By on February 19, 2016

1980 Triumph TR8

As I was born in late 1978, I’m a bit young to recall the Malaise era. One of my earliest memories in life is of John Hinckley’s assassination attempt on President Reagan, so most recollections I have of the cars of the time were on used car lots and, just as often, with the hood up roadside.

Of course, the British car industry was imploding around this time. Very few new models were introduced; most cars were rehashed, smogged versions of the cars British Leyland had been building for many years.

In the Triumph TR7 and later TR8, they did manage to bring a clean-sheet design to U.S. showrooms.

This 1980 Triumph TR8 is one of the hot V8-powered roadsters produced in very low numbers, rather than the four cylinder fitted to the TR7. This one is in period-appropriate gold, with an awesome beige tartan plaid interior. It needs some restoration, but looks quite solid.

I have a Triumph-owning acquaintance who’s certain that the TR8 will appreciate, as if it’s the next Sunbeam Tiger. While I rather doubt that any TR8 will ever trade for six figures like the best Tigers do, it’s time to see these underappreciated sports cars get some love.

I’d even venture a guess that this is one of the most collectible non-exotic cars of the Carter era, but I could be forgetting something. Anyone have any better suggestions?

Chris Tonn is a broke classic car enthusiast that writes about old cars, since he can’t afford to buy them. Commiserate with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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75 Comments on “Digestible Collectible: 1980 Triumph TR8...”


  • avatar
    usonianhorizon

    Ah the wedge era. I recall a manager at the firm where I worked waffling between a Fiat X1/9 and a TR8, before finally settling on the former. A Lotus Esprit was expensive, but was far more desirable and so would have been my choice.

    Triumph did put out some memorable TV commercials emphasizing the aerodynamic advantages of its offerings from this era.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      “The shape of things to come.” I thought that Bertone had that covered already, with cars like the Fiat X1/9 and the Ferrari 308GT4.

      Triumph did alright for years with the Michelotti designs. Anyone know who did these?

      • 0 avatar
        uncleterry

        Harris Mann designed the TR7, and most of the other wedge era British Leyland cars. Google Image search his name, it’ll show you some nice drawings of them all. Not as famous as Bertone and Michelotti, but in the UK car industry he’s very well known and has been responsible some great looking cars.

        • 0 avatar
          RobertRyan

          They ran a one make series for these in Australia . British Leyland backed it at a now defunct racetrack

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Have never seen one in person but Mann’s MG ZT estate looks pretty good in pictures. And they were available with a BMW sourced diesel?

          Of course anything produced by MG/Rover would probably drive someone mad with frustration.

    • 0 avatar
      MarionCobretti

      “I recall a manager at the firm where I worked waffling between a Fiat X1/9 and a TR8”

      Wow. There’s a fellow who, if given a time machine would immediately return to the early 1980’s and advise his former self to buy literally any other car than either of those two.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “I recall a manager at the firm where I worked waffling between a Fiat X1/9 and a TR8…”

      Frying pan, meet fire…

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    One of my buddies traded his 73 Corvette and got a TR7. British racing green with the tan, plaid interior.

    It looked futuristic, at the time.

    Unfortunately, during his first week of ownership, while making a turn, the driver’s side door fell right off and onto the road.

    Just the first of many interesting maintenance/repair stories.

    He kept it for about one year before getting a Camaro.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    These cars just never looked right to me, I would much rather roll the dice on a Fiat x19, they both were troublesome to keep running but the Fiat just looked better. Love the tartan interior , it is a shame only VW offers it on their GTI in low level trims, I can not think of any other car that has it today as a interior choice.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    These may not be better suggestions, but they are some of the less common, foreign sporty cars of the time:
    – Lotus Elite and Eclat (Esprits are more common) if you are OK with front engines
    – Jensen Healey (nicer than a Spitfire/MG, but no Jag)
    – Delorean (probably played out at this point)
    – Alfa convertibles, although I prefer the look of the earlier whale tail myself (Duetto Spyder 1750)

    You could go upscale and look at a Merak, Urraco or Dino. The Dinos are crazy pricey. I’d rather have a 308GT4 for the money, but that’s because I don’t love Pininfarina.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I love the Eclat, just look at it!

      http://images.honestjohn.co.uk/imagecache/file/fit/730×700/media/5701676/Lotus%20Elite%20(2).jpg

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      During the 70’s and early/mid 80’s Eglinton Avenue East in Scarborough (a suburb of Toronto) was famous for the number and variety of new and used car dealerships that were located on it. The westernmost part of the street was known as the ‘Golden Mile’.

