Vintage Views: Triumph TR8

Building a V8-powered British roadster has been the stuff of enthusiasts’ dreams for more than half a century. Carroll Shelby did it, and many others have given it their best shot.

Small dose of reality: Homebuilt swaps are often so messy and complicated that they never see the light of day.

What about buying one? Those Shelby Cobras are now worth at least a million dollars each, but is there a less stratospheric option that still harnesses that same V8 magic?

Consider the Triumph TR8.

Despite the model’s low production numbers–figure about 2700 units total–prices are still extremely fair, with most nice ones trading somewhere around $10,000. Add in the TR8’s status as one of the final classic British sport cars, and this could be today’s hot value buy.

Although the TR8 was only available stateside for the 1980 and 1981 model years, its story actually began a decade earlier. Triumph brass realized that the coming times required a modern car, something that traded chrome bumpers and meager power for pop-up headlights and a bit more fire under the hood. The design sketch was approved back in December 1971.

Along the way, though, Triumph encountered a speed bump: the 1973 oil crisis. Plans changed, and when the wedge-shaped TR7 coupe debuted in 1975, it sported an inline-four instead of the anticipated V8. Despite its lack of power–and some dismal reviews–the TR7 still sold very well. Triumph even added a convertible version to the lineup for the 1979 model year.

The idea of a V8-powered wedge had been shelved, but not forgotten: The TR8 finally joined Triumph’s lineup for the 1980 model year. The TR7 and TR8 shared dealership floor space, and both could be had in coupe and convertible forms.

Two big things separated the TR8 from its lesser siblings. First, by 1980 Triumph TR7 production had moved from Liverpool to Coventry, improving quality greatly. Then there was the TR8’s engine, an aluminum 3.5-liter V8 sourced from GM. It had previously powered 1961-’63 Buicks, Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles.

The V8 engine gave that wedge-shaped body the performance it deserved. Magazine testers raved. Race wins across the board followed, too, from performance rallies to IMSA GTO competition. And then there was the sound. The TR8 got even better for 1981, when fuel injection replaced the original carburetors.

Did Triumph have a Corvette-beater on its hands? That’s where the story ends. Right as the ’80s got going, Triumph and sister company MG fell apart. Sports car production stopped, and both famed brands left our shores. If there’s any consolation, at least Triumph went out on a high note.

Shopping & Ownership

Kelvin Dodd of Moss Motors works with many of Great Britain’s iconic cars, and he even has his own TR8 project. He provided some great tips for anyone looking for their own V8-powered wedge.

First of all, if you are interested in being a TR8 owner, check out the Triumph Wedge Owners Association website (triumphwedgeowners.org). There is a very active email group there, and most cars that hit the market will be noted and discussed.

Next, decide if you want an original collector car or an uprated hotrod. The most desirable original cars are the California fuel-injected models.

These cars are popular in export markets such as Germany, so get in there quick if you have an interest. Original interior trim and plastic components are hard to find, so buy the best-preserved car you can afford. If originality is not the primary concern, then the sky is the limit. The original 3.5-liter engine can be easily upgraded all the way to the Range Rover H.E. 4.6-liter. Bonnet clearance means that the later fuel-injection systems will need either modification or replacement with readily available carburetors.

The suspension is relatively modern, with long wheel travel and soft springs and bushings for comfort and road holding. Original springs will have sagged by now–as evidenced by destroyed bump stops. Upgraded springs and slightly stiffer bushings will give a sportier feel when matched with high-quality shocks. It’s becoming difficult to find performance tires for the original, 13-inch wheels, so aftermarket plus-sized wheels have become popular. This also allows for fitment of larger, vented front-disc brakes.

The LT77 transmission is strong. Failures due to lack of lubrication are usually caused by a failed oil pump or flat towing. The oil pump gears can be changed without pulling the transmission, so it’s a good idea to check these when resealing the transmission. Second gear syncro tends to crunch when cold. Using GM synchro transmission oil seems to be the best way to reduce this issue.

A lot of the original body panel tooling was destroyed, but the large supply of rust-free TR7 body donors out there means that any TR8 can be salvaged. The critical unique components are the title, front cross member, power rack and high-geared differential.

Since the TR8 has long legs, a comfortable suspension and air conditioning, it has become a popular long-distance cruising car for Triumph owners wanting to attend national events.

