Triumph Herald Coupe

The Triumph Herald – Britain’s Outstanding New Car

An Analytical Test Report on the Coupe Version which endorses splendid road-holding and cornering, an ideal driving position, fantastic manoeuvrability and an 80 m.p.h. maximum as outstanding features of this brilliant new Coventry-built small car.

There is heavy responsibility in reporting on such a widely discussed and excitingly new car as the 948-c.c. Triumph Herald, Britain’s first truly-advanced small car to be introduced since the war. We were not amongst the first journalists to sample the Herald but we have made up for this by driving a coupe hard for 1,700 miles under a variety of conditions. The verdict? That this new Triumph, with its separate backbone chassis, independent suspension all round, Michelotti-styled body and the well-tried Standard Ten power unit, a car notable for low build, absence of all greasing points, many safety features and outstanding road-holding, steering and cornering, is way out ahead of all other small cars at present being made in this country. Indeed, the Triumph Herald is one of the world’s outstandingly interesting motor cars and may well embarrass its sponsors by the enormous flood of orders they can expect to receive for it.

As the wide door of the Triumph Herald is opened and easy entry made to the driving seat (getting out is just as easy), good items immediately begin to impress themselves on a critical observer. The car is really low — the sort of coupe on which you can lean an elbow on the roof — and shallow foot-wells for the front-seat occupants ensure that the roof could hardly be lower if normal-size persons are to be comfortably accommodated therein.

The driving position is extremely praiseworthy. The steering wheel — the column is adjustable through its safety collapsible clamp — comes admirably to hand, clear of any obstructions and sufficiently low-set not to impair the splendid forward visibility. The pedals, slightly offset to the off-side, are all in line and sensibly spaced, so that the ball of the right foot can be used to operate treadle accelerator and brake together and the left foot can be parked on the floor beside the clutch pedal. The exposed cable, which hangs down from the foot ramp and runs through a clamp under the accelerator, has been criticised, but it would seem next to impossible to break it without doing so deliberately and it could offer a means of throttle control adjustment, while the action is progressive.

Forward over the short drop bonnet the driver sights along the two headlamp “nacelles.” These are very wide and high for a small car but make “aiming” the Herald extremely simple and pleasurable, and give an air of individuality so often lacking in the outlook over the modern bonnet. (The plated lifting handle may smack too much of “kitchen furniture” for some tastes but as the forward-hinged bonnet-section lifts very easily this handle could be removed by the fastidious.) Slender screen pillars give a side view in keeping with the splendid forward visibility, and the big rear window, through which the slight tail-fins can be seen, makes for simplicity in reversing.

Keeping to this initial survey from the driving seat and leaving for the moment the small turning circle and light steering of the Herald which enhance the great merit of easy parking, the driver finds a small two-spoke non-spring steering wheel, with, beneath it, two control stalks. The left-hand stalk selects main-beam, side lamps or dipped headlamps after the lights have been put on by means of a knob on the facia, and the right-hand stalk works the self-cancelling direction-flashers. Thus the new Triumph loses nothing to Continental cars in this respect; indeed, these rather slender but entirely adequate controls could not be placed more conveniently for finger-tip operation or function more positively. True, the flasher’s cancel quite soon after the steering wheel is turned in the opposite direction, and to switch from sidelamps to dipped headlamps it is necessary to go through the main-beam position, but these are very minor objections to set against such conveniently-arranged controls. Panel lighting is controlled by the lamps knob but there is no reostat.

A button in the steering-wheel hub sounds a sensibly penetrating horn with a rather Continental note. The spokes of the steering wheel have plated embellishers which some owners may wish to remove. They compare badly with the anti-dazzle black crackle finish of the facia. The three dials (one on the saloon) are clearly visible through the steering wheel and, again, could not be better placed. They are Jaeger instruments. The larger central dial is the 100-m.p.h. speedometer (provision for engine tuning!), very clearly calibrated in k.p.h. as well as m.p.h. and incorporating trip (with decimal reading in colour and accessible cancelling control) and total mileometers and, at the base of the white dial, three clearly marked warning lights for oil, main beam and ignition. To the left of the speedometer is a petrol gauge, with a coloured segment from ¼ -full to “E,” the fuel reserve not being needed until the needle is well beyond the “E” position. On the right of the speedometer there is an electric water-temperature gauge, the needle staying on the “N” coloured segment even after fast driving.

