Had Triumph’s plans of the late 1960s come to fruition, the 2000/2.5PI Mk2 models would most likely have been replaced by an all-new big Triumph in the 1972-4 timeframe. Design studies for just such a car – codenamed ‘Puma’ – were already underway by the time that the ‘Innsbruck’ restyle was released to production, and initially foresaw a conventional three-box saloon powered by a choice of straight six or V8 engines. Planned as part of an integrated range of Triumph cars for the 1970s, ‘Puma’ was intended to share a variety of key mechanical, structural and stylistic elements with other forthcoming models, having especially close links to ‘Lynx’ (a 2+2 coupé intended to replace the GT6 and – eventually – the Stag) and ‘Bobcat’ (a compact executive saloon projected as a successor for the Triumph 1300/1500 and forthcoming Dolomite). Despite the popularity of the existing 2000/2.5 range, however, development work on ‘Puma’ proceeded at a pace much slower than that of ‘Lynx’, ‘Bobcat’ or ‘Bullet’ (Triumph’s next-generation TR), and by 1971 had still not progressed to the prototype stage.
This impasse was due partly to the sheer pressure of work on Canley’s small design team, but also to reluctance on the part of Triumph’s masters at British Leyland to sanction the development of potentially competing projects from Triumph, Rover and Austin-Morris. Longbridge’s effort, the ADO71 ‘Diablo’ (better-known to posterity as the ‘wedge’ Princess) was primarily intended as a replacement for the 1800/2200 ‘Landcrab’ models, and rather closer to the large family saloon market than the executive car segment, albeit with a certain degree of overlap in the case of the upmarket Wolseley variant. Of more significance were activities at Rover; initial objectives for a next-generation car under project P8 had called for a vehicle sufficiently versatile to replace both the P6 2000 and the P5 3-Litre models but, as time went on, the car became bigger and more complex than originally intended. Shortly after Leyland’s takeover of Rover in 1967, a corporate strategy to groom the Solihull marque as a direct competitor to the then-rival Jaguar saw P8 being re-focussed as a 3½/4½-litre V8-engined prestige car and, in order to preserve Rover’s presence in the crucial 2/3-litre segment, attention turned to creating a smaller, simpler and cheaper machine – P10 – to replace the P6.
From the very inception of the British Leyland combine, corporate policy had been explicit in calling for the production of multiple parallel models addressing the same market sector to be brought to an early end. Within months of the merger, Rover’s management were being led to believe that their company would receive preferential status where the development of any new mid-size ‘executive’ model was concerned, and by mid-1969 detail planning for P10 was well underway. Despite this, ‘Puma’ was permitted to continue as a live project at Triumph. Just why is unclear; perhaps Head Office reluctance to irrevocably terminate ‘Puma’ stemmed from its planned sharing of key elements with other Triumph projects, a strategy which offered opportunities for spreading engineering and start-up costs over far greater production volumes than could ever be achieved with a standalone Rover/Triumph 2000 replacement. Alternatively, the fact that both P10 and ‘Puma’ were still largely drawing board exercises (even though practical development of supporting componentry was going ahead at both Canley and Solihull) may have encouraged BLMC planners to conclude that they could afford to delay committing themselves to either design, regardless of who was likely to be the chosen constructor. More cynical observers might simply have been tempted to draw something from the fact that former Triumph boss Lord Stokes was now Chairman of British Leyland, and that the current Triumph 2000 and related Stag were still special favourites of his…
Even so, by the end of 1970 it was becoming increasingly apparent at Canley that ‘Puma’ would not be allowed to proceed to production as an independent programme, Triumph instead being instructed to co-operate with Rover in the development of a successor to the 2000/2.5 models. Early in the New Year, the issue would be forced into focus by the last-minute cancellation of Rover’s P8, in part from fear that it would prove to be more of a threat to Jaguar than to its latterly-intended target of Mercedes-Benz. This came as a major blow to Rover, the very promising P6BS/P9 sports coupé already having been terminated under corporate pressure from Jaguar and Triumph, and made it essential that the question of a new mid-range executive car be resolved with the utmost urgency. A design contest between P10 and ‘Puma’ was swiftly organised, culminating in a viewing of proposals by the BLMC Board during February 1971 from which the Rover concept duly emerged victorious. Given the circumstances, perhaps this outcome was inevitable, though it is possible to identify several factors which would have tended to favour the Solihull proposal, namely:
- Rover stylist David Bache’s schemes for P10 were typically avant garde and thus immediately attractive to BLMC senior management, whereas the Giovanni Michelotti / Les Moore design for ‘Puma’ was several years old and, despite some re-working by William Towns, relied on styling themes which were already being criticised as outdated by Triumph’s US importers;
- Despite a later start, Rover’s market analysis and product planning work for P10 was apparently rather more advanced than that undertaken by Triumph for ’Puma’;
- Already less well-connected than Rover within the overall BLMC power structure, Triumph’s influence at Board level had waned yet further after the departure of Technical Director Harry Webster and General Manager George Turnbull to Austin-Morris at Longbridge.
