Home » A Daydreaming Designer Imagines If Triumph’s Shape Of Things To Come Gave Way To A Full-On Eighties Wedge.

A Daydreaming Designer Imagines If Triumph’s Shape Of Things To Come Gave Way To A Full-On Eighties Wedge.

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Writing fiction often isn’t tough, but creating plausible fiction can be a very tricky thing to develop. No matter how much I might stretch the limits of history in an alternate reality, there is no way that I can find to save the British auto industry as we knew it in the last century. However, I could imagine at least one marque a final gasp of breath, even it would have been with the help of an unlikely source.

1953: The Beginnings Of The End

Something seems very wrong with the picture. The image of a shiny Hillman Minx from Britain’s Rootes Group rolling off a new assembly line seventy years ago doesn’t appear that odd at first, until you notice some of the details.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom
1953 Isuzu Hillman Minx 01
Wikipedia/Mytho88

There are no wool-cap wearing, Daily Mirror-reading English workers surrounding the car; the writing on the signage is in kanji. What’s going on? The year is 1953, and this picture is of the Isuzu factory outside of Tokyo. The Minx is one of the first ones made from parts shipped over from the UK to the fledgling Japanese automaker after the end of World War II, a collaborative and profitable venture to get the war-torn nation up and going again producing passenger cars.

Minx
Isuzu

Things would change quickly at this plant, with the many crates of British parts shipped over decreasing as Isuzu started to build components locally. A mere four years later, the Isuzu Minx would be made completely out of all-Japanese components. However, the parts Isuzu made themselves were not always the same as the original Hillman pieces. From accounts that I’ve read from some of the British engineers sent to Japan to help Isuzu, essentially every component was redesigned and modified to the point that the resulting Minx was, to their horror, a far better car than what was made back in Ryton-on-Dunsmore. Upon returning to the UK, did these engineers convince Hillman to attempt some of these improvements? Of course not- they apparently got brushed off, ridiculed, and told that they were brainwashed by these obviously inferior foreigners during their time in Asia.

1981: The Final Triumph

Fast forward about thirty years. Hillman is long gone, and the rest of the English auto industry is on life support. It’s 1981, and a gleaming little Triumph sedan pops out of a factory under the steel-grey-cloudy English skies of Cowley. The car looks suspiciously like a Honda Ballade/Civic, because that’s exactly what it is. In a strange turn of events, the legendary Triumph brand was now making nothing but a Japanese car under license on British soil.

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H and H Company (car for sale)

Look, we can say that this dire situation was a deserved comeuppance for the head-in-the-sand business decisions of the UK auto industry, but only a car enthusiast totally devoid of heart could see this as something other than a tragedy. Plus, can we really blame proud UK workers that have no interest in going on unemployment for the ill-advised choices of their superiors? Britain gave the world (especially the US) the affordable sports car, and Triumph’s iterations of the formula always seemed to have an edgier, more brutish personality compared to marques like MG and Austin Healey. You want a quaint looking, almost stereotypical British roadster? You wouldn’t get it from Triumph- they incorporated Italian styling from Giovanni Michelotti with the aggressive looking 1961 TR4, followed later by the German-styled 1969 TR6 by Karmann.

Tr5
JP Fraizer (car for sale) , car for sale.com

 

Sadly, with the introduction of the rebadged Honda Civic sedan, all Triumph sports cars ceased production, and the nameplate itself would disappear only a few years later. What if it didn’t?

Honda’s Triangulated Dream

While innovation might have always been part of Honda’s engineering, the styling and image in the early eighties was all about simplicity. The advertising reflected this with basic images of cars on blank backgrounds, and Rocky Balboa’s coach doing a voice over on TV spots:

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You wouldn’t expect a company known for conservatively styled cars to commission an Italian styling house to create a rather outrageous concept car, yet Pininfarina’s HP-X concept of bore the Honda badge on its nose when it appeared in 1984. The heyday of the wedge supercar was pretty much done by the beginning of the eighties, and the HP-X took the shape to an extreme of someone possibly knowing this was a last hurrah before more subtle interpretations later in the decade (such as the Diablo). Debuting about the same time as the styling house’s Ferrari Testarossa, the HD-X lacked that car’s ‘cheese grater’ sides but had parallel ribs that dramatically ran at an angle down the length of the car, wrapping over the deck lid at the back of the car.

Hpx
Pininfarina via Car Throttle 

 

With a lower body painted in a contrasting dark color to match the darkened glass roof, the wedge shape was even more pronounced. This was a design that you just flat out knew a firm like Honda would never, ever produce in such an outrageous form; the rather conservative design of the production NSX five years later proved this.

Still, there was one nameplate that might have given this design a shot.

Marina With A Wedgy

The last Triumph sports car bore no resemblance to its predecessors, or anything else for that matter. Aimed like an arrow squarely at the American market in 1975, Harris Mann’s body design on this car even looked much like said arrow. The dramatically-styled TR7 was a wedge-shaped two seater marketed as “the shape of things to come” and turned out to be the best-selling Triumph sports car of all time.

