Restored: Triumph Stag
All Stags are covetable, but this one is more desirable than most because it’s one of the pre-production prototypes. Words and pictures: Richard Dredge.
Restored: Triumph Stag
History is littered with cars that had huge potential, but which wasn’t realised for a variety of reasons. At the top of the pile is surely the Triumph Stag which seemingly couldn’t fail when it was launched in 1970. Here was an affordable four-seater convertible with a 3.0-litre V8 engine, an exhaust note to die for, and smart lines penned by Giovanni Michelotti. The Stag was the car that had it all, and this was surely British Leyland’s ace in the pack that would give rivals a bloody nose.
But as we all know, the Stag didn’t provide British Leyland with world domination, and in a seven-year production run fewer than 26,000 were made. One of the very first was the Stag pictured here. It’s the tenth example built, and it was one of the dozen press cars despatched to Knokke in Belgium in 1970 for the press to review.
The man who owns this significant Triumph is Malcolm Bryan, who comments: “I opened a bodyshop with my friend Mick Moorhouse in 1975, which was also the year that I bought my first Stag. It was a 1973 car, which was sold on after a couple of years. By 1994, I’d bought another 1973 Stag and then I acquired another one in 2006 as a parts car. But instead of breaking it, I turned it into a concours-winning example.
“I’d clearly been bitten by the bug, and having got to know the cars and the right people to help with parts supply, in 2009 I decided that what I really wanted was a very early Stag. Including the pre-production press cars, only the first 63 Stags were registered on an H-plate, in June and July 1970. Most of the people who were first in the queue to buy a Stag, decided to register their cars on 1 August, so that it could wear the new J-plate, but I wanted one of those 63 H-plated cars.”
Things were made a lot simpler for Malcolm, by him knowing Stag breaker Martin Dimmock, who had supplied lots of bits for the restoration of the car that Malcolm bought in 2006. Martin had managed to acquire a pair of H-plate Stags, so Malcolm asked if he could buy one. It transpired that not only were those two early Stags ex-press cars, but Martin actually owned four of them, all acquired over the years as projects, with a view to buying all 12 of those pre-production cars.
However, it transpired that not all of the press cars had survived. Years ago one was scrapped while another was stolen and never seen again. One had been shipped to Sweden and another to the US, while at least one was so rotten that it was beyond saving. That left just six or seven saveable cars in the UK, five of which have now been restored and are on the road; another is currently undergoing a complete rebuild.
When Malcolm asked if he could buy one of these four significant Stags owned by Martin, his request was quickly turned down. Malcolm asked for first refusal if any of the cars did come onto the market; two years later Martin realised just how big a task it would be, to rebuild his four early Stags, so in July 2011 he called Malcolm to offer him LD12, the 12th pre-production prototype. Malcolm and his mate Mike Nixon snapped it up to restore and own between them. However, just a couple of months later came a follow-up call. Would Malcolm like to buy another H-plate Stag, this time LD10? It was a perfect scenario; Mike and Malcolm would co-own both cars, and they could also help each other to return them to the road.
Malcolm says: “Mick Moorhouse and I stopped working together in the mid-1980s when he went to Leeds college to run the restoration course. He then left for a nine-year stint in the US before returning to the UK, when I roped him in to help with the restorations of LD10 and LD12. Between us, Mick, Mike and I had all the necessary skills to return these two significant Stags to the road.”
And the cars most definitely are significant, with LD10 especially so. It’s the tenth Stag ever made despite it wearing a plaque on the centre console stating that it’s the seventh. Triumph built several prototype engines and bodyshells, and LD10 uses the 10th and 15th of these respectively, but it was the tenth Stag pre-production prototype to be assembled. Everything is thrown into confusion because LD1, LD2 and LD3 weren’t used for the press launch. As a result, the press fleet started at LD4, which was labelled pre-production car #1 to simplify press identification. As a result, all of those plaques were three cars out; the press cars were LD4 through to LD14, with LD17 making up the numbers. They were registered RVC 425H to RVC 435H, with that final car wearing the RVC 438H plate.
Because LD10 was already stripped and in essentially good condition, Malcolm, Mike and Mick decided to tackle that one first. It would take two years to rebuild before the trio would then have to do it all again with LD12, which was in a much worse state.
Malcolm continues: “LD10 was just about all there, but it had been completely dismantled, to the point that it was a rolling shell into which all of its components had been piled. I filled a van with the engine, gearbox, interior and an array of panels, ready to reassemble the jigsaw puzzle.
Malcolm was well versed in bringing Stags back from the dead, as he’d worked on plenty of them over the years, and he already knew what to expect in terms of differences between the prototypes and most of the production cars. One of the most significant is the fitment of four-piece sills, known as king sills, which were also fitted to the first few hundred production models. The Stag was originally designed as a full convertible, but the T-bar arrangement was conjured up late in the day, in a bid to ensure that if draconian anti-convertible regulations were introduced in the US, Triumph could continue to sell its tourer there. The result was over-engineered sill structures for the earliest Stags, and those in LD10 had seen better days, so Mick had to drill out the spot welds, repair all of the metal then weld everything back up.
