Tuesday October 4, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts
At classic shows, I occasionally encounter those cars with the instant power to return me to the time of three channel television, Adam Ant and Diana Dors in the Prince Charming video and when the Sony C7 video-recorder was a major status symbol. The Triumph Acclaim, launched on the 7th October 1981 and promising ‘sheer driving pleasure’ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41cm7Z4pWf4 - is one such vehicle.
The Acclaim was developed at a time when Japanese cars were so popular in the UK that in 1975 the Society of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers and Traders negotiated a ‘voluntary restraint’ of imports and when British Leyland’s need for an overseas partner was acute. The 26th December 1979 saw an agreement signed between Honda and BL to build the Ballade – which was essentially a four saloon version of the Civic – in the UK. Eighteen months later the Acclaim was launched as a belated replacement for the Dolomite (which had ceased production in 1980) with advertising proclaiming a new car that was ‘totally equipped to Triumph’.
BL’s publicity material put rather more emphasis on the Acclaim's Triumph identity than on its Honda roots, possibly because of the early 1980s still being a time when people would ‘buy British’; also, the resemblance to the Civic, Quintet, Accord, and Prelude was so obvious as to be hardly worth mentioning. If a dealer was asked ‘which parts of that Triumph are from the UK?’ he (it would almost have certainly been a “he” in 1981) might have pointed out the seats, the twin Keihin carburettors or some minor alterations to the suspension. In truth, the Acclaim was almost entirely a Honda product, from its 1,335cc OHC engine to its transmission, but what did matter to BL was demonstrating that the Cowley plant could produce a car that was as dependable as any European or Japanese rival.
To further ensure the new Triumph’s commercial success, the Honda Ballade was never officially sold in the UK. The only engine option was the 1.3-litre unit and the sole choice of coachwork was the four-door saloon but trim levels ranged from L to CD. Anyone trading in their Dolomite 1300 or 1500 would have found the new Triumph well-appointed and agreeable to drive, even if many an enthusiast of the marque regretted the demise of the Sprint. However, not a few motorists welcomed a car that would not have you on first name terms with the AA or RAC patrols after a few months of ownership and it came as no great surprise to industry observers that the Acclaim was soon regarded as British Leyland’s most reliable model. It was also one of their more popular cars, which came as a relief to BL’s management; by the early 1980s sales of the Allegro and the Ital were plummeting and the Maestro would not be launched until 1983.
The SD3-Series Rover 200 replaced the Acclaim in 1984 and survivors of the last Triumph-badged car are now seldom glimpsed on the road. They are always a welcome sight at any classic gathering, partially for conjuring memories of falling asleep during the first series of Bergerac but mainly because this innocuous looking saloon is one of the most important cars in British Leyland’s history.