Home » Let’s Talk About What’s Going On With The Weird Roof On The Triumph Stag

Let’s Talk About What’s Going On With The Weird Roof On The Triumph Stag

Stag Top

I was strapped onto the old wooden palettes that comprise the work surface of my dentists’ office – The Autopian’s dental plan is run by a company headquartered in a never-stopping Chevy Lumina that circles the San Fernando Valley perpetually, pausing only to dock with the fuel tanker and food-dumping truck, so the providers tend to be smaller independent Folk Dentists. Anyway, as I was getting my teeth rotated and my bicuspids re-bifurcated, I noticed an old British car magazine flung onto the pile in the kiddie pool that served as the waiting room. It was open to a Triumph ad, one that showed a lineup of five Triumphs then for sale, sometime in the mid 1970s. One of the cars, a Stag, caught my eye because what the hell is going on with that roof? Let’s find out.

A full 60% of the Triumph lineup shown here are convertibles: a Spitfire, TR6, and the Stag. The first two look like normal roadsters of the era, but the Stag is different. It seems to be wearing some sort of strange orthopedic device over the front seats, something that looks kind of like a cross between a rollbar and a T-top, and it’s flanked by framed windows on the front doors. It’s weird! It looks weird!

In a happy coincidence, The Car Factoids tweeted this same ad, so, clearly, fate is demanding to have this strange roof explained. Before we do that, let’s just talk a bit about the Stag itself: it was actually conceived as a competitor to the Mercedes-Benz SL sports cars, and was a handsome, Michelotti-designed four-seat sporty convertible, with a 3-liter Triumph V8 that, interestingly, shared some tooling with the 2-liter slant-four engine Triumph licensed to Saab. Unfortunately, part of the deal with the modularity of these two engines was that the V8 used the same water pump location as the four.

Stay with me, here; because the Saab used this engine as a longitudinal FWD car, it was placed backwards under the hood, since it had to drive a transaxle in front of it, instead of a driveshaft behind it. As a result, the water pump was placed atop the engine instead of by the front of the engine, and on the V8 version, this caused the engine, when hot, to lose coolant from the expansion tank, and eventually it’d get low enough that the pump couldn’t circulate fluid, and everything would overheat. It was kind of a mess, and these attractive cars got a reputation for overheating as a result.

Here’s a Stag in action, not overheating, in the Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever:

The stag also had a fantastic badge, a stylized chrome stag, a-leaping:


Pretty slick! Would make a fantastic belt buckle.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about! We’re here to talk about that weird-ass hat there. It’s a lot more hardware than just a roll bar or targa top, and there’s a reason for that: it’s doing a lot. The Stag was built on the same basic platform as the Triumph 2000 sedan, but, lacking a roof, required an awful lot of body stiffening.  Also, there were all the dire rollover standards expected to come out of America. So while many cars used a simple roll hoop or targa-style arch to accomplish this, the Stag required a bit more stiffening, relying on the windshield frame as well, so that’s why we get this strange roll-hoop-connected-to-the-windshield thing, something that looks like it should have T-tops in it, but doesn’t.


Reviews of the era noted that the elaborate roof setup included electrical hookups for the optional hardtop’s heated rear window defogger, and noted how much weight all the stiffening stuff plus the hardtop added. It did seem to help with stiffness, though. I’m not sure if the framed door windows did much to help with the stiffness, but I guess if you’re going to have a few big-ass steel girders on your convertible, a few more can’t hurt.

So, yeah, the Stag looks kind of weird with the top down, and I can’t quite think of another car that has a setup quite like this one. Which is, of course, why we just talked about it.

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40 Responses

  1. So did I miss something or why no podcast? Do we have to become a member or is my app of choice not working? I found The Autopian podcast to be informative and entertaining all while championing car culture.

  2. This was actually a result of BL’s labour and quality standards. Stags were built on Friday afternoons and were barely ever finished before the workers headed to the pub.

    I love the wishful thinking of how this would compete with the MB SL. Like how the Ford Granada competed with MB. I guess a marketing department can dream…

  3. V-8 conversion is a well documented and supported project, not unlike dropping a V8 into a Jaguar Xj6 which is so do-able that even I could make it work.

  4. My father was fascinated by these in the 70s but ended up buying a Volvo sedan instead. There are some modifications to help with overheating issues above and beyond good coolant and frequent checks, or go heresy and install a Rover V8. For bonus weird I’d like to see a Stag with a turbo 4. I think a Saab 900 setup would fit, or go full send and bolt a turbo and home brew EFI to a Dolomite Sprint engine.

      1. Yes, heresy it is. Should have dropped a LS SBC in it. Then there’s only Lucas( the prince of darkness ) electrics to carry the BL standard of failure.

    1. Rover V8 swaps into Stags are common, but in Australia they usually got a Leyland P76 engine swap, which was a 4.4 litre re-engineered version of the Rover V8.

      1. Well, the door’s main glass rolls down within a brightwork frame, the, ah, B-pillar side glass is fixed within a brightwork frame, the rear side glass is frameless, and the, let’s say, topside glass is fixed within an exposed rubber gasket with a bright inset. You know, British.