      You could find a number of European car dealers located there or close by, including the only factory authorized TVR dealership in Canada. Yes, a company/location that only sold and serviced TVR’s.

      Also located on the street was the GM ‘Van Plant’ which for over a decade manufactured all full sized GM vans.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      We had all of them imported here, did not last long., including a few Deloreans. Major problem was average build quality, from under resourced car companies

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    I owned a TR7 convertible for about a year. I liked the look and it was fun to drive, but I swear I never even put a tank of gas through the car without a major component failure of some sort or another. It smoked a wheel bearing the day I bought it.

    The TR7/8 was built by a desperate half-dead company, and it showed in the engineering and workmanship.

    After a year I sold it with a bad #3 rod bearing and replaced it with an NB Miata, which has gone for 8 years and 80k miles (and cross country four times!) with a grand total of one failure that wasn’t even mission critical – the auxiliary radiator fan.

    I’m happy that I bought the TR7, as it confirmed the joy of roadsters and got me the car-guy “I bought a British shitheap with a cardboard box full of parts in the trunk” merit badge. I’m even more happy that it is somebody else’s problem now.

    • 0 avatar
      Driver8

      “I bought a British shitheap with a cardboard box full of parts in the trunk” merit badge.
      lol

      A very young, unknowlegeable, version of me lusted after another covertible wedge, the TVR Tasmin. For some reason they sold them at the local Nissan dealer.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Before clicking to see the ad, my mind said “$4,000.” I see he’s asking triple that figure.

    My neighbor has a TR6, I see the appeal in it and it’s charming. The TR7 and TR8 do not appeal. They’re try-hards from the flailing elephant that was British Leyland. The build quality is shocking, below kit car level.

    I think the Stag is a more collectible Triumph from the same era, and it even looks cool.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Triumph-Other-/121894965651

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The Stag has a far more problematic engine. The Buick-Rover unit in the TR8 is pretty dependable for a British car. I think $4,000 these days is more of a TR7 appropriate price. The quality on TR8s wasn’t as terrible as the earliest TR7s, which were built by entitled socialists at Speke.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        By this point in time, I figure all the engine issues have been largely sorted out of BL cars, and you’re left with just electrical Lucas gremlins and bad build quality.

        True/False?

        • 0 avatar
          tylermattikow

          Most of the British engines were pretty simple robust units, with exception of the STAG V8 which can be made reliable with modern materials for the timing chain and cooling system revamps. Many engine related problems are also caused by emissions controls and such. Lucas stuff is not nearly as bad as it’s reputation, but once again your dealing with fairly simple electrics (my MGB only has 4 fuses!) so it’s easy enough to run a new wire if something fails.
          As for build quality, that varied greatly across British Leyland, some factories were run by communists, others took pride in their work. TR7’s were built in Speke up until 80 which was one of those commie factories and build quality was horrible, in 1980 Solihull took over (the land rover factory) and quality was much better. MGB’s from Abington were also pretty well built.

          • 0 avatar
            ExPatBrit

            Speke was hardcore, the shop stewards from Merseyside were probably the most militant in the UK industry. However the management of Speke was poor along with a new factory had a lot of technical bugs and supply chain problems. Lots of missing components. In those days many Leyland assembly workers were paid by the number of vehicles produced (piece work)so inevitably quality suffered as they needed to keep the line running to get paid.

            European and Asian factories had got rid of piece work decades earlier, but Leyland management and unions couldn’t agree to something more equitable and to eliminate piece work because of mutual distrust.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I love reading about the history of BL. It’s fascinating. Decades of clusterfcks.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            BL = British GM, just as VAG = German GM.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I feel like GM and VAG were never in that bad of shape, financially and communistically.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Gerry Standing’s pride and joy was his Stag. Rumours are that they can be made into a relatively reliable vehicle with available modern upgrades.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            @ExPatBrit
            They had with some models pretty bad build quality to go with it. You would think that some GM rentals I drove in Hawaii in 2002 , had came from the same assembly point

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            The only electrical failure of any kind I have had in my Spitfire in the 20 years I have owned it is a starter solenoid. Even fewer fuses in a Spitfire, 3.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    The solution to the build quality issue is to take it apart and put it back together yourself, this time with a modern powerplant.
    If you have a day to waste, check out britishV8.com. An LSx in a TR6, for instance, is actually lighter than the I6 boat anchor they came with.

