Oh yes. Those last two digits make all the difference! After all, pretty much any car can be vastly improved with the insertion of Rover’s sweet V8 engine.
The TR7 was launched 40 years ago and was meant to be one of the crowning highlights of British Leyland, along with the wedge Princess. However, 1975 was also the year in which British Leyland went bankrupt, which tells you how challenging these times were.
So, the TR7, intended to extend the legendary TR series of roadsters, was launched with serious build quality issues and, most annoyingly, only a four-cylinder engine option. There always had been a plan to insert the Rover V8 – there was certainly plenty of room to allow it – but a factory V8 would not arrive until 1978, and even then only in America. A convertible was also late on the scene and ridiculously, was not marketed until 1980 in the UK – just a year before production ended and after the TR7 had moved production facility twice!
The car driven here is one of many TR7s since converted to V8 power. Only a handful of genuine, factory TR8s were built with right-hand drive. So, ignore the TR8 detailing. It’s a lie. I reckon it’s an attractive car though, even with the lurid gold alloys. The TR7 works so well as a drophead that it’s ridiculous that it was not produced earlier in the TR7’s life – thank a misunderstanding of expected roll-over regulations for that. This is also why the Jaguar XJ-S was initially only available as a tin-top.
Sure, it’s nothing like the TR6 it replaced, but then it shouldn’t be! The mid-section of the TR6 dates back to 1961 after all, and the launch of the TR4. Evolution is no bad thing. That’s especially true when you consider the good work Spen King did with the suspension. It’s pretty similar to the Rover SD1, with MacPherson struts up front and a well-located live rear axle with coil springs. King loved long-travel suspension (see Rover P6 and Range Rover), so the TR7 offers comfort you simply won’t find in earlier TRs, yet still handles very well indeed with delightfully accurate steering.
But it’s the engine that’s the star of the show here. I dread to think how many SD1s have given up their engines to make TR7s quicker, but it’s not just the shove in your back that’s intoxicating, it’s the bellow of those eight cylinders as you accelerate down the road. As much as I love electric cars, the noise a raging V8 makes just sends shivers up and down my spine. As you can see in this video of a TR7 V8 rally car in action.
The gearlever offers quick changes, so you can just keep the power coming – until you glance nervously at the speedometer and decide to ease off. But even just burbling around gently, this car sounds fantastic, yet you know with just a prod of that pedal, it’ll launch itself at the horizon like a cat after a mouse.
You needn’t worry in the bends too. In fact, the only matter of concern is the brakes. They’re not all that great with just four-cylinders, so if a V8 conversion has been carried out, better brakes are a good idea – one reason so many converted V8s wear larger, aftermarket wheels. It allows larger stoppers!
Overall then, this feels like the car it should have been from the start. A crying shame then that the financially crippled British Leyland just couldn’t quite pull it off.