Pre-Production 1980 Triumph TR8 Convertible With Only 73 Miles!

Sometimes you can wander aimlessly around the internet for hours without spotting anything worthwhile. However, there are times when that type of activity allows you to strike gold, and that’s how I felt when I chanced upon this 1980 Triumph TR8 Convertible. While the TR8 in Convertible form is rare, our feature car takes this rarity to a new level as a genuine 1-of-2 barn find. It has been listed for sale here at Historics Auctioneers and is set to go under the hammer at Ascot Racecourse in the United Kingdom on September 25th. If this car doesn’t already prove to be tempting enough, the owner has listed it with No Reserve.

When Triumph released the TR7 in 1975, many potential buyers lamented two perceived shortcomings with the car. The first was that the company had produced a coupe when most longed for a convertible. The second issue was that some were disappointed with the engine that found its way under the hood. The company addressed this first issue by introducing what they referred to as the Drophead Coupe in 1979. For many enthusiasts, removing the roof improved the car’s overall appearance, and sales of the convertible version easily eclipsed the coupe. The engine shortcomings were put to rest in 1978 when the TR8 broke cover. This was a re-engineered version of the TR7 with the Rover 3.5-liter under the hood. The focus for this new model, particularly in Convertible form, was the North American and Canadian markets. Eventually, British Leyland decided that there was a call for the TR8 Convertible in right-hand-drive form for its domestic markets and countries like Australia, and that’s where our feature car fits into the equation. Triumph ran two pre-production examples of the TR8 Convertible in RHD form (also known as “method build” cars) down their production line to ensure there were no snags or issues before placing the model into full production. These vehicles utilized TR7 Convertible bodyshells with all the correct engineering changes to make them a genuine TR8. One car featured a manual transmission, while the company equipped the other with an automatic as the company sought to hedge its bets. This car is that automatic version, and while its status as a 1-of-2 is easy to confirm, the transmission choice makes it genuinely unique. Once this car rolled off the line and had been evaluated to ensure that everything matched up as required, it sat around the Triumph factory gathering dust before being sold to an enthusiast in October of 1980. That person immediately placed the car into a garage in Hampstead. It remained in that spot until it was recently unearthed and listed for auction in an “as found” state. The two pre-production cars both wore Pendelican White paint and came equipped with the distinctive bulging hood and alloy wheels that formed part of the TR8 package. It appears that its storage environment was less than ideal because there is rust visible in numerous areas around the vehicle. There is also plenty of corrosion in the engine bay, and the overall impression is that the buyer will be facing a nut-and-bolt restoration if it is to be done justice. The original soft-top has deteriorated, and it is debatable whether this can be saved. There’s no denying that the buyer will be facing a significant challenge returning this car to its former glory. If this were an LHD TR8 Convertible, I would raise doubts about its financial viability. However, its unique history should justify the time and expense required to return the car to a showroom fresh state.

The 1,998cc four-cylinder engine that found its way under the hood of the TR7 was an updated version of the motor that had seen service in the Dolomite. Once slotted into the TR7, that little four punched out 105hp for the UK domestic market. Straightline performance is all that you might expect, with the TR7 struggling to break the 18-second barrier for the sprint down the ¼-mile. Re-engineering the car to produce the TR8 was surprisingly easy and inexpensive. Rather than use the complicated and unreliable V8 that had occasionally powered the Stag, Triumph dipped into the British Leyland parts bin and grabbed the all-alloy 3.5-liter V8 used in the Rover SD1. This motor didn’t add significantly to the car’s weight, but it gave drivers access to 135hp, making a 16.3-second ¼-mile pass little more than a stroll in the park. With some careful tweaking and tuning, getting these little V8s to produce more than 200hp was easy, so the potential was there to create a beast with little effort. Our car features its original motor, and a 3-speed automatic transmission backs it. That is probably the only disappointment because the manual version offered buyers more flexibility and better performance. As a point of interest, there are no known records about the fate of the other pre-production car. It is possible that it succumbed to rust and the ravages of time, making it plausible that this car is the sole survivor. It seems that this TR8 hasn’t run since the owner parked it in 1980, and the amount of visible corrosion suggests that it might take some effort to revive it. For me, the worry has to be the state of the cooling system. If it has had nothing but water in the radiator for the past four decades, there’s a chance that there might be some significant corrosion in the engine’s cooling passages. Before it was parked, it seems that the owner didn’t go out of his way to try wearing out this classic. The odometer shows a reading of 73 miles, and that reading is genuine.

