Triumph Stag: The Legendary British V8 Saved By Enthusiasts

Once avoided by car collectors for its infamous and self-detonating V8, steadfast enthusiasts have ensured the Triumph Stag now flourishes as it originally should have

The Triumph Stag proudly showcased both the best and worst of British Leyland. A clichéd statement perhaps, but its sentiment rings true. Launched as a brutish GT car with Italian aesthetics and V8 grunt, wrapped up with enough clout and provenance to send any German rival diving for the nearest hedgerow, the Stag should have taken the market by storm.

Yet, the Triumph was blighted with reliability woes and the structural rigidity of wet mud. Conventional buyers may have been lured in by the Stag’s handsome stance and heritage back in 1971 – not to mention the 007 connection – but that eight-cylinder burble masked dozens of nauseating traits which slashed values and life expectancy clean in half. In essence, the vehicle appeared to have been designed by Satan and built by monkeys.

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While other machines from the British automotive stable gathered popularity and pace, the Stag’s powerplant has become something of an urban legend over the succeeding decades. Pub-bound allegations dictate a tale where Triumph engineers defied British Leyland's overruling management. Instructed to use the aluminium Rover V8, Triumph bigwigs flatly refused. Apparently.

That’s not strictly how it happened, however. And although we can hear the British Leyland loyalists sharpening their disemboweling cutlasses, we are going to push on with debunking this engine myth regardless.

Triumph may well have been given a stern lecture on the benefits of Rover’s new Buick-sourced V8 engine, but engineers pointed out two major drawbacks. For starters, to accommodate the proposed eight-cylinder, a substantial redesign of the Stag would be required. This was going to cost both time and money. BL management didn't like spending money.

Secondly, with Range Rover and Rover 3500 saloon sales booming, the V8 engines couldn’t really be spared for Stag production. As a further decision enhancer, the car was pretty close to a final production design. Therefore, to save much-needed budget, Triumph was left to finish the project as they saw fit; by crafting their own V8.

In a sensible world, that would mean a fairytale ending. Engineers achieved their goal and petrol heads could trumpet the arrival of a hairy-chested GT car. Not quite. As it turned out, Triumph’s own V8 was underdeveloped and would self-detonate at a moments notice. Yet, in true BL style, the package went on sale regardless.

Besides a worrying number of running issues, the worst attribute – by an RAC-sponsored mile – remained the cooling system. Largely aspirational, the radiator arrangement ensured that drivers broke a sweat when sitting in traffic, and eventually developed a dependence on Valium when travelling long distances.

Destined to become yet another asterisk in motoring history, the Stag appeared doomed to a fate already befallen most of Britain's lackadaisical produce. Yet, with time’s onward march, something incredible was occurring within the underground classic car movement.

Enthusiasts were slowly righting Triumph’s errors. Car by car, cooling issues and lumpy running maladies were sorted to produce the Stag as it should always have been. After nearly 50 years, most Stags now boast a healthy drivetrain with eradicated overheating problems.

As a direct result, buying a Triumph Stag is nowhere near as terrifying as the process used to be, which leads us to a startling conclusion; the Stag makes a prime investment despite its forgone reputation. With a hefty dollop of infamy to back up Giovanni Michelotti's styling, and dominant exhaust gurgle, the Stag now enjoys a second life. As an everyday classic climbing the value ladder, the Triumph V8 asserts dominance in the collector car market with each passing year.

Finding a good one isn't difficult, but this example sold by Silverstone Auctions set an industry standard when sent under the hammer last year. Although it failed to sell, carrying an estimate between £18,000 and £22,000 and boasting manual transmission and overdrive, this Stag set the blueprint for what enthusiasts seek.

As a true driver's car, very little comes close to the charm offered by a well-heeled Stag. Don't believe us? Delve in and try one for yourself. You'll find an urge to purchase bell-bottom jeans, a cravat and flowery shirt – and be all the happier for it.

Pictures courtesy of Silverstone Auctions

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