The Triumph Stag was launched as British Leyland’s four-seat, fully convertible, sporting grand tourer challenge to the Mercedes-Benz 280SL. It was the culmination of Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti’s long collaboration with Triumph, who insisted that Michelotti’s wholly original ideas should not be compromised by the 1968 merger of BMC and Leyland-Rover-Triumph.
Like the hero of a Greek tragedy, the Stag came into being bearing the seed of its own destruction. British Leyland took over shortly after the Stag’s development was up and running. Already, the car was seen to be creating a niche overlooked by its competitors: a posh, ‘gentleman’s tourer’ (later pinpointed, amusingly, as ‘a sort of British Thunderbird’), powered by its own, British, V8 engine. Rover already had a masterly 3.5 litre V8 — but Rover were Triumph’s arch-rivals, and their parents’ shotgun marriage was not to permit them to wrestle Triumph’s baby away.
The Stag’s bespoke engine block went ahead. In essence, two Triumph 1.5 litre Slant Four engines were joined on a common crankshaft to create the Stag’s double overhead camshaft 3 litre V8. With the water pump mounted too high in the ‘V’ of the cylinder heads, the coolant level quickly dropped. Blown gaskets and overheating wrecked dozens of engines. When it worked, the Stag was a refined cruiser with great handling and impeccable style, but long before its launch it had been subverted by Leyland bean-counters.
They demanded cheap versions of every component and fabric. Allied to poor build and laughable quality control, British Leyland’s every action devalued Michelotti’s fabulous concept. Some problems were resolved in the 1973 Mark 2, but it was too late to affect public confidence. The Triumph Stag’s demise broke hearts, but history holds it dear (Classic & Sports Car magazine noted it was the most stolen classic car’). And so it should.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: UK
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1970 (until 1977)
ENGINE: 2,998 cc DOHC V8
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 118 mph (190 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 9.3 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Triumph Stag made Time magazine’s ‘All-Time Worst Cars’ list, characterized as ‘a despicable, rotten-to-the-core mockery of a car’, though ‘lively and fun to drive, as long as it ran’. Time also judged that the effect of the chrome-framed windows was ‘to put the driver in a shiny aquarium’.