Here’s an interesting point: When the TR8 first came out, it was the SCCA autocross ringer. The rules were changed after a year, making the cars less competitive and resulting in a bunch of sports car magazine classified ads: “TR8, low mileage, comes with spare set of wheels and tires; trailer available.” We often wonder what happened to these thrashed cars after their early history was lost.

This article is from an old issue of Grassroots Motorsports. Get all the latest how-tos and stories for just $20. Subscribe now.

Parts & Service

Moss Motors mossmotors.com (800) 667-7872

Victoria British victoriabritish.com (800) 255-0088

COMMUNITY

Triumph Wedge Owners Association triumphwedgeowners.org

Vintage Triumph Register vintagetriumphregister.org

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Comments

View comments on the GRM forums
kanaric
kanaric Dork
12/13/16 2:51 p.m.

This car in coupe form interests me.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill UltimaDork
12/13/16 3:02 p.m.

I wish you people would quit posting stuff about these cars. I haven't gotten one yet. The one I had a real good shot at got sold before I could acquire any more space.

Indy-Guy
Indy-Guy Dork
12/13/16 3:06 p.m.

A V-6 Swapped TR7 is a great car too.

(Hint: check the cars in my "garage")

TiggerWelder
TiggerWelder Reader
12/13/16 3:53 p.m.

There is a pretty fast ITS one in Raleigh, NC and a street version that is reported to frequently go hundreds of miles reliably. Just ask Jeff Young!

tr8todd
tr8todd Dork
12/13/16 5:24 p.m.

A fast ITS prepped TR8 is a slow street prepped TR8. There were roughly 400 coupes made before the 2300 or so convertibles came around. They were built between early 77 and late 79. Just got back a 4.6L from the machine shop today. Ought to be good for 260 HP in my 2400 pound coupe.

racerdave600
racerdave600 SuperDork
12/13/16 6:02 p.m.

I remember test driving a couple in the early '80's, before I bought my TR7. I drove an '80 carbed model, and an '81 injected version. There was no comparison to the TR7 the 8's were so much better. And not just the power, it handled better as well. I wanted one so bad but just couldn't quite swing the extra money. I still want one.

lotusseven7
lotusseven7 Reader
12/13/16 8:54 p.m.

I looked for a clean example but couldn't find one within my budget. I then came upon an MGB with the 3.5 V-8 installed. Its a fun car which is probably similar to the TR-8, which is still on my radar. Maybe some day..........

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/14/16 7:32 a.m.

Damnit... I know where a TR8 is for a bit under $10K. I wonder what the drop-dead price is... although it's been for sale for about 6 months at that price, so I get the feeling the price is rather firm. Annoying, it had A/C but it's been removed. I wonder how difficult those parts would be to find. Apparently, the P/S as well, although not sure what that means.

I really want one... and I fear that $10K price may look cheap some day. Granted, we've been saying that about the TR8 for nearly a decade now...

spin_out
spin_out HalfDork
12/14/16 7:34 a.m.

I have a low mileage, original paint TR8 sitting in my garage while I wait for them to go up in value. It's probably more likely my DMC-12 will go up. Neither one has budged much, so I'm not holding my breathe.

I will say the 4.2 Rover powered TR7 we built for the $2011 Challenge was quite a fun car. It just needed a LSD.

dherr
dherr New Reader
12/14/16 8:41 a.m.

I always wanted one since I first saw one in the JRT dealership in Frederick MD back in 82.... Found one in 1989 that needed work for 5K, but at the time, my son was about to be born,and it needed a bunch of work so I ended up buying a $1,000 TR4A that was a total basket case. 20 years later, the TR4A has a TR8 drive train now. Car just works well with this conbination of the Rover 3.5, 5 speed and quick rack steering. Fast, fun, light (V8 weighs less that the old 4 cylinder) and it is fun to see the looks on peoples faces or at the stop light drags.

Finally got to drive one last summer. Drove my friend's TR8 last summer (and he drove my 2008 MX5). Loved the sound, did not like the shifting and the generally loose feel of the car. Still like them and my end up with one at some point, especially since they continue to be affordable.....

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
12/14/16 8:47 p.m.

One day, I swear, a good TR8 will be worth real money. And then we'll all say, Man, if only I had bought one during the 35 years when they weren't worth a ton of money.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/15/16 4:15 a.m.

It's funny... I never really cared about them at all until about 3 years ago when I rode in a nicely sorted TR7 and thought, "damn... compared to my GT6, this is a really nice, modern car!" Then I wanted a TR8 - because by hell or high water, my next classic cars will have A/C...

tr8todd
tr8todd Dork
12/15/16 6:40 a.m.

