The Triumph Stag is one of those cars that is better appreciated today than during its short production lifetime and that is because modern technology has found ways of fixing most of the problems that afflicted the Stag when new. There is also no getting away from the fact that they are a very stylish 4-seater convertible.
The Stag was conceptualized somewhere in the mid 60’s and styled by Giovanni Michelotti who had worked on several Triumph designs. Harry Webster, the Engineering Director, wanted to produce a car to compete with the 280SL but using as many Triumph 2000 parts as possible.
The first Stag prototype had a shortened wheelbase, a roll bar and concealed lights. It didn’t look, from a styling point of view, at all similar to the Stag we know today and it also had a 6-cylinder engine.
To compete with Mercedes, Harry added a fully adjustable steering column, which lead to all sorts of problems later on as far as complying with US regulations was concerned. He wanted up-market trim and pressed steel wheels with cast alloy and wire wheels as options, manual and power steering, a 14-gallon petrol tank, plus manual/overdrive or automatic gearbox options.
The car was primarily intended for the US market and American acceptance had been seen as crucial. It was late in 1970 when the Stag was finally on the market in the UK but due to US regulation compliance it didn’t get to the American market until 1971.
Harry Colley was the Senior Development Engineer responsible for the development of the Stag from 1st prototype until 1974 and by the middle of 1971 had his hands full solving the major problems, which gained the car such a bad reputation. It was reckoned they were losing about £1,000 on every car sold in the States with an almost automatic engine change within 2-3 thousand miles. There were overheating problems, soft tops leaked and water was getting into the boot just to name a few. The UK cars were experiencing similar problems although not so severe.
Even though British Leyland didn’t pump any real money into the development of the Stag or in solving it’s problems over the 7 years of it’s production, the car did evolve. The first cars, which enthusiasts call MKI’s were made between 1970 and February 1973 when the MKII model was introduced. The MKII had a number of mechanical and cosmetic differences. Although cars remained MKII’s (as far as Triumph were concerned) until production ended in June 1977, the ’76 and ’77 models were sufficiently different to represent a third phase in the cars development.
The first Stags were offered with soft top, hard top or both. Manual transmission was standard and usually came with optional overdrive. Automatic transmission was optional and was more popular. These first cars had their tail panels painted in the body colour. January 1972 saw changes including stainless steel sill trim strips, a thermostatically controlled engine air intake and re-designed cooling system. MKII’s sills and tail panels were painted in matt black, twin pinstripes were added and 5 spoke alloy wheels became an option. From October ’76 the last major change was the fitting of a Borg Warner type 65 gearbox on cars with automatic transmission.
Triumph’s aim was to have sales of 12,000 Stags a year but this was never achieved. The best year was 1973 when sales peaked at 5508. Even the introduction of the Stag to Australia couldn’t reverse the trend; though Australia went on to become the Stag’s best overseas market. In total only 25,939 Stags were built in the 7 years of it’s production. In the end, UK sales outnumbered exports by about two to one, which is why, the UK Stag Club is the biggest single model car club in the world.