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The Triumph 2000 Story - The Final Years: ‘TC’ and ‘S’ Models, 1974-1977

Inevitably, many of those sales were at the expense of the existing variants as opposed to conquests from rival marques.  Whilst the Triumph 2000 remained a justifiably popular product, its relatively small engine (by mid-1970s standards) required diligent use of the gears in order to make real progress through traffic and, in this regard, the 2500TC with its greater torque and longer gearing offered significant advantages, especially at motorway speeds.  Indeed, had it not been for the onset of the first Oil Crisis, sales of the two-litre car might have dropped further than they did; as it was, rising petrol prices put a rapid brake on the general trend towards larger engines and higher performance, causing the middle-ground 2500TC to take as many if not more potential sales away from the 2500PI than it did from the 2000.  As a result, manufacture of the PI soon began to be run down, the estate variant leaving production by the end of 1974.  In many ways, this shift in emphasis suited Triumph, as the Lucas injection system was relatively expensive to source, difficult to adapt to tightening emissions requirements in an increasing number of key export markets, and widely (though often unfairly) condemned by the press and garage trade as troublesome .  In addition, the ability of the PI to rival the performance of the rather more expensive Rover 3500 was undoubtedly something of an embarrassment within parts of British Leyland, and the introduction of the nimbler and similarly rapid Dolomite Sprint had in some ways eroded the older car’s position within the Triumph range.  When production of the TR6 was limited to US-market carburetted versions only in February 1975, the 2500PI saloon was quite clearly on borrowed time, and manufacture did in fact cease shortly after.

The Triumph 2500 S

Replacing the Triumph 2500 PI, the 2500 S represented the last hurrah of the range

Even allowing for the re-channelling of performance-oriented buyers towards the Dolomite, however, there remained a small but lucrative demand for a mid-sized BLMC executive car more prestigious than the 2500TC but less costly to buy and run than the V8-engined Rovers.  In order to address this, and perhaps to forestall any migration of traditional Triumph buyers to Ford’s plushly-trimmed Cortina 2000E and Granada Ghia models, the big Triumph range went through a final realignment in July 1975, the most noteworthy element of which was the announcement of a new top-of-the-range 2500S, in both saloon and estate car forms.  Bodily – with the obvious exception of revised badging and the use of the attractive five-spoke cast alloy road wheels hitherto available only on the Stag – the new model effectively carried forward the specification of the 2500PI which it replaced, with standardisation of ‘luxury’ features such as front-seat headrests, tinted glass and power-assisted steering.  Mechanically, the most significant development was the use of an uprated 2498cc engine which, despite employing a ‘tamer’ camshaft profile than before in order to improve torque delivery, offset this with twin SU HS6 carburettors on a TR6-style inlet manifold and a viscous-coupled cooling fan to raise output to 106bhp at 4700rpm and torque to 140lb/ft at 2750rpm.  Manual-transmission cars had overdrive as standard (now of the slightly longer-geared variety already fitted to the Stag), whilst saloon versions finally got a front anti-roll bar, along with softer suspension settings.  The same engine modifications were applied to the 2500TC which, other than for the standardisation of 185-section tyres and of overdrive on manual-transmission models, continued largely unchanged from 1974, and also to the 2-litre car, which was now relaunched under the 2000TC identity.  On a less positive note, the 2000 and 2500TC estates were discontinued at this point, with the 2500S remaining as the sole estate car variant.

The Triumph 2500 S Estate

When the final rationalisation of the range occurred in 1975, the estate body-style was only available in a single trim level: The Triumph 2500 S Estate

Although the revisions amounted to little more than a clever but low-cost freshening-up using existing componentry from the TR6 and Stag parts bins, it was to prove remarkably effective.  Press reaction to the new models was very favourable, something that must have come to a considerable relief to Triumph given that, only a few months before, British Leyland’s trading position had deteriorated to the point where nationalisation had been necessary to avoid bankruptcy.  Autocar‘s 2500S road test claimed that, for normal UK road use at least, performance was comparable with that of the outgoing PI and reserved particular praise for the effect of the revised front suspension on the car’s handling.  Motor was similarly welcoming, praising the Triumph’s general comfort, ergonomics and easy performance, and finding that the various mechanical improvements facilitated both stronger top-gear acceleration and better fuel economy under touring conditions than the original 2500TCs.  For its part, What Car? compared the 2000TC against a Chrysler 2-Litre and Vauxhall VX4/90 and, despite the obvious age of the design, pronounced the Triumph the best of the three.  Telling, however, was the magazine’s closing analysis that the car enjoyed minimal promotion by its makers, who preferred to advertise ‘more relevant’ products such as the ‘wedge’ Princess.  Several reviewers also noted the increasingly high prices of the big Triumph models compared with those of competing products; in fairness, all three Triumphs were well-equipped cars by the standards of the time, the limited remaining production life of the range perhaps serving to protect it from the cost-cutting depredations visited upon certain other British Leyland marques.  By contrast, some of the opposition’s pricing would look distinctly less attractive once recourse was made to the options list…

