Middle Class

In the mid-sixties, there were only two cars available for the Bank Manager class - the Triumph 2000 and Rover 2000. Mark Gillies compares them.

Penny Laneīs bank manager had both an easy and difficult task when it came to choosing his new car in 1967. Easy because he had to buy British, but difficult because the choice of cars was narrow and evenly matched. Triumphīs and Roverīs 2000s would have been the perfect cars for a man with his status and aspirations, just that cut above average motor cars of the day.

The cars were, in many ways, the pride of the British motor industry, combining technical flair and fine road manners with good old Trad Brit virtues such as superb rides and opulent interiors. However, both were to suffer the same fate as most of the best British cars of the sixties - no-one knew when to kill them off, both cars lasting, in forms various, until 1977, by which time their concepts had aged to the point of senility. Although Triumph had up-engined the 2000 into the 2.5 PI in 1968, and the model stayed on until the late seventies, none could deny that it, and the Rover 2200, were showing their age, especially compared to foreign newcomers like BMWs 3-series which carried a much younger image.

High regard

If we look at the cars in their true era, the sixties, they were regarded very highly. The Autocar, for instance, said that the Rover "will make many new friends in Europe and beyond, who hitherto have sought in vain for a British car in this class combining our high standards of finish, trim and equipment with their expectations of road behaviour". They were not quite as complimentary about the Triumph, saying that it was no scintillating performer, "but it will grow on you", particularly with regard to the handling and ride.

Of the two cars, the Triumph stands out as more of a compromise than the Rover. It came at a critical time for the firm, which had been attempting throughout the fifties to place itself on a firmer footing by buying up component suppliers - with the might of Ford, the BMC combine and Rootes against it, Standard Triumph was quite a small fish in the huge pond.

In 1960, when plans to produce a 2-litre saloon were well advanced, the firm had hit a crisis. A number of factors conspired to give Standard Triumph real liquidity problems: car sales were falling compared to projections in both Britain and the USA, and the nationīs economy was "overheating", so that a series of measures aimed at reducing inflation took the edge off the retal trade - more expensive hire-purchase and credit were among those measures - just at a time when the firm was stepping its policy of acquisition and started building a new manufacturing plant in Liverpool. What was needed was a business partner.

Initially, talks were held with Rover, but these broke down, thanks to personal differences between negotiators, and Roverīs non-plussed reaction to Standard Triumphīs profits record - in the course of the talks, both engineering groups found out that they were working on "executive" 2-litre saloons!

The saviour ended up as Leyland Motors, which had been looking for ways to expand its operations by returning to car production. The 2000 project only really began to take its final shape when the new, Leyland dominated, board took over in 1961.

Before that date, the broad outlines had been sketched. It was to have the firmīs new six-cylinder engine - basically a Herald "four" with two extra pots - all-round independent suspension, transmission in unit with the final drive, and a new sleek bodyshell to replace the outdated Vanguardīs styling. In fact, the development car, known as "zebu", had all these features and a sensational dramatically styled body courtesy of Giovanni Michelotti, which featured a reverse slope rear windown, á la Ford Anglia - which is why, with the Anglia launched in 1959, the shape never saw production. When they attempted to restyle the car, and when the gearbox was relocated behind the engine, the project lost impetus, and was only revived with the Leyland boardīs approval in 1961. Twenty-four months after their go-ahead, the car was ready for production.

The engine was the 1998 cc six-cylinder with pushrod operated overhead valves, mated to the same four-speed gearbox as used in the Standard Vanguard Six. The bodyshell was a conventional monocoque, with long nose, short tail styling. Under the skin, there was a number of novel features for an English saloon car - the most important was the all-round independent suspension, with McPherson struts at the front and semi-trailing arms at the rear.

Money spinner

The car was announced just a week later than the Rover in 1963, and it had a number of advantages compared to its Solihull competitor - for a start it was cheaper by Ģ141 at Ģ905 basic, it had a silky smooth six-cylinder engine, it had the automatic and overdrive options the other car lacked and there was a useful estate version available. It sold better and made more money for its parent company, too. The basic mark I 2000 lasted until 1969, when it was replaced by the Mark II version, with tidied styling, wider rear track, and improved interior. A power boost was given to the car by the adoption of the TR5īs 2.5-litre fuel injected unit in the new 2.5 PI. The two cars soldiered on until 1977.

The Autocar testers liked the original car, with the engine and ride coming in for special praise - however, the gearbox was felt a bit notchy, the steering a shade woolly (and the wheel too large), while there was pronounced roll during fast cornering. "It will not cause a flutter of excitement if one is looking for ultimate performance", was their summation...

The Roverīs development was far less hurried and less affected by compromises. It was, according to American magazine Car and Driver, "an entirely freak approach, unfettered by tradition, or lack of imagination, or what the rest of the industry is doing". It also marked, in the way that the Triumph 2000 was a radical change to its Standard ancestors, a total departure from the firmīs previous cars in this field.

