Is BMW About to Revive the Triumph Marque?
BMW is known to desire a new brand, so it is possible that Triumph could be resurrected
By Andy Bannister
Rumours are circulating in the UK motoring press suggesting that BMW plans to revive one of the classic British sports car names – Triumph – in a bid to broaden its portfolio and maintain current sales growth.
This past week one of the UK’s two main weekly motoring publications has a cover “scoop” complete with speculative pictures of what a new retro-inspired Triumph TR4 could look like. Meanwhile, its rival weekly publication has a contradictory story saying the company has no plans to revive the old British nameplate.
As a result of its ill-fated purchase of Britain’s Rover Group a few years ago BMW owns the Triumph car name, which it held on to when disposing of other Rover assets. This is not straightforward, however, as a separate and unconnected company still makes Triumph motorcycles, which could spell big trademark issues.
Triumph’s heyday was arguably in the 1960s when it offered a big range of sports cars like the Spitfire, GT6 and TR4, but the company soon lost its way in the debacle of the British Leyland merger, and its products increasingly lacked direction. The TR5 and TR6 became heavy and old-fashioned, the Spitfire stagnated, and the glamorous new Stag grand tourer was a sales disaster thanks to an unreliable new V8 engine.
In Britain Triumph was also well-know for its saloons, including the Herald, Vitesse, Toledo, Dolomite and the bigger 2000/2500 models. With upmarket interiors and Italian styling they had the potential to be – ironically enough – British BMWs, but somehow this never quite came off.
The death-knell for Triumph sounded in 1975 with the launch of the wedge-shaped TR7, which was actually the best-selling TR but took the company down an almighty blind alley. Its peculiar styling, underpowered 2.0-litre engine, very poor build quality and – initially – lack of a roadster version all counted against it. The much better V8-engined TR8 derivative came too late to save it and was never even launched in the home market.
Triumph’s last-ever car (to date) was the 1981 Acclaim saloon, a dull 1300cc notchback which was simply a British-built version of the Civic-derived Honda Ballade, securing it a footnote in history as one of the first Japanese cars made in Europe. There was a tremendous fuss at the time about the Japanese circumventing import quotas through this route, but in truth the Acclaim was a modest seller and by 1984 it and the Triumph name was dead, replaced by the badge-engineered Rover 213, also a thinly-disguised Honda.
Would a renewed Triumph make sense for BMW? The retro Mini has certainly proved a huge hit and shows properly designed and built British cars are still a saleable commodity around the world. Whether the name of Triumph retains much resonance outside the classic fraternity is debatable though, and a new Triumph roadster could be uncomfortably close to BMW’s own Z4.
The rumour-mill suggests a decision is due by the end of the year. I’m not holding my breath.
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