    • 0 avatar
      tylermattikow

      Britishv8 is an awesome site. But transplanting engines into little British cars is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Far easier to keep the original motor and take advantage of aftermarket improvements now available. Simply replacing a Stromberg carb with a weber and ditching the points for an electronic ignition makes the world of difference. As does replacing rubber bushings with Poly..

      • 0 avatar
        Piston Slap Yo Mama

        Yes, this. Poly bushings all around on my TR6 allowed my 16″ Konig Rewind wheels to fit, as prior to that the geometry was off everywhere. A solid aluminum steering rack mount and a rebuilt rack and pinion and my TR now handles like a Honda Prelude. A high torque starter gets her going and drilled rotors stops her. I’m keeping the ZS carbs until I locate some sidedraft Webers that don’t break the bank. I would not want any other engine under the hood – unless it’s an inline 6, preferably from an M3 or a Skyline but then there’d be a world of other expensive upgrades that would diminish the enjoyment of knowing I’m having the same driving experience that any guy would’ve had circa 1970.
        But I will admit to frequently searching Craigslist for a TR8 …

    • 0 avatar
      ExPatBrit

      If you want to devalue a classic car, put a different engine in it. For some cheap classics like Spitfires it doesn’t matter so much but installing a foreign motor in a TR might make it sale proof.

      If you want to go faster buy a Camry. Driving an old classic is not just about going fast.

  • avatar
    mike1dog

    For some reason, the Tullius racing and rally versions,I think, I’ve always wanted one of these. I don’t think I’d pay twelve grand for one, probably six would be my max.

  • avatar
    carguy67

    Color looks like ‘metallic golden beige.’ At least, that’s what it was called when sold on earlier Austin-Healeys. There was a relatively small number of Healeys built in that color, which adds a premium to the value. From what I’ve heard the paint had durability issues, but this car looks pretty good (low mileage and probably garaged would explain it).

  • avatar
    Steverino

    I learned to drive in one of these. It was an EPA testing special of some kind. TR7 but with TR8 A/C and some sort of prototype fuel injection. Once the hoses cracked, it was impossible to get new ones. Duct tape and keep the RPMs over 1,500 at all times. I kept a hammer and short 2×4 to knock the door pins back in as they wiggled loose. The right headlight motor developed what we would call ED and would randomly fall back down for a fun surprise on a dark road.

    A great car for a 16 year old. Slower than a dog–I only recall ever beating one car from a light. An old lady in an Escort that probably didn’t realize the light turned. Small, low and cramped, but fun to drive in the country. (What isn’t when you’re 16?)

  • avatar
    VW16v

    I smell an oil leak.

  • avatar
    zeus01

    I worked for a dealership in Calgary in 1981 that sold these cars. The TR8 seemed more refined than the TR7 but admittedly, the bar was not raised very high to begin with.

    Still, in an era where zero-to-60 in 8 seconds in a new Corvette was considered acceptable, the TR8 seemed to hold its own performance-wise with the competition from Datsun (280ZX) and Mazda (RX7).

    At least one of our customers had an example in British Racing Green with tan upholstery. He’d scrapped the stock carbs in favour of a Holley 650 and dual exhaust. The result was that, in combination with the early-60s GM-sourced 235 CID aluminum V8 that these cars came stock with, the pick-up was impressive for the day. The sound was intoxicating.

    As long as you’re not too concerned about reliability I’d think the fact that only around 2700 TR8s were built would make these cars a decent collector choice.

    As for the TR7, the only good thing I can say is that in a 70-mph roll-over incident sans seat-belts-fastened the high console and tight fit kept me firmly planted in the seat and the A-pillars were strong enough to compensate for a lack of roll bar in this particular convertible. Having the car coming to rest in an upright position probably helped.

  • avatar
    lubbock57

    I seem to recall an oddity about the early TR7 in that they had a different key for every keyhole. The trunk was different than the doors, the glovebox had it’s own…..even the doors were different than each other.
    All in all I think there were 7 keys.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    My wannabe romance with Triumphs ended abruptly in 1984, when a college buddy and I hopped in his Spitfire so we could go from Des Moines to Ames to buy Springsteen tickets. About halfway there, on I-35, the headlights and defroster quit…at night, in the rain. Then they turned back on. Then they quit again. Rinse and repeat.

