Thursday September 6, 2018
It is almost inevitably the case with cars that belong to an elaborate hierarchy that the most expensive versions are the ones that capture the public imagination; the Hillman Avenger Tiger, the Ford Escort RS1600 and RS2000 Mk. I and the Dolomite Sprint.
The reality was more mundane and in the case of the Triumph the be-spoilered flagship of the range was a far less common sight than its humble, but no less valued, entry-level counterpart the Toledo. To this day, I remain convinced that Fareham Council has a by-law stating that their multi-storey car park had to contain at least three Java Green Toledos at all times.
The family tree of the “Ajax” series compact Triumphs from 1965 to 1980 is one of soap opera complexity; albeit one of a far higher standard than East Enders with various characters bellowing in their best Dick Van Dyke/Sid James cockney.
The original 1300 was an upmarket small four door FWD saloon and in August 1970 it was succeeded by two models – the 1500, which was also front wheel drive and boasted quad headlamps and a longer boot, and the Toledo. The latter combined the original bodyshell with two doors, a simplified interior and, most notably, rear-wheel drive.
The reasoning behind this apparently retrograde step was so that Triumph dealers could offer Herald drivers a viable replacement model and so that the British Leyland Empire had an RWD alternative to the ADO16 family.
It was a fairly expensive vehicle at £902 15s 4d (the fact that it was launched in the last days of pre-decimal money makes it seem charmingly dated) with radial ply tyres costing an additional £8 10s, but it was presented as a car that was ‘a cut above’. The Toledo would provide a pleasantly conservative alternative to the Avenger and the Viva HC (both of which also made their debut in 1970) and, of course, the Escort Mk. I.
Autocar noted that the latest Triumph saloon ‘may prove to be the very last British car introduced with all-drum brakes’. However, their test concluded with praise; the Toledo offered ‘a considerable bonus to anyone who is prepared to spend that little more on it in the first place’ and it was ‘easy to drive; so much so that the most timid driver will feel at home in it very soon’. “Driving School” Triumph Toledos were frequently encountered during the 1970s.
A four-door version became available in 1971 and (at last) front disc brakes in the following year, by which time the Toledo has secured a niche for itself with a select group of motorists. BL publicity liked to point out that it had ‘the same basic power unit as the Triumph Spitfire’ but this was never intended to be a sports saloon.
Instead, it was ideal for anyone who still believed in short-back-and-sides, cavalry twill slacks, pipe tobacco, and writing letters to The Times suggesting the immediate deportation to British Antarctica of David Bowie.
By 1975 the two-door was discontinued but the four-door Toledo remained in production until the following year, gaining reversing lamp, reclining front seats and even a “Fasten Seat belt” warning light.
Other decadent additional items of luxury equipment included a dipping rear view mirror, which does give an idea of the Spartan nature of many small cars during this era. Its heirs were the Dolomite 1300 and 1500, which were essentially the Toledo with the longer boot and a choice of engines.
As compared with the Dolomite Sprint, the Toledo is comparatively little-remembered, which is a great shame, for it was a very pleasant machine that served a definite purpose. Let Viva, Escort and Avenger drivers indulge in long hair, sideburns and purple flared trousers.
Let Avant Garde hippy types indulge in the Fiat 128, the Citroën GS and other strange imported FWD machinery – the Triumph Toledo still stood for all that was decent, respectable and proper. Even if the driver in the picture has the facial expression of Terry Scott in Carry On Camping.