Project TR7, part 14: Applying craftsmanship
The 4.0-liter Land Rover Discovery engine in my 1981 TR8 and very nifty custom fuel injection system installed by my friend Mark Bradshaw.
In late 2009, I handed the keys to my modified 4.0-liter Triumph TR8 to Mark Bradshaw, a General Motors engineer. Over that winter, he built for me the car he almost made for himself: a TR8 with a fuel injection system from a mid ’90s Range Rover, the most modern setup that is practical to install. Bradshaw sold his TR8 before he got around to converting it from carburetor to EFI. He needed the time and space for his other car projects.
My TR was in Bradshaw’s garage from early December to March. To do the job, Bradshaw called in some favors. The Rover’s tall plenum chamber had to be cut down by about two inches in order to fit under the TR8’s sloping hood, and the upper plenum turned to face right instead of left. The machine work was done by one of his friends at GM. Bradshaw, an electrical engineer whose last job was packaging the electrical system for the current Chevrolet Equinox, made a new EFI wiring harness and mated it to the TR’s body harness. The fuel injection installation and cleaning up some of my general sloppiness from the restoration was no small job.
Mark Bradshaw at work installing a Range Rover fuel injection system on my TR8. Mark was with me almost every step of the way on Project TR7.
When the TR came back, my wallet was $5,000 lighter, the money going to his kids’ college fund. The TR’s fuel system and much of the electronics were completely re-engineered. All wiring connections were done to GM standards. Brackets were made or adapted from other cars, fuel pipes were custom bent, a fusible link was installed. And much, much more.
For all intents and purposes, my TR8 behaves just like any other modern car. You don’t start it so much as just turn it on. More than that, the Range Rover’s fuel injection system looks stock, like Triumph put it there. One of the things that makes the job appear so professional are the formed hoses. How in the world did Bradshaw get those made? He didn’t. He had a little trick that I used on Project: TR7. He went to an auto parts store and scanned the pre-formed hoses hanging on the wall. If he needed one with, say, a 60-degree bend, he could easily find one intended for another vehicle and then cut it to fit.
I needed a longer hose pre-bent than stock to mate the water pump cover to the heater core outlet pipe. No problem, thanks to a little trick I learned from Mark Bradshaw.
Changing Project: TR7’s intake and carbs from North American to European spec took some fabricating. My car came with an automatic choke that is fed through a circuit in the heater hoses. The European cars all had manual cable-operated chokes and a different water pump cover. The European intake is not compatible with the U.S. market water pump cover. At the auto parts store, I found a hose that I cut to fit to look factory. It works beautifully.
That’s one way Mark influenced Project: TR7. Another is the wiring for the electric fan and fuel pump I installed to replace the old mechanical units. I guess it was because it was his job, but Mark took great pride in making the electrical connections secure, durable, weatherproof and in routing them neatly.
Secure those wires!
The fan relay and wiring. Secure. Protected and neatly routed.
I installed the temperature sensor in the upper radiator hose and routed the wiring behind the radiator.
What I learned most from Mark is that when you take your time, use high-quality parts — especially fasteners — and do good work, making sure things fit properly and are routed so that they are secure and protected, rarely will you have trouble. In 2013, I drove my TR8 from Detroit to Orlando and back — around 2,400 miles. The car performed flawlessly. In 10 years, it’s had just one trouble code related to the fuel injection system Mark installed.
I speak of Mark in the past tense because he died very suddenly — and at a relatively young age — in December. But he’s been right beside me every step of the way on Project: TR7. Often during the last four months when I got in a jam on the car, I’d ask myself: “How would Mark handle this?” Everyone wants to leave their mark on the world in some way. Bradshaw’s legacy is this: He made people like me better craftsmen. Before I met Mark, I didn’t care if two bolts weren’t the same length. As long as the threads matched, fine by me. Of course, I can’t do the kind of high-level work Mark did. I am not an engineer. But I feel like Mark could look over Project: TR7 today and give an approving nod.
It’s been a fun ride converting Project TR7’s emissions strangled 90-horsepower Federal spec engine to European spec.
The engine bay is far less cluttered and horsepower should be in the 120+ range spec.
I was not surprised when I turned the key on a Sunday afternoon and the TR7 started pretty quickly. It sputtered and ran roughly until I made some initial adjustments to the carbs and timing. Then engine settled down into a relatively smooth idle. I let the engine run at varying speeds until it came up to temperature so that I could check for leaks. There are none. The electric fan switched on, cooled the engine and turned off automatically, just like it should. There are no exhaust leaks.
But there’s still plenty of work to do. You aren’t going to tear a car apart like I did with Project: TR7 and not have some rework to do. I have plenty. The clutch slave cylinder is a bit drippy. A new one is around $40. The brakes, which I thought were totally buttoned up, disappointingly need still more attention. The new brake line is weeping at both rear wheel cylinders. It needs different fittings, and Classic Tube is on the case making a new line for the car. Also, I ordered the wrong choke cable.
A while back, a sharp-eyed Autoweek reader noted a machining error in the rear springs on the back axle. The uppermost coil should be tapered so that it fits into the round casing on the frame. To rectify that, I’ll have to remove the springs and escort them to my bench grinder.
