Tuesday September 3, 2019
In the early 1970s, the sort of person who owned a new Triumph 2000 or 2.5 PI Mk. II was an instantly familiar type. They would dress fashionably but not outrageously – think Terry Scott as opposed to Jason King – and they would regard Watney’s Red Barrell as an abomination and Hai Karate aftershave as totally naff.
Their profession would be the senior partner in a firm of insurance brokers or chartered accountants, and their choice of car reflected their business needs and their status within the community. The Triumph offered smart appearance with no “Flash Harry” overtones, seating for five and, perhaps most importantly, it was “traditional” without being at all dated.
When Triumph commenced development of “Innsbruck”, the second-generation 2000 project, in 1967 they were faced with two major challenges. The first was how to upgrade a model that had re-defined “executive motoring”; in 1966 Harry Webster memorably described Triumph’s image as ‘for the man who can’t afford caviar but doesn’t want to live by bread alone’. The second was that by this time the 2000’s principal competitor, the Rover P6, was also part of the Leyland stable.
The latter issue was resolved by the two cars having different identities and the former involved Giovanni Michelotti devising a new frontal treatment that anticipated the Stag. The saloon also featured an elongated boot while the estates would retain the rear bodywork of the older model. Triumph modified the brakes and suspension, and a further major alternation involved the cabin. Back in 1963, the fascia was arguably the most charmingly dated aspect of the 2000, but the Mk.2 featured a rather more ergonomic dashboard complete with the “All Systems Go” display of eight warning lamps from the 1300. PAS was now an optional extra, and an adjustable steering column was standard across the range.
British Leyland launched the Mk. II line-up in October 1969 in time for the London Motor Show; this Pathe footage will give the reader an impression of the sheer grooviness of the event. Motor evaluated a 2.5 PI (£1,595 1s 4d with overdrive at £65 5s 7d and power steering for an additional £52 4s 5d) and found it a ‘sumptuous well-planned family sports saloon which we look upon as a worthy cut-price BMW 2500. Make no mistake, that’s high praise’.
Four months later Car tested a 2000 saloon opposite an FD Series Vauxhall VX 4/90 and concluded ‘The Triumph had actually been improved – rather than just altered - by its facelift into Mk. II form’. In 1972 Autocar stated of the 2.5 PI Estate ‘not all station wagons are this fun to drive, but Triumph certainly is’. It would also have been equally suited to the Leadbetters of The Good Life as their Volvo 145, even if Margot might have disproved at those mock-Ro-Style hubcaps.
Throughout the 1970s the nation’s constabularies were major fleet buyers of the big Triumphs. A 2500 featured on the front cover of the Roadcraft; The Police Drivers Manual (it was a Wolseley 6/90 in the earlier editions) and a blue London Met. Triumph Area Car with roof-mounted “Mickey Mouse” spot lamps dominated the background of so many British film and television programmes. The specialist brochure for 1974 claimed that the 2000 was ‘an ideal basis as a patrol car’ with reclining seats that ‘will accommodate the crew in comfort for the whole day’. The “Police Specification” included a recalibrated speedometer, a heavy-duty battery with master switch, zips in the headlining, a Lucas 43A alternator, two interior mirrors and heavy-duty rear shock absorbers.
By 1973, the Triumph almost always featured on the shortlist of new cars for those who were ‘in a good way of business’, to use a period phrase, along with the Ford Granada, the Audi 100 C1, the Volvo 144, the Peugeot 504 or the Alfa Romeo 2000 Berlina. They might have also cast a glance at the still underrated Wolseley Six “Landcrab”, the Vauxhall Ventora FE and even the vinyl-roof magnificence that was the Chrysler 2-Litre.
However, the main rival to the 2000/2.5 remained, of course, the P6. In October 1972, Autocar compared the 2.5 PI Automatic (BL seemed unable to supply a manual test car) with the 3500S. One scribe concluded he would ‘want to keep the Rover engine and power train but fit it into the Triumph body’ while his colleagues thought the Triumph ‘the more handleable car on winding routes’. Meanwhile, Leyland was already developing a replacement model, for after the cancellation of Triumph’s own “Puma” in early 1971 it was decreed that both the 2000/2.5 and the P6 would be succeeded by the Rover “P10”, which would eventually become known as the SD1.
By 1973 Lord Stokes, BL’s chairman announced ‘Triumph, will eventually cease to compete directly with Rover and will concentrate its energies on smaller but refined four-seater saloons in the luxury high-performance category’. The final phase of the large Triumph saloons was marked by the 1974 2500TC, which replaced the not unproblematic Lucas fuel injection system with carburettors. The advertising campaign was a memorable one – ‘The Triumph 2500TC – As Approved by Marriage Guidance Counsellors’. According to this masterpiece of naff sales copy, it was a car ‘for a new kind of driver. And his wife’, one that was a compromise between the 2000 – ‘everything she thinks a car should be’ –and the 2.5 PI – ‘everything he’d like his car to be’.
The PI was discontinued in 1975, and in July of that year BL introduced one of my favourite Triumphs of all time – the 2500S. A front anti-roll bar improved handling while a Triumph with power steering, alloy wheels and the tinted glass was (to this writer, at least) the epitome of high style. In the words of Motor Sport ‘For those who appreciate a car of crisp Michelotti outward styling combined with a vintage specification and interior, the Triumph 2500S, at £3,353.22, should make its mark’. The flagship Triumph saloon was still a viable alternative to the likes of the Ford Granada Ghia, and it remains a prime example of how to conclude a long-running model with flair.
The launch of the 3500 SD1 in the summer of 1976 marked the swansong of the 2000/2500, and the end of UK production came in May 1977; BL continued to supply CKD kits to the Nelson factory in New Zealand until 1979. Leyland never offered comparable vehicle again, for the Princess “Wedge”, and the Rover appealed to a less conservative demographic while the Jaguar XJ was a far more expensive proposition.
As a final memory of this understated car of real integrity here is a Triumph PR film from the days when owning a 2000 saloon instantly marked the driver as ‘up-and-coming’. And of a time when a 2500S really was the sort of car found outside the Hamble Yacht Club or parked by the entrance to Southern Television Studios in Southampton. At least, that was my experience…
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