Standard and Triumph – A Brief History

Report from ‘Made in Coventry’

When people refer to Standard-Triumph, they tend to assume that Triumph bought the Standard Motor Company. This is the wrong way around. Standard is the older company of the two dating back 110 years. For most of their history they were the largest car manufacturer in Coventry, producing a vast number of models and indeed many different individual cars right through the 1930s. The Standard Motor Company was set up at Much Park Street, Coventry by Reginald Maudslay in 1903. Their first car was a 6hp ‘Motor Victoria’ followed quickly by a number of two,  four, and six cylinder models up to the outbreak of WWI. In 1916 the company moved to purpose built works at Canley, where they began building aircraft in support of the War Effort. In 1919 they picked up production with the four-cylinder 9.5 model, and in 1923 released their successful 13.9hp. Although the company continued to grow, with sales volumes rivalling Austin, it all started to go wrong in the late 1920s, with a failed export drive and disappointing sales of the larger cars in the range, which meant that by the the late 1920s, profits had decreased dramatically, so Standard decided to prune back the range significantly, ending up effectively with a single chassis, and the 9 hp engine. They did good business supplying this to coachbuilders such as Jensen and the Swallow Car Company, which as we now know was the precursor to William Lyons’ SS Car Company later called Jaguar. It was at this time that a certain Captain John Black joined the company from Hillman, and he played an influential role for many years until his resignation in 1954.  In 1930 before the worst of the depression, the Big Nine was introduced which together with the 6 cylinder Ensign and Envoy constituted the complete range. Standardisation was taken a step further with the bodies on 9 hp four cylinder and 15 hp six cylinder being almost indistinguishable except for bonnet length. The Big Nine was soon followed by the Big Twelve and sales for the second six months of 1931 exceeded those of the whole of the previous year. In 1935, all production transferred to the Canley site, and by this time, Standard was the largest car company in a town which featured many other marques as well. Through the 1930s, Standard’s fortunes improved with new models, the Standard Nine and Standard Ten which addressed the low to mid range market and at the Motor Show of 1935 the new range of Flying Standards was announced with semi streamlined bodies. The Flying Standards came to the market in 1936 with their distinctive streamlined sloping rears virtually replacing the existing range of Nine, Twelve, Sixteen, and Twenty. The Flying Standards were so-called because of the major radiator design change, topped by the Union Flag badge apparently streaming backwards in contrast to its previous forward-facing position. Almost all the Flying Standards had 4 cylinders, but in 1938 two new factories were opened at Fletchampstead and Banner Lane, and a completely new engine was offered. This was a 20 hp V8 which made British history by pioneering independent front suspension on a mass-produced light car. Standard acquired Triumph in 1945, creating a dual-branding challenge, with some cars being called Triumph and some Standard. The former name won out when it was decided that far from the interpretation being of “setting the Standard”, people might conceive the cars to be “no better than Standard”.

Replacing the Triumph Mayflower, at the entry point of the range, the Standard Eight made its debut in 1953. It was an all new design, with a particularly significant engine, the 28 bhp 803cc “Small Car” unit, which went on to survive to the end of Triumph production in 1981 in the 1496cc engined Spitfire. Reflecting a society that was still getting recovering from the costs of war, and the fact that its predecessor had failed in its quest to sell as an upmarket small car, the Eight was deliberately basic, lacking even such items as an external opening for the boot, let alone a heater. At £481 at launch, it was the cheapest four door car on the market at the time. A slightly less spartan and more powerful model, the Ten joined it in 1954, and this in turn was replaced by the Pennant in 1957. With extended rear wings, and two tone paintwork, this model did look different, even though it was only ever intended to be a stop gap until something far more modern was ready.

An important car not just for Standard, but also for generating significant export revenue, the Vanguard was launched in 1948, the first all new British design produced after the war. It replaced all the pre-war models, production of which had restarted in 1946. The fastback styling of the first models aped American designs of the era leaving little doubt where it was intended to sell the car. As well as the fastback saloon and estate models, a pick-up was offered for the Australian market. The Phase 2 came along at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1953. Not so much a new model as an extensive re-design, keeping the same front end but with a contemporary Ponton, three-box design “notch-back” design, which provided 50% more luggage space and improved rear visibility. Mechanically there were few changes, and the design was produced for a couple of years, including, from 1954 with the option of a diesel engine, the first British car to do so. The third phase Vanguard, launched in 1955 was very different. An all new design, it featured styling by the Italian Vignale styling house. As well as looking far more modern, with a larger and lower glass area, and a single one-piece curved windscreen, the model finally eliminated the separate chassis of its predecessors. As UK fuel was no longer restricted to the 72 octane “Pool petrol” of the 1940s and early 1950s, and with the modest increases in available octane levels, the Vanguard’s compression ratio was increased to 7.0:1, so the 2088 cc engine with its single Solex downdraught carburettor now produced 68 bhp. The front suspension was independent, using coil springs, and was bolted to a substantial sub-frame which also carried the recirculating ball steering gear. Semi-elliptic leaf springs were used on the rear axle. Lockheed hydraulic brakes with 9 in drums were fitted front and rear. The three-speed gearbox had a column change and the optional overdrive was operated by a switch on the steering column. A four-speed floor change became an option. The wheelbase increased by 8 in giving much better passenger accommodation. A heater was now a standard fitting. Bench seats were fitted in front and rear with folding centre arm rests. They were covered in Vynide, with leather available as an option. The car was lighter than the superseded model, and the gearing was changed to deliver better economy with performance virtually unchanged. This basic design was to live for 8 years, before being replaced by the Triumph 2000 in the autumn of 1963. A number of different versions were produced during that time, some more successful than others. The Sportsman was a short lived “performance” version with a tuned 90 bhp engine shared with the TR3, but it was a sales disaster and quickly withdrawn. Cheaper 4 cylinder 1670cc engined cars, with simplified trim and a lower equipment level, launched in 1957 and called Ensign, though, sold well. A face-lift of the Phase III was designed by Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti and coach-builders Vignale in 1958, and was introduced at the October 1958 Earls Court Motor Show. The windscreen and rear window were deeper, and there was a revised grille and trim. A floor change four-speed manual gearbox was now fitted, and the provision of a three-speed gear box with column change offered as an option. An overdrive was also offered an option, as was an automatic. One automatic car is known to have survived – there may be others. The car had front and rear bench seats, which were covered, as standard, in Vynide. Leather was an option on the home market and cloth for exported models. A heater and (unusual for the time) electric windscreen washers were factory fitted, although a radio remained an option. Final model was the Vanguard Six, introduced at the end of 1960, and that is the car seen here. The last of the Vanguards, it featured a six-cylinder 1,998 cc engine with push-rod overhead valves: this was the engine subsequently installed in the Triumph 2000. The compression ratio was 8.0:1, and twin Solex carburettors were fitted giving an output of 80 bhp at 4500 rpm. Externally the only differences from the Vignale were the badging but the interior was updated.