The early results, however, are promising. The TR7’s engine is a fast revver. The high compression pistons I installed, along with the headers, SU carbs, and mild street cam, really woke up the engine. I was hoping for a quiet exhaust, and the headers plumbed into the stock exhaust system delivered the goods. Here’s a video of the engine just after the initial start:
Despite the few remaining issues, here’s what I can tell you about how the car works now.
After getting the engine in tune with a timing light and properly setting the mixture and idle speed on the SU carburetors, the engine is running quietly and, more importantly, it’s running cool. The fan won’t let the temperature gauge get to the halfway point.
I’ve been around the block in the car a few times, but until I get the front end aligned, I can’t drive it very far. But there’s surprisingly strong low-end torque. The 3.90 axle ratio and the performance enhancements make for pleasing off-the-line acceleration. Also, the car weighs considerably less now that it has been shorn of the heavy York air conditioning compressor, the air pump and the fan clutch and pulley. I’d estimate a 75-pound weight savings.
As for the way it behaves, the TR7 feels close to new thanks to the rebuilt suspension system. Body stiffness is one thing Triumph got right about the TR7 coupe. It’s a very rigid car and the stiffer springs and shocks work better in the coupe than they do in the convertible. The ride is firm, like a sports car should be. Despite the weepy brakes, the car stops well, too. And that will only get better once I solve the issue with the brake line.
So now that the major work is done it’s time to pause for a moment and consider if investing so much time and effort into a TR7 coupe is really worth it. Of course, I am going to say yes. I had a blast working on the car. The 2.0-liter engine makes really nice noises and has that gruff Triumph feel. Driving a TR7 today puts you in a rare class. You’ll never seen another one at stoplight and probably not even very often at your local cars and coffee.
There’s no doubt in my mind that if Triumph had made the TR7 a better performer, it would have been a stronger seller in North America. In addition to needing more attention to quality, the TR7 should have had beefier brakes, more power and a stiffer suspension. My car now has those things. And as I have shown you, it doesn’t cost a fortune to set up a TR7 to be the car it should have been.
Speaking of money, I wanted to keep the total price of Project: TR7 to around $8,000, including the $3,250 purchase price. Mission accomplished – for now. Even with the extra $300 I spent for a nice used set of TR8 wheels, the bills added up to just around $7,800 – and that includes all the little knickknacks I bought at auto parts stores and elsewhere. The TR7 will eventually get a modern air conditioner. There are kits to convert the old York compressor to Sanden. But that’s about it.
As for parts, the issues I’ve had with the TR’s reproduction items apply to almost any brand of classic car. But if you plan in advance and buy NOS parts when possible, you might be able to avoid some of the issues with poor-fitting reproduction parts. As for the setbacks and unexpected problems I found in my barn find TR7, well, that could be typical of any old car you drag home and restore. Plans will often go awry. But planning is super important to makie your project go smoothly. Almost every old car has a club and forums that can help you solve problems that have been addressed by others over the years. I also recommend getting all the parts catalogs available and all the factory literature. Assembly schematics are priceless.
The rest of the summer will see me doing what Triumph guys do after dinner and on weekends: I’ll complete my honey-do list on the home front, and then once my spouse releases me, I’ll quietly meander to the garage and tinker with the car. Once Project: TR7 is fully sorted and I can get some substantial miles on it, we’ll do one last installment to wrap things up properly.
The TR7 and TR8 remain one of the best budget sports cars available today. They are blank canvas and can be built with any number of engines. The chassis can handle around 300 horsepower.
Project: TR7 will share garage space with its younger siblings: Two TR8 convertibles. There’s the silver one Bradshaw modified for me, and last year’s project, a freshly restored 1981 TR8 with an automatic transmission, one of just 13 made that year. That car is sporting a rebuilt 3.9-liter engine from a 1995 Land Rover Discovery [generating about 220 horsepower] and is fed by the TR8’s original Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection system.
Coupe or convertible, Triumph’s last TR is an interesting car, and pretty fun to drive — when everything is working properly.
I also have a restored 1973 Triumph Stag with a high-performance TR6 engine.
Back when Project: TR7 started many readers wondered why anyone would choose a TR7 coupe, an oddly styled car reviled by many. Let me revisit that topic for just a minute. Ever since I saw the now classic “Shape of Things to Come” commercial on TV as a teenager, time in an automotive sense stopped for me. The TR7 fascinated me. Those pop-up headlights. That was cool stuff to a 13-year old. Still is. I love that shape. It’s aged really well in my view.
I’ve had plenty of other sports cars, including, recently, a 2004 Honda S2000. It worked perfectly, but it really didn’t have a soul, and I couldn’t quite bond with it. I always come back to the Triumph TR7 and TR8.
Owning and restoring Triumph sports cars has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in life. I got to meet remarkable people like Triumph’s legendary PR man, the late Mike Cook. And Mark Bradshaw. Hopefully, with Project: TR7, I’ve been able to pass on a little of what I learned from him, and in doing so honor my friend.
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