|Life with a TR7
|By Richard Truett
It still seems hard to believe that the TR7
and TR8 were not more successful, especially the later convertibles.
These beautiful cars, like classically styled Triumph Stag,
should have been world beaters.
The reasons why the TR7 and TR8 did not fare
better become more clouded with the passage of time. The surviving
cars have mostly fallen into the hands of people who love
them and know how to take care of them. Modern parts, as well
as the sheer determination to remedy shortcomings, have made
our TR7s and TR8s far better and more dependable now then
when they were new. All of which makes it even more difficult
to understand why production ended in October, 1981.
Wouldn't it be interesting to wind back the
clock 23 years and trace the history of a new TR7 bought by
an average person? We could then get a real flavor for how
the car performed new and what it was like to use as daily
transportation by someone, not a Triumph enthusiast, who just
wanted a nice convertible sports car.
Well, it turns out we can, in a way.
|TR7 VIN 400612
Last fall, a rare 1980 TR7 Spider turned
up in Detroit, Michigan USA and was bought from its original
owner by a member of the Detroit Triumph Sports Car Club.
With the car came an extraordinary cache of documents that
enables one to account for the car every moment of its life
and every inch of the 48,000 miles it has traveled since it
Arranged in chronological order, these factory
records, sales documents and repair receipts paint a picture
of the TR7 that confirms something I have long-believed: The
TR7, even when new, was a fragile machine that needed constant
attention. And it could be extremely unforgiving when it didn't
Let us look now at the life story of TR7 VIN
number 400612, which came into this world in May of 1980.
The black Spider Edition, built only for North America, came
with special gray stripe upholstery and gray semi-shag carpet
(trim code RAF), special decals and pinstriping in red reflective
3M material, factory fitted air conditioning, TR8 style alloy
wheels, AM/FM cassette radio and TR8 steering wheel. It was
an attractive car when new and is now the top collectible
TR7 model in the USA.
According to the Bill Of Lading, 400612 was
picked up from the Solihull factory by James Car Deliveries
Ltd. on June 20, 1980 and deposited at Wainwright Brothers
Southampton dock facility on June 23. From there the car left
England for the port in Halifax, Canada, where it was to be
delivered no later than July 4. The standard procedure at
the time would be for British Leyland's North American personnel
to inspect the car and prepare it for sale before delivering
to the selling dealer.
The cosmoline would be removed from the paint
work. The car would be checked for shipping damage and repairs,
if necessary, would be carried out. The fluids would be topped
off. The Spider's stereo would be fitted, as well as optional
fog lights and rear luggage rack. Then the car would be road-
tested before be shipped by truck to a Triumph dealer.
Assuming that happened -- and there's no indication
it didn't -- more than a year passed before 400612 was heard
|The Spider is sold
Dr. William Gibbs, a dentist in Detroit,
bought 400612 from Hodges Imported Cars, a Triumph and Subaru
dealer, on June 17, 1981. The total price of the car, including
delivery charges, sales tax and license fees, came to $10,700.90.
However, Jaguar-Rover-Triumph (nee BL) were offering $1,000
cash rebates in an effort to clear out leftover 1980 models.
So the true selling price was $9,700.
Here's the first sign of trouble: By July of
1981, any unsold 1980 model year car would have to be considered
distressed merchandise. The new car model year starts in America
on October 1. By January, year-end clearance sales have usually
moved 99 percent of the previous model year's cars. By March,
virtually all of the previous year's car are sold. It is very
likely that neither the dealer or BL made money on 400612
because of the costs of carrying it in inventory for so many
months. This would tend to confirm BL Chairman Michael Edwardes'
claim that the TR was losing money.
[Footnote: The late date of sale for 400612
is apparently not unusual. My own car, 408366 was built on
Sept. 30th, 1981, but was not sold until February of 1983!
I know of a silverleaf TR8, 407479, that was not purchased
until late 1982.]
Worse yet, cars deteriorate when they sit unused
for long periods. For 400612 to wait 14 months from the factory
to the buyer likely affected it negatively as we shall see.
In any case, it wasn't long after Dr. Gibbs
took delivery of his TR7 that he became a frequent and well
known visitor to the service department at Hodges Imported
|Problems start early
On July 17th, 1981, less than a month after
being sold, 400612, made its initial appearance at the dealer
for its 1,000 mile service and to take care of several niggling
trim problems. The service included a change of oil and filter,
torquing down the cylinder head and inspections of the brake,
electrical, emissions, cooling and exhaust systems. This service
also contained a change of oil for the 5-speed manual transmission
-- quite unusual for a new car. However, around that time,
a BL service bulletin called for changing the heavy gear oil
in the gearbox to automatic transmission fluid to improve
cold weather shifting during warm up
Three entrees on this inaugural repair ticket
stand out: First, the driver's door refused to close. The
driver's knee pad split. Lastly, a note that is unclear points
to further trouble: "Bring car back in July 21st to see
Rep about [convertible] top." Total bill: $17.42.
