Development of the 2000

Triumph 2000.

Triumph's early 1960s future looked far from assured, but thanks to the launch of the Herald in 1959, it looked a whole lot brigher than once-dominant Standard's.

So it's no surprise that when the company formulated plans to replace the full-sized Vanguard range, it would feature Triumph signature Michelotti styling, and that all important matching marque badge on the bootlid...

The great turnaround

It has been commented on many, many times, that when the Triumph 2000 and Rover P6 exploded onto the scene, in 1963, they both revolutionised the luxury car market. Certainly, in the UK, things would never look the same again, as a 2-litre executive car could offer everything that the British middle manager could ever possibly need. At a stroke, the more cumbersome 3-litre opposition looked rather past their collective sell-by dates - the more efficient Triumph and Rover products showed that a bigger engine did not neccessarily lead to executive bliss. In the UK, a new market sector was effectively created, and executives never looked back - as they now had a choice of two young and dynamic products.

Zebu soon took shape under the guidance of Harry Webster - and as can be seen from this very early model, the reverse slope rear window was on the cards right from the beginning.

It may have been a co-incidence that Triumph and Rover would launch conceptually similar products at the same time, but that is not to say that each company was not expecting their rival's product. Standard-Triumph had experienced a gradual drop-off in sales and profitability during the 1950s, and thanks to their stolid range of cars, a recovery was looking increasingly unlikely. Their initial response was to seek out a partner - or more correctly someone to buy the company in order to help finance a product-led recovery. Among others, Rover was targeted, and talks duly commenced between the two companies. Although little specific future product information was shared, both companies did discuss their future plans in vague terms, and a big part of that was their upcoming 2-litre saloons. However, talks broke down when an agreement could not be reached, and both parties continued to work on their upcoming products - both knowing that they would meet each other on the market, as competitors.

Standard-Triumph had started working on their new car in 1957, and concentrated on it as a replacement for the uninspiring Vanguard Mark III - a car that was underperforming badly on the marketplace. The new car, codenamed "Zebu" was intended to eradicate the image of staidness that overshadowed Standard's current model range. A new six-cylinder engine was conceived (Harry Webster believed that "big fours" were not smooth enough), and an advanced body style was soon sketched out. Funding for the new Zebu (as well as "Zobo" - the Herald, as it would become) was gained when Standard-Triumph sold their profitable tractor making subsidiary for ?12 million.) No question about it - Zebu needed to look startling and herald (no pun intended) a new and confident direction for the company. The team behind Zebu - Harry Webster and Giovanni Michelotti - overseen by Alick Dick would engineer a complete transformation of Standard-Triumph's fortunes, bringing the latter marque name to the fore.

Zebu had developed nicely along the way, and the rear three quarter view was especially attractive.

Zebu was rapidly developed into something of a sophisticated car - the new six-cylinder engine was mated to an appealing and radical looking package. The matter of funding was a different matter, however - and following the company's inability to tie-up with another car producer, Standard-Triumph continued development of the car at a slower than desirable pace. This did not blunt Harry Webster's enthusiasm for the project, and an interesting specification was drawn up: traditional separate chassis construction, a rear-mounted transaxle gearbox was used for the gearbox, and a McPherson strut/independent layout was chosen for the suspension system. Even more advanced concepts were also mooted: one such being a pneumatic suspension system. It may have never left the drawing board, but its mere mention reflected the radical spirit that permeated Standard-Triumph at the time.

Zebu's future was being put into further doubt, thanks to falling Standard-Triumph profitability and the lack of funding to actually put it into production. Two events effectively sealed the fate of Zebu:

  • Firstly, a visit from Motor magazine's then editor Christopher Jennings, who given an exclusive advance viewing of the car, tipped off Harry Webster to the effect that a competitor would be introducing their own "reverse rake" car, and that it would hit the market a long time before Zebu. Although he never revealed who it was that would be building this car (it turned out that he was referring to the Ford Anglia 105E and Classic 109E models), Harry Webster treated the information as being reliable. Panic facelifts were planned - initially in the form of Zebu redesigned to house a more conventional rear window line.
  • Secondly, Standard-Triumph hit rock bottom in 1960, thanks to the domestic credit squeeze and a drop-off in export sales. Financially, the company was now seriously on the ropes, losses were beginning to mount, and the Vanguard was by this time, a lame duck on the market place...
The frontal aspect was less attractive with its fussy grille/headlamp arrangement, but this was far from finalised. The reverse rake concept would be ditched in 1959 following a visit from MOTOR magazine's editor.

