Looking at a Triumph... bad idea?

I’m nearing 50, so I’m looking around for an affordable car toy. It has to be a convertible and I don’t want to have to rebuild something from the ground up, although I’m willing to get my hands dirty. I figure I can’t go wrong with a Miata, but there’s a 1978 Triumph for sale in the newspaper and I’m wondering… will I be buying $4G worth of hassle with this? I really like the looks…

You probably are looking at some hassle with the Triumph. You will have your fun with the Lucas electrical system and the carburetors on the Triumph. I have always liked the MG midget and Austin Healy Sprites of the 1960’s. The MG’s and the Triumphs, however, would probably tax my present mechanical skills. I’ve thought about the Miata, but my wife maintains that, with the Miata’s proven reliability, it is a car for wimps. Her take is that “real men aren’t afraid to have to get out and push the car off the road and spend their time on week-ends trying to make their cars run right”. I think the Triumph will make a real man out of you.

A couple of years ago, my doctor wrote a prescription for me that “for my mental health, I should have a Mazda Miata”. My wife, until recently, didn’t think I needed to have this prescription filled. However, she thinks that I can make a generic sports car substitute for my doctor’s prescription and that a Pontiac Solstice will work. Somehow, though, the English sports car look of the Miata is more appealing.

Is it a Spitfire or a TR-7? The TR-7 was a major failure, with lots of mechanical problems, while the Spitfire was at the end of its life, with lots of poorly-executed pollution controls. Not my favorite Triumphs, something '72 or older would be more fun, and a non-rubber-bumper MGB would also be great. But a Miata, as common as they are, is a better car in just about every way.

I think I’d pass on a '78. Triumph wss struggling to meet US requirements on emissions and bumpers in the '70’s. The result was cars that looked unbalanced with heavy bumpers and had poor performance and driveablilty due to carburator issues. They had to lean out the mixture so much to get it to pass emissions tests that the things just ran poorly. At some point they gave up on carbs and went with fuel injection. If this '78 is fuel injected and runs OK, then it is worth a look.

If you find a mid 60’s that is restored well and runs good, that would be something to consider.

Not one of the more reliable vehicles ever made…Friend who owned one was ALWAYS working on it. Spent 2-3 nights a week working on it just so he could drive it on Saturday (SOMETIMES). Fun rally cars to drive though. If you don’t mind tinkering…

A four grand Miata should be a bulletproof. A 30 year old Triumph will, lets just say it will not be. Triumphs in my opinion are cooler, but a late 70’s is lacking the coolness of a 60’s model (IMHO). If you like tinkering there is a ton of aftermarket things to do to Miatas. Or, You could find one for 2 grand and fix it up. Miatas also make great track cars.

But, if you want a toy and like the Triumph… As long as you know what you are buying in terms of the car in question and its if its priced right, you could always sell it if later and then get a Miata to play with. I love mine after 19 years, but they are a dime a dozen.

Top Gear’s James May explains how a TR6 is a real mans car…funny stuff! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iL0JQJNnLWo

Are you looking at a Spitfire, a TR-6, a GT-6, or what? Every time I find myself in this situation I take a step back and remember what it was like to own a British car. Then I tell myself, “if you must have a sports car, buy a Miata.”

If you don’t mind spending time and money (lots of money) tinkering with a car to keep it running, then buy a Triumph. If you decide to buy a Triumph, I suggest you search for one that has already been restored. It will cost more up front, but you’ll be far ahead over time.

A $4,000 Triumph could be just about anything. If you’re looking at a TR-6, I understand there’s a rather important structural component where the rear suspension attaches that tends to rust on these cars, and it’s very hard to see. I’d want someone who really knows Triumphs to look at the car before I wrote a check.

The Miata is a much safer bet.

Good luck.

A friend of mine has a Triumph Spitfire from that era as a hobby car. He loves it and enters it in British car shows and contests. As long as it isn’t your daily driver, and you have space in the garage, I think you should go for it.

I own a 1980 Triumph Spitfire and am the Newsletter editor or my Club, The Triumph Club of North Florida. My car has been restored to better than original condition over the last 23 years. If you decide to buy a Triumph, be aware that you WILL be working on it frequently. Our standard joke is that if there is no oil on the garage floor, there is no oil in the engine. They are notorious leakers. You have to love them to own one. On the plus side there are several companies in the U.S. that sell parts and you can get almost anything needed up to and including body panels. I would recommend staying away from the TR7 as previously stated. Even Triumph lovers won’t buy one. A TR8 is a better choice. Join a Triumph club for the friendship and to have access to “people who have been there.” Good luck!

My Doc.wrote a perscription for a Temperpedic mattress, did not get that either (medicare).

You are not asking for alternatives but I will give one any whay. I would really like a Porsche 914 2.0 project. It may be because of my German car background but I think they are easier to work on than the Triumph. Probably more out there also.

“What other car can you drive flat out, have loads of fun with, and not break the speed limit?”

If it’s a 78 then it’s either a Spitfire 1500 or TR7. If it’s a TR7, I’d leave it alone, ugly and underpowered even if BL had done the right thing and installed the Dolly Sprint engine only its mother could love something that cosmetically challenged.

The US spec Spit as other posters have indicated is again seriously underpowered, tuning mods are available but a Spit is definitely a toy, not a sports car. Save yourself the anguish and go for the Miata unless you’re really keen on a lifestyle change.

  • just to enrage the purists, I’ve always toyed with the idea of getting a TR6 and dropping a BMW big six in there…now that would be a sports car, though handling could be interesting.

Putting in a larger engine is doable but requires a full redo on suspension, brakes, rear end. One of silliest examples I have seen was at a car show. Someone put a Ford Cobra (550 Hp) engine in a Triumph TR3. At approximately 1600 pounds for the car, I would not want to even ride in that bomb.

Actually, at my age I need a prescription for Geritol. I find most cars uncomfortable to ride in–I need to sit upright, so we have a Toyota 4Runner SUV and a Chevrolet Uplander minivan. However, if I have to go back to a car, I’ll get a Mazda Miata. If I’m going to be uncomfortable, I might as well have a car that is worth the discomfort.

We have a 1974 TR6 w/77k on the clock. lbrazil44 is correct. These cars are quite temperamental and have more than a few quirks about them. But at the same time, they are fun to drive and have loads of panache and personality. Something the Miata doesn’t have IMHO. Part of the experience is constant maintence and constant repairs. The British never made a car, they made a hobby. If you’re mechanically inclined it can be a great experience. But if you just want to the car to get in and drive, then you won’t enjoy it as much. There’s a sense of occasion when you take a Triumph or MG out for a run, since it’s not something you can count on happening every day or at least to happen to every time you want it to happen.

As for the TR7, it was a car before it’s time. Had it shown up 6 or 7 years later when the wedge shape was more common it probably would’ve done better. Also it would’ve done better had it gotten the same 16 valve engine as the Dolomite. For me though the TR6 was the pinnacle of Triumph’s roadsters.

Why not try and find a Honda s2000? I’ve sat in a couple and the seats go back pretty far to fit my longer legs in there.

How’s the headroom in the S2000?

Probably a good thing it sits so low to the ground, you’d be hard pressed to keep the front wheels on the ground.

I’d hate to see the condition a $4000 S2000 would be in. The first year (2000) still goes for over $10,000.

“…Someone put a Ford Cobra (550 Hp) engine in a Triumph TR3. At approximately 1600 pounds for the car, I would not want to even ride in that bomb.”

It’s a different body and frame, but it’s sort of an AC Cobra.