So how badis the TR7? Is its reputation for self-immolation and self dis-assembly justified? Time for the obligatory history lesson. This TR7 was made by the 'evil empire' (British Leyland), at a factory manned by inexperienced workers who had never built cars before.The times they were a-changin'. Militant unionism created many strikes for this cash strapped company. The politically motivated use of inexperienced factory workers (Let's set up a car factory. That'll fix the unemployment problem. Lots of votes in that.) led to poor quality assembly. Panels didn't fit evenly and trim was badly installed or misaligned. Carpets bunched up and roof linings sagged. Glue drips clung to vinyl and carpet. But plans were underway for getting it right. A fastback version (the Lynx) was in prototype form and the Rover V8 TR7 had been running since the first four cylinder pre-production cars had hit the road.
Technically and aesthetically, the TR7 was such a departure from the TR6 that Triumph devotees were appalled. Triumph had gone from making a real man's open topped (is that an oxymoron?) sports car with gutsy six cylinder fuel injected propulsion, to a wedge with four cylinders and only in coupe form. Not even a sun roof was available on the first models. And it had a Morris Marina four speed gearbox and (live) rear axle. Neither component was up to the job. In its favour, it did not have the cramped cockpit of the TR6, it was wider, far more comfortable, very 70s modern and it was the first TR to have an automatic transmission as an option. The 7 also handled extremely well in spite of the live rear axle. And there were those garish 70s colours - the smack you in the gob green, red or brown tartan seats and matching door trim inserts. Don't forget those very snazzy pop-up (most of the time) headlights. The TR7 still looks good three decades on.
So what's it like to drive and to own? Brilliant! I reject all those offers from "friends" that a petrol soaked rag and a match are a TR7 owner's best friend. I'm 5 foot 10 inches tall, which is (I don't care in metric) just about as tall as a driver should be to fit in the door aperture. Getting out is somewhat inelegant. Bashing one's head on the way in is mandatory but once inside, there is plenty of head room. The seats are surprisingly comfortable. The driving position is also a very relaxed one. There are a few quirky things. Torana owners will identify with this - the steering wheel and instruments are slightly offset to the right. Similarly, the seat belt likes to cut in to your neck, making one of those sheepskin protectors from Supercheap an essential buy. Radios were quite a big deal in the mid 70s. But the acute angle of the TR7s radio - CD unit does not do many favours to your favourite cd collection. The CD is so close to the console that getting it in requires clever dexterity. When it comes out, keep fingers clear!
The dash and instrument layout is very modern. Large, clear dials are great. But for unknown reasons I can only seem to get about 1/3 of the central idiot lights to work. The gear lever is perfectly placed with a short throw but a fairly positive gate. Providing there is auto tranny fluid and not gear oil in the box, gear changing is quick and easy, just like any modern car. The centre console switches (lights, separate front and rear fog lamps and hazard flashers) look rather flash although their quality is a bit dodgy. Why, with central idiot lights by the dozen and nifty console switches, did British Leyland decide to place the handbrake warning light all by itself in neither of those obvious and appropriate places? They stuck it on a piece of plastic covering the ventilation lighting - where the ejected CD aims!
In spite of the quirks, the TR7 is a fun car to drive. You could never accuse it of being powerful. With 105 horses squeezed into that two litre overhead camshaft engine, you will not be a threat to most of the motoring world. In fact, not even to the current crop of motorized white goods that most people "drive" today. I have an idea - and it's only a theory, mind you, that some of those horses may have escaped in the last three decades. So it is no V8 muncher. Or a 6. Or... you get the idea. However the nose lift on acceleration is visually impressive. Unfortunately, that same nose lift is converted into nose drop under brakes. The price one pays for soft springs and a comfy ride.
Roundabouts are point and squirt. Wonderful. Turning at an intersection, changing into second in the apex is sublime. Twisty mountain roads where sharp, precise handling means the difference between carking it and having huge amounts of fun safely is where it shines. But my 7 is also a commuter that ticks over reliably at lights and sits in intolerable delays on the gateway arterial motorway without the temperature gauge going above 1/4. It has a slight hum in the bum and a few noises that disappear when the clutch pedal is depressed. But it is a delight. The only things that I consider necessary improvements are power steering and (please!) air conditioning. The 1970s really came back to me through the recent heat wave where the fan punished me by blasting me with more heated air. I am looking for a genuine air con unit in case I end up owning the 7 longer than the year planned. And with the heater matrix leaking, it may not be that much fun when winter arrives either. Is that bad? Well, it's not good. Do I care? Not really - it's just so much fun to own.