At a recent meeting of the Detroit Triumph Sports Car
Club, a local dentist said he wanted to sell his 1980 TR7
convertible. Any reasonable offer, he said, would get it out
of his garage. A picture revealed that it was no ordinary
TR7, but one of the special edition Spider models built between
April and August 1980. He was the original owner. The car
had just 48,000 miles. As with most TR7s, it needed minor
body, mechanical and electrical work.
The $1,200 asking price was tempting. But I already had
a restored 1971 TR6 and a 1982 TR8 occupying my two-car garage.
The next day, Blake Discher, one of my best friends in the
club, looked at the TR7 Spider and ending up buying the car
for just $600. Discher, owns a 1971 Stag, a 1976 TR6 and a
1968 Triumph 2000 sedan. He recently drove my TR8 -- his first
time in a “wedge” -- and came away impressed with
Triumph’s last sports car. So much so that he decided
to take a chance on the TR7 Spider.
If there is such a thing as non-buyer’s remorse, it
set in on me. After looking over Blake’s TR7 Spider,
I realized there was really nothing tremendously or expensively
wrong with it that couldn’t be fixed in a few weekends.
With little more than a basic tune-up and carburetor rebuild,
the engine ran great.
•New shocks, struts and springs,
•Rear wheel cylinders
•A good used brake booster
•A new clutch slave cylinder
•New set of tires
•Some exhaust system work
•A new convertible top
That’s all it took for Blake’s Spider to be
roadworthy. I helped Blake a little bit on some of the smaller
jobs. Like most guys who own a TR8, I wanted nothing to do
with any TR7 -- until Blake’s Spider bit me. The more
I looked at his car, the more I liked it.
The TR7 Spider came in just one color: black. The glossy
black paint, which some say is the highest quality paint job
ever applied to a TR7 or TR8, is set off by the special red
reflective decals and full-length pinstriping. The word “Spider”
appears on the rear quarters and trunk, The Triumph laurel
wreath on the nose and the “TR7” on the trunk
are also done in red reflective material.
On the inside, the TR7 Spider came with a special shagadelic
interior that Austin Powers would surely find groovy. The
carpet is pewter colored semi-shag and the seats are upholstered
in gray cloth that features black racing stripes. There’s
a TR8 steering wheel and TR8 alloy wheels for good measure.
All TR7 Spiders came standard with air conditioning and an
AM/FM cassette radio. Bosch Pilot front fog lights and a stainless
steel luggage rack were optional. Price new: $10,585.
The TR7 Spider was manufactured in British Leyland’s
Solihull plant, where Land Rovers, Range Rovers and the Rover
3500 were assembled. These were the first Triumphs built at
Solihull before all TR production was transferred there from
Triumph’s home in Canley, Coventry in the summer of
1980. It is at the Solihull factory where the TR7 and TR8’s
quality improved dramatically. No one is quite sure how many
Spiders were made. Some say the number is 1,208. However,
in his book “Triumph in America,” Mike Cook, former
British Leyland public relations executive, and well-known
Triumph historian, says around 2,000 Spiders were made. In
either case, the Spider is even rarer than the TR8.
After taking a spin in Blake’s revamped Spider, I
decided to go looking for one of my own. Right away, I found
several Spiders spread around the country for sale on the
Internet. They weren’t cheap, not even ragged out ones.
Luckily, the car that really caught my eye was located just
3 miles from my front door. The ad stated that the car had
low original miles. It looked pretty good in an online photo.
When I called and asked about the car, the man said it had
only 13,000 original miles. The asking price: $3,000. I knew
I wasn’t going to spend three grand on a TR7, but I
made an appointment to look at the car just to see if it really
did have so few miles, and, if so, how flexible the price
The owner, a burly man in his mid 50s, said he was the original
owner. A close look at the car revealed that it suffered greatly
under his stewardship. In 1982, someone tried to steal it.
The would-be thief pried off the ignition lock. Rather than
fix it properly, he installed a push-button switch for the
starter. Because he felt uneasy leaving the car unattended
with a steering wheel that could not be locked, he only drove
the car around his neighborhood.
