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Three European roadsters that should have succeeded.


#1

Why do some cars fail in the marketplace and others thrive? Why are these three roadsters nearly forgotten? Why didn’t more people buy them in period? After all, they were produced by skilled, experienced designers and engineers for Italian and British carmakers of great reputation in the heart of the sports car golden age. The performance and looks of the Fiat Dino Spider, Jensen-Healey, and Triumph TR8 should have been enough to guarantee success. All three cars would’ve, could’ve, and should’ve scored big sales and large followings from a generation of Americans who were snapping up sports cars as soon as they arrived in our ports, but in each case, timing and other factors conspired against them.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/09/19/european-roadsters-that-should-have-succeeded

#2

Nice article Jonathan. Interestingly, all three had the same reaction to me when new - bland. I didn’t like any of these then even though they were in my wheel house. I’m sure they were (are) all great in their own way. Just din’t hit my sweet spot.


#3

I recall that a cousin of mine in Massapequa N.Y. purchased a second hand TR7. Having grown up in the U.K. not far from where the Triumph cars were built, I could have offered him some advice as regards his purchase since I believe he ever succeeded in getting it to run: It looked cute though when parked.


#4

In January 1981 I was in the market for a second car. Test drove both the FI TR7 and TR8. Ultimately bought the TR7 Spyder convertible from San Francisco BMC, Mr. Qvale’s dealership. Reasoning: I felt the TR8 was nose heavy and not well matched to the additional horsepower. It didn’t handle as well. Other then an occasional vapor lock issue which the dealership was never able to find and correct, the TR7 was actually a reasonably reliable car. I’ve also loved the looks of but never owned either the Fiat Dino or the Jensen Healy.


#5

Oddly, in world where all decisions have knock on implications for our future life, I have the Jensen-Healey to thank for my beautiful Italian wife.
This is probably the only positive thing I can say about these cars after doing PDI on them as a young mechanic in 1973. “Unfortunately, the Lotus engine often suffered from oil leaks, oiling problems, and burned valves” doesn’t half cover the agro these cars caused to our “European Import” dealership, eventually leading to its demise.
That episode lead me out of the profession an on to a better life elsewhere; thank you Colin…


#6

Wonderful article on the Jensen-Healey, a truly forgotten gem amongst the seventies great British drivers cars!
For us the Jensen-Healey has been a family affair since 1985!
Up until recently there was very little interest in doing these cars justice with high quality restorations as their market value didn’t merit the investment. Especially for U.K. and European cars which have nearly all had the rust bug!
Point of interest following the previous post is, of only 213 LHD cars exported into Europe, there were none registered in Italy and only 1 into France!
My passion to see this underrated roadster to be at last considered as a viable and respected classic has brought me to import more than 20 LHD cars into France where I live, to allow enthusiasts over here to obtain “better than factory” examples to enjoy as daily drivers!
Maybe some of them may even return to the States for more Californian sun!
Improved performance, handling and reliability can only add to the charm and market values.
True “Rebel Soul Racers”!
Yours, rsrclassics


#7

I recall thinking when the TR7 first appeared that Triumph had really screwed up - the thing looked like a doorstop, and the top didn’t go down.
They should have built a roadster first off, maybe with a coupe version to follow. Even with the 4 banger, a convertible would have sold much better to their target audience than the doorstop did.

Both of the British cars seem to have the same issue - the dreaded Tinworm - most of the unrestored examples I have seen for sale have had serious rust issues, and they usually don’t run very well, if at all.
I did see a running Jensen- Healey a while back with a Toyota engine under the bonnet…


#8

In 1980 I signed up as a new and used car salesman at a St. Louis new car dealership selling MG’s, Triumph’s, Rover’s, Alfa Romeo’s, Saab’s and Subaru’s. I already knew the troubles that British Leyland / JRT ( Jaguar Rover Triumph ) was in. I did the best I could to extoll the virtues of the lines I sold especially the MGB’s and TR8’s which I personally loved. The 1980 fuel injected California spec TR8’s and 1981 fuel injected TR8’s were the best of the bunch. Woderfull cars to drive as a daily driver or weekend road warrior. Very well balanced. Very reliable, very fun. I always believed as Mike Cook does that they ( Triumph ) could have survived had they went with the TR8 from the begining. I also felt that had they plugged the V8 into the MGB ( as they did in the RHD MGB GT V8 ) we would still see new MGB V8 variants on the road today. Do not be afraid of these cars, very under rated, very affordable, cars to drive then and today.
Jon Strader


#9

I own a 67 MGB a 75 MGB and a 1980 TR8. All of which I’ve restored I also previously owned a 1995 Range Rover and a 1978 MGB. I bought my tr8 about 3 years ago it had not been started in almost 20 years I’ve completely restored it. The engine is great. It’s a real Workhorse lots of power it doesn’t even feel like it’s trying hard I upgraded the seats to Jaguar seats other than that most of its original or is near original as I could keep it it’s great fun to drive. All of these are insured by Haggerty!


#10

My TR8 just went out of warranty, just over 36k original miles, My 2nd British sports car was a Sunbeam Tiger, 1965, I bought it in 1971 cleaned it up with an Earl Schibe Paint job, Auto crossed it with a fair amount of success in the Quad Cities. Sold it when I was married and transfered to Milwaukee in 1978. Thought I was smart since I got $3800 for it, nearly 2x what I bought it for. I got tired of driving company cars, and looked for something exciting in 1980. The TR8 when new was not as exciting as the old Tiger, and lacked many of the creature comforts, It was also very overpriced at dealers of the time. I satisfied my British urge with an MG Midget - converted to F/P and run locally. I kept my eye out for TR8’s and a running low mileage one could be had in 1985 for under $4k. I bought an 85 Omni GHL for $5k with a warranty, and significantly more performance instead. Finally found the TR8 in 2006, at a fair price, about $10k and have enjoyed it ever since. I did not realize how rare it was until I ordered the CD maintenance manual. I will continue to drive it as the 4bbl conversion and 15" tires make it a nice driver. It is still original paint, and runs great.


#11

I’ve had a few TR8s, as well as dozens of other cars of the Triumph era. I have a friend with a Jensen Healey and it’s a blast to drive, and only drove a Fiat Dino convertible once 20 years ago. My take is the TR8 is the most comfortable, and is the most relaxed when cruising. It’s a true grand tourer, and feels the most modern. I had a Daimler SP250 and though incredible to drive, pretty comfortable, and a relaxed grand tourer, it just doesn’t compare. In general, most British cars are underappreciated, and much more reliable than the common folklore has one believe.