The Triumph Stag is an enigma. Styled by Michelotti and packing a V8 under the bonnet, it should be revered among enthusiasts and referred to in hushed tones. But thanks to woeful engine issues the Stag has been shunned in the main. This is a shame, because once these niggles have been dealt with by modern trickery the Stag is a wonderful classic.
The Triumph Stag was launched in 1970 - built off the back of Giovanni Michelotti’s popular 2000 saloon-based show car. It’s fitting that the Stag was born thanks to the show car's attractiveness because shoddy build quality ensured that looks were the only thing going for it. There was nothing wrong with the engine choice per se. A thumping great V8 is usually a main line to driving heaven, and modern upgrades show how good the Stag can be once the shocking reliability is gone. Seventies British sports cars were not bywords for quality workmanship but the Stag took things to new lows. Because parent company Leyland bought Rover in 1967, they didn't need Triumph to lend any sister cars its new V8. This meant it was never homologated in large numbers and development was stunted. The Stag has always been the story of what might have been. The recipe was close to perfection but a miss is as good as a mile. Owners have only recently begun to enjoy the car in the manner Triumph originally intended.
Although the Stag was built poorly it doesn’t suffer particularly badly with rust. This being said, the Stag is still a Seventies car and therefore far from immune. Ensure you closely inspect the front and rear wings and wheel arches, the footwells, floor pans, door skins, bottoms and shells, rear strut tops, the windscreen surrounds, the outriggers and the base of the a-posts and b-posts. Basically, give the car a once over. Later cars are more susceptible to rust because Triumph used a different steel from 1974 onwards, so beware.
The condition of the engine will make or break your ownership experience. It's as simple as that. One of the worst trouble spots is the cooling system. The first thing you should do is start the car and let it idle for fifteen minutes or so, continually checking the temperature gauges for fluctuations. Also make sure the radiator is roughly the same temperature at the bottom as it is at the top - otherwise the coolant may not be circulating correctly. The Stag also suffers from cylinder head warping. If the gaskets blow it can damage the head faces (which would then need skimming). This can also lead to engine coolant seeping between the head and the studs. Other sources of coolant leaks include the bypass hose, thermostat cover and heater return hose. The timing chains are also dodgy because the Stag uses them up so fast. They should be replaced every 25,000 to 30,000 miles. If you keep on top of them it shouldn’t pose a problem. Many of these issues have since been solved by uprated radiators and expansion tanks, as well as comprehensive engine rebuilds. As long as you have proof that these things have been done and you keep on top of it you shouldn’t have any worries. You must remain vigilant because in many cases this hasn’t been done.
Both the manual and auto transmissions are generally reliable and should last up to 120,000 miles between rebuilds. However the manual does suffer synchromesh wear between second and third gears and the gear lever buzzes after sustained use. On the auto, if the idle speed is set too high it tends to engage reverse or lurch, especially if the driveshaft U-joints are worn. If the differential input flange bolts are loose then a metallic ping from the propellor shaft can be heard.
There’s no major suspension issues to be aware of. If the rear is wayward and wallowing then it points towards worn trailing-arm bushes. These should show a gap between bush and cover plate. While you’re down there it’s a good idea to check for signs of rust.
The electrics should generally be reliable but the fuel pump has been known to stick, which stops the engine starting. If the engine turns over but doesn’t fire then listen out for the fuel pump whirring (found in the offside boot corner). The Stag also suffers from a dodgy earth on occasion, which is often traced back to a rear bulb holder.
The vinyl seats are hard wearing, but the seat bolsters have a tendency to collapse over time. You’ll be able to check this by looking for foam crumbs on the carpet. Replacements are easy to come by. Ensure the wood trim hasn’t cracked because it can be pricey to buy a replacement kit. Inspect the hood for signs of tears, damp and a broken frame.
Despite a thumbing V8 up front and a low-slung body, the Stag prefers cruising to out and out speed. Its engine is smooth, the suspension is soft and the cabin comfortably seats four, making it an ideal mile-muncher. To get the most out of the Stag you need to relax into a gentle waft, tickling the throttle and allowing it to gradually build momentum along a back road. Hustling it with any form of aggression only leads to wallowing body roll and creaks from the interior trim. When you first get behind the wheel remember to wait for the engine to warm up and reach a consistent temperature before setting off. Stag’s and overheating go together like fish and chips so check if everything is working as it should before setting off. Do the same once you’ve finished the test drive. Once you’re up and running listen for tapping from the cam covers (which could mean camshaft wear), knocking (which points towards a worn bottom end) and rattles which could indicate the timing chains and tensioners are on the way out. Keep your ears trained for bearing noises from the gearbox (if a manual), and feel for weak synchros. The Stag was never a hardcore driver’s car so don’t expect particularly sharp handling, but if the handling is overly soft and body roll is overbearing then the dampers could be leaking or worn springs and front-wishbone bushes are to blame. Alternatively the anti-roll bars may be tired. If the steering is numb and the car is difficult to place on the road it points towards an issue with the rack, or (in the case of overly-light steering) the spool valve may be faulty.
Thanks to the Stag’s reputation for poor reliability you can pick up a working example for less than the price of a modern hatchback - a steal for a sports car with a V8 up front. Prices start at £2,000 for a project car, with values rising to £10,000-£12,000 for a working example and topping out at over £20,000 for a mint show car that has enjoyed a no-expense-spared restoration. While this caters to all budgets, the general rule of thumb is that most cars over £10,000 have had their engine troubles fixed and you’re good to go. It might seen obvious but make sure you ascertain if this work has been done before you buy a Stag - it makes the difference between a low-cost workhorse and a histrionic wallet burner that spends more time on the hard shoulder than the road.
This will vary wildly depending on whether the engine issues have been sorted or not. Buy yourself a well-maintained example and you’re good for thousands of worry-free miles. Take a chance on a ropey bargain and it is likely to bite you. However, while you should be vigilant when finding the right car, most examples will have been mended. These issues are so well-documented that owners are aware of them and it is relatively straightforward to put things right.
The Triumph Stag is a car with two personalities - and reputations. On the one hand it is a handsome and relaxing cruiser that epitomises everything wonderful about classic car ownership. On the other hand, if you get burdened with a bad example you will be cursing at the classifieds in a steaming Stag at the side of the motorway. As long as you keep both eyes open the Stag is a fantastic classic to buy and own.
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