Welcome to our ‘Vehicle of the Month’ 2021 blog post series which we are continuing since August last year to share some of the most fascinating and remarkable car and motorbike stories, restoration projects and travel adventures of our customers.
Last month we shared an adventure packed tale by Alan and his Corvette ZR1 (the owner of Fantastic Roads and the member of the Classic Corvette Club UK). This February we're continuing with our seventh 'Vehicle of the Month' story by Roger, a proud member of the Stag Owners Club, and his 1977 Triumph Stag.
Covering the history of the Triumph Stag, to Roger's own pride and joy, the following story is piqued with interesting trivia and obvious adoration for this much loved automobile.
"THE TRIUMPH STAG (1970 - 1977) - Envisioned for the upwardly mobile or young executives as a luxury grand tourer, the Stag was designed to fill an apparent gap in the market occupied mainly by the Mercedes-Benz SL. For its time the Stag concept was amazingly bold – a monocoque steel bodied four seat grand tourer with a T-bar to provide torsional rigidity and roll over protection. It came equipped with a soft top (or optional detachable hard top), and was based upon the four door Triumph 2000 saloon styled by Michelotti of Turin. Power came from the new advanced 3 litre V8 developed in house by utilising the existing tooling of the slant four cylinder Triumph Dolomite engine".
"INTERIOR - Intended to be a large seller in the American market it was well equipped with sundym tinted glass, electric windows, power steering, a steering column that could be adjusted for rake (up/down) and fore and aft (in/out), and fully reclining front seats with height adjustment. It could be specified with automatic transmission or four speed manual with optional over drive and for the American market, air conditioning"
"HOW MUCH? - According to the Autocar road test of the 11th June 1970, a Stag with soft top only would have cost you £1,995 17s 6d. You had the option of specifying it with hard top only (i.e.no soft top), for £2,041 11s. 5d. and if you were feeling flush then you could order with both soft and hard tops for £2,093 15s 10d. Only £52 extra for the hard top! These prices were including purchase tax and were approximately half of the price to be paid at the time for a comparable Mercedes 280SL or E-Type Jaguar. In today’s money (October 2020) a fully equipped Stag would be the equivalent of £32,770 which is a veritable bargain. TODAY - According to the February 2020 magazine Classic and Sports Car, (Buyers Guide links under Car Spec tab), a Triumph Stag to SHOW/REBUILT quality is valued at £20,000+ In AVERAGE condition £12,000 and for PROJECT/RESTORATION £1,500+".
"NUMBERS BUILT / SURVIVING - Considering the reputation the Stag acquired for reliability, (more of which you can read about later), the Stag has a very high survival rate. Of the 25.939 built over its seven year production span 17,819 were registered in the UK and as of Q2 2020 there were 8,289 registered with the DVLA giving it a survival rate of 46.51%. To help put the survival rate into perspective popular vehicles of the day such as the Morris Marina and Ford Capri manufactured in the UK in the hundreds of thousands during the same period have a less than 1% survival rate"
"MY CAR - My car was manufactured on the 17th March 1977 and was registered for the road on the 2nd May that year. Purchased from the local British Leyland dealership of Rossleigh Limited in Aberdeen by a Mrs. Josephine Nimmo the car was one of the last Triumph Stags to be manufactured. During her four years of ownership with Mrs. Nimmo the car covered less than 7,000 miles before being sold to Mr Phillip Knibbs of Stockport, Cheshire. Although in very good condition the car was dispatched to Monarch Restorations workshop in Manchester during the mid 1980’s for a complete nut and bolt restoration / bare metal respray".
"TROPHIES - The restoration work was completed to a very high standard enabling second owner Phillip Knibbs, (an SOC member of many years standing), to prepare and enter the car in various concourse events. Show Results 1984 Stag Owners Club National Finals - Runner up show class; 1987 SOC National Finals - Winner car of the day + Winner show class + Winner car of the year; Westhoughton Classic Car Show - Winner best sports/GT; Practical Classic Car Show @ G Mex Centre - Winner Best Classic Convertible; Standard Triumph International Rally - Winner Best of Class; 1989 Practical Classic Car Show @ G Mex Centre - Winner Best Classic Convertible; 1992 Practical Classic Car Show @ G Mex Centre -Winner Best Classic Convertible".
"In 1998 with 17,550 miles on the odometer, (an average of 975 miles per year), the car passed into my hands and I became its third owner. With the car came the original handbooks, MOT certificates for every year plus a wealth receipts for work carried out. Including a photographic record of the bare metal nut and bolt rebuild. Since acquiring the car 22 years ago I’ve added a further 38,000 miles and apart from a standard annual service and consumables I have only had to replace the fuel pump, water pump, temperature sender unit and suspension bushes - the car otherwise remains original and numbers matching. As for reliability apart from the initial journey from Manchester to its new home in Sussex, (that's a story recounted in the August 2020 Stag Owners Club magazine), the car has never left me stranded or missed a beat - for which I owe a debt of thanks to Roger Morrish of Abinger Hammer Motors who undertake all annual servicing and fettling for my trips abroad".
