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ALONG CAME A SPIDER – THE REBUILD OF A TR7 SPIDER

By
Ken Boss – Triumph Sports Car Club of South Africa

This article describes the distinguishing differences between the TR7 DHC and the TR7 Spider. It also describes how I went about resourcing items specific to the Spider model, and what I did to match items that are no longer available.

During October 1999, I was very fortunate to attend a one-week’s course in London . Not only was this the first time that I would visit a foreign country, but after the conference I was able to spend a few days with my friend Ian Evans (chairman of the TR Register), and his wife Les at their home in Bournemouth. On my arrival at Ian’s home, he mentioned that he had emailed a friend of his in America – Marty Lodawer, who owns a TR7 Spider. Ian had mentioned my forthcoming stay with him and also that I had a fuel injection left-hand drive TR7. Ian had driven my 7 during his two stays with us in South Africa, and knew that fuel injected TR7’s are fairly rare today.

Marty had emailed back to enquire the colour of my car, and Ian had told him that it was red. When Ian told me of these messages, we wondered at the relevance of the colour. I said to Ian that my car was in fact originally black when it had left the factory. We decided to let Marty know this. Within hours we were asked what the car’s commission number was. I had to send an email home to my wife, Liz to get the information, which was then conveyed to Marty . After all these emails going back and forth across the world, back came the announcement that I was the owner of a genuine TR7 Spider. Ian then showed me a slide he had taken in America of two Spiders parked next to each other, one being Marty’s.

I established that although there are some Spiders left in America in various states of repair, condition and originality, only a very few remain on the concourse circuit. It also appears that very few, if any, still have the original seat covers as the material used was of a rather so-so quality and did not last well at all. As far as can be established, there are no Spiders in the U.K. or on the Continent. Via the Internet I tracked down one in Norway , and one in the U.K. , but on further investigation I established that they were not TR7 Spiders.

Because our car is one of so few, we felt it justified being returned to as original as possible. We certainly did not want a black car by choice. We like a TR7 in red with black seats and dark grey carpeting - to me these colours go well together, are good looking and are serviceable. We did not fancy the Spider’s striped seat covers and felt that light-coloured carpets would be most unserviceable. To us, a black car only looks good when it is spotlessly clean. Black is also such an unforgiving colour, showing every chip, imperfection and scratch.

I had fully rebuilt our TR7 some 8 years before, and had not covered a great distance since then. All mechanical aspects of the car were in tip-top condition with the exception of the front brake discs, which were due for replacement. The tyres were in good condition, but as they were getting a bit old, we decided to replace them with the correct size tyres. We are aware of a few serious accidents due to tyre failure where these were still in good condition, but more than 10 years old. I had fitted 175 by 13 inch tyres instead of 185 by 13 inch with the idea of improving wet weather roadholding (my theory is that a narrower tyre is less likely to aquaplane because it is carrying more weight per square inch of road contact).

The more Liz and I looked at photographs of Spiders, the more the overall “look” of the package appealed to us, so we decided to go for a Transformation of our car.

The NAME "SPIDER"

What is a “Spider”? According to Sue Davis of the Triumph Register of Southern California, when it was real horses and just one horsepower powering a man’s transportation, a “Spider” was a small, nimble carriage with slender spider-like construction that was designed to be driven by the gentleman who owned it. It carried only two or three people. It is difficult to trace the origins of “Spider” carriages, some claiming Europe or the U.S. as originators, others the Dutch in South Africa , hence the changing of the “i” to a “y” used by some of the “lesser” sports cars! Ferrari was one of the first to use the Spyder designation for an automobile in the post-war, and Porsche followed not long after. Fiat and Alfa Romeo both have used the term and Chevrolet had a Monza Spyder as well. The Triumph TR7 Spider was however, the first British-built car to carry that designation.

TR7 SPIDER

The TR7 Spider was a limited edition of the TR7 for the United States market and was built in 1980. There were actually two versions. The California-only version had Bosch L-Jetronic/Lucas fuel injection system, and the 49 State version for the rest of the States had twin SU carburettors. The Spiders were all 5 speed drop head coupes and were fitted with air conditioning. All other differences were basically trim, including unique alloy wheels as used on the TR8, but painted a brighter/warmer silver, and the TR8 leather trimmed steering wheel fitted with a Triumph laurel wreath emblem in the centre the boss (the TR8 did not have this badge), but it can also be found on the steering wheel of the 30th Anniversary Edition TR7. I discovered that some TR7 Spiders do not have this badge. Either they had gone missing over the years or were not fitted in the first place. They were glued on and could easily have fallen off at some stage. Also fitted was an AM/FM stereo cassette player (that rarely worked right), pewter-coloured deep pile carpet, and special seat covers with vertical stripes in grey and black. The cars were not exported with all of the trim. For example, the striping kits, radios and steering wheels were fitted by the importer in America . The 1980 TR7 Spider was a marketing package developed by the United States importers, Jaguar, Rover, Triumph (JRT). The cosmetic packages were sourced by the importer, JRT and retro-fitted by the dealers. Many of the part numbers will not be found in the factory manuals or parts lists because they were not factory sourced parts. Many of the parts were secured through various sources at JRT and shipped to the dealers with the accessory parts in the cars’ boots. Those parts which were JRT sourced and were not factory installed can be found in the accompanying list with the JRT part number:

PART JRT NUMBER
Steering wheel with boss PKC1295
Steering wheel insert (laurel wreath & Triumph) JRT601015
Insert surround black plastic ULC2999
Stripe Spider reflective JRT1-5239
Radio AM/FM plus cassette BLM105092
Alloy Wheel RKC2111S
Centre hub cap UKC6877
Lug nut UKC7179

As far as I can ascertain, only Spiders have the trim code RAF on the VIN plate. The VIN numbers of special edition cars have a “*” proceeding and following the number, so our car’s number reads: *PZDJ8AA401701*.

The diff ratio for the fuel-injected TR7 is 3.45:1 as against 3.90:1 for the manual carburettor 5-speed models.

All the Spiders were black with reflective red accent stripes with the word “Spider” on each flank just ahead of the rear wheels and “TR7” and “Spider” on the bootlid. The Triumph laurel wreath on the nose was also a red reflective decal.

An optional accessory was the fitment of Bosch fog lights up front – the switch and necessary wiring was already fitted by the factory for this option. Also a dealer option was the fitment of a door mirror on the RH door, although the dealers generally refused to strip the doors to fit the reinforcing bracket, using self-tapping screws to secure the mirrors in place!

Actual production was around 1270 with 400 of those being fuel-injected.

CARPETING

The carpets fitted to the TR7 Spider were pewter coloured in deep pile nylon. These were moulded over the floor pan, but separate pieces were glued to each side of the car to cover the sills. No edging was sewn along the cut edges. A black ribbed rubber mat was fitted in the driver’s footwell and a similar-pattern oval-shaped patch fitted on the right-hand side of the driver’s footwell. But what about the rear parcel shelf carpeting? The colour of a TR7 parcel shelf depends on the trim and the year. Early TR7 dropheads had black rear parcel shelves, and this was also used on the Spider. The type of carpeting on the parcel shelf is different to other carpeting used in the car in that the fibres are in loops and aligned in rows, instead of being cut pile.

ALLOY WHEELS

Although the alloy wheels on the Spider resemble those of the TR8, they do differ. The TR8 wheel had part number RKC2111 and is of a fairly dark grey colour. Those of the TR7 Spider are part number RKC2111S and are a “Silver” version of the wheel. I am not sure whether the “S” in the part number refers to “silver” or to “Spider”. Each wheel is coded with the date of manufacture, using the first twelve letters of the alphabet, excluding “I”. It is possible that the factory had experimented with rim colours because one owner decided to refurbish his wheels and found gold paint under the silver, and these wheels were original!

SOLIHULL/CANLEY?

Virtually all the Spider Edition TR7’s were built at Solihull and have VIN numbers between 40001 and 402001. It is possible that the first few Spiders were built at Canley before production shifted to Solihull . The Canley cars have VIN numbers in the range 2xxxxx.

WEB SITE

If you have many hours to spend surfing the web, information can be found relating to the TR7 Spider. However, you must also be careful, because the cars are 20 years old and probably most of them have had several owners. During this time owners have changed details on their cars, so the present owners cannot be 100% sure that their cars are truly original. You need to cross check and double check, and this is time consuming! I have even found differences on some of the factory publicity photographs. We all know that prototypes can have detail differences to the models actually sold. A picture of a TR7 Spider Sales Brochure can be found on Smitty’s Wedge Heaven at http://www.cvn.net/~gsmith/SWH-SpiderBrochure.htm.