From a corporate perspective also, giving Solihull responsibility for developing and building the next-generation ‘2000’ must have seemed good strategic sense. Without a replacement for either P5 or P6 models, Rover’s long-term future as a manufacturer of passenger cars (as opposed to 4x4s) could not be viewed with anything but the gravest doubt. Triumph, on the other hand, was well established in the market not just for sports cars but also for small executive saloons, from which latter segment Jaguar had already been excluded by British Leyland decree.[1. Right from the outset, Jaguar had been seriously worried about the potential sales impact of the Rover and Triumph 2000s on the cheaper end of its model range, and plans for a high-volume ‘baby’ Jaguar using Coventry Climax engines and MG MGC-derived running gear had been well-advanced at the time of the Leyland-BMH merger, only to suffer almost immediate termination by Lord Stokes who viewed the vehicle as being too closely competitive with planned Triumph offerings. Ironically, part of Coventry Climax’s initial development programme for the engines in question (the ‘CFA’ and ‘CFF’ V8s) had involved evaluating a prototype unit – actually converted from a redundant ‘FWMV’ Formula One racing engine – installed in Climax Managing Director Leonard Lee’s personal Triumph 2000 estate! See SIXappeal Issue 112 (April 2000) and Coventry Climax Racing Engines by Des Hamill (Veloce, 2004).] If existing big Triumph buyers could be persuaded to transfer their loyalties to a comparable Rover – and BLMC’s marketing focus was already favouring the corporate ‘Leyland’ identity over individual marques – worthwhile production volumes and economies of scale might be preserved at both Canley and Solihull. Last, but by no means least, the brutal truth was that, against a background of falling sales and massive capital investment demands on the part of its Austin-Morris division, BLMC was in no position to fund the parallel development of both Rover and Triumph projects even had it wished to do so. Although there would be no question of dropping entire model ranges overnight, the favouring of P10 over ‘Puma’ signalled the beginning of Triumph’s progressive withdrawal from competition with Rover in the executive car sector, a corporate hierarchy being confirmed whereby Jaguar would provide British Leyland’s large luxury cars, Rover medium-sized executive saloons, and Triumph compact executive and sporting saloons in addition to its sports cars. Over a period of months, P10 would transmogrify into project SD1, a car which would conform to the key benchmarks already defined by Solihull for its P6 replacement and be sold under the Rover identity, but which would nevertheless incorporate very substantial engineering input from Triumph, the two erstwhile rivals being combined (at a design level at least) in early 1972.
Although development of the new Rover proceeded relatively smoothly, much work remained to be done, and there were early but clear indications that the Triumph 2000 was beginning to lose market share to the competition, not least in the form of Ford’s new Consul/Granada range. In addition, the well-publicised service woes of the Lucas PI system and the beginnings of a customer reaction against perceived ‘thirsty’ cars were adversely affecting sales of the 2.5 models. With the SD1 range unlikely to be announced before the middle of 1976, there was a clear need to reinvigorate interest in the big Triumph models so as to sustain them over an extended production life, as well as to minimise marketplace conflict with the P6 Rovers (sales of which were also showing signs of stagnation). A long-standing intention had been to replace the existing 2000 and 2.5 engines with variants of a new OHC straight six, originally devised for use in ‘Puma’ and ‘Lynx’, but now being developed for the less costly versions of the forthcoming SD1. As this PE146 engine was somewhat bulkier than the existing units, a modified front end was planned for the ‘Innsbruck’ bodyshell, recognisable by a new bulged bonnet and matching front panel, for which revised press tooling was allegedly struck. What had started life as a relatively simple updating of the 2000 engine, however, was soon complicated by the evolving requirements of the SD1 programme, and when a major re-drawing of the basic PE146 design set back its envisaged date for commencement of production, ideas of a ‘Triumph 2000 Mk3’ were swiftly abandoned.[2. Even so, a limited quantity of ‘Mk3’ Triumph bodyshells was in fact constructed, at least some of which were later built-up as experimental cars for Rover-Triumph Engineering. Many of these were used to undertake mileage and emissions testing on the new six-cylinder engines and 5-speed gearbox for the SD1 (see http://www.canleyclassics.com > Archive > Our Museum > Prototype 3500 V8 Saloon) and various other new power units, including Triumph slant-4 and Rover V8 installations for the TR7/TR8, and Austin-Morris E6 engines reconfigured for rear-wheel drive applications in Australian and South African-built BL models.]
Instead, it was determined that the existing big Triumph saloons would benefit from a series of detail cosmetic and mechanical alterations to increase their market appeal and maintain continuity with other Triumph models such as the Dolomite and Stag. The first fruits of this strategy went on view in May 1974 when a facelifted and expanded model range was announced, consisting of the existing cars and a new model, the 2500TC. Common to all were revised suspension settings (basically an increase in ride height), new Stag-style dashboard instruments and plastic radiator grilles, and the fitment of protective rubber strips to the bumper edges. Model terminology had been changed also, with the fuel-injected car being retitled 2500PI, though still badged as a ‘2500 Injection’. The most significant development was the announcement of the new home-market 2500TC model, which was intended to plug the gap between the two- and 2.5-litre cars. Available in both saloon and estate car forms, the 2500TC followed the example of its Australian namesake in marrying the exterior and interior trim of the 2000 to the basic powertrain of the PI, albeit with the engine in low-compression (8.5:1) and SU-carburetted form giving some 99bhp at 4700 rpm and 133 lb/ft of torque at 3000rpm. Press reaction was favourable if not wildly enthusiastic, both Autocar and Motor praising the car’s comfort, finish and refinement, though considering it rather expensive. Sales-wise, however, the 2500TC got off to a very good start, attracting those who sought to combine the undoubted benefits of the Triumph 2000 with increased driving flexibility, but without the higher performance, greater cost and (by repute) unreliability of the 2500PI, and it soon became the top-selling variant in the big Triumph range.