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By Ben Selby
It can be rather difficult to be shake off a bad reputation. It takes time and effort to create a good one, but very easy to create a bad one. Some cars get a bad rep, more so than others. Sometimes, it is entirely justified, other times it is utterly undeserved. I firmly believe the bad rep that follows the Triumph Stag fits whole heartedly in the latter of the two aforementioned categories.
Now, before you start to throw Haynes Triumph repair manuals at me, let’s start with what most agree the Stag got spot on first time around. Launched in 1970, the Stag was Triumph’s idea of a sports car which could fit in with the European jet set types galivanting around the continent and parking up on the French Riviera or St Moritz.
A requirement of any European GT car is to look good, so Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti was asked by Triumph to once again pen the lines of their newest sports car. Michelotti had already styled the TR4A and TR5 so he was the ideal man for the job. The finished product made the Stag a heck of a looker.
Even by today’s standards, it looks timeless. The dual headlights wrapped in a curved off grill, long bonnet and elongated tail with subtle rear haunches results a car which is quite possibly the best-looking car ever built by British Leyland.
When the first customers in Europe and America took delivery of their Stag, they loved the comfort, light steering, the supple ride and of course, those mouth-watering lines. However, there was an elephant in the room during the Stag’s production run. It was what lay under the bonnet.
Triumph created an all-new 3.0L naturally aspirated V8 engine, built by combining the blocks of two four-cylinder engines from the Dolomite saloon. Triumph then mated it to either a manual or automatic gearbox.
The best aspect of it was the noise, but more on that in a tick. The biggest issue owners found was the engine was prone to overheating due to insufficient cooling.
This was the elephant in the room. Triumph engineers underestimated the new engine’s ability to perform under stress, and the cooling system a result just wasn’t up to job.
The Stag suffered as a result of the cooling issues, and during its seven-year production run, it never managed to shake off its reputation of a car which overheated. This left many Stag owners to engine swap their Triumph V8s with the immensely popular Rover 3.5L V8 found in the P6 and SD1.
Today, things couldn’t be more different. The Stag’s cooling issues have long been sorted out, with many examples receiving this treatment. Also, time has been a great healer for the Stag, with of the total amount produced, roughly half are still going today, just like this one.
The Stag has been on the “to drive” list for some time, so here was another chance to see for myself just what this misunderstood sports car is really like. This example is New Zealand new, first registered in January 1974 and delivered to a customer in Palmerston North.
It also utterly mint. I loved the uber-seventies paint scheme of maroon with gold pinstriping front to rear. Its not unlike an old school maroon velvet smoking jacket with gold embroidered initials. All in all, it just works.
Inside, it screams seventies British Leyland. Lots of wood panelling, lots of black switchgear raided from the BL parts bin, and simple white on black dials tell you everything you need to know. The polished three spoke steering wheel with STAG embossed on the hub in big letters sits somewhat away from you, meaning those with shorter arms would need to stretch to get a grip on things.
The seats are superb in terms of levels of comfort. Plush and buttock hugging, they seem to swallow your rear posteria without leaving you feeling trapped. I would love to have driven the stag topless, but the weather wasn’t ideal, so the hardtop roof would be left in place.
Glancing up at the roof, you can see the T-bar rollover set up. This was fitted so if you rolled your Stag while partaking in motoring exuberance, you would be guaranteed a chance of walking away relatively unscathed. There is also plenty of head and legroom for front and rear passengers.
Turn the ignition key anti-clockwise and it starts first pop. There are plenty of good V8 rumbles out there, but I would say the Stag has one of the sweetest sounding V8s around. A cross-breed of part TVR, with a whiff of Jensen Interceptor and Rover P6. Its a torrent of eight-cylinder symphonic bliss.
I selected drive, pointed the Stag’s nose to Amberley, and we were off. What is remarkable about the Stag, which you notice quite early on, is just how torquey that V8 actually is. Its not uber sporty, but the low-down delivery of torque below 4,000rpm, means you can cruise effortlessly along. Also, a firm press of the right pedal means you cover a decent ground in brisk succession.
The ride really is comfortable, even a bit wallowy at times. Every change in the road surface is met with a roly poly sensation. Strangely though, when you get to a bend, it tracks well and true. Its almost as if the Stag knows just how to behave at any given moment.
Indicating left or right is accompanied by a distinctly loud buzzing noise for every flash of the blinker. This was my only real gripe as after the 22nd time, it did get to me a bit. Maybe removing the fuse might be the answer?
While you can ring the Stag’s neck, it is much happier at a sedate cruise. Also, there was never any indication that engine was doing anything untoward. It feels very solid and runs like clockwork. Steering is quite direct too. Despite not having the most organic driving position in the world, you can hang on when cornering hard. Plus, you know exactly what the front of the car is up to.
The more time you spend with the Stag, the more nostalgic you get. While the tape deck stereo worked a treat. Playing the likes of Tony Christie and David Bowie through my phone’s Spotify became a repetitive pastime.
The Triumph Stag is a seventies time warp and utterly and completely not worthy of that bad rep it gets. Like with any classic car, there are good ones and bad ones out there. Get a good Stag like this one, which has been given the right amount of TLC over the years, and you will be rewarded.
It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but Stag is still really special. A landmark car for Triumph, and one of the most underrated of all iconic British Classics. I love it.