Triumph in Great Britain started producing bicycles in 1887, followed by motorcycles and a three-wheeled motorcar by 1903. Their first four-wheel venture wasn't until 1923, but by the 1930s, production grew to include not only the sporty Super Seven but also a line of open roadsters and saloons. Through the 1950s and '60s, Triumph had amazing success in Europe and North America with their TR2, TR3 and TR4 sports cars.
The 1970s saw the production of a larger TR6 until 1976 and the introduction of the smaller TR7. Advertised as "The Shape of Things To Come," its new "wedge" styling was controversial, evoking a love-it-or-hate-it stance among enthusiasts and buyers alike.
The big news came in 1980 with the introduction of the V8-powered TR8.
Aimed squarely at the North American market to offer a performance version and increase sales, the TR8 used the Rover's all-aluminum 3.5-litre V8 for power. The lightweight 3.5 is the same basic 215-cubic-inch V8 that was employed by General Motors in America to power several of its Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac compact models. Rover purchased the tooling in the late 1960s and over the years redesigned and refined the engine for use in its vehicles.
Produced in 1980 and 1981, there were 2,497 TR8s made for the North American market. The 1980 model used dual Stromberg carburetors, except in California, where Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection was used to meet emission standards. For 1981, all used fuel injection and the engine produced 137 net horsepower at 5,000 r.p.m. and 174 lbs.-ft. of torque at 3,000 r.p.m. Quite an attractive and lively package, given the TR8's under 2,800-pound curb weight.
In 2005, Roger Hamelin of Winnipeg was looking for a two-seat sports car to use as a summer vehicle.
"I was originally looking at Porsche 914s and Datsun Fairladys, but when I saw a TR8 in town, I thought it was ahead of its time," says Hamelin. While TR8s are difficult to find, Hamelin located a 1981 convertible model online in Calgary and after several telephone calls and looking over many photos, he drove west to look the car over.
An original car with reasonable mileage, it was in very good condition and drove well. Finished in Bordeaux red metallic with tan cloth upholstery and a convertible top and optional air conditioning, it was just what Hamelin was looking for, so it was loaded onto a trailer and towed back to Winnipeg. Factory equipped with power rack and pinion steering, power front disc brakes and factory cast aluminium wheels with radial tires, it's a modern and easy-to-drive car.
Once in Winnipeg, Hamelin had the five-speed manual transmission rebuilt at Dominion Transmission. Next was a repaint in the car's original colour.
Part of the deal for the car was it included a new set of pinstripes and emblems, so these were installed following the new paint for that showroom-fresh look. Added extras include an electronic ignition conversion, AM/FM CD player with new speakers, luggage rack, tonneau cover and an LED tail-lamp upgrade. Next on the to-do list is to replace the factory exhaust system with a new custom dual system to let the V8 breath a little freer for better performance.
The car has been a trouble-free summer driver that Hamelin continues to enjoy. On a recent trip to Penticton, B.C., Hamelin managed 30 miles per gallon with the V8-equipped TR8 and had a pleasant journey.
"It's a nice highway car, very comfortable and easy to drive."
Hamelin is the webmaster and a member of the Triumph Drivers Club of Manitoba. Established in 1989, the club is open to all enthusiasts of British vehicles and boasts over 75 members.
The TR8 was often referred to as the English Corvette or British muscle car because of its outstanding performance, and the cars have developed a solid following among collectors and enthusiasts. Triumph production ceased after October 1981, a victim of a high-value British pound that led to sluggish export sales. Today the TR7 and TR8 stand as Triumph's last of the breed. Long live the wedge!