This series of articles is centred around the many and varied cars my father owned as I grew up in England.
The first instalment concerned the redoubtable Standard Vanguard (see Archive) and ended when Dad reluctantly sold it in order to change to a smaller, lighter car more suitable for my mother to drive.
Enter the Triumph Herald.
Triumph Herald (1959 - 1971)
Light and shade; chalk and cheese. The Herald couldn't have been more different from the Vanguard. Where the Vanguard was heavy, American-influenced, lumbering and relatively large, the Herald was sporty, light, Italian-designed and stylish. Exciting, even. The Herald proudly laid claim to having the smallest turning circle of any production car in the world at the time. More importantly, heaters were a standard fitting! Luxury indeed.
I don't recall the reason, but Dad was in a major hurry to replace the Vanguard. He couldn't find a car soon enough. Being long before the advent of the internet, the only ways to find used cars for sale were a) at car dealerships or b) classified ads in the local Paper, the Bristol Evening Post.
Dad found an ad for a Herald, made a phone call and having been given the address, he and I journeyed to an unremarkable street somewhere in Bristol one dark evening. It was raining and when we arrived, the car was parked outside the owners house in the street. We could hardly see it in the darkness until the guy moved the Herald beneath one feeble street light that cast a ghostly orange sodium glow on the car. It was pure white and before I knew it, Dad had agreed to buy.
I was surprised but excited and we soon had the car home in Patchway. The very next day I took the photograph above showing Dad sitting at the wheel outside our house in Standish Avenue. As far as I know, it's the only photograph of that car in existence.
The Herald was a 2 door saloon and considerably smaller than the preceding Vanguard. It was too small for a family of five in my opinion, but Dad's top priority was - as ever - to do the best he could for Mum. This car certainly was lighter, easier to control and had far better all-round visibility than the Vanguard (which Mum recently told me she used to call, 'The Elephant' due to its size, colour and shape).
I'm not at all sure how long Dad owned the Herald for, but my next memory of it concerns the day he packed the whole family into it and drove into Bristol. The plan was to drop the car off for its annual safety check, known in the UK as the dreaded MOT Test (NZers would call it a WOF).
We dropped the car off at Williams Automobiles and went off somewhere while the test was done. On our return, the owner of the garage welcomed us and asked us into a little waiting room where we sat nervously awaiting the news. 'I hope you have enough money for the bus fare home' he began, 'because in all conscience, I cannot allow you to go anywhere in that car. It's a death trap."
He went on to explain that the chassis was so full of rust that he expected the floor to drop out onto the road at any minute and was insistent that it was too dangerous to even drive the few miles back home. I don't remember how we did get home, but I know it wasn't in the Herald, which was rapidly despatched to the breaker's yard.
Poor Dad never really forgave himself for buying that car. In those days, the old adage 'caveat emptor' definitely applied to buying used cars. Today's used cars are relatively safe to buy, but back in the 1960s it was a jungle out there and there was every chance of throwing your money away on something totally worthless. Dad knew very well that it was definitely not a smart move to buy a car in the dark and beat himself up about it many times over the years that followed. I don't believe any of the family gave him a hard time about it, but he was always his own harshest critic.
As luck would have it and possibly a little suspiciously, Williams Automobiles just happened to have a used car for sale that had recently arrived and was about to have a newly reconditioned engine fitted.
And so, that was soon to became Dad's next car - but more of that in Part 3.
Herald history/technical data
The Triumph Herald is a small two-door car introduced in 1959 by the Standard-Triumph Company of Coventry. Body design was by the Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti, and the car was offered in saloon, convertible,coupé, van and estate models.
Total Herald sales numbered well over 500,000, and Heralds are still seen on British roads in the early 21st century. The Vitesse, Spitfire and GT6 are all based on modified Herald chassis and running gear with bolt-together bodies.