He also said that he hadn’t driven the Spider in a
long time because he could no longer fit behind the wheel.
That accounted for the low miles. A look at the original upholstery
and carpet revealed no wear, but a lot of dirt and a few --
hopefully removable -- stains. His story seemed credible.
I could tell from the freshness of the body hardware that
the car did indeed have 13,545 original miles. All the belts
and hoses were factory original, as were the tires and convertible
But the car needed work. There was a nasty mess under the
hood. A carburetor or electrical fire melted 90 percent of
the engine wiring harness and ruined the throttle cable. Somehow
the engine started and idled as smooth and quiet as a Toyota
engine. The clutch worked OK. But the turn signals, horn,
headlights and brake lights did not. The emergency brake was
disconnected, and the rear brakes were not working. The body
had a sizable dent in between the taillights. Because the
car had been rustproofed when new and stored inside all its
life, there was no rust, just a few bad scuffs.
When bargaining time rolled around, I said the car was too
much work, a much bigger project than I really wanted. I mentioned
that the ad said nothing about all the mechanical problems
and missing parts. That was just a tactic to try to lower
the price. I really wanted the car. I had a garage full of
spare parts, and I saw nothing wrong that I couldn’t
fix quickly with a minimum of cost and effort.
I said I would be interested if the deal was irresistible.
Soon $3,000 became $2,000. Then it became $1,800. Still, I
balked. I mentioned “cash” a few times. And then
the price dropped to $1,500. We shook hands and I promised
him cash the next day.
But there’s a lesson here. No matter how well you
think you know British cars -- and I have owned around 20
-- they always have a way of surprising you. My new TR7, despite
a fairly close examination, turned out to be in deplorable
condition -- which is probably why the price went from $3,000
to $1,500 in less than two minutes. There are some people
in this world who should not own British sports cars, and
the man from whom I bought the TR7 Spider from is one of them.
The first thing I did upon getting the car home was give
it a thorough cleaning to get rid of all the papers and junk
that had been left in the car over the years. I found a few
brake springs and other small unidentified TR parts in the
trunk. Then I gave the car it’s first tune-up since
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher dominated world politics.
Out came the car’s original Unipart spark plugs, which,
shockingly, were only finger tight in their holes. I wrestled
with the oil filter housing for a half-hour before it finally
came off. My guess is that also hadn't been removed in decades.
After the oil change, I flushed the cooling system and put
in a new thermostat. I installed the new throttle cable and
drove the car around the block a few times. Except for weak
brakes and a clutch hydraulic system that needed bleeding,
the car seemed to run and drive fine -- and, I noticed, unusually
quick for a TR7. The engine sounded great. I’ve come
to really like the high-pitched whine it makes when revved
After 45 minutes or so behind the wheel, I felt I could
trust the TR7 enough for the 12-mile trip to Blake’s
house so we could compare Spiders -- and perhaps pat ourselves
on the back for two great deals.
I never made it.
The first stop, to the gas station for a high protein tank
of super unleaded, nearly cost me my life. The tank was about
half full when I heard a sloshing noise, like water hitting
the pavement. I looked under the car and saw gasoline pouring
from the tank and dousing the muffler, which was smoking and
dangerously close to combustion. I felt near death or at least
a major catastrophe. I quickly put the nozzle back in the
pump and pushed the car over to the corner of the gas station.
I let the tank drain. Then I jacked the front of the car
up to force more fuel from the tank. After I got out all the
fuel I could, I started the car and headed home, staying in
the right lane and driving with the emergency flashers on.
I felt a little like Slim Pickens at the end of Doctor Strangelove.
Remember that scene where he straddles a loaded nuclear missile,
waving his cowboy hat hootin’ and hollerin’ as
it falls from a B-52? I wasn’t making those kinds of
noises. Mine were more akin to prayers.
I hoped the fuel leak was just a bad seal around the sending
unit or a dry-rotted hose. But it was much worse than that.
The top of the tank was rusted through in several places.
Then I realized the previous owner obviously knew about the
leak because the tank was nearly empty when I bought the car.