The remainder of the Triumph Herald’s controls are planned with equal common sense. A row of three knobs along the centre of the Prestfibre cowled facia controls, from I. to r., the self-parking wipers, side and panel lights, and choke, the combined ignition key/starter switch forming the fourth control of the row. Below, flanking a drawer-type ash-tray which scarcely opens sufficiently, are two similar knobs, the left-hand one selecting heat, the right-hand one cold air and demisting. A press-button screen-washer is provided as standard, conveniently placed for the right hand. This button is below the facia; above it, on the dash, is a switch (also with identification symbol!) for the heater/ventilator fan and the flashers warning light. These knobs have amusing little drawings for identification, the stalk-controls likewise, and although these have been criticised as none to easy to understand, surely, apart from being “delightfully Continental,” they do provide for instant recognition once understood by the car’s owner.

Under the centre of the facia cowl there is an interior lamp, in the form of an exposed bulb, lit by a little cranked handle adjacent, or coming on automatically as the doors are opened, even when the siddamps are out. This is a crude lamp, and no substitute for a roof-lamp, although better than as arranged on another make of car, for illuminating only the driver’s feet.

The Herald retains a wide transmission tunnel, the top of which is made use of to provide a useful well for cigarette packets and the like. Behind this is the short central gear lever, very nicely placed. Its knob its marked with the gear locations (we were flattered to see the word “Press” on it, which indicates how to select reverse, forward to the left of bottom gear). Accommodation for maps and oddments is well looked after on the Herald. The coupe possesses tight, wide plastic pockets on the doors; these are absent from the saloon, which has rigid containers beside the back-seat occupants. Both models have a wide, unlined, somewhat shallow cubby-hole on the facia before the front-seat passenger, with lockable lid opened with a neat press-button, and below the scuttle is a clever retractable polythene-coated wire-mesh basket for papers and magazines, released by pressing a knob on its catch. The cubby-hole is illuminated automatically as the lid is opened, which tends to make up for the lack of a roof lamp.

By now the driver should be in an approving mood and as he has a final look round he finds twin non-transparent visors, the near-side one with vanity mirror, mounted on the tube of an adequate central rear-view mirror. He finds the pull-up handbrake lever mounted conveniently, rather high up on the propeller-shaft tunnel. The doors have interior handles set forward where children in the back of the car cannot reach them, metal pull-handles, and window-winding handles set low down so as not to foul the elbows but decently accessible nevertheless. They need 3½ turns to raise and lower the windows fully. There are quarter-lights with thief-proof “pips” on their handles, and rain gutters. The latter are not positioned on the extreme outer edge, so that some rain drips from them into the car if the windows are opened wide, soiling the door trim. But at least on the Herald these valuable points of detail are not omitted, as they still are on so many British cars. Here it seems appropriate to remark that coat-hooks are provided within the body.

The driving seat is ingenious without being unduly complicated. The front seats are separate and quite comfortable, if rather shallow and short in the cushion, of foam rubber on rubber webbing, with a rubberised hair squab. Besides sliding easily, they can be adjusted for height and squab angle, respectively, by changing the position of the forward fulcrum and altering the position of the three-way rubbers on which they seat. The seats lift to provide access to the rear compartment and spring-loaded over-centre hinges retain them in the up position automatically, a good feature, even if these, the bonnet-retaining springs, and the seat-hinge springs, give the Herald some affinity with the common bedstead, or suggest that its designer gained inspiration from examining gymnasium equipment!

On the coupe the space behind the seats is for luggage, unless the extra seat is fitted, which has a fold-down squab; children find this accommodation reasonable, although the sloping roof restricts head room. In spite of the excellent accommodation for luggage when only two people occupy the car, a spacious (13 cu. ft.) boot is provided, and for bulky luggage the rear-seat squab of the saloon folds forward to give access through into the rear compartment, an idea inherited front the Standard Eight and Ten. The boot lid is quite flimsy, although having internal stiffening rods, at first giving the impression of fibreglass, but this gives it the merit of being light to open, and it stays up and releases automatically; the lid is lockable. The boot is obstructed only by a small tool-roll and jack, and the petrol tank in the near-side corner; the spare wheel being carried, rightly, beneath the floor of the boot. This, of course, is satisfactory until it is wanted when the boot is full, but maybe, as the Dunlops are tubeless, it never will be.

The notably wide trailing doors have Wilmot Breedon press-button locks of the latest type, which the ignition-key fits, and lever interior locking. There is a rubber seal on the outside of the windows which acts as a squeegee to the glass, which is Triplex A52 toughened, and is intended also to keep water out of the door interior. Thick carpets line the floor and upholstery is in P.V.C. leathercloth, with leather as an extra.

