChrysler, maybe), it's remarkable the Stag made it to production at all.

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Triumph Stag's Development History

In addition to its surprising value as a collectible car, the Triumph Stag's development history is also interesting, the sort of tale that is sometimes the only reason a car becomes collectible.

The Stag drama opened in 1963 with Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti, who'd recently penned Triumph's then-new TR4 and Spitfire sports cars as well as the just-introduced 2000 sedan. "Micho" was a close friend of Triumph engineering supremo Harry Webster, and asked Webster to give him one of the new big saloons for building a show car to promote his design talents. The following year, Web­ster provided a worn prototype with the understanding that if he liked the finished car, Michelotti would keep it secret and sell it to Triumph.

Webster did like it, paid Michelotti for his trouble, and had the car -- a four-seat convertible on a shortened 2000 chassis -- shipped to Triumph's Coventry headquarters, where the company "kept it on ice for some time," as Graham Robson and Richard Langworth relate in Triumph Cars: The Complete 75-Year History. "It was the usual problem of priorities, and money to tool it," Webster recalled. But things were better sorted by early 1966, and Webster began lobbying for the convertible. So did British Leyland (BL) managing director Sir Donald Stokes, who, if anything, was even more enthusiastic than Webster.

The idea certainly had appeal. At the time, open four-seaters were uncommon among British and Continental manufacturers, and Webster felt Micho's attractive full-convertible styling would assure success. Of course, price, performance, equipment, and refinement had to be just right, because the new model would compete in the European luxury class, a market with which Triumph had seldom bothered.

After surveying likely demand in several countries, America included, BL planners calculated worldwide sales at around 12,000 a year on tooling costs of 2.3 million sterling. With that, Triumph's new droptop tourer got the go-ahead by year's end as Project Stag, a name chosen for no particular reason but which stuck anyway.

Development proceeded under Spen King, who replaced Webster when the latter was promoted to head BL's high-volume Austin-Morris division. Launch was ambitiously set for 1968, but it was not to be, owing to numerous unex­pected, er, snags.

One of the thorniest problems involved engines. Two were proposed: an upsized version of the TR's hoary 2.1-liter straight six, and a new 2.5-liter V-8 that would be formed by joining two of Triumph's new overhead-cam slant fours. The four was the core of a new Triumph engine family devised in 1963 by engineer Lewis Dawtry. (Inter­estingly, the first car to use this engine was not a Triumph but a new flagship Saab, the 99, introduced in 1966. But that's another story altogether.) Though he envisioned a standard displacement of 1.5 liters, the design was amenable to bore/stroke variations giving up to 2.0 liters. The same ap­plied, of course, to a "double four."

One of Triumph's new colleagues from the merger, Rover, had a V-8 too: the 3.5-liter unit it acquired from General Motors, which had devised it for early Sixties "senior compacts" like the Buick Special. But prideful Triumph engineers said this engine wouldn't fit the Stag, a claim later roundly disproved by a number of private conversions. The Triumph chaps might have also argued that their V-8 was the better choice for being more modern than Rover's: an overhead-cam design versus overhead-valve, and with cylinder heads rendered in weight-saving aluminum instead of old-fashioned cast iron.

Ultimately, planners discarded any idea of using a six and ordered the Triumph V-8 taken out to 3.0 liters to overcome the comparatively weak torque of the 2.5 version. To cope with the extra twist, King decreed a stronger gearbox and final drive, plus bigger brakes and 14-inch wheels instead of 13s. Trouble was, the 2000 sedan engine bay had been designed for an inline engine, so substituting a 90-degree V-8 meant considerable reworking there, adding time and expense to the car's development.

Otherwise, the Stag's rear-drive chassis mimicked that of its sedan parent, though wheelbase was trimmed six inches to an even 100. Unibody construction was retained, as was an all-coil independent suspension with front MacPherson struts and antiroll bar, and subframe-mounted rear semitrailing arms. Brakes were front disc/rear drum, steering power-assisted rack-and-pinion.

The Michelotti styling created some snags of its own. For example, the prototype hid its headlights behind slatted doors that slid electrically on tracks by cable. This mechanism easily froze in cold weather and was soon junked for an orthodox face with exposed lights. While this also saved some money, there was no way to economize by sharing body panels with the sedan, not with unique front and rear ends and the two-door, short-wheelbase format.

A more serious problem was structural floppiness. As Webster told Britain's Motor magazine in 1978, handbuilt prototypes "suffered from the most horrendous scuttle shake. ... The torsional stiffness of the [sedan] body had gone to hell, of course, and the only way to get it back was to join the A- and B-posts with a good torsional box across the top." Thus the Stag's effective but ungainly superstructure "hoop" with a T-bar brace to the windshield header.

Fixed door-window frames went on for good measure and cradled standard power glass. Interestingly, one British magazine later claimed that actual body stiffness was such that the T-bar could be unbolted without ill effect, but one tends to be skeptical of such statements about convertibles carved from sedans.

Equally disputable is the claim from some quarters that the T-bar was a hedge against anticipated U.S. regulations for rollover crash protection in open cars. While protecting occupants may have been a motive, the Stag's superstructure had nothing to do with Washington, which didn't seriously threaten such legislation until some time after Stag sales commenced.

