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Anyone who’s seen the film “The Vatanen Touch” will know all about Tony Pond and the thundering Triumph TR7 V8 in which he won the 1980 Manx Rally in dominant fashion. But skip back four years to when the TR7 first made its rally debut, and things weren’t so rosy for British Leyland’s latest sports car. When the TR7 first hit the stages in 1976, it was fitted with a 16-valve engine from the Dolomite Sprint. Although it initially had a four-speed gearbox, that was later replaced with a close ratio five-speed unit. However, because of the car’s wedge-shaped design, which dictated the unusual incline in which the engine sat, the TR7 consumed headgaskets at an almighty rate. Indeed in the car’s first rally, the Welsh Rally, both cars retired with headgasket failure – one of them not even making it through the first stage.

The basic interior of the 1980 TR7 V8. Photo: Martin Holmes

A short wheelbase and modest horsepower (to say the least) proved to be the original car’s downfall, and mid-way through 1977 there was already a prototype of the V8 version undergoing testing. Fitted with an aluminium Buick 3.5 litre V8 engine that was similar in weight to the Dolomite unit, the TR7 V8 made its competition debut in 1978 and Tony Pond immediately gave the car its first win. In the same year, the 32-year old British driver also won the 24 Hours of Ypres, the Manx Rally, and finished an impressive fourth in the RAC Rally. The only real downside of the first year of the TR7 V8 was in Corsica, where both works cars retired with seized gearboxes. It appeared that somebody had loosened the drain plug in the gearboxes, or removed them altogether!

The TR7s V8 engine transformed the car into a rally challenger. Photo: Martin Holmes

Pond went on a sabbatical in 1979, joining Talbot, and driving duties were taken up by Per Eklund and Simo Lampinen, however, it wasn’t a successful season. British Leyland did their best to improve the torque of the engine for gravel rallies, but this came at a price and reliability suffered as a result. Pond rejoined the team in 1980, again winning the Ypres event and taking a sensational Manx victory against the Escort RS1800s of Hannu Mikkola and Ari Vatanen. Eklund, meanwhile, finished a remarkable third on that year’s 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland – some result considering the car was really a tarmac specialist. The TR7 V8 was originally fuelled by two 45 DCOE Weber carburettors that were mounted horizontally and opposite each other. A fuel injection system was later experimented with to improve response, but that had a tendency to pick up heat from the fuel rail.

The rear-mounted fuel tank of the Triumph TR7 V8. Photo: Martin Holmes

Subsequently, the car’s best results in 1980 where achieved with a four-Weber set-up that was developed in-house, at the team’s Abingdon workshop. British Leyland stopped rallying the TR7 V8 at the end of 1980. Production of the car was to cease at the end of 1981, and the team saw little value in continuing with the competition life of the vehicle. But it’s a car that’s fondly remembered by Rob Arthur, a former co-driver of Pond’s. “When you took off over a jump, you never knew where you were going to land because you couldn’t see anything,” Arthury said. “One thing was quite clear: you had to be a brilliant driver to be able to tame it. He (Pond) always succeeded in squeezing 10 percent more out of it than the other drivers, without taking any risks.” The Triumph TR7 V8 had a shorter career than was hoped for, as did Pond, who tragically died from cancer in 2002, at the age of 56.

More recent times with a TR7 V8 competing in a classic rally in Europe.


ENGINE 8-cylinder, 90 degree V, longitudinally mounted in front, single camshaft, 295bhp, 3492cc. BODY 2-door sports coupe, unitary steel construction SUSPENSION Front: MacPherson struts with TCA and anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle with coil springs and telescopic dampers, radius arms and Panhard rod. TRANSMISSION 5-speed gearbox driving the rear wheels WEIGHT 1070kg BEST RESULTS 1978 24 Hours of Ypres, Pond/Gallagher, 1st 1978 Manx International, Pond/Gallagher, 1st 1978 RAC Rally, Pond/Gallagher, 4th 1980 24 Hours of Ypres, Pond/Gallagher, 1st 1980 1000 Lakes Rally, Eklund/Sylvan, 3rd 1980 Manx International, Pond/Gallagher, 1st

Gary Adcock driving his TR7 V8 in the Otago Rally in New Zealand. Photo: Peter Whitten

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