The Triumph 2000 made its debut at the 1963 London Motor Show, as did the Rover 2000 featured in the January edition of this magazine. Both had started development around the same time and both had been delayed for different reasons. Both cars were aimed at the same middle management executive market, and effectively between them created a new market segment.
The story behind the Triumph 2000 is long and complex, involving corporate wheeling and dealing, top-level sackings, and a complete redesign.
The consequence of this was that it took six years for the car to go from original concept to final production. So prolonged was the delay that the company used the engine intended for the car in an entirely different model.
In the late 1950s Standard was experiencing a serious decline in sales. The Vanguard Phase III was considered rather staid, even after a restyle by Michelotti, and the company knew that it needed a fresh new car.
Planning began for a replacement, but the new car was to be more than just a replacement for the Vanguard, it was to be a move up-market, bringing the car into the medium luxury saloon segment: a segment it hadn’t competed in since the demise of the Triumph Renown.
It was decided that the all-new cars from the company should be branded Triumph, and the project was given the working title of Zebu.
At the same time, development work was being carried out on a smaller sedan, codenamed Zobo, which was to become the Triumph Herald. Harry Webster was the design engineer responsible for the Herald and it was he who also worked on Zebu. Giovanni Michelotti was brought in to work on the styling of both projects.
With its reverse-sloping rear window, the Herald was quite a radical design; and its release in 1959 brought a welcome boost in sales for Standard Triumph.
The original drawings for Zebu showed a style not unlike the Herald, complete with tail-fins and reverse-sloping rear window. Looked at from the side, the front end looked a bit like a Citroen ID series, while the back was like an over-sized Herald. Radical it certainly was! As development continued, the front styling was moderated to take on an appearance that looked like a cross between the final design and the Spitfire.
The car was to have a separate chassis and the gearbox and differential combined in a transaxle unit at the rear of the car. Even pneumatic suspension was considered briefly. While these ideas were later scrapped, Webster insisted that the car be powered by a 6-cylinder engine, as this configuration offered greater smoothness than the current 4-cylinder designs.
Progress on the new car was slow anyway, but it was brought to a halt by two things. The first was a visit to the factory by the editor of Motor magazine, Christopher Jennings, who told the designers that another car company was producing a car with a reverse-slope rear window. He didn’t name the company or the car (it was the Ford Anglia) but what he said was enough to convince the company that the design needed a complete re-think.
The second factor was a lack of funds: Standard-Triumph had been severely affected by the British credit squeeze and declining sales in the export market.
They tried to wheel-and-deal their way out of the financial doldrums and in 1959 sold their tractor section to Massey Ferguson, using the money to complete the Herald.
The funds were also intended to be used to complete the Zebu project, but ended up being diverted for construction of a new body pressing plant at Speke, near Liverpool - due to government policy.
Mergers were another way to gain financial viability, and talks had been held between Rover and Triumph. This was interesting because both companies were in the process of developing a 2-litre medium-size luxury saloon.
Talks soon broke down, but the resultant Triumph 2000 and Rover 2000 were both released at the same time, both appealing to the same market segment, although with significant differences in their design and specification.
With no money, and a design that was now rejected by management, the Zebu project stalled. The future for Triumph looked bleak.
Rescue came in 1961 with the £20 Million takeover by Leyland. It was meant to be an amicable merger, but Leyland executives soon took control and sacked many of the previous top-end staff of Standard-Triumph.
Luckily for the project, Webster remained and, with funds being made available for the new car, he began work on a new design. The project was code-named Barb, and Michelotti was retained as the chief stylist.
Leyland wanted the car produced as soon as possible, and set a deadline for the 1963 London Motor Show.
In the meantime, the 6-cylinder engine that had been produced for the new car was fitted to the Vanguard Six, giving the aging Phase III design a new lease of life and allowing it to act as a stop-gap measure until the new car hit the showrooms. Interestingly, the new 6-cylinder engine was actually lighter than the 4- cylinder unit it replaced.
Webster worked on the basic architecture of the car, changing it to a monocoque design instead of the previous separate chassis, and placing the gearbox in the normal position up front. The engine received twin Stromberg carbs, replacing the Solex units fitted to the Vanguard, with power increasing from 85bhp to 90bhp.
Meanwhile, Michelotti took to the drawing-board to produce a new body shape. Within only three months he came up with what was very close to being the final design.
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The BMC Experience Issue 9. Apr-Jun 2014 Magazine
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