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Can’t find a clean used TR8? Why not build your own.

By Richard Truett
 

Woodward Avenue in Detroit is unlike any other road in the United States and the probably the world. In April each year, the toys of summer -- nearly every antique, classic, hot rod, muscle car and sports car ever made -- can be seen patrolling a 20-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue from the Detroit city limits north to Pontiac. In the evening people set up chairs on each side of Woodward and watch 100 years of automotive history roll by. This weekend ritual goes on until late September.

Make no mistake about it: the heart of the Motor City still beats most passionately for its awesome 1960’s and ‘70 muscle cars. That’s why it’s extra special when, at a stoplight on Woodward, a man in a huge SUV in the next lane, leans out the window, looks at my 1982 Triumph TR8 and says:

“I haven’t seen one of those in years. Wow! That’s a true classic.”

For more than 15 years, I have been an admirer the Triumph TR8. I love the styling, which has held up extremely well for a 1970s car. I like the fact that it was Triumph’s last sports car, that it has a powerful, lightweight V-8 under the hood and that there aren’t too many around. The TR8 has everything going for it that makes it a fun car to drive as well as a smart investment.

I set out about a year ago to find a clean, reliable and sensibly priced TR8. Having studied the market, I budgeted between $6,500 and $10,000 for a clean, original car. I spent six months looking and occasionally test driving TR8s. And even though I never found one that was in good enough condition or priced right, there is a TR8 in my garage at this moment.

I ended up with a TR8 that goes faster, handles sharper and stops better than any that ever left the factory. And, more importantly, I got it for less money than used TR8s are selling for.

How? I converted a TR7 to TR8 specs. This is something anyone can do as long as he or she is good with a wrench and knows to ask the right questions. I used all original British Leyland parts. Even the most knowledgeable Triumph historian wouldn’t be able to look at my car and easily determine that it came into this world Wednesday, Sept. 30th 1981 with a four-cylinder engine under the hood.

Many Triumph enthusiasts put V-8 engines -- Rover or otherwise -- into TR7s. Those are known as TR7 V-8s. But that was not my goal. I wanted a real TR8 that was true to what Triumph engineers had in mind when they were developing the car. Nights and weekends were spent sifting through engineering drawings, repair manuals and spare parts catalogs. I looked at each system of the car that would be affected by the engine change: Fuel, cooling, suspension, electrical and cosmetic. Then I made a detailed list of every single thing I would need for a complete and accurate bolt-up swap. No rigging. No backyard engineering. My car had to be real. Surprisingly, I discovered that all the parts are available -- most new. I also found that this is not a complicated job, which helps explains why a mini cottage industry has sprung up in England and the U.S. catering to TR enthusiasts who want to put Rover engines in their TR7s.

After I had the list of parts and added up what it would cost, I was astounded. It appeared that it would be possible to build a TR8 with a complete new upgraded suspension system, stronger brakes and a fresh, more powerful Rover engine for less money than I could buy a respectable used stock TR8.

But to put my theory to the test, I first I needed a car. And that appeared in December on eBay in the form a 1982 TR7 convertible made in the last week of TR7 and TR8 production. The car was the 168th to the last TR ever built, and one of perhaps only 75 or so that got a 1982 VIN number. Only cars built for the Canadian market were given 1982 VINs. The TR7, in cashmere gold metallic with tan velour interior, was located about 250 miles away in Toronto, Canada. I bought it for just over $2,300. It had only 54,000 original miles, never any rust, detailed maintenance records from new and the interior was in good shape. The suspension was worn out and the engine needed a tune-up. No big deal. These things would be replaced anyway.

