- - Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shortly before graduation, students at the nation’s military service academies are permitted to shop for automobiles.

In 1975 Marvin Dean Cox found himself in such a position at the Air Force Academy. He had been reading about the new (at the time) Triumph TR-7 but the car was not readily available. Instead he bought a Pontiac.

During a 1978 tour of duty in Anchorage, Mr. Cox purchased a Triumph TR-7. That car was eventually sold after confirming his initial good opinion. In the summer of 1982 Mr. Cox contacted an Orlando, Fla., dealer who specialized in foreign sports cars. There he found a carmine-red 1980 Triumph TR-8. Mr. Cox explains that the builder of the Triumph believed that U.S. regulations would not permit convertibles to be manufactured. The first 250 cars built that model year are hardtops. Later a better understanding of the rules permitted convertibles and the rest of the Triumphs that year left the factory as convertibles.

The Triumph Mr. Cox purchased carries serial No. 007, which indicates that it was one] of the early Triumph TR-8s. Records show that it was built in August 1979. He reports that the base price when new was $13,500.

Beneath the sloping hood that is ventilated with 52 louvers is a 3.5-liter V-8 engine manufactured by Buick. The owner declares that while the engine sips gasoline through a pair of Stromberg carburetors from the 16.5-gallon fuel tank, the 2,450-pound car delivers 22 miles per gallon during highway driving. “You can drive and drive and drive and never run out of gas,” Mr. Cox says.

Originally the 13-foot, 10.5-inch-long sports car rode on 13-inch wheels. Mr. Cox has replaced them with 14-inch wheels for a smoother ride. The 5.5-foot-wide car rides on an 85-inch wheelbase. The highest point of the Triumph is a mere inch and a half more than 4 feet off the pavement. The low-slung Triumph has only 4 inches of ground clearance, which helps preserve the dual exhaust system, but not by much of a margin.

“Parts for the car are surprisingly easy to find,” Mr. Cox says.

The well-cared-for interior still features the original three-spoke steering wheel and five-speed gear shifter. What isn’t camel-colored fabric in the cockpit is black. In an effort to save space in the cozy cockpit, a courtesy light is mounted in each door along with a radio speaker. The instrumentation is simple and straightforward. The speedometer is calibrated to record speeds up to 140 mph and adjacent to it is the 7,000-rpm tachometer with a redline of 5,500 rpm. Even from lofty speeds the power brakes are equal to the task of bringing the car to a halt.

Mr. Cox has discovered that the worst thing for a car is to not use it for it’s intended purpose. “If you let it sit, it’ll break,” he says from experience.

With the assistance of power steering, the sporty Triumph can be turned in a 31.5-foot circle.

By 2000 Mr. Cox determined that the original red paint had served beyond its life expectancy.

He decided to have the car resprayed in his favorite color, royal blue metallic, from the chin spoiler in front to the left rear fender where the antenna is mounted.

The spectacular repaint is so thorough, including the door jams and inside of the trunk lid and engine hood, that it is easily mistaken for the original.

Afterward, a dual silver pinstripe was applied that works its way 360 degrees around the waistline of the now-blue car.

Soon after his Triumph was repainted, Mr. Cox installed “TRIUMPH” mud flaps that are not original equipment but which he hopes will help protect the new paint from stone chips. The odometer now has recorded 73,000 miles.

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