"MYTHS & LEGENDS - Myths and legends exist surrounding the creation of the Triumph Stag and its foibles. This short history is an attempt to clarify inaccuracies often published by the classic car motoring press and repeated for decades gaining more factual 'truth' status which each retelling. It is a well coined phrase, but the Stag went from ‘zero to hero’ in around 20 or more years. Regrettably the Stag was doomed to failure from the outset due to a combination of lack of development, poor quality assurance, inadequate maintenance training, (which in turn led to poor reliability), and a war in the middle-east with the resulting fuel crisis being the final straw!"
"HARRY WEBSTER - Harry Webster, Standard-Triumph Director of Engineering & Development first discovered the talents of Giovanni Michelotti as Chief Stylist of a Turin based specialist coach builder, Vignale. After Michelotti had left them to set up his own design studio he was called upon to design many of Standard Triumph’s models. Harry received a request from Michelotti in 1965 to supply him with a Triumph 2000 so that he could do a styling piece for the forthcoming Geneva Motor Show".
"GIOVANNI MICHELOTTI - Giovanni Michelotti had previously designed cars for Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia but is now best known for the mainstream cars he designed for Triumph, (cars such as the Herald/Vitesse, 2000/2500, Spitfire and the TR4/5), and he asked Harry Webster, Director of Engineering at Triumph, for a car to use as a donor for his show project. Webster agreed, on the understanding that if he liked what Michelotti produced, Standard-Triumph could have first refusal on the concept and it would not be included in the Geneva Show. The donor car sent to Turin was a 1964 Triumph 2000 saloon which had been previously been used internally at Canley and had finished its final duties as a support car for the 1965 Le Mans Spitfire team. It was driven to Italy and left for Michelotti to cut and shape. Harry Webster, who was a long-time friend of Giovanni Michelotti, absolutely loved the design when he saw it, as did the Triumph directors and in the summer of 1966 the car was collected from Turin and driven back to Coventry and the Stag was born".
"PROTOTYPE - The car that arrived at Canley, a two-door drop head, had little in common with the styling of its progenitor 2000, but it retained the suspension and drive line. The design was taken forward to production by the Engineering Department at Triumph and it was they who added the T-bar arrangement to cure the scuttle shake of the original open car. The name Stag was originally the ‘code’ name given to the model, but was adopted as the actual name, as it was preferred to all alternatives submitted for consideration during development in 1966. An interesting aside is that Triumph liked the eventual result of the front and rear end treatments of the new car so much that, when it came to revamp the 2000 range in 1969, they used the styling lines of the Stag.
Ironically, due to the hold up in the launch of the Stag, the ‘Mk II’ Triumph 2000/2500s were released eight months before the Stag, making it look as if the Stag design copied that of the saloons, when in fact it was the other way round. The original idea was to take two years developing the concept to launch in 1968. It didn’t happen ! It was late by a further two years due to many problems, not least by financial constraints following the merger between Leyland Motors and BMC to become British Leyland in 1968; and the engine selection for the final production example played a big part".
"TRIUMPH V8 ENGINE - Many engine versions were tried, starting with the initial straight 6 cylinder engine of the Triumph 2000 saloon, but ending up after many months of running tests around the world with an in house developed Triumph V8 power plant of 3-litres which was an engine used exclusively in the Stag.
Given that British Leyland had acquired the rights to and was manufacturing the excellent small block Buick V8 engine that found its way into Rovers, Land Rovers and Range Rovers many ask why Triumph were allowed to continue to develop and produce their own engine and have suggested that it was down to internal British Leyland rivalry between Rover and Triumph, with Triumph engineers declaring the Buick / Rover V8 could not be made to fit – which it can.
In fact the problem was simply down to supply and demand with British Leyland being unable to satisfy demand for the Rover engine without making a cost prohibitive investment in further production facilities and further delaying the Stags market launch. In essence the Stag engine utilised the tooling of the 45˚ banked 4 cylinder Dolomite block developed for the Saab 99. By this time Harry Webster had been moved to Austin-Morris Division of the conglomerate and Spen King was appointed from Rover to further develop the Stag to launch. Spen’s quest for bhp and more lower end torque resulted in the increase of the original V8 from 2.5 litres to 3 litres and the reversion to carburettors away from fuel injection, which would have eventually run into problems with US emission directives anyway".