Then I needed a Rover V-8 engine. Here’s where you can really have some fun with building a TR8. Many good things have happened to the Rover V-8 engine since the last TR8 was built. The TR8’s original 3.5-liter made about 133-horsepower. In 1989, Rover added larger pistons which increased displacement to 3.9-liters and boosted horsepower to 188 in the Range Rover and Discovery. In the U.S., many Land Rover buyers replace these 3.9-liter engines with newer, more powerful 4.2 or 4.6-liter engines, so there are plenty of complete 3.9s available. Once again, I turned to eBay. Sure enough, right after I started looking a shop in Colorado put three up for auction. I chose a clean 1991 3.9-liter with just 50,000 miles. I paid $950 for the engine and for shipping to Detroit.

Then I spent another $1,000 having McLaren Performance Engines here in Detroit rebuild it. McLaren, famous in the U.S. for its race car engines and high-performance Ford Mustangs, made some tweaks to the engine and cylinder heads for better performance. Plus, they balanced the pistons, rods, flywheel and crank. I used higher compression pistons, a decent street cam, a Holley carburetor, Edelbrock intake, headers and a free-flow exhaust system to get horsepower up to about 250. That’s plenty for the TR8’s chassis, brakes and suspension system. Total cost of the engine and rebuild: $3,000. Total investment so far: $5,300.

Thanks to the Internet, finding the unique TR8 parts went much smoother and faster than I envisioned. To do the TR7 to TR8 conversion properly using factory parts, you need TR8 alloy wheels, a Rover V-8 bellhousing for the TR7’s five speed transmission, a TR8 subframe and the power steering system. I found all of these items for $900.

The whole project, in fact, hinged on the power steering system. I would not have contemplated the conversion if I could not fit my car with a factory TR8 power steering system. That to me is the difference between a TR8 and a TR7 V-8. Used TR8 power steering racks are as rare as hens teeth and they generally sell for about $600. Plus you’ll pay another $250 to have it rebuilt. But there are deals out there. A complete system, pump, hoses and all, recently sold on eBay for just $382. By the way, the TR7’s manual steering rack fits perfectly onto the TR8’s subframe, so you can always add power later. It?s my feeling you won’t have a real TR8 without the factory power steering, which has a quicker steering ratio than the TR7 rack.

In my garage, I arranged the parts according to each system. While the engine was out being rebuilt, I started the conversion, which took about 8 weeks but could have been done in half the time -- or even less -- had the new engine been ready to install right away.

I broke down the conversion into in four parts:

--Rebuilding the suspension.
--Removing the TR7 engine, subframe and exhaust system and cleaning the engine bay.
--Installing the TR8 subframe and steering rack.
--installing the new TR8 engine, the transmission, the cooling and exhaust systems and then the electrical parts.

Having restored three TR6s, I expected to take a tremendous physical beating doing the TR7 to TR8 conversion. Muscles can get sore fighting with hard to get at nuts and bolts while twisting and contorting under a car. Hands and arms get cut, scraped and slashed. But that never happened. The job went fast and quick with no unforeseen hassles or injuries. The TR7 is much easier to work on than the older TRs.

For the suspension system, I bought a complete package from British Parts Northwest for about $400. It included four lowered, stiffer springs, uprated bushings and KYB shocks and struts. Roadster Factory provided a few other minor suspension parts. While the suspension was in pieces, I also replaced the ball joints, tie rod ends and lower suspension control arms. Working alone, I knocked out the whole job in about 7 hours. No special tools were needed except for a spring compressor that I borrowed from the local auto parts store.

Again working alone, it took a full day to remove the TR7 engine. I felt like a dentist pulling a bad tooth as the TR7 engine rose from its moorings and dangled on the chain at the end of the motor hoist. I had to stop and think: What would Triumph’s history have been had this miserable overhead cam engine not been so troublesome? In V-8 form, it destroyed the classically styled Stag. As a four-cylinder, it helped ruin the TR7’s launch and hobbled an otherwise terrific sports car with a poor reputation that it never did overcome. I was glad to be rid of it.

At exactly 5:47 p.m. on Thursday, April 18th, 2002 Triumph TR chassis number 408366 officially crossed the line and went from being a TR7 to a TR8. It was at that moment that the TR8 subframe and power steering rack were torqued into place. And in my mind, since no other engine would now bolt up, it was a bona fide TR8.

