Triumph the Comic Insult Timing Chain – Stag 1, Your Wallet 0

There’s nothing finer, perhaps, then waking up, fixing a pot of tea, and settling down to write about one of the shoddiest vehicles to ever disgrace the United Kingdom with its inimitable combination of congenital defects. That’s saying a lot, particularly considering that the UK is one of the few first-world countries to compete with the former Warsaw Pact countries for the grand prize in bad automotive ideas. Today’s subject is none other than the Triumph Stag, a vehicle whose purpose in the British Leyland lineup was as enigmatic as its timing chain layout. The one pictured, for sale on eBay Motors, may be the nicest version you’ve ever seen … but take a moment to recall; have you ever seen another?

When new, the Stag was somewhat of a paper tiger, a promising grand tourer with power in spades, just what Triumph needed to claw its way back into relevance. The specs were appealing – an all-new SOHC V8, sharing some of the proven slant-4 dimensions and layouts, sporting aluminum heads and an innovative chromium-iron block. You could take off the heads without having to first remove the valvetrain or cams. All the accessories and the cooling fan were run off the timing chain via skew gears (and in the case of the fan, a viscous fluid coupling to limit rotational speed). To house this innovative motor, a Giovanni Michelotti-penned 2+2 touring body was fitted, taking aim directly at the Mercedes-Benz SL roadsters. That’s about all the positive things that can be said about the Stag, so it’s time for the best part – the myriad issues that allowed the Stag to become a poster child for the befouled pit of refuse that the British motor industry had so deliberately fallen into. That Michelotti body? On top of looking dated from the outset, it was ruined with a basket-handle rollbar. It wasn’t Michelotti’s best work anyhow. But where B-L really screwed the pooch was in the execution of their ambitious engine plans. Had the V8 been released now, I have no doubt that within a month (which is when they started blowing up) you’d see webcomics with a simple picture of the V8 as the punchline to the image macro. Think trolldad and rage guy.

Where to begin? Let’s start with that well-intentioned timing-chain-to-rule-them-all. It was approximately 35 miles long, and being of the single-link type, with all that distance to service they tended to crap out early. So, you’re thinking, how early? Like 60,000 miles? Fie, old chap, fie. More like 25,000 miles. And it’s an interference motor, so when it popped, so did your savings account. Adding to the V8’s woes were undersized main bearings, leading to short crank and bearing lives. Cooling was poor due to badly cast aluminum heads, so they warped quite often. The water pumps would occasionally let go when their drive gears randomly disintegrated. To add insult to injury, the temperature sender was only located in one of the heads, and if you haven’t noticed many of the issues these engines had were related to cooling. Thus, many happy-go-lucky Stag owners tooled around in ignorant bliss while their engines were in the process of melting down.
Of course, clinically insane determined owners have found fixes and workarounds for most of these issues. The most common is chucking the V8 for an Essex V6. (Insert peals of laughter here.) Even the V8 can be made to be reasonably reliable. Reasonably is a word with plenty of wiggle room, so exercise caution … and it wouldn’t hurt to have deep pockets. This example, in lovely brown, is one of the nicest on the road and owned by a passionate enthusiast, from what I can tell. Caveat emptor is the word of the day.
eBay Motors

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  1. BGW Avatar

    Some say he was a colossal failure in automotive engineering. And some say the timing chain itself was originally Dante's Tenth Circle. All we know is he's called The Stag.

  2. tonyola Avatar

    Oh, sigh. The Stag was such a lovely car in so many ways and it could have easily been the greatest Triumph ever – the most triumphant Triumph. It was initially supposed to be a full convertible but the body rigidity on prototypes was so poor that a roof cage ended up being necessary. Plus there's the obvious omission of not using the Rover 3500 V8.
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    1. facelvega Avatar

      For a seventies Brit GT, I'll pass on the Stag and take a Gilbern Invader or just a Scimitar GTE, or GTC to compete on the convertible front. Way better cars than the Triumph, except perhaps in styling where it's close. They are also rarer, relatively easy to keep running with their Essex V6 mechanicals, and in my book more interesting.

    2. ChuckyShamrok Avatar

      The two reason I heard why triumph didn't use the Rover v8 was
      Triumph didn't use the Rover V8 because before BL, there was a rilvary between Triumph and Rover. Even though they were both owned by BL when the stag was released, they still refused to use the rover engine, I believe it was even offered.
      The Rover V8 was in too high demand for use in the Land Rovers, so they couldn't spare any for the Stag.

  3. Jim Brennan Avatar
    Jim Brennan

    I remember driving one of these over 30 years ago….. yea yea yea, I know that's a long time ago. Anyway, it was bright red, black canvas top, black interior, and it had a Borg Warner Automatic. The exhaust note was captivating, but the old girl groaned over every frost heave, and freeway expansion joint. It was fairly comfortable, but she would overheat if you left her idling too long. The A/C didn't work, the radio received nothing but static, but who cares. I was car sitting for a friend of mine, and took it to Hyannis (and back) for a weekend.
    I didn't even ask if he was going to sell it because I knew (somehow, I knew) this car was trouble.

    1. chrystlubitshi Avatar

      i am very interested by the phrase "frost heave"… if you would please explain further, Jim, i would appreciate it (i see this phrase getting used regularly in my seasonal conversations). Thanks,

      1. njhoon Avatar

        It is the by product of eating yellow snow.

      2. Maymar Avatar

        Cracks in the road caused by the expansion of water in the ground around the freezing mark. Basically, anywhere where the temperature hovers near freezing for extended periods of time is bound to have terrible roads.

        1. chrystlubitshi Avatar

          ahh… i am all too familiar with this even… just never knew there was a specific name for it!
          thanks all!

      3. topdeadcentre Avatar

        There are also frost heaves caused by some weird combination of pavement shrinking and expanding and moving (but not necessarily cracking) with all the freezing and re-warming; weird bumps, dips and ridges result. When the pavement surface deteriorates (google "ice wedging"), potholes form.

  4. dustin_driver Avatar

    I'm surprised they didn't add the Austin's awesome Hydrolastic bladder suspension just to round things out.
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    1. Alex Kierstein Avatar
      Alex Kierstein

      THAT doesn't look too unreliable ….lulz.

      1. facelvega Avatar

        and so easy to access when it inevitably craps out!

  5. Black Steelies Avatar

    The hood marque looks like a John Deere emblem.
    And appropriately, the JD lawn mower in our garage blew its motor last summer.

  6. Paul_y Avatar

    I am under the impression that kludging a Stag into being "reasonably reliable" only means that shedding bottom-end parts on any drive is not necessarily a forgone conclusion.

  7. AteUpWithMotor Avatar

    The Stag I shot in El Segundo last year took a more direct solution: swap a Rover 3.5 for the 3.0L.

  8. ChuckyShamrok Avatar

    I was considering replacing the blown 3.0 in my stag with the 4.3V6 out of an Astro van. The problem with the engine swaps was how light the engine was, The motor had to be similar in weight to the aluminium V8 that was in there so you wouldn't have to futz around with the front suspension to make it handle the same.