RESEARCH

STRIPING AND BADGES

My first port of call was to Marty Lodawer, requesting information, pictures, etc – anything that could possibly help me with the Transformation. Marty suggested that I try the Roadster Factory for the striping and badge kit. I immediately contacted them and secured the last kit they had – manufactured from exactly the same Scotchlight ruby-red reflector sheeting and of exactly the same patterns as the original. This was a major breakthrough for me. The body sports a twin red stripe along the sides and across the bootlid. The word “Spider” appears just ahead of the rear wheel arches on either side of the car. The standard laurel wreath in red appears on the apron and the words “Spider” and “TR7” are found on the bootlid. It is possible that the “TR7” and “Spider” decals were not always on the same sides of the bootlid, as Marty’s car differs from the publicity brochures. I have adhered to the publicity brochure for the fitment of our decals. Marty was of the opinion that the main challenge for me would be getting the seats right. I had pictures of the seats (found on the internet), but needed to know what type of cloth had been used. After much surfing on the Internet, I found out that British Leyland had also used this cloth on a special edition Mini that had been exported to Germany. The cloth was not of good quality and the factory apparently sold off its remaining stock as curtaining material. However, I had also established that it was a velour-type material. I know velour quite well as my 1976 Triumph PI saloon was fitted with it (it also did not wear well at all). I searched through hundreds of materials at upholstery dealers and found an imported cloth similar to velour, but manufactured for use in “public places”. The make is Courtisone and the colour “smoke”. It is very wear resistant and does not attract fluff like fine velvet does. It is also Scotch-Guarded, and therefore stain resistant. The next problem was of course, “what about the stripes?” I decided that the option of sewing them in was not practical. The alternative of silk-screening was investigated and found to have potential. From pictures I was able to scale off the width of the various stripes and make a pattern, which I printed out on a laser printer, using what appeared to be the correct shades of grey. I purchased the material and cut it into 6 panels (4 to be used for the two seats, and two as spares). Armed with these panels and my pattern, I visited a screen printer and explained my needs. He mixed his inks and applied them to small sections of the material and asked me to come and have a look once the ink had dried properly. This happened three times before I gave him the okay to go ahead with the printing.

CARPETING

The next challenge was the carpeting. Fortunately, under the charcoal carpet in my car was the entire original pewter-colour carpet. I cut off a sample where the carpet goes up under the backboard, because here it never saw the light of day and was not subjected to wear and tear. We washed the sample and dried it. I then decided to go straight to a carpet manufacturer for assistance in matching it up. They were most helpful, saying that the original carpet was of a polypropylene fibre that was resistant to staining but not to wear. They would have expected the carpet to wear rapidly under the pedals where the heels rest on the carpet. (Maybe that is why rubber mats were fitted in this position!). They also said that it would not be easy to match exactly the pile type and colour and also find that it is available (seeing a sample in a catalogue does not automatically imply that stock is available!). We found a carpet with the same length and type of cut pile and very close in colour. The carpet had a plastic type of backing that ensured if it got wet, the carpet would not rot. The original carpet in the car had a rubber-type backing, and there was no separate underfelt, the rubber backing being deemed sufficient for sound deadening and to give a feel of softness underfoot. I lifted the original carpeting with some misgiving, expecting to find anything as far as corrosion to the floor was concerned. What a pleasant surprise to find absolutely no rust at all, and after washing the floor with hot water and soap, it looked as good as new.

RADIO/TAPE CASSETTE

Having overcome the hurdle of sorting out the seats, decals and carpeting, I now turned my attention to the radio. I had the original radio for the car, which I had removed during the rebuild 8 years previously. The tape transport mechanism was faulty and unrepairable as spare parts were unobtainable. Also, being a 1980’s model it did not have a high power output and would only have been effective in a stationary car. Had the tape mechanism been okay, I would have fitted it and tried to conceal an amplifier somewhere to overcome the power limitations. The next option was to find a suitable radio from that era. I obtained a very nice Pioneer set with AM/FM, rotary knobs, a dial with a moving needle for tuning, an auto-reversing tape mechanism, and high power output. However the set was just too big to fit into the TR7 radio aperture. As many TR7 owners have discovered, it is not easy to fit a radio neatly in these cars. What do I do now? I decided that I do not want a radio that does not work, so the original radio had to go. When judging concours cars no penalties are applied for the fitment of suitable radios. Also, was the same radio fitted to all the TR7 Spiders? Unfortunately all the photographs I have seen do not show the radio. I therefore decided to look for a new modern high power set which would not look out of place in the car, and could be fitted into the available space. I purchased and fitted a Pioneer KEH 1950 radio/tape unit. Similarly the original puny loudspeakers in the doors were replaced with modern quality units.

