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BEST FRONT-DRIVE TRIUMPH CLASSICS

BEST FRONT-DRIVE TRIUMPH CLASSICS

Posted by James Howe on 11th October 2021

Front-drive Triumph saloons spent many years away from the classic car limelight, but today they can make a very good case for themselves. Here are our favourites

Triumph 1300 (1965-1970)

The 1300 began as an intended replacement for the Herald. While the Herald was deliberately old-fashioned so it was simple and cheap to produce in large volumes, Triumph knew that with the arrival of the Mini and the Ford 105E Anglia, standards in the small car market were rising, leaving the somewhat rickety Herald behind.

The replacement would be a combination of the two trendsetters, offering front-wheel drive and fully independent suspension (like the Mini) in a conventional and attractive saloon body (like the Ford). In the end such innovation, including a new transmission and a brand new suspension system with Macpherson struts and trailing arms, proved too expensive to make at the Herald’s price, so the 1300 became a junior partner to the big 2000 saloon and a direct rival to the plusher versions of the BMC 1100 range.

Refined, well-engineered and very modern in its driving manners (and good performance in TC form), the first front-drive Triumph was a great package, let down only by its high cost and Triumph’s limited production capacity. It also proved a hard car to market, with its mix of conventional appearance and advanced specification deterring more people than it attracted.

It would be tempting to say that the 1300 is the ‘forgotten Triumph’, but its long-held status as exactly that has – convolutedly – led to it now becoming increasingly well-known as an unsung gem. Values haven’t changed much though, with prices being pretty much static over the past decade or so.

Triumph 1500 (1970-1973)

Triumph solved its 1300 dilemma with a two-prong approach. It re-engineered and ‘de-contented’ the 1300 to become the rear-wheel drive Toledo while adding a longer boot, a cheaper dead beam rear axle, quad headlamps and a larger engine to the front-wheel drive formula to create the 1500, which could be sold at a price more in keeping with its high production costs.

Front-drive executive cars were still a rarity and the 1500’s combination of comfort, performance, style and roadholding made for an attractive package. But like the 1300, its sales were limited by the low production volumes and the niche appeal of a front-drive Triumph. Continual pressure to rationalise and cut costs, and competition from the likes of the Mk3 Ford Cortina meant that after just under three years on sale the 1500 became the rear-wheel drive 1500TC as a partner to the newly launched Dolomite.

With its short production life and the fact that it looks superficially like a Dolomite, the 1500 really is the forgotten Triumph and is still largely the preserve of marque enthusiasts. Prices are like the 1300 – modest and level.

Triumph Acclaim (1981-1984)

The end of 1500 production marked the close of the front-drive Triumph experiment – but the format reappeared for the ultimate example of the marque in the form of the Acclaim. Of course the Acclaim shared nothing with the older models, or any other Triumph, since it was little more than a re-badged Honda Ballade. That included the 1.3-litre SOHC engine and the five-speed manual and three-speed automatic transmissions, which came straight from Honda.

Despite its lack of family DNA, the Triumph Acclaim was very much in the same mould as its forebears, being a compact, well-appointed, comfortable saloon with decent performance, a balanced ride, good handling and a feel of quality. In the Acclaim’s case the quality was more than skin-deep too, as it immediately proved to be a well-made and reliable car with customer satisfaction and warranty rates at levels that no previous Triumph – or any other British Leyland car – had ever come close to.

Always intended to be a niche product like its predecessors, the Acclaim actually exceeded its sales predictions by some margin even if it was never exactly a fashionable or desirable car – it was too sensible and traditional for the dynamic 1980s. Nonetheless, its success let Triumph go out on something of a high.

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