On the Road

On the road the Herald endorses the high promise shown by an initial look-round the car, its handling proving quite outstanding, enhanced by the splendid driving position, sensibly-spaced pedals and impeccable visibility. The car can be cornered fast without a trace of lurch or roll and with none of the oversteer characteristics associated with swing-axle i.r.s. For this the stiff front anti-roll bar no doubt deserves much of the praise.

In spite of quite exceptional stability the new Triumph is quite comfortably sprung, riding flexibly over bad roads, particularly at speed.

The seating position is admirable but the seat is on the small side, and more support under the legs would be welcome, while cushion and squab play no part in holding the driver on corners. Generally, however, the seats are comfortable. The gear-change is very pleasant but would be better still if it functioned less stiffly; the lever, although extremely well placed, has considerable lateral movement, although this does not preclude very rapid gear-changing with this short, rigid lever. Indeed, it is possible to beat the synchromesh, which is provided for the three upper ratios, when really trying. The clutch is fairly light and, with normal care, reasonably smooth.

The Herald coupe is not exactly a restful car in which to travel rapidly. The engine has to be kept turning over fast to obtain decent performance, when it isn’t particularly quiet, the small wheels thud over road irregularities and noise from them is transmitted to the body, the final drive whines on the overrun from around 60 m.p.h., although it is quieter than on many small rigid-axle cars, and the body is not entirely free from squeaks and rattles. When the passenger’s seat was not occupied it emitted a particularly annoying rattle, and another developed behind the facia. The gears, too, add their quota to the general noise level. This rather excessive fuss is immediately evident if the car is driven with the windows open.

Although quite high speeds are obtainable in the gears, the engine gets very noisy towards these peak speeds and violent valve bounce indicates when the limit has been reached. Normally it is preferable to change up at indicated speeds of 15 m.p.h in bottom, 30 m.p.h. in second and 50 m.p.h. in third gear. In top 70 m.p.h. comes up very easily, and 80 on the speedometer isn’t difficult to achieve. Given a long, clear, straight road an indicated 85 m.p.h. can be held indefinitely, and 90 was seen downhill. At a genuine 80 m.p.h., the coupe’s maximum, the little engine is turning over at over 5,700 r.p.m., and 4,500 r.p.m. represents a cruising speed of 63 m.p.h., when piston speed reaches 2,258 ft./min. First and second gear ratios are too widely divorced from third and top for optimum acceleration.

The steering of the Herald, like the road-holding, deserves very high marks. It feels far more direct than the number of turns lock-to-lock might suggest, is accurate, free from lost motion, light almost throughout its range, and has mild castor-return action, while kick-back becomes considerable only over bad surfaces. The Girling brakes stop the Herald firmly, powerfully and progressively with light pedal pressure, and the hand-brake holds securely. Tyre squeal is absent in normal motoring except when braking hard, when the wheels can be locked. Brake fade is not promoted even when deliberately making repeated crash stops.

We took our usual performance figures, which are given in the accompanying panel. They are not impressive and we consider the test car must have been sub-normal in this respect. The weather was favourable to the car, which was run two up, with the tank half full of petrol.

The engine, which will run down to 15 m.p.h. in top gear, showed no tendency to overheat, “pink ” or run-on, and it started reasonably promptly and got into its stride with scarcely any choke. It “idled rough,” however, rocking on its flexible mountings, shaking the gear lever and even vibrating the seats. Half a gallon of oil was added during the test, equal to approximately 2,400 m.p.g. Petrol consumption, checked over a big mileage, averaged 32.9 m.p.g., rising to fractionally under 30 m.p.g. when the performance figures were recorded. This included cold starts, pottering about, driving in London and fast main and secondary road motoring. After the contact breaker points had been adjusted consumption improved to 33½ m.p.g., averaging about 45 m.p.h. The tank (filled from a small filler in the near-side rear wing, with cap held by wire) holds seven gallons. There is a reserve supply, effected by moving a little sharp-cornered strip of metal above the tank, when the rubber petrol pipe is twisted round in its cork gland at the outlet union, to pick up lower in the tank. This is crude in the extreme and when first operated the pipe twisted back and cut off the supply within a few miles. This happened on three occasions, and even when we fixed the setting more firmly the reserve supply lasted only 11 miles, suggesting that only about one-third of a gallon is trapped. As it is necessary to get out of the car and open the boot to operate this crude tap the reserve is better ignored. In any case, a good suitably-pessimistic fuel gauge is fitted; incidentally, the Herald instruction book makes absolutely no reference to the reserve supply. But it does set the range between refuelling at about 200 miles, and long-distance drivers, and certainly rally competitors, will no doubt fit a second tank in the off-side of the boot. At times there was a trace of petrol fumes within the car.