Apart from a hole where the original radio used to be, this TR8’s interior appears to be complete and unmolested. Lack of exposure to sunlight has allowed the plastic to remain in good order, while the dash shows no evidence of cracks or other problems. Some of the retaining screws have developed corrosion, but almost all of the remaining metal components are in good order. The velour cloth upholstery on the seats is marked, and I’m not sure whether the buyer could salvage this with some careful cleaning. If it can’t, that isn’t the end of the world. The material used in this car is the same as that used for vehicles that Triumph produced for the US market, so sourcing replacements shouldn’t be difficult. The remaining upholstered surfaces look okay, so returning the interior to its former glory should not pose a massive challenge to the next owner.

Estimates of how many Triumph TR8s were built in LHD form vary across numerous sources, but the RHD figures are set in stone. British Leyland pushed Triumph into developing the car for the domestic market and provided their full support for the program at the outset. However, at that time, BL was a company torn apart by industrial issues, had significant problems with quality control, and was bleeding money at an alarming rate. Once Triumph had confirmed the viability of the TR8 Convertible with the two pre-production examples, they hit the “go” button for full-scale production and sales. A mere eighteen cars rolled off the line before BL did an about-face and axed the model entirely. They allowed Triumph to sell those eighteen cars to recoup some of the costs, but the RHD version of the TR8 Convertible was dead in the water. The fate of the second pre-production TR8 is unknown, so someone is potentially only a few days away from owning a genuinely unique British classic. I hope that they can return it to its former glory because cars like this don’t deserve to be left to rot in sheds. They belong on our roads, being enjoyed by lucky owners.

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Comments

  1. Sam Shive

    The Shifter Is Rusted ……..NUFF SAID

    Like 6
  2. Frank Sumatra

    A verbose description of scrap metal.

    Like 11
  3. Ike Onick

    117.482 kilometers to the first breakdown. Wow.

    Like 2
  4. KC John

    Whoever stuffed this into a wet box has some seriously bad karma coming. What a waste.

    Like 10
  5. Gary Rhodes

    Pile of scrap that will bring a ton of money.

    Like 5
  6. Dusty Stalz

    Barn Finds authors get so excited about the weirdest junk lol.

    Like 5
  7. Mike Hawke

    The moisture from that storage garage practically oozes right out of my computer screen. I had a similar brick garage in Germany for my automatic TR8 and it did the car no favors. Rust started within 2 years.

    Like 4
    • Ike Onick

      I will hazard a guess your garage had less to do with the TR8 rusting than the deadly combination of British design and craftsmanship did. That car probably would have rusted on the Moon.

      Like 8
      • mickey tee

        on a quiet night you can hear it rust from across the street

      • Laurence

        Ike Onick: I have owned classic English sports cars that have given me a lot less grief than some older Corvettes I have also owned. A little less nationalistic chauvinism and stereotyping might make for a more interesting comment. British design and craftsmanship that you turn your nose up at, has created over the decades Bentleys, Rolls Royces, McLarens, James Bond’s Aston Martins, the beautiful and fast E Type Jaguar, etc.

        Like 3
  8. Allen L

    BL Canada had a factory backed TR8 coupe rally car back in the day.
    One year I followed the Trail of the Bison Rally in Manitoba and got to see the TR8 blasting down a forest fire road. Great sound of the V8, and also the car frequently bottoming out on the rutted road.
    Somewhere I have pictures of it, and several other entrants that year.

    Like 5
  9. Lothar... of the Hill People

    Top 10 things not to do to a beautiful, British sportscar:
    1. Stick it in a wet box for 40 years.
    2. Put a 3-speed automatic transmission in it.
    … The rest of the items on the list don’t really matter if 1 and 2 are already checked.
    ~Lothar

    Like 7
  10. Geoff C

    Maybe the odometer is still good… then again, maybe not.

