Why you’d want a Triumph Stag
The Triumph Stag is a great-looking, great-sounding car that can be picked up for reasonable prices and that most owners adore. Yet many people wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole due to their poor reputation. Some swear by Rover V8 conversions, others claim that the Stag engine’s problems are over.
So let’s cut to the chase. If you buy a Stag whose engine has been neglected, it will probably bite you, so be prepared to spend to put it right. Buy one with a properly rebuilt V8 and look after it, and it will not let you down.
It’s not rocket science: replace the timing chains every 30,000 miles and make sure the engine and radiator do not silt up, keep the water circulating and it will be reliable and a joy to own.
The engine is not fundamentally flawed. Its water circulation wasn’t the best design, the water pump was poor and low-grade aluminium alloy was used for the heads, but it was fine provided sufficient corrosion-inhibited antifreeze was used at all times, the cooling system was overhauled regularly and the timing chains were replaced when specified.
The Stag would never have been built had it not been for Giovanni Michelotti and Harry Webster. Stylist Michelotti built it from a 2000 saloon as a show car. Webster liked it so much that he persuaded the Triumph board to build it, and to fit the overhead-cam V8 that was planned as part of the slant-four engine design already seen in the Saab 99 and later the Dolomite and TR7.
Sadly, Leyland’s acquisition of Rover in 1967 put Triumph alongside another marque heavily promoting a V8, as a result of which the Stag engine was never used in another car and not developed. Despite its small numbers, however, parts and specialist back-up are excellent and prices fair.
Early cars have long been bargains: they’re built from better steel and last much longer, but rust can be a big issue on all ill-treated examples.
Most cars were sold with hard- and soft-tops, but some only had one or the other. If buying one with the hard-top on, take it off and check there really is a hood in the well and that it works as it should.
Almost all manual cars had overdrive; they’re undergeared on the motorway without it, as were the popular Borg Warner autos.
Images: Tony Baker
Triumph Stag: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
A correctly rebuilt and serviced V8 is a delight, but many aren’t. Check history, use of antifreeze with corrosion inhibitor, timing-chain replacement (every 30k miles is safe) and signs of leaks, overheating or poor maintenance. A neglected engine will probably need a costly rebuild; well looked-after, they’ll do 150,000-plus.
Wayward rear set-up may be caused by worn trailing-arm bushes, which should show a gap between bush and cover plate. Probe for rust here, too.
Electrolytic corrosion can rot through rear mounting/axle casing. Driveshaft splines lock up without lubrication, which could throw you off the road.
Corrosion in the aluminium cylinder heads silts up them and the radiator in no time. The radiator should be replaced or re-cored every 10 years.
Vinyl seats are comfy, durable and not too costly to rebuild; early cars had smooth trim. If they’re uncomfortable, you need to replace rubbers and foam.
Soft- and hard-top
Most were sold with hard- and soft-tops. Look for rust around edges and check it matches. Removal or fitting is a two-person job without a hoist.
The soft-top should be a good fit and seal effectively, but many don’t. Look for distorted/broken frame, splits in the hood and ineffective catches.
Triumph Stag: on the road
Raise the hood or fit the hard-top before going for a drive, to see how well they seal and to make noises easier to hear. Go on a long drive, extend the engine without going silly and then let it idle for a good few minutes. Watch the temperature gauge like a hawk. Once it’s cooled down, look for signs of oil in the water or water in the oil and see if the coolant level has dropped since before the run.
Overheating when stationary may just be down to a weak viscous-fan coupling, but you need to be sure it’s done no more damage before you buy. Also listen for rattles and knocks that may suggest a worn bottom end, tapping from the cam covers indicating worn camshafts or rattling from the front that means new timing chains and tensioners are urgently needed.
If the car is a manual, check for bearing noise – dip the clutch when ticking over in neutral; if it gets quieter the layshaft is worn – and weak synchros. A non-operating overdrive may just be a connection, relay or solenoid, but budget for a full rebuild. If it’s an auto, check the oil for level and colour (black is bad). Make sure it changes smoothly and that the kickdown works.