A more serious shortcoming concerned the roof lining, the supports of which broke away from the roof after we had driven about 800 miles. Then, with a window slightly open, the lining would become pressurised and press down heavily on the heads of the occupants. This was admittedly “a new experience in motoring” but not an enjoyable one, while the feeling of anxiety that resulted certainly did not contribute anything to road safety. It became necessary to drive for the remainder of the test, in hot weather, with the windows almost closed, when the ventilation system didn’t contribute materially to restoration of comfort but we were reminded that the heater fan is noisy. The screen-wipers, too, are noisy but work well, although the extreme off-side of the glass is left unswept. The rear-view mirror is adequate. The doors appear to be hung on somewhat inadequate hinges and their “keeps” fail to hold them open against camber or strong winds. Dust sealing is of the single-skin variety but the doors shut better if a window is open, suggesting that sealing is reasonable. They shut “tinnily,” as in the majority of cars of this class.

Because it is so excitingly new the Triumph Herald is going to face abnormal criticism as well as unstinted praise. In the appreciable mileage Motor Sport covered in this coupe, apart from the rooflining defect, the driver’s poor-pull became slightly loose, the cap of one door-pocket stud fell off, the over-centre hinges of the passenger’s seat failed to retain it in the tipped-up position (although the driver’s functioned correctly), and the weld broke away at the front of the silencer. One bracket on the centre cross-member had become bent back, probably through contact with a boulder. A front carpet rucked up and a few inches of the edge of one door pocket chafed through. But many of these criticisms would not even merit listing on cars of less topical interest. In examining the Herald on a hoist the good ground clearance and clean underside of the car were appreciated, and we noted that the foot-wells, spare-wheel tray, panelling, etc., are indented for stiffening purposes. The final-drive unit is flexibly mounted on the frame, which has box-section side-members but unboxed outer channel-section members.

The accessibility of engine and front suspension, Lucas battery, brake and clutch master cylinders, dip-stick and oil filler, etc., when the bonnet is hinged forward is absolutely first class; the Triumph engineers deserve full marks for this Aston Martin-like feature. So well are the spring-loaded hinges arranged that the bonnet can be easily opened from the side, ignoring the handle, and as easily shut, the side catches, on which a patent is pending, working remarkably smoothly and securely. When shut, this large bonnet is free from shimmy or distortion. There is a dog on the nose of the crankshaft but no starting handle is provided. The electrical system is devoid of fuses. For some unaccountable reason engine and dynamo are covered in gold paint . . .

Head-room in the coupe is restricted even for average-height occupants and tall drivers, or habitual wearers of hats, could find this troublesome, The splendid steering lock results in bad tyre scrub on full lock, probably a combination of a change in gyrometry and the almost right-angle thrust on the tyre. This, being only a momentary situation, is of no particular moment, and a small price to pay for the Herald’s phenomenally good manoeuvrability. The rear quarters of the coupe restrict visibility of rear-seat occupants but make a blind-spot for the driver only when joining a sharp-angled road junction or swinging across a traffic lane. Because such interest is being displayed in the Herald from all quarters we took a second opinion on the car from an unbiased engineer well qualified to report on it. He drove it hard for several hundred miles and, at the risk of repeating some of the foregoing, we publish his observations herewith:–

“The driving seat is fairly high off the floor and is adjustable for rake. The seat cushion is very short and provides no support under the knees, and the back gives very little lateral support for fast cornering. The pedals are very well placed and operate with quite short movements; the accelerator and brake are ideally positioned for rapid movements of the right foot from one to the other, and heel-and-toe gear-changes are possible. By undoing two small clamping bolts a considerable range of telescopic movement is available for the steering column, so that a very satisfactory driving position is obtainable. Visibility, through a deep screen with slender pillars, is excellent.

“The steering is light, fairly high-geared, and has the precision that one has learned to expect front rack-and-pinion mechanisms. It has also the usual features of slight, but not troublesome, kick-back, and a trace of stiffness which probably represents the use of friction. The directional stability is excellent on all surfaces, and the good visibility and prominent wing ridges contribute to an ability to place this car very accurately.