    Before that I fancied myself in a Triumph after graduation. I’d heard the horror stories (you know…”Lucas, Prince of Darkness,” all that) but given the amount of tail my friend got with his Triumph, I was willing to risk it. Then came that ride.

  • avatar
    70Cougar

    I was born in ’71, and the TR7 looked exotic and futuristic to my young eyes. One day, as I was admiring a passing coupe, the door fell off and scared the crap out of me.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Those panel gaps, tho…

  • avatar

    No. I don’t care if it has a V8 (coincidentally I was just talking to D&D, a shop north of Detroit that specializes in the Buick/Rover V8) or not, the TR7 and TR8 were unmitigated disasters.

    They look funny, they don’t handle particularly well, and on this side of the pond they represent the nadir of the British auto industry (we didn’t get very many of the horrid BMC sedans).

    It’s my humble opinion that the front engined Lotus wedges of the 1970s, the Elite and Eclat, have way more upside than the Triumph wedges and those Loti are the about the least regarded cars from Lotus.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    One Triumph article, multiple reports of doors falling of these cars.

    If they couldn’t get that right ……………?

  • avatar
    Delta9A1

    I owned a 1980 TR8 as a second car for many years in the 90’s. It even ran for most of those years! Much more fun to drive than TR6’s and MGB’s. The price of a TR8 then was not much different than it is now. They appreciate slower than they rust. As a child of the 70’s, a convertible V8 sports car was pretty cool. And the torque from the V8 allowed dry fish-tailing around any corner, any time. Good memories.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I’d give one of these a serious look given the cash, storage space, time and patience to deal with/enjoy it.

  • avatar
    pleiter

    I remember quite well the MSRP for the TR8 as reported by Car and Driver test issue, was $12,500. So this Seller is trying to recoup 36 years of depreciation all in one swell foop.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Haven’t priced little British cars lately, I take? This isn’t 20 years ago. $12K-15K is the going rate on one of these, much less for a TR7 of course. I wouldn’t part with my Spitfire for less than $8K-9K now, which is also what good Midgets go for. Decent MGBs are $15K+. Anything more exotic is in the “if you have to ask” category. Remember when you could get late Jag E-types for <$20K all day long? Yeah, those days ae WAAAAAAY over now.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I like wedges, but this thing is just too much trouble.

    And anyone who thinks this is ugly has never seen the Reliant Scimitar SS1. Yikes.

  • avatar
    namstrap

    “Why do the British like warm beer?”
    “Lucas refrigerators.”

    I was in a large pub in London many years ago, and got talking to the guy in the pin stripe suit next to me at the bar. I asked him what he did for a living and he told me he worked for a company I probably hadn’t heard of over in Canada – Lucas Electric.
    That’s when I told him the above joke. He was quite familiar with the joke and was surprised I’d heard it. Said he guessed they had a long way to go to regain customer confidence.

    Back in the late 70’s, early 80’s, I sold parts at a dealership that had the British Leyland franchise. It seemed that every TR7 had a porous cylinder head, and numerous electrical problems. A friend of mine bought one, and liked it, but he couldn’t drive it in the rain. The sunroof would dump pails of water inside the car every now and then seemingly when it decided to.

  • avatar
    BrandX

    I bought one brand new in 1982. It was a great car. I drove it across Canada and back in the summer of 82 and then down the west coast for the 1983 Long Beach GP (John Watson in a McLaren won from his 22nd starting spot). It was a great car, until it succumbed to black ice and my ex’s inexperience just north of Campbell River. Neither door ever fell off.

    To me, the shape hasn’t aged well at all.

  • avatar
    davew833

    I had a ’76 TR7. When I bought it the headlights would not retract. The gyrations I went through to try and get them working led me to believe every bad thing that has been said about Lucas… and don’t get me started on the Girling brake cylinders and clutch cylinder (also a Lucas product.) I ended up trading the whole car to a junkyard for a used transaxle for my ’68 VW bug.

    Still, I always wanted to at least drive a well- sorted TR8.

  • avatar
    Jeff Zekas

    My father in law bought three TR-7’s, one to restore, and two for parts. He offered to give me the whole lot, after failing to finish the restoration. I was tempted, but the car was ugly, slow, and my mechanic refused to work on it. None of the Triumph Club members would talk with me. I turned down his offer. Case closed.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I knew a lady who had a TR7. One day she called me and asked for help – when she turned the headlights on, they started alternately cycling up and down – left, right, left, right….