The Zebu style was now completely under review - effectively at the point it should have been "frozen" for production - and following on from the conventional flavour of the original Zebu, a more original Herald based solution was sought. The idea was that the Herald body could we widened, lengthened and given four doors. It could then clothe the Zebu chassis and running gear and act as a "big brother" to the successful Herald. This idea was soon rejected on the grounds that the style did not translate well on a bigger car, and that, realistically, it did not look different enough to the car it was based upon.

Beyond that, a new and conventional Michelotti style was also mooted - somewhat akin to a plainer Austin Cambridge/Peugeot 404, it was also not viewed favourably by management. This left the company in a quandary as to the best way to continue the Zebu project. In the end, there was only one plan of action to follow - start again from scratch...

1961 saw Standard-Triumph rescued from financial ruin by Leyland - it followed a brief courtship, where the carmaker's management ensured that it did stand in the way of the takeover. For Leyland, it marked the beginning of a doomed adventure into car making. Essentially, Leyland had prospered in the truck market thanks to a dynamic managmement team, and were awash with cash. Taking on Standard-Triumph was a way of expanding the business - and hopefully generating even more profits.

Certainly, the influx of new management (and the removal of most of the existing board) brought renewed vigour to Standard-Triumph. Faced with the prospect of developing the new 2-litre saloon (Leyland had stipulated a 1600cc version as well, but this was soon dropped), cash was soon made available to Harry Webster to get it into production as quickly as possible.

Excited by this situation, Webster set about developing a new car - under the directorship of Stanley Markland, who Leyland had drafted in to replace Alick Dick and sort out the "mess" in the company. March 1961 saw the beginning of the turnaround. Donald Stokes came into the picture at this point in time, as Leyland's director of finance, and he made his mark on the new project by laying down strict costing requirements for the new car. As a result, many of the Zebu's parts were carried over, and although the concept was broadly similar, an alternative and equally bold style would need to be created. New features were a move to monocoque construction (as opposed to the Herald-like separate chassis) and conventional gearbox layout. The project's change in direction and its new impetus were denoted by a new project name: "Barb". The intention was that the new car would be sold as a Triumph, as the Leyland management clearly saw that Triumph was on the ascendency (following the successes of the Herald and TR4). Standard, it would seem, would bite the dust when the new car appeared.

This sketch by Michelotti was intended as a proposal for the Herald - However, the beginnings of the Triumph 2000 can clearly be seen in its lines. When the lines are right, stick with the concept - and Harry Webster did just that, seeing that the design theme made it into production in 1963.

With a healthy influx of cash, and management enthusiasm, development of the Barb progressed more rapidly than it did with Zebu - and just as well really: at Leyland's insistance, the finished product was to be exhibited at the London Motor Show at the end of 1963.

The entire team knuckled down and worked hard to keep the project on track. Because the mechanical layout (engine, gearbox, suspension) was reasonably familiar to the company, it was a relatively straightforward process translating the car from paper to production line. The overall process have been straightforward, but it certainly was not easy: Barb was not the first large monococque car to be produced by Standard, but it did pose quite a few new questions, regarding suspension and engine mounting. Given the tight schedule imposed on them, Harry Webster's team amassed as many testing miles as possible, and the MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) proving grounds at Nuneaton became extremely familiar to the Coventry-based engineers.

Giovanni Michelotti also knuckled down, and within the astonishingly short period of three months, produced a completely new style for the car - from scratch. A handsome, six-light style was proposed, banishing memories of all the incarnations on Zebu. Webster accepted the design following a few minor modifications, and committed the shell to production.

Michelotti's sketch of Barb indeed shows many similarities with the earlier proposal, but translated into a four-door, six-light scheme. The first full-sized model of the car produced by Michelotti looked remarkably similar to this rapidly produced sketch. The tail was lengthened, and a 'peak' was added over the rear window (by Standard-Triumph) at the insistence of Harry Webster.

