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Triumph Herald 12/50

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      18.12.2003 04:14
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      A British legend now popular in classic car circles

      When I was a teenager back in 1963, the first car my father ever bought was an old Ford Anglia in which I learned my basic driving skills. Three years later it was traded in, and a brand spanking new car arrived on the doorstep. A Triumph Herald 12/50, in lovely gleaming white, matching white colour-coded rubber bumpers, with a canvas slide-back sunroof, and to top it all, a RADIO.

      This was nirvana for a 15-year-old boy heavily into the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and all the popular music of the time, and a vast improvement on the old Dansette transistor radio that had sat on the dashboard of the old Anglia, which had truly dreadful reception.

      In those days cars still had to be "run in", and great care was taken for the first thousand miles, with no heavy strain being put on the engine, and the top speed limited (by father's decree) to an absolute maximum of 45mph. I loved the Herald with a passion, and I washed and polished it so often I'm surprised I didn't rub away the paintwork.

      There was a mile of private road at the golf club we lived at in Dunbar in Scotland, and this meant that I could drive the car with impunity from prosecution from the police, something I took advantage of at every possible opportunity. My father also used to take me for runs out into the country lanes, so I was already an experienced driver by the time I passed my driving test in 1968. (In the Herald)

      The Triumph Herald first took to the roads in 1959, and was to have a very successful twelve-year production run until the final car rolled out of the factory in 1981. It was a stylish car for its day, having been conceived by an Italian designer called Michelotti. It's attractive exterior disguised somewhat the rather dated technology used by Triumph in its manufacture. By this period most other car manufacturers had adopted a solid shell construction method, but the Herald still had a separate chassis to which the body panels were subsequently bolted and welded. This bolt-on arrangement had its advantages though, as you were able to lift the whole front section of the car, wings, bonnet, and front grille, by simply unclipping two hinges on the wings. This gave you total access to the engine for maintenance purposes, and made working on the engine very easy.
      The Herald was also the inspiration behind Triumph's successful sports car, the Spitfire, which I wrote a review about recently.
      The Spitfire was even built using the Herald chassis, and fitted with Herald engines!

      The original four-cylinder, single carburettor, 948cc engine was a leftover from the old Standard 10, and served the Herald well from 1959 to 1961, when Triumph introduced the more powerful Herald 1200, twin-carburettor model. The model that we owned, the Herald 12/50, was released in 1964, and in its turn was replaced by the Herald 13/60 in 1967. The model numbers (12/50 and 13/60) related to the engine size and the maximum brake horsepower of the engine. Hence the Herald 12/50 had a 1200cc engine, and could achieve 50bhp, while the faster 13/60 models had a 1300cc engine, and could manage 60bhp.

      It was never a fast car, even in its later "sporty" 13/60 guise.
      The original 948cc engine could only manage a top speed of 73mph, and took a staggering 30 seconds to wind up to 60mph. The larger 1200cc models could achieve a top speed of 80 mph, and took 23 seconds to reach the 60mph mark. The Herald 12/50 was a wee bit faster, with a top speed of 81mph, and a 0 to 60mph time of 20 seconds. And the 13/60 was the fastest Herald of all, with a top speed of 85mph, and taking only 17 seconds to reach sixty. Fuel consumption was fairly consistent throughout the whole model range, at between 28 to 31mpg.

      In later years, a convertible version was introduced, which enhanced its sporty image considerably, and Triumph even brought out a van version called the "Courier" for a two-year period in the early 1960's.

      The Herald was a lovely car to drive, despite handling like a complete dog! It was the first British made car to have independent spring suspension on the rear, and telescopic dampers on all four wheels. This meant that it rode very smoothly on the road, which wasn't that common on cars of the period. The drawback to the "soft" suspension was its alarming tendency to lurch and lean into corners if you took them at any sort of speed. It also meant it was remarkably easy to put the car into a rear wheel skid, until you got used to its limitations. I can still recall nearly giving my late mother heart failure (she was a nervous, back-seat driver) when I lost the rear end in the wet one day while out for a spin in the country, and turned the car through a complete 360-degree circle! She wouldn't let me go over 30mph for the rest of the journey. (Heh, heh)

      It had a four-speed gearbox, with very good torque (pulling power) in second and third gears. Second gear in particular was very nippy, and you could get nearly 50 mph at full revs! There was no synchromesh on first gear, which meant you could only engage it when at a standstill, but I quickly learned how to "double declutch", which meant I could engage first while still moving.

      The turning circle was truly remarkable, (25 feet) which made parking and getting out of tight spaces very easy. But you had to be careful, as when you had the steering at full lock, the front wheels were quite literally at almost a 90- degree angle to the rest of the car, which meant it was very easy to damage either the tyres or the suspension if you applied too much throttle.

      The steering was light and easy to handle, (rack and pinion) which was important in the days before power steering became standard on all cars.The brakes were excellent, and could stop you very quickly, with disc brakes on the front wheels (unusual at this time) and drum brakes on the rear. You had to take care when braking in the wet, as the front wheels had a bad habit of locking if you pressed the pedal too fiercely, and you would end up in a skid! (No anti-lock braking systems in these days!)

      The Herald had no little luxuries in the interior that we have come to take for granted these days. Basic plastic seats, (although they were comfortable enough) winders for the windows, and a manual choke (remember those?) that you had to handle with care on a cold winter's morning if you didn't want to flood the engine.

      The heater was efficient enough, and I added one of those "stick-on" rear heated windscreens. You had to dip your headlights by pressing on a knob on the floor, just to the side of the clutch. The rear view mirrors were the metal variety that protruded out from the front wings.

      Room was ample enough in the front, but fairly cramped in the rear. With three adults in the back, you didn't have enough room to squeeze in a sardine, and the car used to nearly sit all the way down on its springs, with the bodywork occasionally hitting of the tyres if you went over a bump too quickly. Only two doors, so if a rear seat passenger wanted out, then the front seat passenger or driver had to move first.

      Boot space was ample, with enough room for about one large and one small suitcase. But I never had any problems fitting in my golf clubs and caddy car!

      Early models had a plethora of hard plastic around the dashboard, but by the time the 12/50 was introduced Triumph had added an attractive wood veneer (plastic wood) dashboard and gear knob.

      My father bought this car new in 1966, and kept it until 1969, when he sold it on to me. I kept it for a couple of years, until I moved into the sales world, and was given company cars to play with. If memory serves, the new price was about £700, and I paid my dad £380 for it three years later, eventually selling it on myself for £250.

      The Herald will always hold happy memories for me as it was the second car I actually personally owned. (The first was an old Wolesley 15/60) And it was the car in which I learned many of the driving skills that have stood me in good stead throughout the rest of my life.

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      Copyright KenJ December 2003

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      This review is part of the Cars & Motorbikes of Memory challenge where members are asked to write about cars/motor bikes which bring back memories.

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      FOOTNOTE.
      Heralds can still be purchased, and are a popular choice with classic car enthusiasts these days. If you were interested in buying one, a trawl through the many Triumph enthusiast websites on the web would probably yield results.

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