As one might expect, Triumph looked closely at the popular Mercedes SL in developing the Stag, which accounts for the manual soft top that dropped conveniently into a GM-style lidded well behind the back seat. Michelotti drew an airy SL-inspired hardtop at Triumph's request, and this became a regular fac­tory option priced at about $250 in the States. Like the SL's, the Stag's lift-off roof needed two WWE types to manage, but did wonders for appearance.

Suddenly it was 1968, yet the Stag was nowhere near ready for production. Worse, Triumph now had to contend not only with the confusion of the bloated BL bureaucracy, but also a needed update of its five-year-old big sedans. Accordingly, Stag work was slowed while Michelotti facelifted the saloons with Stag-like noses and tails. These Mark II models bowed in 1969, a full year before the Stag, so they undoubtedly diluted the styling impact of the new image-leading drophead.

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1970-1972 Triumph Stag

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.

1971 Triumph Stag
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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1973-1977 Triumph Stag

The Stag saw relatively few changes during its seven-year life span. Perhaps the most important was the February 1973 debut of a Mark II version for the 1973-1977 Triumph Stag with numerous minor updates, including reduced compression and a revised interior with changed seats and a smaller steering wheel.

1973 Triumph Stag
The lack of rear-quarter windows mark this
1973 Triumph Stag as one built for the States.

Only a handful of these Stags reached the U.S. and can be identified by the absence of rear-quarter windows in the soft top. (Subsequent changes to the home-market Stags included brushed-aluminum sill covers, standard alloy wheels and tinted glass, and a return to painting the rear panel body color -- instead of black -- in 1975; and a switch to an improved optional Borg-Warner automatic transmission in 1976.)

Upholstery was always vinyl, though it looked nice, and real wood covered the dash from day one. For the car's size, there was ample luggage space in the fully carpeted trunk. The Stag also offered oft-praised ergo­nomics and a high level of standard equipment. The only major options besides the removable roof were air conditioning (about $500 here) and an AM/FM radio. U.S. Stags even included genuine wire wheels.

Something else to know: Given proper care, the Stag is little prone to rust and suffers few electrical gremlins -- downright surprising for a Seventies Brit, let alone a British Leyland product. Be aware, however, that Triumph switched to a lesser grade of body steel after 1972, mainly to save money, so the tinworm is more of a concern on 1973-1977 Triumph Stag models.

As for the unwanted rear-end sway under hard acceleration, chronicled in reviews by magazines such as Road & Track, it can be all but eliminated with harder polyurethane rear-subframe bushings. That fix was developed by Tony Hart of the aftermarket company Hart Racing Services, who over the years has also made the Stag V-8 what Triumph could not. For a price, he will not only rebuild your engine but modernize it with electronic ignition. He also offers a four-branch manifold with Holley carburetor giving 170-180 cool, reliable horses on unleaded fuel.

We mention all this because Yankee Stag fanciers will likely need to contact someone like Tony Hart -- assuming they can find a decent car in this country at all. An estimated 9,000 Stags survive in Britain, but there can't be many left here. The same goes for parts.

If you're lucky, though, a Stag seems worth fixing up and holding on to. It's ­no thriller and won't likely ever return real money, but it is pleasant and slightly amusing, possessed of that special Brit­ish quirkiness that some folks, including us, find hard to resist. Rather like Austin Powers, in fact. Groovy, baby!

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1971-1973 Triumph Stag Specifications

The Triumph Stag of the 1970s was never known as a speed demon (or a particularly graceful performer, for that matter). However, it did have adequate power and mechanicals, for its level of the market. Here are selected 1971-1973 Triumph Stag specifications.

1972 Triumph Stag V-8
As modified for the United States, the Stag's
V-8 put out 127 horsepower.

General

Wheelbase (in.) 100.0
Overall length (in.) 173.8
Overall height (in.) 49.5
Overall width (in.) 73.5
Curb weight (lbs) 2,795
Tread, front/rear (in.) 52.5/52.9
Fuel tank (gal) 16.8
Construction layout front-engine, rear drive
Type unitized body with fixed midbody T-bar
Body material steel

Powertrain
Engine type 90-degree ohc V-8
Material cast-iron block, aluminum heads
Bore and stroke (in./mm) 3.39/86x2.54/64.5
Displacement (cu. in./cc) 182.9/2,997
Horsepower (SAE/DIN) 127/145
Torque (lb-ft, SAE/DIN) 142/170
Compression ratio 8.8:1
Main bearings 5
Carburetors twin 1-barrel Stromberg
Standard transmission 4-speed manual with overdrive*, floor-mounted shifter
Optional transmission Borg-Warner 3-speed automatic with torque converter, floor-mounted shifter
Final-drive ratio 3.70:1

* Overdrive optional prior to October 1972.

Suspension

front independent with MacPherson struts, antiroll bar, coil springs, tubular shock absorbers
Rear independent with semitrailing arms, coil springs, tubular shock absorbers

Steering and Brakes
Steering type rack and pinion with power-assist
Turns, lock-to-lock 4
Turning circle (ft) 33
Brake type 4-wheel hydraulic front disc/rear drum
Brake diameter, front/rear (in.) 10.6/9.0
Total swept area (sq in.) 347

Tires and Wheels
Wheel size (in.) 5.5x14
Tire size 185HR14

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