I for one hope they never climb in value or catch on with the people that have money. I like the fact that I can troll the web looking for orphaned ones, pick them up cheap, restore them, add performance and still come out with something that will blow the doors off of most new sports cars for well under $20K. The nice thing about them is you can do mild upgrades and totally transform the car. Add wild upgrades and it becomes something really special. I have 6 of them ranging from bone stock and boring to a fully caged LS3 powered rocket ship. My favorite driver just has the basic mild upgrades. I call it my comfy cruiser. Just an all around nice car with a little get up and go.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill UltimaDork
12/15/16 7:21 a.m.

We have several TR7 and 8s in our car club. All of the owners comment on how comfortable they are for traveling.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/15/16 7:49 a.m.
spitfirebill wrote: We have several TR7 and 8s in our car club. All of the owners comment on how comfortable they are for traveling.

I can believe it. They are essentially modern cars and light-years ahead of the Triumphs that preceded them, or even my Spitfire that was built at the same time. With a few updates, I could totally see having one as a daily driver. Especially the coupe which should be more weather-tight. I wonder how well a Miata engine/trans would fit...

wspohn
wspohn HalfDork
12/15/16 10:05 a.m.

TR-7? Rubber lipped flying doorstop. TR-8 - see above, but with a nice smooth low output V8.

We probably saw more of them in Canada than you guys did. Nice touring cars (the TR8) and the injected version is definitely the one to go for. Styling never got me going so even though I've driven several and had access to quite a few for sale, I'v really never been tenpted.

Maybe the fact that the TR7/8 was the model that the new Leyland management guys sacrificed the MGs for - first stopping importation of the MGB GT and also allowing the MGB model to stagnate and die in favour of the Triumph has something to do with how I feel about the model.

I actually had a friend offer me free drivable TR76 coupe once and he seemed upset that I declined.

As usual BLMC blew it - they should have offered the TR-7 with the Dolomite Sprint 4 valve heads(extra 20 bhp), and they should have used the Rover SD-1 (did you guys get any of those in the US?) engine spec with an extra 50 bhp (as they used in the Morgan +8) to make the TR-8 a decent touring or GT car.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill UltimaDork
12/15/16 10:08 a.m.
Ian F wrote:
spitfirebill wrote: We have several TR7 and 8s in our car club. All of the owners comment on how comfortable they are for traveling.

I can believe it. They are essentially modern cars and light-years ahead of the Triumphs that preceded them, or even my Spitfire that was built at the same time. With a few updates, I could totally see having one as a daily driver. Especially the coupe which should be more weather-tight. I wonder how well a Miata engine/trans would fit...

Don't know for a fact, but I would think it would fit fine.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill UltimaDork
12/15/16 10:11 a.m.

In reply to wspohn:

As sent in US spec trim, the TR7 Sprint was considered too much of a threat to the TR8. I suspect it would have been costly as well.

From what I have read on the interwebs, the Sprint engines don't like to be raced too hard.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
12/15/16 10:58 a.m.

In reply to spitfirebill:

Plus, back in the late 70's the emissions requirements between the US and Euro markets were so different it's very likely the sportier Euro spec cars would have been shadows of themselves in US form.

BL simply didn't have the funds to Federalize a lot of engine options for the US market.

One's opinion about the styling of the TR7 seems to depend greatly on how "attached" one was to earlier English cars. Being a child of the 70's, the TR7 doesn't look any better or worse than the TR6 to me. Just different. And more in line with other cars of its era.

Alicia_Martin
Alicia_Martin None
12/15/16 11:21 a.m.

Well, I don't have much knowledge about TR7/TR8 but I would think this was pretty good and comfortable

racerdave600
racerdave600 SuperDork
12/15/16 12:48 p.m.

I drove my 7 once from North Alabama to Boston back in the '80's. I would never have done that in say a Miata. It was probably one of the more comfortable sports cars I've owned.

Dave
Dave Reader
12/15/16 1:32 p.m.

1981 Triumph TR8

I just bought a TR8. Love the exhaust rumble. Only driven it on and off the trailer at this point.

mad_machine
mad_machine MegaDork
12/15/16 1:36 p.m.

the TR7/8 always looked to me like BL wanted to make a mid-engine car, but after designing the body, couldn't figure out the engineering. I do find them pretty though

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