The leaky tank was just the start of the bad news.
When I got the car home, I noticed green fluid on the ground
at the front of the car. The radiator had developed a couple
of small leaks. More surprises were in store: When I unbolted
the clutch master cylinder for the rebuild, I found that one
of the mounting ears had snapped and that it had been rigged
in place with a big washer. When I pulled off the left rear
brake drum, I found nothing inside except the brake shoes.
All the hardware for the emergency brake was gone. So were
most of the springs. The wheel cylinders on both sides were
These problems made me angry and disappointed. I was hoping
for a quick and easy project that I could knock out in a couple
of weekends. My plan was this: After fixing the electrical
and mechanical problems and a giving the car a thorough cleaning,
the Spider would stay if I liked it as much as I thought I
did. I would send it off to the body shop and have it restored
in time for show season next spring. If not, I would have
a roadworthy TR7 Spider with incredibly low miles. I could
sell the car at a good profit to someone who could give it
a paint job and have a show car. Now none of this could be
done before winter set in. The car was going to need more
extensive and expensive repairs than I bargained for.
When I thought about it about to do with the car, I realized
that with a little patience and a lot of elbow grease, I could
add a very rare and interesting TR to my collection. There
are not many Spiders left. Based on the cars I’ve seen
for sale, most of the surviving Spiders no longer have their
original upholstery or their unique decals. Though the TR7
isn’t the most desirable TR in the series, the Spider
has become quite collectible. Now I had the chance to own
what must be one of the lowest mileage, most original examples
I made a list of everything needed to make the car healthy.
First, I hit eBay. Then I called the usual suspects in the
used TR parts business. Next, I perused the catalogs of The
Roadster Factory, Rimmer Brothers, Moss Motors and Victoria
British. I ordered as many new parts as possible and bought
the rest used.
In two weekends, I did a complete brake job, rebuilt the
clutch hydraulics, installed a good used fuel tank, a good
used engine wiring harness and a used ignition lock. I had
the radiator recored. The electrical problems took two days
to track down and correct. Whenever something goes wrong in
a classic British sports car, the first thing people do is
blame Lucas. Even I do that, though I know better. The TR7
Spider’s electrical problems were not due to manufacturing
or quality defects, but owner misuse, abuse and neglect. For
instance, there were two peeled wires under the dash that
had been used to power something. The wires were touching
each other causing a fuse to blow, which knocked out half
a dozen electrical components.
Strangely, both high and low beam headlights on both sides
were burned out. When the lights didn’t come on, I blamed
Lucas and figured there must be a bad switch, ground or relay.
I spent hours checking connections, fuses, wires and relays.
Only on a whim did I check the headlights themselves and find
that they were getting the required voltage. Later, I replaced
the springs, shocks and struts, bringing the total parts bill
to around $1000. Now I am feeling pretty good about having
a mechanically excellent TR7 Spider with 13,600 miles for
Few people in the Detroit Triumph Sports Car Club own either
a TR7 or a TR8. Both cars still are not really accepted among
the TR faithful. Both Blake and I feel that if more people
would just drive a TR7 or TR8, they would warm up to the car.
Blake’s attitude toward the TR7 shifted dramatically
after he got to know his car. There’s no doubt in his
mind that the TR7 is true Triumph TR.
He noted that it handles well, that it offers decent performance.
That it’s comfortable, has a large interior, and big
trunk. It’s also weather tight. More importantly, the
styling has help up so well that few people can believe the
car is 22 years old. There are plenty spare parts available,
and they are extremely affordable. Rust is perhaps the only
thing that would make a TR7 too expensive a proposition to
restore. All the panels and fenders are welded onto the car’s
unibody, making repairs difficult and expensive.
Looking at the serial numbers and paperwork, Blake and I
discovered that our cars were built just days apart and sold
by the same dealership, Hodges Imports on Woodward Avenue
in Detroit. My car is serial number 400390; Blake’s
is 400612. They were probably at Hodges at the same time 22
years ago. Now both Spiders have been rescued from an uncertain