Five days later, Dr. Gibbs brought his car to
Ziebart for $135 worth of rust proofing and fabric protectant.
One item was a good investment, the other, a complete waste
Though 400612 did not return to Hodges until
September 21, 1981 when it had 3,434 miles on the odometer,
it was not smooth sailing. In fact, the car must have been
turning into a major disappointment for Dr. Gibbs. Several
alarming entrees on the repair ticket show why Japanese sports
cars such as the Nissan Z, Mazda RX-7 and others -- though
not nearly as nicely styled -- were crushing the TR in the
Mechanically, the car appeared OK, but something
was wrong with the paint. Hodges body shop charged Jaguar-Rover-Triumph
(JRT) under warranty $119.90 for refinishing the left door,
inside and out, refinishing the rear upper body panel behind
the boot lid and repainting the right rocker panel. The right
door also had fallen out of alignment and had to be fixed.
Finally, the windshield molding under the wipers was refinished.
If 400612 was stored outside during most of the 14 months
before it was sold, the harsh Michigan weather likely would
have hurt the finish. During that same service, the troublesome
left knee pad was replaced, as well as the right one, which
also had split.
The next visit to Hodges came four days before
Christmas 1981. The odometer read 4,953, but Dr. Gibbs brought
400612 in for the 6,000 mile service and to remedy several
In addition to the standard fluid changes and
systems checks, the first signs of troubles that would dog
400612 until today started to appear. A notation on the repair
ticket shows the technician checked for a coolant or oil leak.
More alarming than that the ticket says: "Rust on left
door, inner and outer." A new mirror was installed installed
on the right door, but no reason is given why. Total charge:
The next receipt is for $1.71 is dated April
21, 1982 and simply says "fuses."
|Repair bills add up
On July 21, 1982, 13 months after being sold,
400612 had traveled 9,863 miles and was returned to Hodges
for its, 9000 mile service. Nothing unusual turns up on this
visit. The technician noted that the exhaust manifold bolts
were loose. He tightened them for no extra charge. He also
adjusted the front wheel bearings. Total: $55.98.
A week later, Dr. Gibbs ordered spares from
another JRT dealer, Falvey Motors of Troy, Mich., also in
the Detroit area. The radio antenna, two snaps and two rivets
On November 21, 1982, the speedometer cable
was replaced after just 12,492 miles. Hodges billed Dr. Gibbs
Another 6,000 miles passed before 400612 needed
service. According to a Hodges repair ticket dated July 15,
1983, the air conditioning fans and windshield wipers were
inoperative. A new windshield wiper rack was installed. That
repair, as well as a regular full service, relieved Dr. Gibbs
of the burden of carrying $114.68 in his billfold.
For some reason, this was the last time Dr.
Gibbs brought his car to Hodges. By 1983, many of the old
BL dealers had stopped servicing Triumph if they didn't also
sell the one remaining JRT brand, Jaguar.
On August 18th, Falvey Motors aligned the front
end and fixed a vibration emanating from the front wheels.
The odometer read 19,476. Total: $39.95.
Just 11 days later, 400612 was back at Falvey.
This time Dr. Gibbs complained that the car pulled to the
left. A note on the repair bill indicated that the steering
or struts may be binding, but no problems were found and no
money changed hands.
Two years and 12,000 miles passed before 400612
saw further service. And now the repair bills would increase
significantly. The 30,000 mile checkup and inspection revealed
that there was no air filter in the housing, than an ignition
lock bolt needed to be replaced, the brake pads were worn
out and the temperature sending unit was faulty. At this service,
the cooling system was pressure tested, the compression was
checked and the carburetors were cleaned and adjusted. The
valve cover gasket also was replaced. Total bill: $298.21.
On November 15, 1985, Hollywood Trim in Troy,
Michigan near Detroit charged Dr. Gibbs $150 for a new convertible
top and $175 to replace the Spider's worn out seat upholstery.
The labor charges added another $225 to the bill. After 4.5
years and just 30,000 miles the Spider's original gray striped
upholstery wore out. This may explain why so many of the surviving
Spiders today have the wrong upholstery. It may have looked
snazzy when new, but the quality of the upholstery was apparently
very poor. Total bill: $559.
Dr. Gibbs' car, with 31,645 miles under its
wheels, passed a state-required smog test on April 30 1986.
On July 17, 1987, the air conditioning system was charged
for $20. The following month the original Goodyear tires were
replaced with new Michelin tires at a cost of $256.38.
By 1988, finding a pair of factory trained hands
to repair any TR was becoming increasingly difficult. By now
Triumph's TR7 was receding quickly in the rearview mirror
of most repair shops. Parts were no longer as easy to obtain
because the BL/JRT dealer network had almost completely turned
In March of that year, Dr. Gibbs found a petrol
station, Joe's All Make Auto Service, a Union 76, willing
to work on his car. On the 20th of that month 400612 was towed
there -- perhaps the first time the car would not move under
its own power. It received a new radiator cap and thermostat
and gasket. The battery also was charged. Total bill: $67.78.
