The Triumph Herald was a car that nearly didn’t get built at all. Manufacturer Standard-Triumph was stuck for a car body supplier to provide the shell for the new car’s unitary construction.
And but for chief engineer Harry Webster’s decision to attach individual panels to the chassis, the ultimately popular Herald may never have seen the light of day.
We take a look at the car that spawned the Spitfire and the GT6.
The year 1959 was a memorable one for the British motor industry. As well as seeing the birth of the Herald, it spawned the Mini and the Ford Anglia.
While the Mini went on to attain legendary status, the Herald’s 12-year production run, including developments including the sporty and eye-catching Vitesse, ensured the Michelotti-bodied car its own place in history.
The Herald marked a radical design change from the company’s Standard 8 and 10 models, which were fairly mundane – even standard – 1950s motoring fare.
Unhappy with the in-house designs put forward, Standard-Triumph opted to work with Italian stylist Michelloti, who came up with a car bristling with angles and sharp edges not dissimilar to the principal ideas behind the competing Anglia.
The Triumph marque, which was gaining traction as a brand at the time, was used on the new car to make a break from the previous models.
The real problem, however, was getting the car built in an era with limited manufacturing capacity for steel bodies.
With Standard-Triumph’s usual suppliers Fisher & Ludlow being taken over by rivals BMC, no body manufacturing facility themselves and no capacity in a crowded market, the only solution was to bolt panels made by a selection of smaller companies on to a separate chassis.
This was against the trend for monocoque construction, but has one distinct advantage today – anyone looking to restore a Herald can simply unbolt the panels in their garage, assess the rot (there will almost certainly be some!) and get to work. It also made different body styles easy to introduce as new panels could simply be bolted on to the same chassis.
This did, however, give the car something of a scruffy look – even tidy examples somehow look like they’ve been bolted together, with some uneven panel fit almost inevitable…
Initially, the Herald – named after company boss Alick Dick’s yacht – was powered by the four cyclinder 948cc unit used in the Standard Pennant.
These early cars used much of the running gear from the Standard 8 and 10, though its independent suspension was a first for a volume production car and its rack and pinion steering gave it an incredible 22ft turning circle.
There was a new grille for the ultimate Vitesse, Rostyle wheel trims and a silver painted steel rear panel together with another upgraded interior.
Despite all the improvements, however, it was clear that this was now an old model at a time when car production was making giant strides. As MotorSport said in its review of the last Vitesse: “I quite liked this compact 2-litre, but this did not overcome the impression that it has been on the market for a long time and must be regarded as an interim model while the Triumph engineers get out something fresh for British Leyland to sell.”
A fair few after market modifications were available to give the Vitesse, which competed in the Monte Carlo Rally in the early 60s and Trans-Am in 1971, even more power and better handling, including alloy manifolds and suspension packs.
Some were even fitted with the 150bhp 2.5-litre engine from the TR5/6 and 2.5PI, though the original gearbox could not always cope…
The Herald was supposed to be replaced by the Triumph 1300, introduced in 1965, but its popularity ensured it outlived the 1300 by a year, and was eventually phased out in favour of the Toledo, itself succeeded by the popular Dolomite.
Heralds and the up-market Vitesse are now popular affordable classics, with later cars carrying a premium. Decent examples can be found for around £5,000, but expect to pay up to £10,000 to £12,000 for a Vitesse in excellent condition.
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