History of the 1970 - 1977 Triumph Stag
The Triumph Stag started life as a 1958 concept called Zebu, designed by Les Moore. When Giovanni Michelotti took over as Triumph’s chief stylist, he revised the idea and the result was undeniably handsome, a four-seat grand tourer with both hard top and soft top. In order to stiffen the body, a T-bar remained when the tops were removed and the framed, full-width grille design was mirrored at the rear.
The plan had been to use the petrol-injected 2.5 litre TR5 motor, but difficulties with emissions laws in the all-important US export market prohibited this. For reasons never fully explained (production capacity being the most frequently cited), rather than utilizing the proven 3.5-litre aluminium Rover V-8, a 3.0-litre, 145-bhp V-8 was developed, based on two SOHC Triumph-built Saab 99 engines, with aluminium cylinder heads. The Stag was available with a Borg-Warner 3-speed automatic transmission or 4-speed and overdrive: 0-60 came up in 9.3 seconds on the way to a 116 mph top speed. Steering was rack and pinion, there was independent suspension all round, with McPherson strut up front and coil springs in the rear with trailing arms.
At just under £2,000 at intro, the Stag was not cheap, but it was aimed at the Mercedes-Benz 280SL, which cost almost twice as much. Unfortunately for Triumph, however, the Mercedes didn’t go wrong at the same rate that the Stag did. The US market bore the brunt of the early Stag failures since Leyland dealers in the US were fewer and sold more Stags on average than those in the UK which averaged a little over one Stag sold per year from 1970-77. On automatics, the neutral isolator switches regularly failed, disabling the starter. The Stag also often overheated, water pumps frequently being the culprit. Repeated head gasket failures were common as the aluminium cylinder heads could not be torqued down adequately due to the studs entering the block at an angle. Over-tightening the angled head studs encouraged the heads to close around the studs, a process complicated by electrolysis which also blocked water passages and made faulty cylinder heads very hard to remove. As if that weren’t enough, many Stag V-8s experienced timing chain failures.
Approximately 25,000 Stag were made (1976 production figures are missing) and around 7,500 were exported, mostly to the US. The number would have been much greater if Americans’ initial experience hadn’t been so disappointing. Many quality issues were sorted out following the 1973 model year, but by then, the US market would take no more believing the car to be damaged goods. And although the Stag soldiered on for several more years in the UK, its lack of exportability ultimately sealed its fate.
The Triumph Stag remains a great concept with a terrific look, but finding an untouched original example can be a task. Later cars are pretty well sorted and as usual, the specialists have helped rectify the original problems (much as they have with the Jensen-Healey). The Stag is one of the few British sports and GT cars of the era where right-hand-drive cars vastly outnumber left-hand-drive cars so the notion of exporting a sound Californian can be challenging although prices in the US tend to be quite attractive when cars can be found. With problems sorted, the Stag represents a unique form of motoring as one of the few 4-seater, V-8 powered open sporting cars in the sub-£25,000 range.