Triumph’s 1800 Roadster was introduced in 1946, as the battle between Williams Lyons at Jaguar and Sir John Black at Standard-Triumph heated up. The two had partnered before World War II when Standard supplied engines for Jaguar’s SS 100 sports car, but Black wasn’t planning to build any six-cylinder cars after the war, and offered to sell the tooling to Lyons. He then tried to back out, but Lyons insisted.
The battle lines were drawn, and though Jaguar would introduce the XK 120 in 1948 with their own engine, it continued to use Standard motors until then. Meanwhile, Black bought the defunct Triumph marque, sold the bombed-out factory and planned up up-market line of cars. The Triumph 1800 roadster would be perhaps the last production model ever to use a rumble seat (or dickey seat in England), and the rest of the car was just as unusual.
The new roadster was powered by the 1,776 cc OHV four-cylinder engine from Standard’s prewar Flying Fourteen, and was also used in Jaguar’s 1.5-liter sedan. The Triumph 1800 Roadster’s body was built with aluminum panels over an ash wood frame, as steel was in short supply. The 100-inch wheelbase chassis was made of large-diameter longitudinal tubes, with transverse-leaf independent front suspension, and semi-elliptic rear springs. Following the 1939 Dolomite roadster’s lead, the 1800 had three-abreast seating with a column-shift four-speed gearbox, curiously located on the right side of the steering wheel.
It may be an apocryphal story, but the roadster is said to have been the work of designers Arthur Ballard and Frank Callaby - separately. One was responsible for the front half, the other for the back and the two do not seem to have talked to each much.
The long hood pointed to a grille nestled between large front fender and 10-inch freestanding headlights. Aft of the windshield, the body flowed out to full width while the trunk lid was divided horizontally. The top 18 inches hinged forward with two glass panels which would become a rear windshield. The lower part hinged back to reveal two tiny jump seats, accessible only by agile passengers on separate steps. The spare wheel was attached to the inside of the trunk lid, making it very heavy and intruding on side space, but the roadster had wind-up windows and a well-fitted top.
With only 65 bhp, the 1800 roadster was a leisurely performer, with 0-60 mph in 24 seconds and a top speed of 75 mph. In all 2,501 were sold in three years. Meanwhile, Black was working on the American-influenced Standard Vanguard sedan, which was launched in 1948. The 1948-49 Triumph 2000 roadster shared the new Vanguard’s wet-liner 2088 cc, OHV four-cylinder engine and its full synchromesh three-speed gearbox (now shifting on the left side), and the same tube frame. There was little increase in power from the new engine, but more usable torque. A total of 2,000 were built. As many as 300 of the 4,501 Triumph Roadsters are reported to have been built with left-hand drive, but LHD survivors are extremely rare.
Triumph would learn from the 1800 and 200 Roadster as well as look at what other companies like Austin-Healey and MG were doing. They would then go on to build the more dedicated and popular sports cars of the TR series, but it was the 1800 and 2000 Roadster that helped set a resurgent postwar Triumph on the path to sports car success.