The Triumph Cycle Company began as cycle manufacturers at Much Park Street, Coventry in 1889. Yet the origins began in London four years earlier when Germans, Siegfried Bettmann (1863-1951) and Mauritz Schulte (b.1858) began selling British built cycles abroad under the ‘Triumph’ name. After some early developmental work, it was in 1902 that Triumph marketed their first motorcycles at new works at Priory Street, Coventry. It was through the manufacture of motorcycles that was to make Triumph a household name. During the First World War, the company secured a deal supplying some 30,000 models for active war service, and these were soon labelled ‘Trusty Triumph’s’ by the soldiers that used them. Production continued with great confidence into the 1920s, but by the beginning of the 1930s, the business, like many others, fell on hard times and almost collapsed entirely. Up stepped Jack Sangster of the Ariel Company to take control, and before long he drafted in a number of personnel who would alter the company’s fortunes, most notably that of Edward Turner. In 1937 Turner unveiled the 500cc ‘Speed Twin’, a machine that revolutionised the motorcycle world through its design. In November 1940, the Coventry factory was all but destroyed by German bombers, but production recommenced at a new site at Meriden and remained so for a further 40 years creating iconic machines such as the ‘Tiger’ range, and the ‘Bonneville’. Triumph motorcycles are still being made to this day at Hinckley.
Considering that motorcycle production began at Triumph in 1902, it is quite surprising that the production of cars did not come about until 1923 with the 10/20 two-seater, as many other motorcycle manufacturers had diversified far more quickly. The 10/20 model was a clear response to the Austin Seven, launched the previous year. As production volumes of cars increased quickly in the 1920s, so models had to change and prices came down. Triumph were no exception, and by 1927 their product was called the Super Seven, an even clearer reference to what they thought was the principal competitor.  Whereas the Austin was now being sold for £100, the Triumph was noticeably more expensive at £130, so sales never really challenged the Longbridge offering. That caused Triumph to come up with a new strategy, offering larger and more costly cars, and the result of this was the 1933 Gloria and later Dolomite. Nice though these models were, this policy did not work, either, and Triumph was absorbed into the Standard Motor Company. After the war, it was as if the new company did not know which brand to use, with some models alternating between Triumph and Standard, before finally settling on the former for all new cars from the 1959 Herald, phasing out the Standard name with the end of production of the Vanguard and Ensign in 1963. During the 1960s and 1970s, Triumph, now part of the BMC Group, produced a range of sports cars (the Spitfire based models and the TR series) as well as saloons and estates that combined both a sporting and luxury touch. Truly this was the heyday for the marque, but starved of investment, when the replacement for the big 2000/2500 cars was chosen to be a Rover, it was clear the marques days were numbered, something that the last model to bear the Triumph name, the 1981 ‘Acclaim’  could not delay, as it, too, was replaced by a Rover badged car.

Rather surprisingly, the only Triumph that I saw at the event was a Gloria. I gather that there had been plenty of other Triumph models at other venues during the day, and was sorry to miss them, as this is one of my favourite brands from British motoring history. Launched in 1934, there was a large and complex range of Gloria sporting saloons, coupés, tourers, 2-seater sports cars, drophead coupés and golfer’s coupés. All these Glorias, apart from the final two models, the 1.5 litre Saloon and Fourteen (1767 cc) Six-Light Saloon of 1937-1938 were powered by 1087 or 1232 cc four-cylinder or 1467 or 1991 cc six-cylinder Coventry Climax overhead inlet and side exhaust valve designed engines modified and built under licence by Triumph. The chassis came in two lengths, with an extra 8 in ahead of the passenger compartment depending on whether the four- or six-cylinder engine was fitted, and had conventional non-independent suspension with semi elliptic leaf springs. The brakes were hydraulically operated using the Lockheed system with large 12 in drums. A four-speed transmission was fitted with an optional free wheel mechanism allowing “clutchless” gear changing. Synchromesh was fitted to the gearbox on the final Fourteen and 1.5-litre models. From August 1934 to 1936 the Gloria range included ‘Gloria Vitesse’ models (not to be confused with later Vitesses) which were up-rated, with twin carburettor engine and equipment, versions of the equivalent Gloria and slightly different bodywork in the case of some saloons. From 1934 to 1937, there was also an open two-seat sporting model, the Southern Cross, re-using the name previously applied to the sports version of the Triumph Super 9. This used a shortened chassis of 96 in for 1232 cc four-cylinder models and 104 in for the 1991 sixes.

The Motor. Net, August, 2015