Graham Robsonīs book, The Rover Story, divulges that engineers Maurice Wilks and Robert Boyle had started work on the P6 line some 10 years earlier, with the identifiable project first appearing in Solihull as early as 1956. A meeting in September that year laid out fute P6 meetings procedures, and confirmed the basic layout - base-unit body shell, separate bolt-on-panels and de Dion rear suspension.

Typically, the projected car looked to be smaller, cheaper and more saleable than anything in the existing range, and with the introduction of the Land Rover the firm desperately needed more factory space in which to build their new baby. In the end, a new site in Wales was chosen, and gearbox production and related operations took place there.

One of the most important aspects of the proposed car was to be the styling; this was undertaken by David Bache, who was responsible for the large P5 saloon and coupé range. Eventually the styling was compromised, because the sales team had enough difficulty coping with a Rover which was due to have a four-cylinder engine and only four seats without the added complication of a car with a Citroen style nose, all curves and sweeps and no traditional Rover grille... A slpong nose shape appeared on one P6 variant, however: a special gas turbine powered car.

All through the carīs development, just about every conceivable alternative was considered: front-wheel drive, five- and six-cylinder engines, hydropneumatic suspension, swing-axle rear suspension, and even the seating capacity came in for attention.

The final layout was still pretty adventurous for a British motor industry then hide-bound by conservatism. The rear suspension used a de Dion arrangement in the interests of weight saving, and because it kept the rear wheels parallel at all times. However, fixed length diveshafts and a sliding joint in the de Dion tube were added complications. Front suspension was also complicated by the possibility of a gas turbine engine being offered at a later date, and by the wish to take some loadings back to the rigid scuttle pressings. Thus there were longitudinal top links with a traverse bottom link and coil springing. Brakes were discs all round with inboard location at the rear.

The engine, like the rear axle and gearbox, was to be brand new design. There was no chance of modifying any existing power units to fit the 100 mph/up to 2-litre criteria specified, so the eventual unit was a 2-litre- four-cylinder, single overhead camshaft design. Rover was one of the first manufacturers to use the Heron head layout, with the combustion chamber cast into the piston crown. Initially, there were no overdrive or automatic options for the car.

The styling was a revelation and did a great deal to shed the old "Auntie" image with a buying public used to frumpy P4-panelwork. An interesting quote from Maurice Wilks was that the design team felt the extra cost of the de Dion back end totally justified: "We did in fact succeed in creating an image of engineering innovation which had an impact the car might otherwise not have had."

Unlocked potential

Like the Triumph, Roverīs 2000 soldiered on, even after the introduction of the astonishing SD1 model in 1976. First major change was to uprate the 2000 engine with a new twin carburettor inlet manifold, which meant that the engineīs performance potential was at last unlocked, giving the 2000 TC a top speed near the 110 mph mark. This improvement, along with an auto option, came in 1966, the year that Rover became part of the Leyland-Triumph combine. This caused the ironic situation where the same group was producing two cars which competed head-to-head for the buyerīs favours. And they continued to foster this state of affairs all the way to 1977, because 1973 saw the introduction of the Rover 2200, basically a 2000 with bored out 2-litre ohc engine.

Press comment was unbelievably over-the-top, with the Americans being the leaders in the florid prose stakes. Car and Driver reckoned that "If every car on the road was as good as this one (2000 TC), they could raise every speed limit in the country fifteen miles per hour and still have a reduced accident rate". Ralph Nader must have loved that one... They rated the car "absolutely the best sedan that has ever been presented in the pages of this magazine".

The Autocar tried very hard to find fault with it, and came away raving, while the normally pithy Henry Manney III, doyen of American motoring journalists, "liked it immensely", and stated that "The most remarkable thing about the car is the feeling that the designers have thought compassionately about you, the motorists".

One difficulty concerning this "Back to Back" was just which Triumph and Rover models to choose. Our comparison took a 2000 TC Rover and automatic Triumph, but the author has pretty extensive experience of driving a manual Triumph 2000 as well.

"Our" Triumph was provided by Stuart Harvey, who in his spare time runs the technical advice service to the Triumph 2000/2.5 Register. His olive green Mark I automatic is well known in Register circles, as it has won the annual concours for the past two years... Stuart is only the second owner, having bought the car with 32.000 miles on the clock three years ago. It had previously belonged to an old lady, who, unable to handle her husbandīs Rolls Royce, had been given a blank cheque to buy something she could drive! Since then, Stuart has clocked up a further 18.000 miles, and done relatively little to it. A front end rebuild became necessary after a shunt (!), while the rear suspension has been uprated with stiffer springs and some Mark 2 modifications such as wider track. Stuart: "The Mark I had a narrower rear track than at the front, which had an adverse effect on road holding - this arrangement is far more stable". There are extra dials on the dash, including an oil pressure gauge, and the head has been rebuilt.

