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 fuel-injected TR5 motor, but difficulties with emissions delayed the American launch until the spring of 1971. A 2,997-cc, 145-hp V-8 was developed, based on two SOHC Triumph-built Saab 99 engines back to back, with aluminum cylinder heads. The Stag was available with automatic transmission or four-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 $5,805 the Stag was not cheap, but it was aimed at the Mercedes-Benz 280SL, which cost $7,469. Unfortunately for Triumph, however, the Mercedes didn’t go wrong at the same rate as the Stag did. Almost all American cars were automatics and the neutral isolator switches regularly failed, disabling the starter. The car also often overheated, as the aluminum cylinder heads could not be torqued down adequately due to the studs entering the block at an angle. Over-tightening the head studs inclined the heads to close around the studs, a process complicated by electrolysis, which made faulty cylinder heads very hard to remove.
Approximately 25,000 Stags were made (1976 production figures are missing) and around 7,500 were exported. 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 Stag’s future had already been determined.
The Triumph Stag is a great concept with a terrific look, but finding an untouched original example can be a task. Many stateside Stags have been modified with Buick or Rover V-8 engines, or GM V-6s (Fords are preferred in the UK), while the originals often still have their original problems. Later cars are pretty well sorted, but left-hand-drive cars are rare given their low sales rate. Still, the right car can be fun, as one of the few small convertibles from the 1970s that can fit a family.