Listen for rear-axle rumble and whine, and check for oil leaks. Driveshaft splines should show signs of lubrication; without it they can seize, causing severe handling problems.
Soggy handling is likely to be down to leaking dampers, weak or broken springs and worn bushes in the front wishbones, anti-roll bar and steering rack mountings – not too costly to sort. Over-light steering means a faulty spool valve, requiring an exchange rack; it should be precise and light.
Triumph Stag price guide
- Show/rebuilt: £20,000+
- Average: £12,000
- Restoration: £1500
Triumph Stag history
1970 Jun: Stag launched
1971 Mar: improved hood catches, bonnet release to left, larger fuel tank, engine temp warning deleted
1971 Jul: US market launch, lower compression, 127bhp @ 6000rpm, wires, rear wing marker lights, headrests, rear lap belts
1971 Nov: Sanction 2 cars (from LD10001), with detail changes inc separate front belt clips
1972 Jan: narrow stainless sill trim, cooling system modified; Oct: overdrive standard
1973 Feb: MkII (LD20001), changes to engine combustion chambers, overdrive and trim; matt-black sills, black badges
1973 Jul: US MkII cars get lower CR, revised seats, alloys. Late in year, withdrawn from US market (2871 to US spec)
1975 Oct: stainless sill covers, body-coloured tail panel, alloys and tinted glass (LD40001)
1976 Oct: BW 65 auto replaces 35. Smaller rad, altered steering ratio, detail changes (LD41994)
1977 Jun: production ends (LD45722)
MERCEDES SL R107
It’s said that the Stag forced Mercedes to put a V8 in the SL, but it was little threat so the 280SL returned later. The R107 SL was expensive and only a two-seater, but quality was superb. Early ones rot appallingly, however.
Sold 1971-’89 • No. built 300,175 • Mpg 18-22 • 0-60mph 8.1 secs • Top speed 128mph • Price new £6868 (350SL, ’74) • Price now £6000+
RELIANT SCIMITAR GTC
An oddball built in the ’80s with ’60s underpinnings; lighter than a Stag so as fast and more rot-proof (apart from the outriggers). A well-preserved GTC is a good buy, but a poor one is unreliable, frustrating and costly to sort.
Sold 1980-’86 • No. built 443 • Mpg 24-28 • 0-60mph 8.9 secs • Top speed 119mph • Price new £11,360 (1980) • Price now £5000+
Triumph Stag: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
A good Stag is a superb touring car that will delight with its soundtrack, comfort, sophistication and practicality.
A bad one will let you down and cost you a fortune, so look long and hard to find a good example: a properly rebuilt and maintained engine in a correctly restored bodyshell. Engine conversions are going out of favour, so avoid unless well done.
- Four-seater luxury open motoring
- One of the best-sounding engines ever
- Cosy hard-top for inclement weather
- Excellent parts and specialist back-up
- Engine dear to fix if not properly done already
- Rust is an issue, especially on post-’73 cars
- Poor engine conversions can be dangerous
Triumph Stag specifications
- Sold/number built 1970-’77/25,939
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine front-mounted, iron-block, alloy-head sohc/bank 2997cc V8, twin Stromberg carbs; 146bhp @ 5700rpm; 167lb ft @ 3500rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual with optional overdrive on third/top or three-speed Borg Warner automatic, driving rear wheels
- Suspension: front double wishbones, anti-roll bar rear semi-trailing arms; coil springs, telescopic dampers front/rear
- Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
- Brakes discs front, drums rear, with servo
- Length 14ft 63/4in (4440mm)
- Width 5ft 31/2in (1613mm)
- Height 4ft 41/4in (1327mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 4in (2540mm)
- Weight 2675/2835lb (1215/1289kg)
- 0-60mph 9.3/10.4 secs
- Top speed 118/112mph
- Mpg 20-26
- Price new £3599 (1974)