Derek Talbotīs Rover 2000 TC is also a 1967 car and, like the Triumph, it is with only its second owner. Derek has had the car for 15 years, buying it from the garage where he worked, and in that time he has increased the recorded mileage from 36.000 to 84.000 miles. It has now been retired from active service - a Triumph 2.5 PI fulfills that function - but Derek has an intention of selling a car that is "now part of the family". In his tenure, the wings have been replaced, some minor repairs to the back end of the base unit have been effected, and the leather upholstery has been renewed. That job was done last December, and cost almost as much as the car!

Thereīs no doubt that when the two cars are parked alongside each other, the Roverīs looks have the most impact. The styling is clean and functional, free from unnecessary ornamentation and acres of chrome plate, although a high waistline does make it appear a little heavy. It shows little European styling influence, although there are American overtones.

Inside, the mix is Detroit meets Old England. The dash, with its ribbon type speedo, temperature and fuel gauges in a rectangular panel in front of the driver, is a marked contrast to the row of toggle switches below it, or even to the pair of conventional instruments to the left of the steering wheel. The leather seats, smacking of the best of English coach-building, contrast with the plastic headlining, door panels and dashboard lockers.

The interior always feels to have more space than it has, but at the same time it is not particularly airy, thanks to the high waistline and relatively small window area. Driver comfort is first class though, with all major and minor controls failing to hand, and pleasant, comfortable seats. The driving position may not be to everyoneīs taste - you sit too high for my liking - but you certainly have a commanding view of the road ahead.

Pleasant mannered

The engine idles smoothly and silently, and once on the move, this car impresses. It pulls well and cleanly thoughout the rev range - almost belying its four cylinders - the clutch action is delightful and mated to a fast and precise change with only the shortest of throws between ratios. The brakes work well, the pedal spacing allows for heel and toe changes, and the road manners are exemplary. The Autocar said that "Driven near the limit of tyre adhesion, it handles like a well bred sports car, understeer finally predominating"". I did not push the car, but it felt very neutral and well balanced, even if the steering was not as precise as The Autocar reckoned.The TC was quicker than its earlier stablemate, recording 108 mph and a 0-60 mph in 11.7 sec, and Derekīs car feels capable of those speeds - the chief impression was how pleasant, how relaxed, it all felt.

The Triumph feels an earlier design that the Rover. For a start, the styling looks a bit more conservative and, logically, continental. It is certainly lower than the Rover, with a greater window area, which, paradoxically, gives the cabin a more modern, lighter feel than the Rover. If anything, the car looks overly narrow, something that Triumph engineer Harry Webster has commented on - he reckoned the car could have been just that bit wider...

Inside, the cabin feels narrower than the Rover, and while the dash is slightly more old-fashioned looking, it is somewhat better styled than the Roverīs mish-mash arrangement. In front of the driver, thereīs a recessed binnacle containing a number of centrally placed warning lights, a combined ammeter/fuel/temperature gauge, and a speedometer. Either side of the binnacle are the windscreen wiper and light controls, while the steering wheel is a massive affair, similar in size and style to the Roverīs, but with a rim mounted horn. On Stuartīs car, the gear selector occupies the same space as the manual shift lever. Like the Rover, the Triumph interior has its incongruities: while this car has plastic upholstery (a ī67 year "improvement"), the door cappings are made out of genuine wood - none of your plastic rubbish here.

Space-wise, the Triumph is a better bet - there is certainly more legroom, and it seems to have more headroom in the rear. Like the Rover, the driver comfort is excellent, although neither car suits my driving position - or is it the other way round? The Triumph is easier to place, with its lower bonnet.

On the move, it is the Triumphīs engine which really impresses. While the Rover "four" is smooth enough, it just cannot compare to the Coventry "six" which is silken and provides such superb low down pulling power that you hardly have to use the gearbox. Which is a good thing with the manual car, because although the clutch is fine, the change itself is a little slow and notchy - if anything, the auto "box" is better suited to the engineīs characteristics.

Brakes perform well, and the ride is superb - probably better than the Roverīs. It soaks up bumps supremely well and can also be driven enthusiastically. The steering feels slightly woolly at low speeds (a bit like the Rover) and the predominant trait is towards understeer - rumour has it that the rear suspension will "clap hands" in extremis, but Iīve never found that out. In Mk I form, there is a tendency towards a lot of roll in hard cornering, but Stuartīs car, with the Mk 2 rear end, seems far more stable.

Overall, the Triumph feels an older design than the Rover, although that in no way detracts from its driver appeal. Like the Rover, it is an effortless and comfortable middle-class motor car with road manners good enough to appeal to the sporting driver. Indeed, American magazines raved endlessly about the Rover, although this may have had something to do with the appalling barge-like handling of contemporary Yank-tanks.

The choice between the two cars would probably come down to image and price in the end - which is what Car said when they tested the TC and the 2.5 PI. The Rover had a more respectable image, more avant garde looks and engineering... and a higher price. Mr. Average Bank Manager would probably have gone for the Triumph, which was cheaper, more conservative and had a minor sporting image. Today, both lack the image they once had, but the choice would probably come down to the Rover, on account of its looks as much as anything else.

Classic and Sportscar September 1985