1968 Triumph Herald – Hark This Herald’s Angles Sing

When David Burke-Kennedy went to visit the owner of this beautifully restored Triumph Herald, he was surprised in more ways than one.

You can’t help smiling when you reach the end of the long driveway to Andrew Cowsill’s pristine 19th-century house. His shinier-than-new 1968 Triumph Herald sits beaming proudly in front of it — as if to upstage the beautifully restored and landscaped villa. If this was being written for a classic house, garden, and car magazine, you’d be hard-pressed to know which to focus on first — the romantic charm of the house, with its narrow staircases, low sloping ceilings, and walls and mantelpieces crammed with collectables from over several centuries; or the head-turning nostalgic linear Italian design of a car, which is almost a third its age? Given the title of this magazine, the Triumph Herald it is. And it is stunning, having been beautifully brought back to life by the talented team at e Surgery, after having had at least six previous owners.

It wasn’t what Andrew Cowsill was looking for. “I was looking for a first classic to work on, something like a Volkswagen Beetle or Karmann Ghia,” he admitted, “but the ones I looked at on Trade Me made me think, what a lot of work.”

“‘Other stuff you may like’ popped up on screen, and there was this Triumph Herald advertised for sale by The Surgery.

“I rang him and asked him to tell me everything that needed doing to the car.”

His reply was, “A few chips in the glass and some minor corrosion in the hubcaps.

“ That’s all. It’s not Concours condition, but you can drive it, enjoy it, and put it in a club show …”

“I began to bargain,” Andrew said, “but The Surgery informed me someone else was coming to buy it later that day. Well, he was asking less than what I’d budgeted to do up something else. So, I bought it there and then, unseen!” e little Triumph set him back around $13K, but it came complete with receipts for repairs and restoration over recent years of around $55K. Back in 1968, the car would have cost $2149 new — about $36K in today’s terms.

For Andrew, that day might have felt like all his birthdays had come at once — in fact, coincidentally, it actually was around his birthday. “And this was my present,” he said, laughing.

The Herald’s birthday was back in 1959 when the Standard-Triumph International company of Coventry launched it with a do-or-die fanfare of stunts and publicity that made the British motoring public sit upright. In late 1958, prototypes were driven from Cape Town to Tangiers — with every mile and stopover filmed for subsequent PR campaigning. Such was their performance, few changes were needed when the car went into production with its four-cylinder 948cc overhead-valve engine and manual four-speed gearbox.

The Herald was targeted at the emerging and increasingly affluent middle-class Briton — this was,
after all, the eve of the swinging ’60s, when people had more money, and London was about to be the capital of cool! e newly affluent wanted more than an everyday shopping basket of the type that was being churned out by some other carmakers for the ‘common’ people … And so, we saw the triumphant arrival of the Herald.

Commissioned to design the new model by the Standard-Triumph board, Giovanni Michelotti created an eye-catching two-door saloon with razor-edged style notable for its large glass area, which promised 93-percent visibility. Its engineering was also different from alternatives, with its body mounted on a separate chassis instead of being monocoque entire front hinged forward to provide engine access. Every panel, including the roof, could be unbolted — which made it easy to later create coupé, convertible, and estate-car styling, as well as the original two-door saloon.

It was no surprise that the Herald’s launch at London’s Royal Albert Hall on April 1959 was also an attention-grabbing stunt captured on lm. Four apprentices wheeled out the car in sections and bolted them together in three minutes. e end product was subsequently driven right across Europe, virtually as assembled.

The car was promoted and perceived as having a certain fashionable chic at a time when being fashionable counted — in music; lifestyle; and, of course, fashion itself.

While praised for its Italian-inspired looks, easy driving, visibility, easy access for repair, and a turning circle so tight that the car could almost be driven up its own exhaust pipe (it boasted the smallest turning circle of any production car at the time), the 25.7kW (34.5bhp) Herald was panned for its average performance, handling, and high price. It was initially a slow seller and quality was adversely affected as production was stepped up to meet demand.

At the beginning of the 1960s, the Standard Triumph Company was hitting the wall financially. Leyland Motors took over, injected much-needed cash, and redeveloped the Herald as 1200. Launched in 1961, it featured a more powerful 29kW (39bhp) 1147cc motor; better seating; better performance; minor embellishments, including
a simplified grille, rubber bumpers, and — what would later prove an attraction to Andrew Cowsill — a wooden laminate dashboard; as well as overall improved quality. Sales picked up at a time when
the likes of Ford and others were launching new small models such as the Mini.

Until 1971, when production ceased, almost 600,000 Heralds were produced and exported — many as complete knock down (CKD) units for local assembly in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, India, Ireland, Malta, South Africa and Peru.

“ They were probably the Suzuki Swift of their day,” said Andrew Cowsill. His previous ‘classics’ were nothing like this. His first car had been a ’55 Beetle, and this was followed by a MkI Ford Escort and an awesome Audi 100 Turbo, which exploded and died in grand fashion on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Back in the day, his father owned a Triumph 2000
and a string of MG T types — TC, TB, and a TD in Palmerston North. e car enthusiasm carried over to Andrew’s brother, who went the V8 route, and his sister has an MG.

