Friday April 26, 2019
Sixty years ago a new small car was unveiled to the motoring press, and various dealers in a musical gala staged at the Albert Hall. Your host was Mr. Bob Monkhouse, and the star of the show was, of course, the Triumph Herald. The initial of body was a rakishly handsome coupe, joined a few weeks later by a two-door saloon. One of the highlights of the show, asides from some quite bizarre rock & roll dance numbers was a team of engineers building a Herald on stage in just four minutes.
By 1960 Canley offered a convertible version, and the stunning example in our photograph belongs to Nick Price, the creator of the utterly fascinating website http://www.triumph-herald.com/index.htm. The “Alpine Mauve” saloon belongs to Rich Philpott and is ‘one of the most original Heralds around. The other is Jez Philips’ coupe which has been restored and is arguably the best Herald anywhere on the planet’.
The story of the Herald is well-known, but that does not make it any less of an achievement for Standard-Triumph. “Project Zobo” was tasked with appealing to young and affluent motorists and Giovanni Michelotti created the famous coachwork in 1957. The use of a separate chassis – already unusual by the late 1950s – was due to economic necessity, as S-T first planned for the Herald to be of monocoque construction.
However, Fisher & Ludlow, their external body supplier of choice, was now part of the British Motor Corporation and the solution devised by the firm’s chief engineer Harry Webster was to use a chassis. This would not only prove cheaper, but it would also make CKD kits of the new Triumph easier to assemble abroad and became a major selling point: S-T would list ‘low centre of gravity, ‘effective sound insulation ‘and ‘strength and safety’ among its advantages.
Power from the Herald was via the 948cc unit from the Standard 10, as was the four-speed gearbox (sans synchromesh on first) but the rack & pinion steering and the all-independent suspension were departures from the S-T norm. The latter also allowed for a 25-foot turning circle which the brochure copy boasted meant ‘better lock than a London Taxi’ – although in practice this could prove expensive on tyres.
In 1958 S-T evaluated Herald prototypes on a run from Cape Town to Tangier, and in April of the following year, the automotive press lauded the Herald. The Motor thought it was ‘a most promising newcomer’ while Motor Sport regarded the Triumph as ‘Britain’s Outstanding New Car’ and one that ‘The production of the Triumph Herald is an achievement with which all concerned can feel proud’.
The ‘New Experience in Motoring” went on sale to the public in the autumn of 1959 at the London Motor Show, where visitors to Earls Court were able to marvel at the coachwork with its ‘control tower visibility’ and the incredible accessibility of the engine bay. ‘No words can capture the magic of the Triumph Herald’, proclaimed the brochure. This same document also posed the question – ‘Do Men Drive Better Than Women’ only to answer, ‘Not in the Triumph Herald!’.
At £702 2s 6d for the saloon and £730 14s 2d for the coupe, the Herald was rather more expensive than its Austin, Ford and Morris competitors but the price did include a heater, windscreen washers, a trip recorder, and adjustable steering. The hardtop also boasted a water temperature gauges and a lockable glovebox. Just to make 1959 feel almost impossibly remote, a further sales feature was that the chassis would not require greasing – ‘Away with the grease gun!’
Many show-goers also noted that the Herald bore the “Triumph” marque, and this was a logical marketing decision as its Standard 8/10/Pennant predecessor was already so-badged in export markets. The success of the TR sports cars had enhanced the Triumph name around the world so when you placed an order for a new Herald, you would not only take delivery of a car with a height adjustable driver’s seat, the “chip basket” parcel carrier and even a reserve tap for the petrol tank – you acquired instant status.
One element that was not really on the menu was high performance, for the saloon’s top speed was barely over 70 mph. The coupe was fitted with twin SU H1 carburettors to give 51 bhp, but this still did not make it entirely suited for the “motorway age”. Jack Braham offered an after-market Coventry-Climax engine conversion, but these were exclusive sights even when new.
The 948 range was joined by the convertible in March of 1960 and VDL 634 was originally delivered to Munn and Underwood of Southsea that August before it was despatched to the Isle of Wight and a dealer demonstrator. Nick acquired it in 2013 – ‘I have owned all styles over the years but always wanted the rarest - being the convertible. I was restoring another convertible when this one popped up for sale. The huge history file and originality really appealed as it has never been restored (hence the fab panel fit)’. The Herald soft-top had the same fascia as the coupe and the twin carburettors, ‘which does add a better performance than the single carb on initial start’.
The other major news for that year was the impending takeover by Leyland of Standard-Triumph. This allowed for the financial resources to develop the more powerful Herald 1200, which debuted in 1961, but Nick argues that ‘the extra styling of the 948-engine model was lost on the later cars. With the Leyland takeover the little flourishes were removed for cost-cutting, so as a designer, I prefer the Michelotti style.
The last of the 948s ceased production in 1964, and the Price convertible is a reminder if one was ever needed, of the sheer charm of the Herald. There is the detailing, including the interior lamp mounted under the dashboard rail and the sound of the engine note. When out and about, Nick finds that ‘the performance is great around town - coupled with the narrowness, it is good fun. I avoid motorways as it is underpowered on faster roads.’.
Today, the “Signal Red” convertible not only looks as though it has strayed from a Leslie Phillips/James Robertson comedy of the early 1960s, but it is also a testament to its owner and the ambitions – and vision - of Standard-Triumph. Truly a car was worth every penny of its original price of £672 11s 6d!
With Thanks To: Nick Price