Digestible Collectible: 1980 Triumph TR8

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
digestible collectible 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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7 of 75 comments
  • Numbers_Matching Numbers_Matching on Feb 20, 2016

    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.

  • Rpol35 Rpol35 on Feb 20, 2016

    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.

  • MEngineer MEngineer on Feb 21, 2016

    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.

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    • CJinSD CJinSD on Feb 21, 2016

      @Kevin Jaeger 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.

  • Bunkie Bunkie on Feb 22, 2016

    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.

    • Kevin Jaeger Kevin Jaeger on Feb 22, 2016

      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.