Drop down into the TR7’s cabin, and most likely the first thing you’ll notice will be the immense depth of the plastic dashboard. It had to be like that to accommodate the steeply-raked windscreen that was so much a part of Harris Mann’s wedge design. However, there’s a quite cosy cockpit-like feel around the driver, and that’s a plus. But you might be surprised by how little stowage space there seems to be in the cabin.
Acceleration is adequate but not sparkling, and if you’re driving an automatic car, expect slurry rather than crisp changes. Second and third gears in the five-speed cars give a satisfying surge of power. There’s quite a satisfying rasp from the exhaust, too, although the four-cylinder engine is never going to sound as good as the six in earlier TRs – or as good as the V8 in the TR8, for that matter.
The brakes are good and responsive, and the steering OK but not especially sharp or quick. The handling in general makes a TR7 feel more like a small saloon than a real sports car, but that was the way of the 1970s.
Power (bhp@rpm) 105bhp@5500rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 119lb ft@3500rpm
Top speed 109mph
Gearbox 5-spd manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
New body panels ran out years ago, but specialists have manufactured reproduction panels and repair sections. On the cosmetic side, look for rust in the front wings, front body panel, pop-up headlamp pods, and inner wheel arches at both ends.
For structural rust damage, number one check should be the sills. Examine the inside faces by peeling back the carpets, and make sure that the outer sills are proper panels and not just "cover sills"; a proper full-length sill extends behind the front wing. On convertibles, look also for rust in the boot floor, inner rear wings, and the inside of the rear quarter-panels. One area to check very carefully on both coupés and convertibles is the trailing arm mounting points.
Many fixed-head TR7s came with Webasto fabric sunroofs. These had wooden frames which can soak up water and rot through: a clue is staining on the headlining. Repairs to damaged sunroofs can be surprisingly expensive.
At the front of the car, check the windscreen frame. Rot can start under the chrome trim and affect both the lower frame and the upper, including the front edge of the roof.
The one mechanical problem you don’t want is an overheating engine. The alloy cylinder head corrodes, waterways clog, and the head then warps. The temperature needle should not stray past the "normal" mark.
Contrary to popular belief, the pop-up headlamps do not give a lot of trouble, although getting them to perform in fully synchronised harmony can be a job beyond even the most patient owners.
A four-speed gearbox was available up to 1978, and isn’t much liked. It had its origins in the Marina, and high-mileage examples will suffer from weak synchromesh and may jump out of gear on the over-run. The five-speed available from 1976 and standard from 1978 was the LT77 type that was also used in Rovers, Jaguars, Range Rovers and Land Rovers, so it’s pretty tough. Listen for a rattle under power in third gear, which usually means the fluid is low, and remember that the fluid for these gearboxes is automatic transmission fluid; using thicker ordinary gearbox oil results in baulking synchromesh and you might not get the box into second when it’s cold!
A common problem on TR7s that haven’t been used for some time is a sticking clutch. The five-speed gearbox depends on splash lubrication, so towing the car and dumping the clutch at speed might free your clutch, but it might also wreck your gearbox!
Finally, a steering vibration between 50 and 60mph is quite common, and can be hard to eliminate. So it need not be a deterrent to purchase unless it’s severe or there are indications of steering or road wheel damage.
No doubt about it: the best buy for maximum fun is a late convertible, with the five-speed manual gearbox rather than the automatic option. It gives open-air motoring in a manner which is a brilliant compromise between the old manner and the modern cocooned style.
On the other hand, if you want maximum value for money and don’t really care for the open air, get the best coupé you can find. For what they offer, the cars are under-priced, and a coupé really does make sense as characterful everyday, all-weather transport.
The cost of repairs means it really isn’t worth buying a basket-case for restoration, so such cars are best considered as sources of spares only. However, if you enjoy DIY work and know what you’re doing, why not uprate to Sprint specification? You can buy all the necessary parts.
Die-hard TR fans were pretty rude about the TR7 when it was new, and it’s certainly not a hairy-chested sports car in the tradition of the TR6 it replaced. Today, though, it makes an affordable and pleasant way of getting into TR ownership, especially in convertible rather than fixed-head form. Properly maintained cars make reliable classics and can provide plenty of fun.
Once you know why you want one, the next problem is deciding which one you want. The TR7 was introduced as a fixed-head coupé in 1975 and didn’t become available as a convertible until 1979. Coupés were built until the end in 1981 but don’t have the following that the convertibles enjoy.
TR7s were built in three factories. The earliest cars were all built at Speke, by a disaffected and strike-prone workforce. They weren’t generally built well. After one strike too many, production was transferred to Canley in 1978, where quality went up by leaps and bounds. Then from 1980, TR7s were built at the Rover plant in Solihull, and some people say these were the best of the lot.