“As one grows accustomed to the car, it becomes apparent that the handling is exceptional. Using the recommended tyre pressures (19 lb. front, 24 lb. rear), it is almost impossible to produce any squeal from the Dunlop tyres except on certain kinds of highly polished surface, or when braking into an unexpected bend. The combination of low build, high roll centre at the rear, and unusually large anti-roll bar at the front has produced a car which hardly rolls at all, and which can be thrown quite roughly into a corner without the initial lurch with which most cars take up their roll attitude when treated in this way. For the same reason it emerges with great credit from one of the most revealing handling manoeuvres, an S-bend taken on the limit, where the transition from one lock to the other is made quite smoothly and with complete control.

“At intermediate cornering speeds the car appears to have appreciable understeer which diminishes as it is pressed harder through the bends, becoming neutral as the limit is approached. The cornering ability is so great that the driver has to try quite hard to get beyond this stage on a dry road, and the back then breaks away quite slowly. The use of independent rear suspension is made conspicuous by the unusual way in which this good behaviour is continued over inferior roads, with rarely any sign of hop or twitch from the tail.

“On some cars with swing-axle i.r.s. an unexpected loss of rear-wheel adhesion is sometimes experienced on bumpy or wavy corners. This movement is momentary and self-limiting, a glide rather than a hop, and appears to be caused by a pitching motion raising the back of the car and producing a large positive camber of the rear wheels, and consequently a temporary excessive oversteer. This was never experienced with the Herald, which gives a remarkably comfortable pitch-free ride. Neither long-wavelength irregularities nor the short, sharp potholes of unmade roads cause discomfort to the occupants.

“Unfortunately, this unusually good suspension works rather noisily; rough-textured surfaces cause marked rumble and bad bumps are transmitted through the structure in the form of high-frequency vibrations and shock which produce some rattles from the doors and other parts of the body. The driver is particularly aware of this as the steering column seems to conduct some of the noise, which appears to originate from the front rather than the rear suspension. The latter is isolated from the car by the surprisingly soft differential-mounting rubbers, but the front wishbones and the anti-roll bar pivot in rather small rubber bushes.

“The gearbox is the same as that used in the small Standards, but with a much shorter lever which makes the movement a little stiff. The movement across the gate is rather large, and there is a slight internal rattle at high revs. in third gear, but it is a pleasant gearchange to use, with very effective synchromesh. With such a free-revving engine second gear could be used to much better advantage if it provided a higher maximum speed; at present there is rather a large gap between second and the high third gear. The intermediate gears are reasonably quiet. The final-drive unit is faintly audible only at high speeds on the overrun.

“The headlights, which are fitted with the new 50/40-watt bulbs, are very effective, and the steering,column lever selecting side, head, or dipped lights is extremely pleasant to use and provides headlamp flashing from the sidelamps-only position. It would be even more convenient to use if it projected at 10 o’clock instead of at 9 o’clock relative to the wheel.

“The noise level inside the car is not particularly low, but is reasonable provided all the windows are shut. It rises very sharply with any windows open at all, both wind-noise and road-noise being admitted. As it is difficult to get effective ventilation without excessive draught, this car would obviously benefit considerably from an independent ventilating system directing fresh air directly at the occupants as provided on the Citroen DS19.

“Summing-up, the Triumph Herald is a refreshingly new approach to the problem of providing an up-to-date small car at a competitive price. Clearly the Coventry engineers concerned started with a clean sheet of paper, and the result is the most fascinating British car that has appeared for a long, long time. The enthuaiast is going to like the Herald on account of its excellent controls and very high standard of road-holding and general control. With the less-critical user, he is going to find the very small turning circle and absence of grease points a boon and if he craves more performance there exist many tuning specialists ready to provide this. The Herald looks far nicer than early photographs of it suggested and if we appear to have been somewhat critical in this report this must be put down to a desire to present a really analytical survey of the car which is the sensation of the year.

The production of the Triumph Herald is an achievement with which all concerned can feel proud. The coupe is particularly interesting. Had it been announced that a small specialist concern was able to offer an Italian-styled special-bodied low-built version of the normal saloon model, with a two-carburetter engine, orders would no doubt have poured in, even at a price many hundreds of pounds above that of the saloon’s list price. What the Standard Motor Company has done is to offer this attractive Michelotti styled sports coupe at a mere £28 more than the Triumph Herald saloon! Both models, equipped as standard with heater and screen-washers, etc., at inclusive prices, of £702 2s. 6d. and £730 14s. 2d. for saloon and coupe, respectively, are likely to break all previous sales records for the courageous British concern that has introduced them. — W.B.

A resource for owners and enthusiasts of Triumph motor cars from the 1920s to the 1980s