Despite his penchant for Aston Martins and bespoke suits, James Bond wasn’t as elitist as you might think.
In fact, he drove a humble Triumph Stag in the 1971 film, Diamonds are Forever.
The dashing little car has four perfectly round headlights lined up like pearls, the body of an old Volvo, a Targa-like roll-bar, and a V8 engine. It cost less than $5,900 during its first model year.
It looked chic, but with a reputation for rather shoddy build quality, suspension problems, overheating, and rust, it was probably not the best long-term investment—or even as an option for someone who wanted a reliable daily driver. Even among Triumphs, it was not a great selection.
No, for a more reliable investment you’ve got to look deeper into the Triumph repertoire, past the Spitfires and Mayflowers and TR3 Roadsters. Stop when you get to the TR8. According to Jonathan Klinger, an analyst and spokesman for Hagerty, a firm that insures classic and collectible cars, they are currently the best model to invest in from Triumph’s entire history.
“They’re surprisingly modern, they’re still fairly cheap, considering the rarity and performance, and they’re not that ugly,” says Klinger. A resounding endorsement.
Triumph TR8 prices have increased 27 percent over the past three years, according to the Hagerty Price Guide, while multiple and recent sales on Bring-A-Trailer show that they have slowly and generally gathered steam since 2015. If the goal is showing up at your neighborhood coffee joint with something affordable that no one else owns—and may not even recognize, for that matter—this overlooked Brit could be the ticket.
A Constellation of British Stars
Triumph was far from the only small-batch automaker working in England when John Lennon was cruising around in his Triumph Herald. Britain during the 1960s and ‘70s boasted a dizzying array of brands making small, quirky, sometimes even reliable cars: Austin-Healy, Jensen, TVR, Marcos, Sunbeam, Reliant, Morris, MGB, Talbot, Elva, Ginetta and Bristol to name a few. Some of them—such as Ginetta—remain in existence even today.
They’ve seen a resurgence in after-sales markets in the past few years. According to Hagerty data, British cars have had a strong surge in recent months, with a 4 percent lift in values across the board since September 2018. This was “the most assertive move” that group had made since May 2015, according to Hagerty. What’s more, Hagerty’s British Car Index stands at its highest level since May 2016, the group’s all-time high.
There is one caveat for the Brits.
“The long-term forecast doesn’t bode well for this group, as younger buyers haven’t shown a strong preference for this genre of car,” Brian Rabold wrote in his January 2019 analysis. Long-term, in this case, means over the course of decades of ownership. “But for now, these cars have enough sustained interest to give values a boost.”
Those “younger buyers” are Generation Xers and millennials following the signature rule of car collecting: People want to buy the cars they lusted after as children. Now that Gen-X and millennial buyers are gaining wealth and starting to collect, it stands to reason that they want to buy cars from the ‘80s and ‘90s rather than those cars from the ‘50s and ‘60s that the baby boomers loved.
The popular series of Radwood car shows bears this out; RM Sotheby’s has even devoted entire auction sales to the “youngtimer” esthetic. Hemmings predicts that cars from the late 1970s to 1990s will become one of the biggest trends in the car business. Since 2015, cars from the 1980s have seen significant year over year increases in average auction values, according to Hagerty.
As a child of the ‘80s, then— it was produced only from 1978 to 1981—the TR8 might buck the cooling predicted for the Brits in the next few years, because it belongs to the popular ‘80s segment.
“One could argue that the TR8 stands to have a slightly higher growth potential in the coming years than the TR6, due to a growing appreciation of vehicles from the ‘80s,” Klinger says. It also helps that the TR8 was the most modern and advanced Triumph made. While earlier Triumphs lacked electronics and plastic components, rusted easily, and tended to overheat, the TR8 skirted those issues and emerged as a reliable driver. In short, it was a lot of car for not a lot of money.
Made to replace the wedge-shaped TR7 with something possessing rather more power, the so-called “Junior Jaguar” packed an eight-cylinder, 133-horsepower engine and a short-shifting, five-speed manual transmission. Road & Track reviewers at the time commended its driving style, handling, braking and fuel economy, even if the compliments came with a dose of sarcasm: “The only other thing we could ask for is good looks.”
Inside, the plastic components in its cabin lacked charm—the TR8’s predecessors had wooden trim—but the car was spacious and practical, with such modern accoutrements as air conditioning and proper ventilation. Those were much-needed at the time for Triumph, whose earlier TR6 felt downright antiquated next to things such as the Datsun Z that reigned in the 1970s.
They were also relatively rare: Only 2,700 were built, many in metallic tones and with plaid seats. (This style looks a little … off, yes, but you can’t accuse this car of being a shrinking violet.) Most were sold in North America, for prices starting around $11,000. These days, drivable coupe options can be had for $15,000 and less. Superior examples such as this cost closer to $20,000. At the auction house, prices tend to hover anywhere from $12,000 to $15,950 and $20,350, depending on the condition of the vehicle and the quality of its often-inevitable modifications.
In short, while such other Triumphs as the TR6 remain unquestionably cooler, the TR8 is the underdog that could serve you better over the long haul. Those willing to squint past those dubious looks will be rewarded with a nimble driver that is relatively affordable, compared to earlier cars, along with easily discoverable parts and straightforward mechanics.
Bond himself wouldn’t argue with that—though he might close his eyes as he got inside.