There are definite challenges in discussing the history of the TR8 pre-production coupe's. They begin with British Leyland’s slipshod record keeping, inconsistent manufacturing practices and the labor strife occurring in the Britain of the 1970’s. These issues create questions if not downright confusion about the cars history including how many were built, how they were numbered and how they were equipped from the factory.. Woody Cooper, owner of the Wedge Shop and one of the most knowledgeable authorities on all TR8’s says, “There are few absolutes when talking about Triumph TR8’s and this is especially true when talking about the TR8 coupe's, especially the pre-production model's.”. Rex Holford of the TR8 Drivers Club in the UK along with Paul MacDonald and David Huddleson of the Triumph Wedge Owners Association in North America, all acknowledged experts on the TR8 are in full agreement with this statement.
To illustrate, let’s look at the inconsistency in the sequence of the emission stickers attached to three pre-production coupes. The emission sticker's from three different coupes read as follows: ACN 1007 states TR8, ACN 1029 states TR7V8 and ACN 1039 again wears TR8. The probable explanation for these particular anomalies is that for homologation purposes in Europe the TR8 did not officially exist and the TR7 was already homologated. So for Race/Rally certification/qualification inspectors would accept the TR7 V8 stickered cars as a variant of the TR7. Homologation is the approval process a car must go through to race in a given league or series under rules and regulations set by the sanctioning body.
The ACN pre-production coupe's were the offspring of the TR7V8 Rally cars though there were at least two Rally cars built from ACN TR8 shells, A fine example of this is TUD 682T in the Chris Turner Collection in England. The Rally cars were homologated on April 1,1978 reportedly as TR7V8's rather than TR8's. But even this is not clear as the ADA/Janspeed/ Triumph TR7V8 Turbo was entered as such for Le Mans in 1980, and the entry declined owing to lack of homologation - hence it was changed to TR8 Turbo to comply with homologation, and the entry accepted. The ACN cars themselves were apparently two different series, ACN 1 to 80 having the large gas cap ( using the early body shell before the convertible was developed )and usually with the dome (ceiling mounted) interior light and ACN 1000 to 1116 fitted with the small gas cap and door mounted interior lights used on all later series. Ted Schumacher the owner of ACN 0001 and ACN0002 tell's us that ACN 1 has the door lights though they are not wired and reside in a crudely bashed hole in the door behind the door panels. Apparently ACN 2 and ACN 3 also have them and they were installed for the pictures
in the new coupe brochure The change in the gas cap size was of course dictated by design of the new convertible body which was expected to begin production in 1978 and the need for both to share common parts. Ted also states that you can still see on his ACN0001 Coupe where they tried out various names including “Bullet” In any case it is quite clear that all the pre-production coupe's carry an ACN VIN/Chassis number from the factory that identify them as a Triumph TR8 Coupe.
To prepare the TR7 coupe to receive the all aluminum V8 Triumph engineers beefed up the chassis, lowered the car a full inch, altered the spring rates and shock absorber valving. To provide the power steering , they used a General Motor's Saginaw pump and an Adwest rack, a combination that worked quite well.
These pre-production coupes were built at the Speke plant just before the workers went on strike in October 1977. Mike Cook, longtime U.S. Triumph and British Leyland Public Relations director and author of Triumph Cars in America, states that “145 of the 1978 pre-production coupes, mostly automatic’s, were shipped over and issued to US and Canadian British Leyland employees as company cars.” This provided an excellent opportunity for real world testing of the car. Mike stated that he was “lucky and drew a 5 speed” demonstrator, red with no sunroof. He put over 25,000 miles on the car and never had a bit of trouble. It seems safe to say there were approximately 145 to 150 pre-production coupe's manufactured based on the best data available, Mike Cook's statement and Ted Schumacher's confirmation of the number. Apparently these pre-production Cars were built from January to September 1977. Strangely the earliest ACN build date known is January 1977 for ACN 0008 and built before ACN 1 through 7.
While Triumphs built in Liverpool at the Speke plant had a well-deserved reputation for poor build quality and reliability, the pre-production TR8 coupes proved the exception to the rule for Speke built cars. They rode better, handled better, had better braking and were quieter at any speed. The new aluminum 3.5 V8 transformed the performance of the Wedge cars, and even though most of the pre-production coupes were built with automatic transmissions, they were still very fast. With a weight of 2645 lbs and 133 hp, the TR8 coupe provided a 0 to 60 time of 8.4 seconds. The monocoque construction delivered an extremely rigid, strong and safe body shell with a feel totally unlike the convertibles and superior in my opinion.
There are a number of things about the TR8 pre-production coupe we do know. The introduction of the TR8 coupe to the U.S. was obviously planned for an earlier date as the TR8 coupe brochure was printed in September 1977. A second bulge was introduced in the center of the bonnet to accommodate the new aluminum V8. The prototypes all used a fiberglass bulge and accommodated the carb top's through two corresponding holes cut in the original bulge. All the pre-production (ACN) coupes had a Matte-Black rear tail light panel. We know that none of the ACN coupes ever left the factory without a battery box, a situation dictated by the lack of ventilation in the boot and cured by using piping to ventilate the battery box to the exterior. Most of the pre-production coupes were equipped with Air Conditioning and all were equipped with Keepax alloy wheels. . None were equipped with the later style Moto- Lita steering wheel. There were two types of Interior lights and two different sized gas caps. The interior used a red or green tartan cloth and also offered a beige brushed nylon. One or two of the very early coupe's had black nylon trim with black door panel's. The tan or blue tartan interiors were never available. We also know that noe of the pre-production coupes left the factory or were delivered with no identifying badges or decals. Not even Triumph. That lack of identification and the twin tail pipes were the only way to tell the difference between the TR7 Coupe and the new TR8 Coupe.
The TR8 coupe is a real sports car that provides a rare driving experience. It was a unique car for its time, providing unconventional styling with its wedge shape and short but wide wheel base of 88 X 66.2 inches. Standard equipment included an Automatic Transmission (with a 5-speed option), power rack and pinion steering, power brakes, well thought out instruments and comfortable bucket seats in an extraordinarily roomy cockpit. A very fine driving experience was provided by the beautifully designed 3.5 liter (215 cubic inch) all aluminum V8. This engine was originally obtained by Rover in an outright purchase from GM in 1964. The true beauty of this little ex-Buick engine is that it has no real short- comings. The 3.5 is light, powerful and possesses stump- pulling torque. It is remarkably under stressed with almost infinite potential for tuning as proved by the Janspeed LeMans TR8 Turbo, Woody Cooper's "Bad 8", and Wildcat Engineering's "6 Liter" monster engine from England among others.
In conclusion, some facts about TR8 pre-production coupe's will always be in question, but there is no doubt that their ability to endure and provide a fast, fun and safe driving experience has earned them a special place in the hearts of Wedge car enthusiasts