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Tr7
British Leyland via etsy and ebay

 

Despite the workmanship you’d expect from a car built by a workforce that went on strike every two days, a chassis based on the rather inferior Morris Marina, and the existence of something called the Datsun 240Z for similar money, British Leyland was able to peddle nearly 140,000 TR7s. Obviously the rather unique shape struck a chord with some buyers; unlike MG that kept producing the same damn car until the bitter end, Triumph was at least trying to create something that could go toe-to-toe with modern overseas competitors and succeed beyond the allure of old English nostalgia.

 

Last Of Triumph’s Nine Lives?

It’s a bit of a shame that Triumph never had a chance to get a do-over and make a better wedge. What if Triumph had been given just one last shot for the honor of Her Majesty and a final chapter in their legacy of the British sports car? Here’s how it might have played out in an alternate reality.

There might not have been much of anything that Japanese and British auto executives had in common except for this one important desire: to make lots of money. Let’s imagine some Honda honcho saw the HP-X showcar gleaming under the lights and not being willing to let the idea just go into some basement garage and collect cobwebs after the show season. Fully aware that something like this would have no place in a model lineup with the logical, economy-minded CRX and Prelude, he also knows that Triumph once had the balls to produce a doorstop-looking sports car. It was also common knowledge in the early eighties that kids from Tokyo to Tacoma hung Union Jacks in their bedrooms and cranked London Calling; Britain was cool.

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Mont Blanc and legal pad from his briefcase in hand, our executive scribbles a rough profile of something like the HP-X. Next, he draws in a shape resembling the engine and front subframe of an Accord placed at the back of the car; Prelude suspension components are inked in up front. Theoretically, this would be the same mechanical setup as a Fiero, though not based on a GM X-Car and therefore possible a hundred times better (or at least less fire prone). A lack of rear overhang means there’s really only room for the spare tire behind the engine, the frunk under the hood being the only cargo compartment. There’s also a fair amount of luggage space in the area masquerading as a “rear seat”.

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The HP-X styling gets a bit of tweaking for production. The greenhouse is now a unified piece and lacks the odd duck-bill glass trim that softened the HP-X’s vertical backlight. A black painted roof and similar finish on the hood ahead of the windshield gives the impression of a massive glass area atop the doorstop form of sheet metal.

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The parallel ribs running up the side serve a purpose as they wrap over the engine compartment, forming ventilation slots that also act as intake scoops when the car is in motion.

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No Smiths Gauges In A Wood Slab Here

The wedge shape is carried into the interior as well. Parallel slots similar to what exists on the engine cover also live on dash to form places for vents and the digital gauges; there’s even a row of lights and gauges right below the deep windshield to put things right in your line of sight. Years before Porsche would have done it with the Sport Chrono package, the TR9 offers a clock that also can act as a stopwatch, but this one would exist in the hub of the steering wheel.

Img20230523 22092014

 

But Is It British?

If the TR9 saw the light of day, would our Honda executive be a hero? That depends. The Triumph Acclaim was supposedly rather trouble free, but that wasn’t the case when the Rover Group sold the Rover 800 in American later in the decade. Despite having Honda/Acura Legend mechanicals, the Sterling 825 turned out to be the archetype of everything British cars were infamous for. If they could make it at least as reliable as a concurrent BMW (admittedly a rather low bar), I don’t see how the TR9 couldn’t have found takers.

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It might be controversial to call the TR9 an ‘English’ car; some might even go so far as to call it a disgrace.  I can understand those feelings, but it wouldn’t be the first car to wear the badge that was designed by some of the UK’s greatest enemies forty years before. Cutting edge, exciting to drive, and keeping a few thousand bubble-and-squeak eating British people off of the dole? That’s a Triumph in every sense of the word.

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Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
11 months ago

Look how clean that front (& back) end looks! (Compared to new trucks w/ a million levels of grill, and cars w/ too many designs points, creases, etc

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
11 months ago

It sort of evokes the Mitsu/Dodges we had for a while.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
11 months ago

Wicked concept, wedges will always be amazing.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
11 months ago

I’m rather fond of the original TR7/8. My best friend had a TR8 and I got to drive it many times before it became iron oxide, so I feel it would be blasphemous to overdo a redo. Kind of like turning into a crossover…

I think it would be more interesting to re-envision the Dolomite. I also had experience with that model. It had a great blend of class and sportiness in my mind and could survive a tasteful modern, tailored styling update.

Anders
Anders
11 months ago

I’ll get behind this 100%. Always like the HP-X concept and a shame that the simplicity of the design was never transferred to a production car. That dashboard though, gives me all kinds of PTSD symptoms.. brief flashbacks to red dashboards lights in a white unreliable Fiat Tipo from 1991. The Tipo had same dashboard shelf design also with digital instruments. Probably the 2nd worst dashboard in history to clean, just beaten by the Mario Bellini designed Lanica Trevi dashboard

Chronometric
Chronometric
11 months ago

I drove across Europe in an Acclaim. It was way too good for me to consider it a Triumph so I called it a Tronda.