    I didn’t solve that problem, but in the process of trouble-shooting it I discovered that the motors to move the lights up and down were wired through the light switch, without a relay. At that point I suggested that she should take it to the dealer. I suspect that’s what she did, because for all the other problems that car gave her, that one never recurred.

  • avatar
    Numbers_Matching

    There’s a reason why these cars have not budged in value over the years..there are really no redeaming features to these all plastic and vinyl interpretations of the British sports car. No chrome, no wood dash and no charm = no collectability. Plus I could never get over the HUGE and awkward bumper overhangs.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    An old, close friend of mine bought a new TR7 in December of 1976. By July 1977 it was gone. Besides being a less than average sports car in the “sporting” department, it would be easier for me to detail what didn’t go wrong with it in its seven months of wretched ownership by my friend then it would be for me identify all that did go wrong.

    I don’t know much about a TR8 but I would imagine it’s pretty much the same horror show on wheels as the TR7.

  • avatar
    MEngineer

    OK, I hesitate to do this, but I’ll provide a contrarian perspective.

    I had a 1980 Triumph TR7 convertible, and despite their reputation, mine was a good car. By ’80, they had many of the problems sorted out, and the TR8 had a better engine to begin with, but it was all way too late to save the car or Triumph. I drove my TR7 to work every day and on trips all over the eastern US where I lived at the time, and it was a good auto crosser too, all great fun. As another commenter said about their TR7, no doors ever fell off mine either, so Triumph must have got that right on at least 2 cars.

    BTW, I traded my TR7 for a new Acura Integra. Also a fun car, but despite its superb reputation it had a lot more problems than my Triumph, including ignition system issues (and a recall), multiple types of A/C system failures, a stereo failure, transmission problems, a seat belt recall (interestingly made by Takata, IIRC), and in the end major rust issues. And yet everyone from Consumer Reports to probably most TTAC readers would call the Acura a great car.

    Maybe some cars that some think are really lousy cars really aren’t all that bad, while some cars people think are great really aren’t nearly as good as their legend. Sometimes things just aren’t always as they seem.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      Thanks for the input from an actual owner.

      You’ve discovered the internet (or at least many TTAC commenters) lack any sense of proportion. I have no doubt the average Honda in 1980 was statistically more reliable than a Triumph. But in terms of actual ownership experience what this actually means is over some period of ownership where the Triumph owner makes 4 repairs the Honda may have only required 3. And the Honda likely rusted apart unless it was in the sunny south.

      Personally, I think a TR8 would be cool project car to have but I would have some concerns about the availability of parts.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        You’re failing to explain why customers’ unhappiness killed Triumph’s market-share and customer happiness grew Honda’s during the same period. I’m glad he got a good Triumph, and they were far better in 1980 than they were prior to 1979, but the first 60,000 TR7s sold in the US were complete pieces of sabotaged garbage from Speke, and that represents about 70% of the TR7s ever sold here. The TR7 was the worst car that Road & Track ever performed an Owner Survey on, and they were given to focusing on flaky imported cars through much of their history. Maybe MEngineer got a bad Integra and the best TR7, but that doesn’t mean that his experience was representative. The TR7 had 12 problem areas common to over 10% of owners compared to the late ’70s average of 6 problem areas. The Acura was probably better than average, and the average was probably improving over where it was in 1979. Your 4 issues v. 3 issues would be an outlier for randomly chosen examples of these two cars.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    In late 1979, I was looking for my first new car, a two-seat sports car. I was driving a funky ’70 Triumph GT6+ and wanted something new. I test-drove a TR-8 convertible. It was supremely forgettable. One would never know there was a V8 under the hood until…

    You stopped to fill the tank. Driven as it was meant to be, it got utterly awful fuel mileage, in the low teens.

    I made the only logical choice and bought an RX-7. To this day, I miss both it and the GT-6+. The TR-8, aside from being a roadster, had no redeeming qualities.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      Ah, the malaise era and its ensmogulated V8 engines. I believe the V8 in this thing put out something like 133 HP, about what a 1.8 liter Miata would have a decade or so later.

      Sadly, this Triumph V8 put out a little more power than a Mustang GT at the time. It was indeed a sad time for performance cars, with the RX-7 being a cool exception.


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