1975-on Triumph six-cylinder engine installation

SU HS6 carburetors and the long-branch inlet manifold of the US-spec TR6 made for a useful increase in power and torque in the final cars.

By this stage, product development was largely restricted to a ‘care and maintenance’ basis only and there were few production changes of note, the most significant being in mid-1976 when the automatic gearbox specification changed from the established Borg-Warner Model 35 to the same manufacturer’s Model 65, reflecting general corporate engineering policy.  During this period, production was running at a rate of around 1500 cars a month and, although perceptibly less than in previous years, sales continued steadily until May 1977 when all of the big Triumph models (along with the closely-related Stag) were progressively withdrawn from production.  Total production volumes amounted to no less than 316,000 over a fourteen-year period.  Even then, there was something of a hiatus due to the new six-cylinder versions of the Rover SD1 not being ready for sale and, with continuing firm demand for the 2500 models at least, Triumph is thought to have seriously contemplated a limited resumption of production, only to find that the costs of restarting body assembly would render the option uneconomic.[3. Similar claims have been made with regard to the Stag, though in that case with a change to a Rover SD1 V8 engine and gearbox as a last-minute stand-in for the late-1970s (TR7-based) ‘Lynx’ coupé. Arguments in favour of prolonging the life of the 2000/2500 range are also understood to have come from BL’s marketing staff, some of whom correctly anticipated the adverse effect of the SD1’s hatchback-only format on sales to the more traditional kind of Rover and Triumph buyers. In both cases, however, the preoccupation of top management with maximising production volumes for the SD1 and TR7 ranges – even whilst key models remained unavailable – must have constituted a strong political deterrent to any proposed revival of the existing cars.]  For some export markets, however, customer demand would still be satisfied by local assembly of completely-knocked-down kits rather than the import of complete cars, and production of the Triumph 2500S saloon continued by such means in New Zealand until early 1979.

Retrospective

Along with Rover’s P6, the Triumph 2000 and its descendents were responsible for a near-seismic shift in British middle-class motoring.

By offering buyers an attractive alternative to the customary progression from (say) Austin Cambridge to Westminster, or Ford Cortina to Zephyr, the Triumph 2000 gave drivers an affordable entry to levels of comfort, performance and style hitherto associated with considerably more expensive marques, as well as gaining its manufacturers a large and profitable bite of a lucrative and expanding market.  Although to an extent a reflection of the wider economic and social trends of the times (as well as the Rover 2000, BMW’s neue klasse 1500 and Lancia’s Flavia represented similar conceptual approaches, despite considerable differences in detail), the 2000 was elemental in confirming Triumph’s coming-of-age as an accomplished, world-class manufacturer of capable, stylish and highly-desirable cars.

That some of the engineering and sales momentum established by the big Triumph saloons was subsequently dissipated under the British Leyland regime must be a cause for regret, as is the fact that the corporate necessities of the early 1970s put paid to any hope of an all-Triumph replacement.  Yet in many ways, the spirit of the Triumph 2000 lived on even after production ceased, not just through the engineering legacies bequeathed to its Rover SD1 successor, but also in helping to establish a distinct market segment that continues to thrive to this day, albeit now epitomised by such machinery as the BMW 5-series, Jaguar XF and Lexus IS.

At the time of its announcement, Stanley Markland summarised Leyland’s hopes for the Triumph 2000 as a car which would meet the needs of “the man who wants more than bread alone, but can’t afford caviar”.  During the course of a long and varied life, some aspects of which could hardly have been imagined by its original creators, the Triumph 2000 range fulfilled that brief pretty well.  In truth, as a classic, it still does.

Next chapter

This article © Jonathan Lewis 2010

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