  5. I recall reading that the 3.0l was also rushed to production by Triumph brass who were concerned that BL would make them use the Rover 3.5l. Triumph claimed that the 3.5 would not physically fit in the Stag, but it did fit without too much modification (MG initially said the same thing about putting the Rover in the MGB). Ironically, the Stag probably would have been a huge success with the Rover/Buick V8.

    There also wasn’t much Triumph left in the SAAB engine after a couple of redesign cycles when SAAB started to manufacture the engine themselves.

    1. Between that, and the Jag XJ40 being engineered with too narrow an engine bay to accept a V-engine, barring them from fitting the V12 without major re-engineering, are there any other examples of the Brits making stupid decisions so the Rover V8 wouldn’t be forced on them?

      1. I’m not sure, but up until about the year 2000, the Rover V8 was *the* engine swap for British gearheads, so they got shoe-horned into everything possible, usually doubling the number of cylinders of the receiving vehicle.

  6. The Stag T bar really makes the car for me, which may seem odd, but see a prototype without it, it just looks wrong in its proportions, not sporting. The backward rake of the bar gives the whole car a sense of poise, readiness, and sets off the flow of the bodywork nicely, just looks pointlessly elongated without it.

  7. “I can’t quite think of another car that has a setup quite like this one.” I believe the Jaguar XJ-SC was not far away. It did not have the middle bar but fixed door frames. Same idea was realized with the BMW E30 Baur Cabriolet.

  8. That british self confidence is really what brought down their car industry. Until the very last they thought they could do it better than all the forrrin’ (roll on the Rs) imports.
    Well, up until around 1967 they probably could.

    The Stag: Lazy design, mostly ported from the beautiful 2000. Bad underdeveloped engine. And a horrible whoopsiedaisy solution to the roof. But a cool name. It’s a marketing miracle that they sold any at all!

    I owned a 1963 Spitfire4 from southern California once. And I absolutely loved it! Most beautiful roadster design (before they moved the bumper and ruined it), better than any Ferrari or Jaguar in my eyes. 63 hp for a very small car was adequate for a lot of B road fun, short gear stick right on top of the box was just so tight. Indeed a very sexy car: https://www.instagram.com/p/CIqTu35lTes/

    1. Because we were going to be three people at home, instead of the two people the Spit’ had room for, I swapped it for the Karmann built VW Type 15: Pretty dumb decision..

  9. The Hovercraft that bond drives onto in the Stag… I do remember having a Matchbox or Hotwheel Hovercraft that looked just like that. Oh the memories…

    1. I rode that hovercraft shortly before the service was cancelled. It was seriously cool but also ungodly loud! I had one of those 1:24 scale models you glue together yourself as a kid. Ever since then I always wanted to ride on it and I’m very glad I had a chance before they all went to the scrap heap.

  10. I once had a 99 VW Cabriolet with the optional roof top carrier. Yes that sentence is correct. The cartop carrier was hinged on the A pillars and locked into a connection on the basket handle hoop. So put the car top carrier all the way forward and then put the roof onto the ‘trunkish area’. Fold the carrier back down and put the bicycles on top. We drove from Wisconsin to DC like that one summer. We are fuckin crazy

  11. Local guy brings one to a little show here. Always top down. Really well kept. Handsome in an eccentric way…like Roger Moore in velvet tracksuit handsome.

    Or Sean Connery in a 16th century Spanish nobleman’s outfit trying to pull off a Spanish/Egyptian accent handsome.

    1. It has a way of doing that, doesn’t it. When I lived in England I had a red 1971 with black interior, 150bhp fuel injected engine with electric overdrive. What a perfect car for driving down narrow English roads!

  12. A Buick V8 would not be too heretical. Triumph engineers originally wanted to use a Rover V8 in the Stag, which was derived from the Buick engine. It was deemed too tall, but actually wasn’t as many retrofits proved. So Triumph built with its own V8. In addition to the problems caused by the water pump location noted by Torch, dealers and owners were not told that a fairly specific coolant mixture was required year-round. If not properly maintained, radiators corroded and blocked, leading to additional overheat problems. Just to add a cherry on top, the production engine block castings were so poor, sand and wire left over from casting were often found inside failed engines, further blocking cooling channels. Small wonder the snake-bit Stag was once named one of the 50 worst cars of all time. But it was pretty.

  13. For all the problems these cars had, they were actually very beautiful. Like a Spitfire that grew up. I almost bought on when I lived in England but went for a TR6 instead. I’d love to own one now though. With more modern cooling parts swapped in, they make awesome cruisers.

    1. In my younger days, I was offered a Stag as a trade for a CJ5 I was selling. Alas, I was moving and needed cash instead of another car. Would love to have a stag one day.

  14. Back in the day these were one of the only used cars to be specifically excluded from coverage by name in proprietary used car warranties.

    Good old BL.

      1. I actually think these are stunning cars, and all the problems are solved now. Because I live in JLR (and therefore the ghost of BL) country I see a lot out and about at local shows in the summer.

        I’ll take a manual in magenta with a black interior on the 5 spoke Rostyle alloys.

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