    Like 1
  11. Morris Bacon

    Junk is the nicest thing I can say. Automatic? Give me a break

    Like 1
  12. ADM

    Nope.

    Like 1
  13. Wayne

    Allen L, John Buffum ran a TR8 Rally car here in the US. (Coupe, not a drophead) He was very fast and the car did him proud. If I remember correctly The Buffum/TR8 combo was a national champion for a year or two.
    In the1980 POR (Press On Regardless) He AND Niall Leslie (Canadian National Champion) (not sure of that first name spelling, but remember it as different) Both crashed in the same place. Mr. Buffum hit the first tree approximately 3-4 feet off the ground and destroyed the car. (I have a piece of that car hanging on the wall in my shop.) Mr. Leslie ended up on his roof. I ended up going off the road about a mile before that area and probably would have made the error.
    The road had been very fast. (wide, smooth and easily read by the tree line and was a ton of fun) But abruptly narrowed, (read that as between large trees, since this was in a U P Michigan forest) turned left, then right and dropped down quickly into a wash type area. They had the stage closed for quite awhile while they freed John from the car. (his leg was lodged between the bodywork and the roll cage and he was unable to extract himself from the car) Which meant we were able to get some sleep waiting for the stage to re-open.

    Like 3
    • Ike Onick

      Well thank God you got some sleep.

      Like 1
    • Allen L

      Wayne, that’s a great story, and that you have a piece of Stuff’em Buffum’s car. I remember the POR, glad you got to see both TR8s. The Canadian TR8 was burgundy. From magazine articles back in the day (Road&Track) I could follow the US series, and we had a weekly Canadian motorsports newspaper, that I could follow the Canadian series. I wish I had kept those newspapers, as it followed the Formula Atlantic series, with then up and comers like Bobby Rahal, Keke Rosberg, Bertil Roos, Gilles Villeneuve….

  14. Jack Leary

    The Prince of Rustness.

    Like 1
  15. Frank Sumatra

    I think the most interesting aspect is the fact this was a “Pilot” line build to see where the potential assembly issues were. I would enjoy seeing the punch list of the issues found during the build. I would also guess anything identified was never fixed or given a long-term corrective action when they decided to pull the plug. Good luck restoring this. Can you get parts for a car that had a production run of 18?

    Like 1
    • Little_Cars Little_Cars Member

      You are right, B-L took the punch list to the its grave. I’m sure parts are easily sourced either from the usual Triumph vendors, Rover vendors for the mechanicals and driveline (plus, all the individuals that have rebuilt the infamous Rover V8s over the ensuing years, and Buick people in the US). The components that make this car unique otherwise are probably in serviceable condition. Betcha this car smells just dandy after being stored in a terrarium.

      Like 2
  16. Howie Mueler

    You have heard of re-sale red, this is re-sale rust.

    Like 4
    • ADM

      Soon to be re-sale dust.

  17. Chris K

    Apparently the first thing that broke was the odometer. The seat and pedal wear prove it’s not a true reading. Throw in the accident damage and rust on the wheel lips and lower edges that are indicative of road use, not ambient moisture, to further prove it.

    Like 3
  18. JMG

    What. A. Turd. I love rusty projects where I get in over my head on day-one… and even *I* would not take this one for free.

    Like 1
  19. Wayne

    Allen L, I hope that I did not mislead you. Mr Leslie was NOT driving the TR8 at POR. I believe he was driving a Nissan of some kind. Because of it’s mangled state and it was VERY DARK (Remember US Pro Rallys were run mostly at night.) I was unable to actually discern what it actually was, as it was on it’s roof when I went by.
    Man I miss driving rally cars!

  20. Laurence

    Ike Onick: I have owned classic English sports cars that have given me a lot less grief than some older Corvettes I have also owned. A little less nationalistic chauvinism and stereotyping might make for a more interesting comment. British design and craftsmanship that you turn your nose up at, has created over the decades Bentleys, Rolls Royces, McLarens, James Bond’s Aston Martins, the beautiful and fast E Type Jaguar, etc.

    • Ike Onick

      Lotus, Land Rover, MG, Austin-Healey, Mini, Morgan, TVR, Vauxhall, Jensen, etc. All wonderful marques.

      Like 1

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