Towards the end of the 1970’s, British Leyland was in a state of absolute despair. Shoddy and dated car designs married to biblical unreliability meant the company was facing near meltdown, and obviously came to the conclusion that they needed someone else to take the helm before the ship properly sank. Enter the Japanese, more to the point, Honda!
Since the 1960’s, the Japanese had shown the world that they can mass-produce reliable cars, and thus were raking in sales by the million as people turned from their flaky European models to the highly efficient Japanese alternatives. Desperate to stop their market being swept out from under them, European Manufacturers imposed heavy import taxes on Japanese imports so as to try and price them out of the market, which meant builders such as Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi were losing a fortune. The alternative past this blockade was to combine their efforts with some of the more struggling car companies of Europe so as to create hybrid cars.
And thus the Triumph Acclaim was born!
Based almost solely on the Honda Ballade, essentially all that differentiated it was the Triumph badge, and the fact that the car was built at the Cowley Plant near Oxford using the former production lines of the Austin Maxi. The intention largely was to replace the 10 year old Triumph Dolomite as the 4-door saloon of the company. Unlike the Ballade however, the car did come with much more luxury features as with a Triumph badge, the car was intended to be more higher market than the conventional Japanese equivalent. But most importantly, the car has the distinction of being the first truly reliable British Leyland car (and it only took them 12 years to get it right!)
Basically, the car’s major components were built in Japan and shipped to Cowley, where they were placed into the locally built bodyshells. Build quality was very good too, with the leaky panels and rough ride seemingly absent, and holds the record for the fewest warranty claims on a British Leyland car. However, Japan may have shown Europe how to build a reliable car, but they didn’t know how to build a car that didn’t rust. Much like it’s Japanese counterparts, the Acclaim rusted like crazy. In Japan this was seen as planned obsolescence, with the intention being that a new model would replace it in two or three years time. But in Britain, cars are built to last, with models going unchanged almost completely for years and even decades. Examples being the Mini, which didn’t change in any way, shape or form between its launch in 1959 and its demise in 2000!
But still, despite the terrible rusting problem, the car’s reliable nature resulted in 133,000 cars being sold, and became the first Triumph to be within the Top 10 highest selling cars since 1965. However, in the end the Acclaim’s show of being a good, reliable car was merely a testbed for the variety of other Japanese style products British Leyland intended to push in the near future. After only 4 years of production, the Triumph Acclaim was shelved in 1984 along with many other British Leyland products such as the Austin Ambassador and the Morris Ital so as to rationalise the company into a small number of highly reliable machines based off the Triumph Acclaim’s Japanese based success. From the Acclaim, the Rover 200 was a direct descendant, being based heavily on the next generation Honda Ballade, but also spurring from this plucky car was the mechanicals of the Austin Maestro and Montego.
The ending of Acclaim construction in 1984 also brought the end to the Triumph badge itself on motorcars. Although Triumph still exists on motorbikes, the car division has long since perished, together with Austin and Morris. As for the Acclaim itself, it is truly one of those rarities you won’t find everyday. Today only 488 are left, which, although much more than the remaining Ital’s and Ambassadors of the same period, is still a very low number. But even so, the Triumph Acclaim did show British Leyland how to make a reliable machine, even though it technically wasn’t a British machine in the first place!