The Triumph acclaim was an emergency measure for British Leyland. Michael Edwardes expected to make the company viable during the 1980s, but the new models he needed were some years away. So a deal with Honda in Japan saw a modified version of that company’s Ballade saloon being made in Britain between 1981 and 1984, and badged as a Triumph.
Triumph purists snorted in disgust at this Cowley-built saviour, but this was the most reliable car BL had at the time. It had great appeal to older owners and became the second best-selling Triumph of all time (No.1 was the Herald 1200). Sports saloon it was not, but it was strangely satisfying to drive.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The biggest structural problem is likely to be rust in the sills and around the rear suspension mountings. Sills were integral with the body’s monoside, and so do not exist as separate panels. Replacement will involve folding one up from sheet metal. The rear suspension problem may well be terminal on cars worth so little because of the cost of repairs.
Almost every Acclaim will have a rusty front valance, which doesn’t affect its roadworthiness but always looks a mess. Look for rust in front wings around wheelarches (new front wings can still be found) and in the same place on rear wheelarches (you’ll have to cut it out and weld new metal in).
Rust can also break out under the trim strips on the bonnet and boot. If drain holes become blocked, the closing panel at the rear of the boot will succumb, too. Top-model CD iants have chrome on bumpers, which suffers like all chrome.
Remember, though, replacement panels are virtually non-existent.
The Honda engine doesn’t give much trouble. The cambelt needs to be changed every 45,000 miles, and you’d be wise to change it as soon as you buy a car. Only after 130,000-150,000 miles does oil consumption go up noticeably, but few Acclaims have done such high mileages.
Listen for a top-end clacking noise, which is evidence of a worn camshaft. The twin Keihin carburettors may cause rough running, but the cause is often no more than a blocked idler jet. A common problem seems to be failure of the vacuum advance-and-retard mechanism on the distributor, but owners have found a way round that. You simply block off the vacuum pipe and retard the ignition a little.
The radiator fan is electric and the Acclaim isn’t particularly known for overheating. Even so, you’d be wise to make sure that the fan does work.
Once again, most of the running-gear is long-lived, with typical Japanese standards of reliability. You get a rod-operated fivespeed manual gearbox which feels quite positive or, on HLS and CD models, a Triomatic semi-automatic. Though sold as a three-speed, it was actually a twospeed with lock-up top known as O/D. Identical to the Hondamatic, it will be no stranger to your local auto trans specialist.
The Acclaim is a light car with front-wheel drive, and hard acceleration from rest can result in torque steer. It’s a characteristic rather than a defect. More worrying is clutch judder, which can have a iety of causes. A common one is failure of the top bush on the engine torque rod, and that’s easily fixed.
Not quite running-gear is a problem with the wiper shafts, which can seize. When they do, they often pull out of line sideways, cutting into the metal of the bulkhead. Making good there can be difficult. As for replacement, some owners have adapted Ford Fiesta parts to fit.
Interiors are rather dull and plasticky, but nevertheless durable. Front carpets are likely to be the biggest issue, as they wear over time. Wet carpets should alert you to a leaky windscreen.
Most Acclaims have cloth upholstery, and that can fade if the car is kept outside in the sun. The good news is that seat covers can be removed, so a replacement set sourced from a scrap vehicle will be a viable solution. On models with the CD trim level, the upholstery is velour. It’s very 1980s but surprisingly luxurious and well worth having. CD models also have electric windows (operated from a truly horrible add-on master control panel), so it’s advisable to make sure they work properly.
While checking inside the car, examine the hardboard panels that form the boot floor. They are not very robust, and often split.
An Acclaim can make a great starter classic, easing you into ownership of an older car for very low cost. It will be reliable enough to keep you on the road, but when things go wrong you’ll quickly learn the joys of visiting all your local scrapyards for parts.
Fellow owners will be the best guide you’ll ever have to what classic car clubs are all about.