For weeks, I dreaded the V-8 engine installation. At the factory, the chassis was lowered onto the engine, transmission suspension and rear end. Obviously, I couldn’t do that working alone and at home in my driveway. I had to put the motor in from the top, and I was worried. The wedge shape of the car and the small engine bay opening meant the motor would have to go in at a steep angle. But I got advice from TR8 experts Woody Cooper of The Wedge Shop and Ted Schumaker at TS Imports.

I bolted the transmission to the engine so that I could put in the drivetrain as a single unit. I rented an engine hoist with a titling mechanism and, once again working alone, I angled the motor into place using a floor jack under the transmission to orient the drivetrain once it was in the car. The whole job took no more than two hours. There was only one minor modification needed to the body: Four new holes for the transmission crossmember had to be drilled about two inches further back from where the TR7’s holes are located.

Turns out installing the engine and transmission was the easy part. Hooking up the plumbing and electrical systems was another matter. Several wires had to be rerouted and lengthened. I needed a new hydraulic line for the clutch. I ended up using a combination of a TR8 and Range Rover front pulley in order to get the two fan belts to line up. The 3.9-liter has a more efficient water pump which is not compatible with the older front pulley.

Three weeks after the engine was installed, I was ready to fire it up. When the engine barked to life, it sounded awful. There was a horrendous exhaust leak. I traced it to a faulty weld on one of the headers. A few days later, that problem was rectified, and the car was ready for its maiden voyage under V-8 power.

Initially, I was a bit disappointed. The car didn’t feel that quick from the start. But after I got the timing set and carburetor adjusted properly, the car turned out to be plenty fast off the line. After 1000 or so miles, the engine has loosened up a bit. And with the mild street cam, the power comes on at 3,000 RPM and builds like a hurricane.

It took a few weeks to work all the bugs out of the car. You don’t do such a massive conversion without a few things going wrong or needing further refinement. For instance, the TR7s front disc brakes were not up to the task, so I replaced them with Rover Vitesse four-pot calipers and bigger rotors, and now the car stops just fine, with no brake fade.

So, can I rightfully call my car a TR8? Were it not for one digit in the VIN number, there would be no way to tell. In discussing the matter with noted TR8 enthusiast and historian Richard Connew, webmaster of the WorldWide TR7 & TR8 Owners Club (www.TR7-TR8.com) it was decided that the car can rightfully wear its TR8 badges since it is a full TR8 spec car. Upon selling the car, the ethical thing to do, we agreed, is let the future buyer know that the car was once a TR7.

I’ll likely not be selling it for quite awhile, though. I find myself stealing away in it as much as possible. The more miles it gets the better it feels. The car is totally trustworthy, as well it should since nearly all mechanical items are new or rebuilt.

The car is a pleasure to drive. As with most Triumph TRs, it has bags of character. The engine has a lovely snarl. And from the driver’s seat, I like the view of the extra bulge in the bonnet. On the road, my TR8 has no trouble showing its rear-end to today’s $40,000 and above sports cars. I particularly enjoy sneaking up on Porsche Boxsters, Audi TTs, BMW Z3s and Honda S2000s on Woodward Avenue. I take every opportunity I can to remind the drivers of these new sports cars that Triumph often did it first and did it best. I like to show them that Triumph stood for something, that Triumph still matters.

TR7 to TR8 Conversion Costs:

Car: $2,300
Engine and rebuild: $3,000
Suspension/brakes/clutch: $850
Exhaust: $600
TR8 conversion parts: $1,000
Power steering rack, rebuild, rebuilt pump and new hoses: $500
Radiator, hoses, brackets, tank, auxiliary electric cooling fan: $500
Wheels and tires: $500
Miscellaneous parts and hardware: $800

Deduct $1,200 from this total from sale of TR7 engine and related parts, driveshaft, wheels, radiator, etc.

Total cost: $8,850.