Throughout 1962 and 1963 Barb was tested with a view to being unveiled at that year's London Motor Show, and admirably, this tight deadline was met, despite some teething problems with the semi-trailing arm rear suspension layout. It cannot be overstated just how an astonishing achievement it was to get the car into production in such a short time - in all, just over two years (even more so when one considers the fact that there really were not many carryover parts from existing production models). Because of the short amount of time at hand, the launch of the new car (the "Triumph 2000" name was attached to Barb in the summer of 1963) would be followed by a pause before the car became fully available to the public. Knowing that Rover were also launching a radical 2-litre car at the same time, Triumph decided that they needed to get their cars into the hands of "hand-picked" customers, and operators as well as journalists. This would allow their new car to gain significant exposure, to get further and vitally important test data, and compensate for an early release date, allowing for the production build-up process.

A pre-production Triumph 2000 undergoing final testing at MIRA in the months leading up to its launch.

It was a practice that British Leyland would use again (for entirely different reasons) with the Austin 3-Litre in 1968...

The Triumph 2000 was officially unveiled in October 1963 and the press and public, alike took it to their hearts in a big way. It would seem that the presence of this and the Rover 2000 proved intensely stimulating for the executive market sector as a whole, and sales of the new Triumph took off in a big way when sales commenced in earnest in January 1964. AUTOCAR magazine summed up the Triumph 2000 most favourably after their first encounter:

All in all, the Triumph 2000 seems to have golden prospects; its modern technical specification, full equipment, roominess and pleasing proportions show no vestige of insularity, so that it should penetrate deep into export markets with the extensive backing of Standard-Triumph International and the Leyland parent.

AUTOCAR

The conclusion that AUTOCAR drew following their first road test was even more glowing:

The Triumph 2000 will not cause a flutter of excitement if one is looking for scintillating performance, but the more it is driven, the more one like it, particularly the good suspension and freedom from noise which contribute to an overall high degree of comfort.

AUTOCAR
Triumph 2000 poses outside London's Aldwych Theatre.

Of course, in these more civilised times, car magazines (except for, perhaps, MOTORING WHICH?) had yet to latch on to anything so vulgar as back to back testing against a competitor, but had they put the Triumph against its deadly rival from Rover then it would have come out on top in terms of insulation from road noise, engine smoothness and top-gear acceleration. That is not to say that the Triumph was decidedly better; it simply offered a different mix of qualities and gave the customer a genuine choice.

The interior was a sumptuous place to be, as the model clearly demonstrates, but its dashboard design clearly lacked cohesion. This situation would be rectified in the Innsruck.

After a brisk start, sales continued to gain momentum, and exports were strong. The range was expanded through the years, with the first variant - the estate version - arriving in October 1965. Developed alongside the saloon, but understandably, less resources were given to it, meaning a delayed launch. Because of the excessive costs of putting it into large scale production, and its perceived limited sales potential, Triumph entrusted the job of assembling the estate bodyshells to Carbodies Ltd. of Coventry. Well, it was not quite as simple as that - partially completed shells were shipped from Pressed Steel in Swindon to Carbodies, where the estate panels were added at the rear. These completed shells were then shipped to Triumph's main production line, for final assembly and painting.

The Triumph 2000 estate had one undoubted advantage on the marketplace: Rover did not produce an official estate version of the P6, the only way buyers could get hold of a P6 estate was via the Crayford engineered version. Triumph, it seemed had the upper hand.

Development continued and following competition proving, the 2498cc version was launched in 1968. The 2.5PI model was interesting for its use of fuel injection and allied with the larger capacity engine, it gave the big Triumph's performance a real shot in the arm. By this time, Harry Webster had moved on to become Austin-Morris's technical director, and in his place came Spen King. King was a stickler for build quality, and it cannot have made him comfortable to see just how unreliable the Lucas injection system actually was. However, Triumph persisted with the troublesome system, and tried - unsuccessfully in the end - to iron out all of its deficiencies, realising just what benefits it brought to the car.

A rather odd looking proposal for the Innsbruck facelift - it was rejected.