Towards the end of the 1950s Standard-Triumph offered a range of two-seater Triumph sports cars alongside its Standard saloons, the Standard 8 and 10, powered by a small (803 cc or 948 cc) 4-cylinder engine, which by the late 1950s were due for an update. Standard-Triumph therefore started work on the Herald. The choice of the Herald name suggests that the car was originally intended to be marketed as a Standard, as it fits the model-naming scheme of the time (Ensign, Pennant and Standard itself). But by 1959 it was felt that the Triumph name had more brand equity, and the Standard name was phased out in Britain after 1963.
Giovanni Michelotti was commissioned to style the car by the Standard-Triumph board, encouraged by chief engineer Harry Webster, and quickly produced designs for a two-door saloon with a large glass area that gave 93 per cent all-round visibility in the saloon variant and the "razor-edge" looks to which many makers were turning. As Fisher & Ludlow, Standard-Triumph's body suppliers became part of an uncooperative BMC, it was decided that the car should have a separate chassis rather than adopting the newer monocoque construction. The main body tub was bolted to the chassis and the whole front end hinged forward to allow access to the engine. Every panel – including the sills and roof – could be unbolted from the car so that different body styles could be easily built on the same chassis. Accordingly, in addition to the original coupé and saloon models, van, convertible and estate versions were on offer within two years.
The Standard Pennant's 4-cylinder 948 cc OHV engine and 4 speed manual gearbox was used with synchromesh on the top three gears and remote gear shift and driving the rear wheels. The rack and pinion steering afforded the Herald a tight 25-foot (7.6 m) turning circle. Coil and double-wishbone front suspension was fitted, while the rear suspension, a new departure for Triumph, offered independent springing via a single transverse leaf-spring bolted to the top of the final drive unit and swing axles.
Instruments were confined to a single large speedometer with fuel gauge in the saloon (a temperature gauge was available as an option) on a dashboard of grey pressed fibreboard. The coupé dashboard was equipped with speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges, together with a lockable glovebox. The car had loop-pile carpeting and heater as standard. A number of extras were available including twin carburettors, leather seats, a wood-veneered dashboard, Telaflo shock absorbers and paint options.
In late 1958, prototype cars embarked on a test run from Cape Town to Tangiers. An account of the journey was embellished by PR at the time. However only minor changes were deemed necessary between the prototype and production cars. The new car was launched at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 22 April 1959 but was not an immediate sales success, partly owing to its relatively high cost, approaching £700 (including 45 per cent Purchase Tax). In standard single-carburettor form the 34.5 bhp (26 kW) car was no better than average in terms of performance. A saloon tested by The Motor magazine in 1959 was found to have a top speed of 70.9 mph (114.1 km/h) and could accelerate from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 31.1 seconds. A fuel consumption of 34.5 miles per imperial gallon (8.2 L/100 km; 28.7 mpg-US) was recorded.
The rear suspension was criticised as yielding poor handling at the extremes of performance though the model was considered easy to drive with its good vision, light steering (smallest turning circle of any production car) and controls, and ease of repair.
Standard-Triumph experienced financial difficulties at the beginning of the 1960s and was taken over by Leyland Motors Ltd in 1961. This released new resources to develop the Herald and the car was re-launched with an 1147 cc engine as the Herald 1200. The new model featured white rubber bumpers, a wooden laminate dashboard and improved seating. Quality control was also tightened up. Twin carburettors were no longer fitted to any of the range as standard although they remained an option, the standard being a single down-draught Solex carburettor. Claimed maximum power of the Herald 1200 was 39 bhp (29 kW), as against the 34.5 bhp (25.7 kW) claimed for the 948 cc model. Disc brakes also became an option from 1962.
Sales picked up despite growing competition from the BMC Mini and the Ford Anglia. The convertible was popular as a 4-seater with decent weatherproofing and the estate made a practical alternative to the Morris Minor Traveller. The coupé was dropped from the range in late 1964 as it was by then in direct competition with the Triumph Spitfire.