Less than a month later, 400612 was back at
Joe's for more work. This time it got a new fuel pump, valve
cover gasket and fresh anti-freeze. Total bill: $120.93. An
ominous note on the repair ticket reds: "Car needs head
Another set of brake pads were installed on
Oct. 21, 1988. The rotors were resurfaced and the wheel bearings
were repacked. Joe's charged Dr. Gibbs $83.09 for this work.
No mileage given.
The next service work was performed at Pontiac
Sports Car in Pontiac Michigan, north of Detroit on July 19,
1990. There's no indication if Dr. Gibbs was able to drive
400612 in for this service. But looking over the repair ticket,
it seems doubtful. In fact, it appears as if the engine may
have overheated. This time, the mileage is indicated. And
we can now see that Dr. Gibbs averaged around 3,300 miles
per year. This indicates a common usage pattern for rear-wheel
drive sports cars in the American midwest: They are generally
only used during the late spring and summer months. After
39,271 miles, the headgasket and several other parts gave
The cylinder head was removed and resurfaced
and a valve job was done. The radiator was replaced as was
the thermostat, gasket, and radiator hoses. The car was given
a full tune up with new spark plugs and wires, air filter,
cap and rotor and fan belts The oil and filter were changed.
New wiper blades were fitted. For this Dr. Gibbs paid $1,065.45
-- more than 10 percent of the car's purchase price.
On June 17, 1992 -- 11 years to the day that
Dr. Gibbs took delivery of his new TR7 -- it was back in the
shop. Pontiac Sports Car installed new front struts and rear
shocks, another new set of brake pads, the rotors were again
turned and a new brake light switch was installed. The odometer
read 41,578. It makes no sense that the car would be on its
second set of brake pads in 11,000 miles. Total bill: 238.99.
Twelve days later, with 42,000 miles on the
clock, another new fuel pump was installed at Pontiac Sport
Car. A problem with the hazard warning switch was fixed for
no charge. Bill: $90.56. On October 12, 1992, the rear brakes
were apparently binding. Pontiac Sports Car took off the rear
drums, cleaned them and "scuffed up the shoes."
A July 1 1993 receipt for an oil change indicates
that 400612 had traveled 42,490 since new.
The mileage is not indicated on August 2, 1993
when Pontiac Sports Car rebuilt the clutch master and slave
cylinders and changed the anti-freeze. A note that a technician
drilled, tapped and installed a heli-coil and then a new stud
does not mention where this work was done. Another entree
reveals that 400612 needs a new power brake servo. Total bill:
An oil change receipt from Auto Europe, (nee
Pontiac Sports Car) dated Sept.14, 1995 shows 44,092 miles
since new and notes that t the car still needs a brake servo.
Air filter also replaced: Cost: $61.29.
Two years later on Sept. 17, 1997, 400612 again
saw the business end of a tow truck for at least the second
time. Auto Europe examined the car to try to learn why the
battery kept going dead. Mileage: 45,558. A test determined
the battery and alternator to be working properly. But the
transmission drain plug was loose, the idle was poor, the
valve cover and front crankshaft seal were leaking. The brake
fluid was topped off, and this note appears: “Brake booster
still needs to be replaced. Checking for parts." Cost:
Dr. Gibbs' final repair bill came a the following
June when he spent $83.73 for a new battery. No mileage is
given on the repair ticket. But five years later, when Dr.
Gibbs appeared at a monthly meeting of the Detroit Triumph
Sports Car Club and offered the car for any reasonable price,
the total mileage was only 48,000.
|The Spider today
There may have been other work carried out.
The original decals perished somewhere along the way and were
replaced by a crudely painted facsimile in silver.
As of today, the car is in good running condition
and in the care of Blake Discher, a Detroit photographer and
Triumph enthusiast. Blake has assembled an interesting collection
of rare for North America Triumphs, including a 1966 2000
saloon, one of just 1,801 sold here, a 1971 Stag and a 1976
Since buying the Spider from Dr. Gibbs for $600,
Discher has replaced the struts, shocks and springs, exhaust
system, clutch slave cylinder, carburetors, steering rack
boots, rear wheel cylinders and shoes, convertible top and
several other parts. The car has now been put back into daily
service. But some of the old problems remain: There is coolant
leaking from somewhere near the head. It may not be oil tight,
and the brake servo still needs replacing.
One drive in the car is all it takes for one
to see why Dr. Gibbs was so willing to keep spending money
on the car instead of selling it off. The engine runs as smooth
and quiet as a modern Honda engine. Now that the suspension
and brakes are renewed, the handling is tight and the car
feels good on the road. Eventually, 400612 will be repainted.
The Ziebart rust protection Dr. Gibbs purchased in the summer
of 1981 did it's job well, with just a few minor blisters
on the doors.