1969 saw the launch of the brutish-looking (but undoubtedly very stylish) Mark II versions of the Triumph. As with the original version, the styling was handled by Michelotti, and was initially worked on from 1967 under the project name "Innsbruck". Michelotti had already impressed Harry Webster with the Stag, so it was logical that the new version of the car would move forward to match the look of the new grand tourer. There was not enough money in the company coffers to afford anything more substantial than a major facelift, but as the basic car was still perfectly competitive, this was not the problem it could have been. The new style offered a longer nose and tail, and managed to make the car look more elegant (in the author's eyes) and much more contemporary. Like the TR6 model, the body engineering was undertaken by Karmann in Germany, as Pressed Steel turned the job down - on the grounds that they were unable to complete the task within the timeframes stipulated by Triumph.

In terms of sales, the Triumph 2000 continued to perform strongly, but did begin to lose out to the Rover P6, thanks to that car's new V8 variant. Triumph did shoehorn in a Stag V8 engine into one 2000 bodyshell as a riposte to this model, but beyond becoming Triumph's sales director's company car, it did not progress any further, unfortunately. A mid-range 2500TC was then introduced, featuring a carburetted and somewhat less powerful version of the 2500PI's engine. This car proved to be a popular addition to the range, as tales of the PI's unreliability had spread throughout the trade, leaving Triumph with a car that buyers mistrusted in a big way.

The car's equipment levels were progressively improved as the years passed by, and sales remained healthy, even if they were overhauled by the Rover P6. Throughout the remainder of its life, the Triumph remained admired by a great many buyers, despite reliability wobbles encountered by the PI version.

The interim, first generation Triumph 2500TC.

In 1974 a mid-term facelift was introduced, when all models received a Stag-style radiator grille and increased ride heights amongst other detail changes. The most significant addition, however, was the introduction of a 99bhp, SU HS4-carburetted 2500TC, which sold alongside the PI for about a year. It was the popularity of this car which finally killed off the PI in 1975 and led to the ultimate rationalisation of the range with the introduction of the 2000TC, the 2500TC, the 2500S and the 2500S Estate. The latter three cars all had the same specification engine, having a revised cylinder head, long-branch inlet manifold from the US-spec TR6 and SU HS6 carbs, delivering 106bhp.

The 2500S was effectively a fully-loaded 'bells-and-whistles' job, distinguishing itself by having Stag-style alloys, front anti-roll bar coupled with softer front springs, more comprehensive instrumentation and Sundym glass as standard - in all other respects, including performance and gearing, it was identical to the second-generation 2500TC.

That car's 14-inch wheels and anti-roll bars being noteworthy additions. It was this range: 2000TC, 2500TC and 2500S that remained in place until the model's death in 1977.

Thats more like it: the Innsbruck facelift also saw the introduction of a new dashboard.

The Canley based designers started work on the replacement for the Innsbruck in 1970. Project Puma did not progress as far as Rover's concurrent and rival P10 project, and although product planners envisaged a range of 6 and V8-engined cars, Puma never advanced any further than the clay model stage. Because Rover and Triumph were competing for essentially the same market, there was no way that BLMC would allow for both companies to continue competing the way that they were. As a result, a choice needed to be made. When it went up against the P10 in an internal Rover-Triumph design competition to decide who would produce the next executive car, it came in second place in a race of two, behind David Bache's 5-door scheme.

Triumph may have lost out against Rover in the battle to design and produce British Leyland's corporate executive car, but that is not to say a great deal of Triumph thinking did not go into the Rover SD1: the inline-6 cylinder OHC engines were pure Triumph, and the 77mm gearbox was also designed by Triumph engineers at Canley. The SD1's suspension system as designed by Spen King was closer to the Triumph 2000 in its philosophy than it was the Rover P6, and in many ways, the SD1 was the world-beating product that it was because of its amalgamation of the engineering excellence of Rover and Triumph.

The Triumph 2000 was a case of being the perfect product at the right time, and its 13-year life demonstrated perfectly, the way that the British could build a car of enduring quality and timeless style in a package that customers actually wanted. The decline of the Triumph marque during the late 1970s was in no way attributable to the 2000/2500, but simply because there was no space for it in Leyland Cars' range, given the company's declining market share. The stylish 2000/2500 was first of a line of distinguished Triumph executive cars. Criminally, and SD1 notwithstanding, it was also the last of that very same line...