TR8 Conversion Parts


ENGINE:
Best option for an easy drop-in swap: Use a complete 1980-81 3.5-liter V-8 from a TR8 or Rover 3500

or:

3.5-liter or 3.9-liter from a Range Rover or Land Rover up to 1994 with 1980-81 TR8 or Rover 3500 alternator and power steering mounting brackets, electric parts and oil pan


The conversion parts are listed with their original BL part numbers. Most of these parts are available new, used or rebuilt from the following sources:

--RF: Roadster Factory.
--RB: is Rimmer Brothers.
--BPNW: British Parts Northwest.
--TS: TSI Imported Automotive.
--WC: Woody Cooper’s Wedge Shop.
--EI: Engle Imports

ENGINE PARTS:

ERC303* or ERC307* Upper alternator mounting bracket (WC, TS)
ERC28* Lower alternator mounting bracket (WC, TS)
ERC446* Harmonic balancer (WC, TS)
612368* Flywheel (WC, TS)
ERC2690* Dipstick (WC, TS)
614293* Dipstick tube (WC, TS)
ERC2776* Oil pan (WC, TS)
ERC1585* oil pump pickup (RB, RF, WC, TS)
UKC4227 Right engine mounting bracket (RB)
UKC4231 Left engine mounting bracket (RB)
UKC8330 TR8 Motor mounts (2) (RF)

Notes: Not recommended due to age, technical shortcomings and performance potential: 1961-63 Buick, Oldsmobile or Pontiac 215 aluminum V-8 or 1970-71 Rover 3500S 3.5-liter V-8.
*Needed when using a non-TR8 or Rover 3500 Rover V-8.

TRANSMISSION/CLUTCH/AXLE:

FRC133 TR8 Five speed bellhousing (WC, TS)
UKC13 TR8 Clutch fork pivot pin (RF, RB)
FRC93 TR8 Throwout sleeve and bearing (WC, RB)
614263 Pilot bearing (RF, RB) (RB, RF)
Clutch/pressure plate/release bearing (BPNW)
RKC2890 TR8 Driveshaft (TS)
FRC142 TR8 stoneguard (RB, RF, TS, WC)
TKC2642 TR8 transmission mount (RF, RB)
TKC2945 3.08:1 gears for differential (RF, RB)

Notes: You can use the stock TR7 release bearing and sleeve with the TR8 clutch and pressure plate. Do not mix TR7 and TR8 clutch parts. Use one complete system or the other.

STEERING SYSTEM:

CAX2170R TR8 Power steering rack (RB, WC, TS)
TKC4133, TKC3655 and UKC 8617 Power steering hoses (not available)
TKC4125 Power steering pump banjo connector (WC, TS, RB)
RKC971 Power steering pump (EI, RB)
ERC2708 and ERC2709 Power steering pump mounting brackets (WC, TS)
UKC7951 TR8 lower steering shaft (WC, TS, RB)

Notes: Power steering racks can be rebuilt by Atlantic Enterprises for $250. You must have a new set of power steering hoses custom made. None are available at this time. A Saginaw power steering pump from a 1970s era GM midsize car can be substituted for a TR8 pump.

SUBFRAME:

RKC927 TR8 subframe (RB, WC, TS)
RB7135 Subframe bolt and spacer kit (RB)
Subframe mounting rubbers (RB, BPNW)

Notes: British Parts Northwest offers a complete TR8 suspension package that includes: springs, struts, shocks and a complete set of uprated bushings for about $400. Rimmer Brothers sells new TR8 subframes.

COOLING SYSTEM:

RKC 3114 TR8 Radiator (WC, TS)
GRH602 Upper hose (RF)
GRH602 Lower hose (RF)
ULC2104 Overflow hose (RF)
RKC532 Lower radiator mounting bracket (WC TS, RB)
UKC7988 Upper mounting brackets (RB)
14-inch Electric Cooling fan (TS, WC)
ERC2279 and ERC2278 Heater hoses (RF)
ERC1519 Cooling fan extension (not available)

Notes: The Wedge Shop and TSI Imported offer uprated TR8 radiators that fit right in place. Thermostatically controlled electric cooling fan is highly recommened.