STEERING WHEEL

The steering wheel comes with an interesting story. For seven years I drove the car with the steering wheel that was fitted when we purchased the car. Then Chris Schultz, a member of our Club, bought a TR7 DHC from the brother of the person who had owned my car. Chris complained that he did not like the steering wheel on his car, because it was thicker and of smaller diameter than the standard steering wheel, and obscured most of the dashboard instrumentation. I then remembered the previous owner of our car mentioning to me one day that he had swapped steering wheels with his brother. I told Chris about this, with the result that we were both happy with a straight swop. The steering wheel I got from Chris had been covered with a plastic snake-skin-like cover, making it very thick and cheap-looking. I removed this cover and found that the original soft leather underneath was in a poor condition. What now? In Durbanville where we live, is a business that makes and repairs leather items for the horse fraternity. I went to them and discussed my problem. Yes, they were able to supply a very nice, thin, soft black leather and cover the wheel for me.

BODY COLOUR

Old Henry Ford apparently said, “You can have any colour as long as it is black”. Well, there is black and there is black and there is black! I definitely wanted the right colour black for our Transformation. Using the Internet again, and visiting the WorldWideWedge site, I obtained the paint codes for the colour as well as the name. The paint is called “Marashino”, which makes sense to me because Marashino cherries are those very dark blackish-red ones. The colour name sounds right for complementing the colour of the reflective badging and stripes on the car. The TR7 Spider was the first Triumph Sports car to be made available in black since the TR4 of 1962. No other U.S. TR7 variant, or TR8, was ever offered in black. Other TR7’s came in two different blacks, PAG, PMA - and PCF was only used for the Spider. What is also interesting, is that apparently only the Spiders had a white decal on the driver’s side shock turret that says “TPA Paint”. Kurt Oblinger of the Triumph Register of Southern California suggests that this could stand for “Twin Pack Acrylic”. Under the red paint of our car was twin pack black paint. I wonder if this was the first time that twin pack paint was used on Triumph Sports Cars? A local Spies Hecker automotive paint supplier had assisted me with the painting of my daughter’s red TR7DHC, so I approached them for making up the colour. This was not an easy task because the colour was 20 years old and limited to the TR7 Spider. They could not come up with a formulation despite me being able to provide the paint codes, so I went back to the web and also to the agents for the Glasurit range of automotive paints. After studying the formulations of over 70 different black paints, I established that maroon pigment had been added to the black paint. I also established that the car looked black when viewed in normal light, but when standing in bright sunlight had a very fine hint of red which was also “brought-out” by the red reflective stripes and decals. I was able to find original black paint under some of the red paint on my car as well as behind the dashboard assembly, but this did not help too much when arriving at the correct formulation. If I could have removed a panel painted in black, it could have been sent away for analysis. Armed with all the information I had gathered, I spent about 3 hours with the local Glasurit agents who mixed me up a number of samples until I was satisfied with the results. It is interesting that if you look closely at the car, the reflection of your skin shows a distinct red tinge.

WHEEL RIMS

Fortunately all five of our rims were the correct ones, but their silver was incorrect. I had had them powder-coated when rebuilding the car 8 years before. Consulting with a technical advisor from Spies Hecker, we prepared and sprayed the rims with a silver toner “Brilliant Silver, number 557”, and finishing off with a few coats of twin pack clear coat. The correct effect was once again obtained after studying photographs and taking into account the type of products available in the 1980’s.

DASH ASSEMBLY

Grey dashboards were fitted to all TR7 Spiders. The ABS plastic used was black, but had been sprayed a grey colour. Ours looked rather shabby and the grey paint had worn through on the edges. Some research resulted in me finding an exact colour match in a high quality paint for plastics. (Pyrmo Kunststoff – Lackspray – grau Art. Nr: 113316). This is available in aerosol cans or by the litre for spraying with a gun. I used 3 aerosol cans for the whole dash assembly and including the “oddments box”. Care must be taken while spraying so as not to spray “wet”. Keep the coats thin and keep the surface dry while spraying.

GLASS

When we originally purchased the car, the windscreen was badly pitted, so I imported the correct tinted unit from the USA . Clear windscreens were available in South Africa , but I wanted the tinted one. The side glass is also tinted and was in very good condition.

TAPPET COVER

The engine tappet cover gave me some headaches. My car came with a black tappet cover without the word “Triumph” pressed in. Kurt Oblinger’s fairly original car has a silver tappet cover with the word “Triumph” pressed in. Photographs available on the internet are not normally of high quality, but the tappet covers are all silver – but I could not identify any lettering on them. Various spare parts catalogues were consulted and the Roadster Factory catalogue carries a number of drawings, and from these it appears that USA models from 1977 onwards were fitted with tappet covers without any lettering. I therefore stripped mine of the black paint and sprayed it the same colour silver as the alloy wheels. Mike Napoli of the TSCC of South Africa gave me a tappet cover with the word “Triumph” pressed in, so I have sprayed it as well and have put it away in case I have to switch covers around. This about covers how I identified and dealt with the differences between the TR7 Spider and the TR7 DHC.