It is fashionable to blame the fall of the UK auto industry on disgruntled workers, the fact is that management had refused to invest in plants, technology, or design for decades. They just kept using the same bad running gear in slightly updated metal. Obviously the British could innovate if allowed, look at Jaguar and Lotus.

I have worked on 1970s era British, German, and Japanese cars. The German and Japanese parts are designed for purpose, always fit, and are easy to understand. Since they were given no money to create new designs, the British always started with “what existing part can I use here” vs. “how can this part work best”.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
11 months ago

In my experience, wedgies have never made for a comfortable ride.

I never stopped liking the TR6; I never started liking the TR7. Kind of odd, I suppose, since I did favor the Esprit, X1/9 and others. There was just something unfinished about the TR7.

Your TR9 exercise is a much better blended design front to back. Could it have saved Triumph or bought it another decade or so? I think the writing was already on the wall. My biggest surprise is that no one else has bought the marque and reintroduced a once fierce player in the sports car realm. Or maybe they did and I missed it. I have been napping a lot.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
11 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Former TR6 owner here, and I agree with all of this. In the case of the TR7, I think the wheelbase is too short, or the overhangs too long. It makes the car look unbalanced, like a weeble-wobble.

Toecutter
Toecutter
11 months ago

I normally hate wedge shapes, but this could lend itself well to the body style of the Ford Probe IV concept car. The TR7 is already IMO aesthetically ugly as a wedge, so might as well go crazy on the drag reduction. It has a 0.152 Cd value, when fairing the front wheels. The Ford Probe III did not fair the front wheels, but only the rear, and had a 0.22.

A 2L Triumph 4-cylinder found in the TR7, as anemic as it was, in such a slippery body would have been enough power to allow top speeds matching many sports cars of the day, like the 5.0 Mustang fox body or the Chevrolet Corvette. It would have been slower to accelerate to that speed than these cars, but it wouldn’t have taken much more power to match them at freeway speeds and above. It could have ended up a halo car for fuel economy too.

I was not fond of “the shape of things to come”, as it was backwards from the more slippery Triumphs of the past. The 1st generation Triumph Spitfire had a 0.39 Cd according to “Streamlining and Car Aerodynamics” by Jan P. Norbye. Considering its tiny frontal area of about 1.4 m^2, it is more slippery than the vast majority of modern cars, the better part of half of a century later. The wedge TR7 as executed was a step backward. Bishop’s design is a lot cleaner, and with some tweaks, could be something very interesting.

Toecutter
Toecutter
11 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

These were the drawings I could find:

http://www.motorgraphs.com/heritage/triumph-harris-mann-design-tr7-1971_a156411.aspx

IMO, it looked a lot better without the ugly rubber bumpers. I’m skeptical it would have been an aerodynamic improvement over the Spitfires of the era, or for that matter, the TR6 that preceded it. As much as I like GT6s and Spitfires, I’ve never been as much a fan of the TR series aesthetics. They looked more bland.

Your TR9 concept is a massive improvement over Mann’s TR7 sketch above, IMO.

Wolfpack57
Wolfpack57
11 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

I don’t think saying a car is aerodynamic because it has a small frontal area makes sense. By that logic, the most aerodynamic car is a Kei car. Cd is a much better way of measuring aero imo

Toecutter
Toecutter
11 months ago
Reply to  Wolfpack57

CdA measures the total drag imposed by the car itself. Area is an important component of the car’s overall drag. A small British sports car with a Cd of 0.5 and a frontal area of 1.5 m^2 will have half the overall aerodynamic drag force generated at a given speed than a truck with the same 0.5 drag coefficient but a 3.0 m^2 frontal area.

When it comes to determining how efficient of a body a car has, CdA is the logical choice of measure. Most modern vehicles, for all of their advances, are behind a Triumph Spitfire from the perspective of efficiency. Put a modern Toyota 4-cylinder in a Spitfire, and the fuel economy will make itself known. I read of a GT6 build almost 2 decades ago where electronic fuel injection was installed into the inline-6 engine, and the owner ended up averaging over 50 mpg, while 0-60 mph dropped to 5 seconds from the power increase.

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
11 months ago

That wedge shape and windowline give me Subaru SVX vibes.

I mean, if you put a stopwatch in the steering wheel, you know that every kid who owns one is going to time their runs between stoplights.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
11 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Perhaps the worst possible car choice for such a feature would be Ford Mustangs, and yep, some of them have it now too.

Cyko9
Cyko9
11 months ago

It’s got shades of Ford Probe and the Subaru SVX. I’m not sure how Triumph would’ve played out, but at least they would’ve been in the game.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
11 months ago

The Smiths gauges mounted in a piece of lacquered plywood are one of my favorite Triumph things! So much more gloriously cheesy yet swanky than MG’s black vinyl setups.

Could it at least be that the digital gauges are made by Smiths in a valiant but ultimately doomed 80s attempt, maybe mounted on medium gray with black gridlines painted wood?

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
11 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

I know what you’re saying is true, but “Triumph” and “state-of-the-art” don’t belong in the same sentence.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
11 months ago

This would make a nice counterpart to a production MG EX-E.

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