Much of the car was in very good condition, with relatively little work needed. Both front wings were renewed and the rear quarter panels had to be repaired, while also on Malcolm’s shopping list was a new top panel for the nose, and a pair of fresh door skins. He adds: “Some of the work would have fazed a novice, but over all it was pretty straightforward really. Letting in small repair sections here and there, such as in the boot lid, would possibly have tested the skills of some people, but all in all it was a pretty straightforward project to take on.”
Things were made a lot easier by bolting the Stag’s bodyshell to a tilter, which allowed the trio to turn everything upside down, on its side, the right way up, or anywhere in between. Instead of being an off-the-peg item, it was made specially by an engineer who was restoring his Stag, but he gave up on his project part-way through. Malcolm swooped in and snapped up the tilter, making his life much easier in the process.
Scrutinise LD10, and the chances are that you wouldn’t spot how it differs from most of the 25,939 production Stags that flowed out of the gates of Canley over the next seven years. Many of the small details that featured on the prototypes, were carried over into the earliest production cars, before being ditched at different points. Those details are all very subtle and easy to miss, such as the stainless steel finishers riveted into place just ahead and behind the side windows, the lead loading in the rear panel seams, and the black plastic clips used to keep the wiring loom in place in the engine bay; these switched to white soon after production began.
Similarly, the motor on top of the windscreen washer bottle was retained by four rivets, but presumably in a cost-cutting drive, the production cars got just two. Rivet counters of the world unite…
In a bid to make his restoration as authentic as possible, Malcolm went to great lengths to source the correct parts. The Armstrong Super Blue shock absorbers fitted at the rear are all but extinct now, but a pair was tracked down and fitted, rather than resorting to aftermarket replacements. The genuine 14” Rostyle wheel trims are also incredibly hard to find, but Malcolm managed to source two complete sets, one for LD10 and the other for LD12.
Just like the earliest production examples, the prototype Stags were fitted with rear side windows in the soft top, but they were soon deleted bcause they had a habit of cracking when the roof was folded. Most early Stags are now fitted with a later roof for better reliability, but anyone banished to the back seat will find it pretty claustrophobic thanks to the lack of light. Malcolm commissioned Stag trimmer extraordinaire Brian Turner to make a new roof to the correct specification and the result is superb – and this time the windows shouldn’t crack like they did half a century ago…
Perhaps the most significant part missing from the LD10 jigsaw puzzle was the dashboard. Martin Dimmock came to the rescue once again, with a new old-stock set of wooden dashboard pieces, which were duly fitted. What wasn’t missing was the small plaque that sits on the centre console, falsely proclaiming this to be car number 7. This was in such poor condition that Malcolm had a replica made, exactly like the original, naturally.
While Mike, Mick and Malcolm were cracking on with making the Stag look magnificent inside and out, the late Keith Stevenson was busy rebuilding the engine, balancing everything in the process. He overhauled everything to get LD10 back on the road and running once again under its own power for the first time in many years. That was in July 2013, and no sooner was the one Stag back in use than Mick, Mike and Malcolm set about getting LD12 up to the same standard.
Just like LD10, its sister car took two years to restore, but as soon as the task was completed Mick decided that he wanted to do too many miles in it to keep it. Mick was loathe to rack up lots of miles in such a significant car, so he and Malcolm decided that it would be sold on. Choosing which car to let go was a wrench, but LD10 was the subject of some higher-profile appearances in the biggest magazines of the day. Also, of the various press cars sent to Belgium, it was LD10 that was the fastest of the bunch, which is why it had that greater level of publicity. As a result LD10 is the car that was retained, and of course it leads a much easier life nowadays, although Malcolm isn’t afraid to use it – and he’s also vowed that he’ll never sell it.
RVC 431H in period
In July 1970, Autocar put LD10 through its paces and came away generally impressed, but wanting stronger performance. The magazine’s tester’s concluded: “The Stag is one of those cars which you appreciate the more you drive it. It has an easy and relaxing way of packing many miles into each hour and it is a satisfying and spirited car to drive fast. For a touring car it proves comfortable and we climbed out after 15 hours of travelling, tired but not fatigued and in no way stiff. We liked it so much that we shall be adding one to our long term test fleet as soon as we can get delivery.” Six months later, Autocar took delivery of its long-term Stag.
A few months later, CAR pitched RVC 431H against a Scimitar GTE, with the contenders both sporting 3.0-litre engines and priced just £23 apart. CAR’s verdict ran: “Anyone with £2000- odd to spend and a yen for semi-sporting transport could until recently have made a bee-line for the Reliant. Now the advent of the Triumph has complicated the issue, and the choice becomes a difficult one. Evenly matched on performance and very nearly so on fuel economy and handling, these two differ – on paper – only in comparatively minor matters.
“Yet the real difference lies in their natures. The Stag is in every way more sophisticated, a softer car leaning towards the saloon end of the spectrum. The GTE is simpler, harsher, more nearly a sports car that has been adorned with practical bodywork. It is the more satisfying of the two to drive hard, but the less relaxing. Its unique bodywork makes it particularly attractive.”
HOW IT WAS DONE
With all of the underseal scraped off, it was clear that the Stag’s underside was in superb condition.
Working on the four-piece sill sections. Here the first two sections are in place, with two more to go.
Mike Nixon gets busy cleaning up the front inner wheelarches, things made easier with the tilter.
With all of the welding done and the bodyshell in primer, it was time to put on the first guide coat.
The underside was restored to the same standard as the inside and outside, with every refurbished.