IGNITION/ELECTRICAL SYSTEM:

ERC3047 TR8 or Rover 3500 distributor (WC, TS, RB)
GCL129 Coil (RB)
DRC1638 Ballast resistor (RB)
DRC1743 TR8 or Rover 3500 starter
TKC2587 TR8 tachometer (WC, TS, RB)
Alternator
Mallory Electric ignition and coil (WC, TS, RB)

Notes: TR8 tachometers are not available new. You can use the TR7 tachometer by having it converted from 4-cylinder to 8-cylinder. TR7 alternator fits TR8 mounting bracket.


EXHAUST SYSTEM:

ERC2901 and ERC2903 Stock TR8 exhaust manifolds (WC, TS)
Stock TR8 dual exhaust system (RB, RF, WC)
Headers: small bore for 3.5-liter (BPNW, TS, WC)
Headers: large bore for 3.9-liter (BPNW, TS, WC)
Stainless steel system (WC, RB, TS)

Notes: You can buy headers and have a custom exhaust system built locally at a good muffler shop.

FUEL SYSTEM

Stock TR8 dual Zenith-Stromberg carburettors (WC, TS)
Stock Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection (RB, RF, WC, TS)
Offenhauser four barrel intake manifold (WC, TS)
Edelbrock Performer four barrel intake manifold (WC, TS
Holley 390 CFM four barrel carburettor (WC, TS)
Electric fuel pump for all the above except Bosch fuel injection system (TS, WC)

Notes: Bosch Fuel injection will be difficult to install on a TR7 that came from the factory with carburettors. The wiring harness and gas tank are different.

OTHER:

RKC2211 TR8 factory alloy wheels (RF, WC, TS)
UKC7197 TR8 lug nuts (RF, RB)
BLM105219 TR8 decals (RF, RB)
XKC3902 Nose badge for 1981/82 models
YKC4010 Glovebox TR8 sticker (RF, RB)

Notes: If you use a 3.9-liter, Rimmber Brothers has “3.9-liter” decals for the fenders, part number: RB7498 in black, gold, silver and red.

SOURCES FOR TR8 PARTS, NEW, USED AND AFTERMARKET

(1) THE WEDGE SHOP
Woody Cooper
100 New State Hwy #213
Raynham, MA 02767
Phone:
E-mail: SMCTR8@AOL.COM

(2) TS IMPORTED AUTOMOTIVE
Ted Schumacher
404 Basinger Rd.
Pandora, OH 45877
Phone: 800-543-6648
Fax: 419-384-3272
E-mail: TEDTSIMX@Q1.net
Web site: www.tsimportedautomotive.com

(3) THE ROADSTER FACTORY
P.O. Box 332 Killen Rd.
Armagh, PA 15920
Phone: (800) 678-8764 (order line)
(814) 446-4491 (tech line)
Web site: www.the-roadster-factory.com

(4) RIMMER BROTHERS LTD.
Triumph House
Sleaford Road
Bracebridge Heath,
Lincoln, LN4 2NA England
Phone: 011-44-1522 56-7600
E-mail: sales@rimmerbros.co.uk
Web site: www.rimmerbros.co.uk

(5) BRITISH PARTS N.W. INC.
4105 SE Lafayette Hwy
Dayton, OR 97114
Phone: 503-864-2001
Fax: 503-864-2081
Web site: www.bpnorthwest.com

(6) Wedgeparts
2114 Barkley Drive
Clarksville, TN 37043
Phone: 931-645-5283
Web site: www.wedgeparts.com

(7 eBay
www.ebay.com
Search terms: TR7; TR-7; TR8; TR-8; Triumph TR; Rover V-8; Rover 3.5; Rover 3.9; Rover engine; Rover motor; Buick 215; Rover 3500; Rover SD1; Buick/Rover