Andrew Sobel has written about David Ogilvy, an advertising pioneer and the founder of Ogilvy and Mather. Ogilvy won the prestigious Rolls-Royce account. Instead of holing up in a conference room to brainstorm creative ideas for the ad campaign as many of his colleagues wanted to do he launched an in-depth study of the company and its cars. He spent weeks interviewing Rolls-Royce engineers and managers, and pored over every word that had ever been written about the company. In an obscure technical journal he read that the ticking of the dashboard clock is the loudest sound the driver can hear at 60 miles per hour. A hugely successful advertising campaign followed around that tag line.
I'm reminded of the campaign because the TR-7 represents the Rolls-Royce end of the Triumph sports car spectrum. Our TR-7's and TR-8's competed against the newly emergent Datsun 240/260 Z cars, the Fiat 124 Spider, the Alfa Romeo Spider and sports coupes like the Capri and Toyota Celica. Market preferences dictated that our wedges sound sporty without being noisy. In fact, contemporary press reports derided the TR-7 because it did not sound like a real sports car. Actually, decibel level reports published in Car and Driver showed the TR really took the prize only at the interior decibel level. By today's silent car standards, the TR-7 is positively noisy.
To my ears, my TR-7 is just right, quiet enough for comfort but noisy enough so you know you're driving a real car. My ears have adjusted to every sound so that when an odd noise pierces the aural norm, I react with concern. That's what happened to me this winter.
On a two lane, snow-cleared road, I heard a loud "pop" but felt nothing through the steering wheel. A quick glance at the rear and side mirror did not show anything untoward on the road. The brakes and steering worked fine and nothing was heard, no discouraging word, so I continued on to my destination, 15 miles away. Then the car sat for several hours.
It had turned bitter cold that night, well below 0 degrees F. As I left and drove up a hill I heard a horrible grinding sound. I hung a Y-turn on the narrow road and felt the steering wheel wobble back and forth. A front wheel felt as though it had gone totally out of round. I stopped the car and looked for a flat tire. All were perfectly round. I crawled underneath to look for a steering arm adrift - nope, everything felt fine. I then shook the left front tire - oops. It rattled fearsomely.
Suddenly a state trooper, seeing my lying underneath my car on a frigidly cold night in the middle of a two lane road, pulled up behind me with his bubble lights twirling. We agreed I was not drunk and he followed me as I slowly crept the car the tenth of a mile back to the starting point. I left the car overnight and he gave me a ride to a nearby bed and breakfast.
The next morning, I called for a tow truck and brought the car to the local garage in Somerville, Maine, a town of 500 comprised on only two paved roads. On one dirt road was a large barn with the sign, Stanley's Garage, hanging above the door. Beside the barn was a large cow, clearly being fed for future meals, a Renault Alliance, an early MGB and many old trucks.
Working outdoors in the cold, Dave Stanley, a genuine mechanic, and I took off the wheel and confirmed our shared suspicions. I had a busted wheel bearing. You can order wheel bearings from specialty suppliers like Moss Motors or The Roadster Factory, or you can do what Dave did - which was to measure the bearing and search through several drawers and boxes of Timken and similar brand bearings until you find an identical one. The hub looked suspect, scored and beaten up a bit by driving on the broken bearing.
The bearing lasted around 5,000 miles before a wobble set in again at the wheel. This time, we realized that I needed another hub; my work schedule confirmed that I needed one in a hurry. Quick reviews of supplier catalogues hinted that I'd be better off finding a hub and spindle combination. Prices for new ones were quite high but Woody Cooper of The Wedge Shop in Raynham, MA [the northeastern center of wedge knowledge in the US] had a good used one for sale. Woody also provided me with two new wheel bearings; why not replace the other side, too, before problems arose in the future.
It arrived in Maine the next day and we set to work. I removed the brake caliper and moved the flexible line aside. I also unbolted the strut from inner wheel well. Now the problem was how to unscrew the hub and spindle unit from the strut. A pipe wrench would not turn the bottom end of the unit. A light application of heat - we did not want to damage the shock - did nothing either.
Dave had the magic weapon tucked away in the rear of his barn. There sat a sort of vise with a pipe wrench unit attached to it. The machine, last used nearly 10 years before, did the trick. We screwed the new/old unit to the strut and bolted it back onto the car. Then came the brake system and lots of grease on the spindle. A replacement hub allowed us to put in a new outer race and now the entire bearing unit felt sound and well-greased. The wheel turned very smoothly on the lift and has performed flawlessly this winter.
TR-7 drivers really listen to their cars. That "pop" I heard should not have been written off so lightly by me; deep down, I knew it was not a sound I should have heard in a Triumph. Back in the '90's, my '78 Spitfire 1500 was hundreds of miles from home when I heard a hard "pop" from the rear end. As I was on an interstate highway and due for an appointment, I continued to drive for many miles until I reached my destination. On my way back home, the rear end suddenly made terrible noises as the car listed to one side. A rear double halfshaft had broken at the u-joint. Once apart, I found that the entire yoke had broken. It took a few days to find the parts and a day for a shop to reinstall it all. After this incident, I should have remembered the value of listening.
Copyright 2004, Jeffrey Aronson
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."