“I wanted a car with a wooden dashboard and leather upholstery,” Andrew said, laughing, “probably influenced by working over varsity holidays as a car groomer at Archibald and Shorter.”

The Triumph doesn’t have the leather — genuine red vinyl instead — but it does have the wooden dashboard punctuated with a few knobs and buttons to operate single-speed wipers, choke, headlights, and heater — for the windscreen fan, not the passengers.

“I bought it for the condition and what I was getting for the money not because I wanted a Triumph, but I came to like it — in particular, the 1500 Dolomite motor and all-synchro gearbox instead of the 1200cc the standard Herald came with. It’s not fast by any means, but it keeps up well with traffic, and, because it has independent suspension, it’s entertaining on a twisty road — it gets along at a fair clip.”

“I drove it back from Wellington with Dad after I bought it, and he reminisced about old British cars and he gave me tips about looking after this one. Done a few long trips — boiled the brakes going from Auckland to Napier, so they’ve been converted from drums to disks.” He now carries enough spares and an original toolkit to virtually rebuild the car on site should he need to.

But how did he find a car in this condition?

A Hong Kong-based client had contacted The Surgery saying she’d bought a Triumph Herald online in New Zealand and that she wanted them to restore it “back to its former glory”. She told The Surgery that it would be only be used for future planned summer vacations in New Zealand with her partner. e time frame of the restoration was to be about three years.

The Herald was subsequently transported to Thee Surgery, where the team commenced the disassembly and assessment of the car. It turned out to be a nice original car from the start, but it was rather worn out and had a fair amount of rust in most areas.

After emailing numerous photos, options, estimates, and quotes to the owner, The Surgery received a reply saying, “Please go ahead, I want no stone to be left unturned, I want an as-new Herald,” so the project began.

The restoration work was carried out over the following three years. All work was completed in-house at e Surgery, with literally hundreds of progress photos emailed to the owner during the restoration, resulting in a very satisfied client at the end of the three years. Finally, the Herald was completed and ready for delivery.

Then, out of the blue, The received an email from the owner saying that their circumstances had changed and that they no longer had a use for the Herald. She then asked The Surgery if they could sell the car in New Zealand and wasn’t concerned about the price but wanted it to go to a good home, someone who would appreciate it.

Initially, The Surgery considered taking over the ownership, because the team loved the little car to bits, but logic stepped in and he decided that they already had too many cars, so it was listed for sale in New Zealand Classic Car magazine, and, within a couple of days, an appreciative new owner was found — Andrew Cowsill. Since purchasing it last year, Andrew’s modified and dressed it up for touring — fitting bigger 175x17x13 tyres with whitewalls on larger Triumph Vitesse rims. Other modifications included an alternator and halogen headlights, and he plans to install a Triumph Spitfire diff. On the motorway, it’s easy to see why the car has become Andrew’s weekend-driver ahead of his company seven-seater SUV with technology that blocks out all sound and feeling, as do so many of today’s executive vehicles.

The Herald is fun. The motor rasps noisily and determinedly like Barry White with bronchitis but without the coughing, and the ride is rm and nowhere as bouncy as you might expect from a light car of this era. Performance is also quite respectable — the car pulls and handles well when you need to accelerate from 80 to 100kph, and it certainly won’t have you holding up a line of traffic as you wind your way up the Rimutakas. Coming down the other side would also be quite entertaining, thanks to the car’s independent suspension demonstrated on early black-and-white TV commercials with a Herald bouncing down steps, its driver in pursuit of an attractive woman.

As a Triumph owner, Andrew soon discovered the immense support available from the Auckland Triumph Club. Apart from outings — many impromptu — support ranges from advice and resources available on anything from wheel alignment to general care and maintenance and parts sources. And he’s made many friends. Member Steve Douglas, a mechanic who works from home, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Triumphs and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of parts, and he’s helpful to everyone. He is also an avid collector of the Triumph Vitesse, a sporty V6 derived from the Herald.

Andrew’s Herald quickly attracted attention when it arrived in Auckland and took out the club’s show ’n’ shine awards, trophies for which are proudly displayed in the old villa. “ those years of cleaning Jaguars over the holidays paid off,” he quipped.

If there’s a downside, it’s that the car is too approachable. “Whenever we park, someone approaches us with the news that somebody they know had one: there are traffic light conversations, hand waves … never had that before with any old cars.”

“If you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, don’t bet on doing it,” he says. “People approach you all the time in service stations. eir mother, sister, friend, the family had one back in the day, and so on. They wave at you in the traffic, almost run others o the road as they stare at the car — they want to chat when you’re stopped. I’ve been stopped by friendly cops when the speed’s been a little more than I realised. ey had aunties who owned one … and I got warnings.”

The odometer reads 45,672 miles (73,501km), though, on the original motor, it did a lot more according
to the papers. But it’s only needed three oil changes over the 5000 miles Andrew’s driven. Now he’s planning to ship the car overseas to take part in classic rallies.

The Surgery is restoring another for a club member, finishing it in the same Cactus Green colour. No doubt it’ll be another Triumph of restoration.