"STAG LAUNCH - The Stag was eventually launched to the UK public on 9th June 1970 as a convertible with a manually stowable soft top, with a detachable hard top or with both soft top and hard top and caused quite a stir in the motoring press at the time. Technically, the car was very advanced at launch in 1970, including independent suspension all round, servo-assisted disc/drum brakes, power steering, a steering column that could be adjusted for rake (up / down) and for reach (in / out),a cigar lighter, sundym tinted glass and electric windows, folding front seats that could be reclined and adjusted for height and well as fore and aft - all this came as standard equipment.
The launch model was a 4-speed manual with overdrive, originally an option, like the Borg-Warner 3-speed automatic box. With its refined styling, distinctive roll-over bar, (originally installed to stiffen the body to reduce scuttle-shake, rather than a safety feature often quoted by motoring press), and hard/soft top options, the car was widely acclaimed. Unhappily for British Leyland it was not so widely bought. Planned to be a volume seller, especially in the US market, with sales of 12,000 units a year the sales actually achieved were only slightly more than double that in the whole seven years of production. 1973 proved to be the highest sales year remarkably ! It quickly fell from its peak of 5,500 units, to 3,442 in 1974, then 2,898 in 1975, stabilizing for two years until only 1,800 or so units in its final year. In total just 25,939 Stags were produced".
"PRODUCTION ENDS - On the 24th June 1977. Hampered by warranty claims both here and in its prime target market of the US the Stag sold poorly. Further sales were lost following the Middle East Oil crisis of 1973/4 following a revolution and the outbreak of the gulf war the Stag was withdrawn from the US market in 1973. Sales at home, were also affected by reliability issues and a poor reputation for mechanical problems…some journalists labelling the model as the Triumph Snag.
Despite numerous improvements through its production run Triumph didn’t manage to resolve all the cars problems. But such issues need to viewed in context. The 1970’s were a period of unrest with strikes and industrial disputes aplenty in the car industry and for British Leyland in particular. Quality assurance, fit and finish wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from cars today but things were especially bad at British Leyland with for example casting sand not being fully purged from engine blocks at the factory – one engine failure is recounted to have produced a cup and a half of casting sand being found in the oil on tear down. Hardly surprising that the engine ran its main bearings.
If that wasn’t bad enough it wasn’t fully understood at the time that having a an engine block of cast iron with an aluminium head caused an electrolytic reaction which could result in the silting up of the waterways and the radiator unless the engine was run with a good quality anti-freeze with inhibitor all year round and coupled with an annual reverse flush of the cooling system. To compound the issue if the radiator silted up the car would overheat and this could lead the head gasket being blown - requiring the head to be skimmed and the cooling system and radiator to be reverse flushed to avoid a re-occurrence. This was something that was initially overlooked. With the water pump high in the vee of the engine even a small loss of coolant can have an adverse effect on circulation".
"STAG OWNERS CLUB - To the many thousands of fans of the car, not least that of the Stag Owners Club founder, Tony Hart, the car did not die. It currently thrives and it is estimated that at least 46% of UK cars and in excess of 35% of the worldwide total original production run of 25,939 cars survive, which has to be one of the most remarkable events considering how the car became the butt of so many jokes and criticisms, both during production and after its demise. Since production ceased an army of owners, enthusiasts and specialist parts suppliers have engineered the foibles out of the car and have developed it into the reliable and prestigious car it was always destined to be.
The Triumph Stag is exceptionally well supported by the UK's largest club for a single model, enthusiasts, specialist parts suppliers and vehicle maintainers. It doesn't just end there as improvements continue to be developed today, with the assistance of Stag Owners Club Tooling Fund Limited (SOCTFL), which exists solely for the purpose of ensuring that obsolete parts are re-manufactured to ensure the survival of this unique Italian designed, but British made car. Each member of the Stag Owners Club owns one share in SOCTFL thus ensuring every members commitment to that goal"
"GARAGE SERVICING - I’ve been using Abinger Hammer Motors who are Stag specialists to undertake all servicing and repairs to my Stag for around fifteen or more years now and am extremely pleased with the quality of their work. After my first visit for a service and to check the car over the garage owner, Roger Morrish, sat down with me and we went through the list of things that needed to be done to bring her back to concourse. We prioritised them as urgent, (needing to be done immediately), essential, (things that needed to be done but could wait), and aesthetic, (nice to have) with the work to be undertaken over the next three years to keep the costs manageable. I would recommend giving yourself plenty of time when deciding to book them as they are always busy. One thing to note is that they don’t take credit or debit cards - cheque only. Located on the A25 in the village of Abinger Hammer halfway between Guildford and Dorking - you can contact them on 01306 6730427".