Boosted Bother - 1980 Janspeed Triumph TR8 Turbo Group 5

During the late 1970’s top level GT sportscar racing had evolved from relatively stock road legal coupe’s and roadsters to dedicated fiber glass bodied space frame specials. This category became known as FIA Group 5. With virtually no limits to aerodynamic aids and engine power, the series saw some of the fastest and most exotic designs imaginable. Big brand names like BMW, Lancia and especially Porsche dominated the field, but every once in a while a plucky newcomer would rise to the challenge.

One such newcomer was British Hungarian Jan Odor and his Janspeed racing organization. Odor’s eye had fallen on a disused left hand drive development version of the new Triumph TR7 sportscar. Janspeed had been running the car in tests during 1977 for British Leyland Motorsport, and Odor saw the chance to acquire the car for his personal racing activities.

Triumph's weird and ugly TR7 was to be turned into a brutish track stomper.

Initially Jan Odor had intended to adapt the TR7 for the Modsports series, a local championship featuring tube frame racing specials. A last minute rule change thwarted his plans however, and he was forced to look to another solution. Eventually he made the call to try and take on giants like the Lancia Beta Montecarlo, BMW 320i Turbo and the menacing Porsche 935 in international Group 5 racing.

Odor realized that to get even remotely close to the aforementioned machines, he would have to give the wimpy little 4-cylinder wedge a massive amount of power. To this end he turned to the venerable Rover 3.5L V8. Naturally the V8’s standard 190 horsepower was nowhere near enough to have a fighting chance in Group 5, so the merry men at Janspeed employed a tried and true Group 5 tradition in their quest for power: excessive turbocharging.

Janspeed's 3.6L twin turbo Rover V8.

The V8 was bored out slightly to 3619 cc and received not one, but two massive Roto-Master turbochargers. The big blow dryers were mounted in front of the engine to allow it to sit as far back in the chassis as possible to aid balance. Fed by twin SU carburetors, the unit pushed out in excess of 500 horsepower. The little hair dresser’s car had finally put its man pants on. An oversized belt driven oil pump ensured those pants stayed nice and cool, while a Muncie T-10 4-speed manual gearbox put the power down.

As all the effort had been concentrated on the engine, development had progressed at a rather slow pace. Help arrived when Anglo-Dutch-American Engineering (ADA), experienced in the field of Le Mans prototypes, offered to fund, run and develop the fledgling project. An agreement was reached, and the car was loaned to ADA while Janspeed completed work on the engine.

ADA took care of the car’s aerodynamics package by correcting the TR7/8’s awkward angular roof line with flying buttresses, widening the track and fitting grilles, spoilers and splitters where necessary. Suspension wise the car would remain largely stock in layout, while receiving upgraded dampers from Bilstein. Stopping power was provided by 12 inch (304 mm) disc brakes sourced from Formula 1 on all four corners.

In a classic British racing green livery, the car was ambitiously entered in the 1980 24 Hours of Le Mans. An all British squad consisting of John Sheldon, Ian Harrower and John Brindley would attempt to wrestle the car into a qualifying position. Unfortunately their efforts were in vain.

Le Mans, 1980.

Despite its new found power, the tiny British coupe was completely outgunned by the seasoned opposition. A lack of funding and absolutely no track testing at all proved detrimental to the new machine’s success, despite three full years of development time. Despite a clocked top speed of 201 mph (323 kph) on Mulsanne Straight, a lap time of 4:37.100 was all it could muster.

The nearest Group 5 competitor was the Jolly Club Lancia Beta Montecarlo, which was a devastating 32 seconds faster. The disaster meant ADA and Janspeed lost sponsorship from important parties like British Leyland, which put a major dent in their finances.

Le Mans, 1980.

The massive debacle of 1980 did little to deter ADA from entering the TR8 again for the 1981 edition of the famous endurance race. Learning from their colossal mistake, they somehow convinced 1975 Le Mans winner Derek Bell to put the car through a harsh testing program.

[The Triumph was] not anything like good enough.

Derek Bell

Unsurprisingly, Bell was not at all impressed with ADA’s little monster. He commented that the car as he drove it was “not anything like good enough“. Inexplicably ignoring the opinion of their expert consultant, ADA entered the car without any significant changes in the 1981 Silverstone 6 Hours.

Silverstone, 1981.

Ian Harrower and John Brindley were selected to pilot the TR8 once more. The men only managed a best time of 1:44.770, putting them right at the back of the grid. They were almost two seconds slower than the second to last car, an antiquated Morgan Plus 8 using a naturally aspirated version of the Rover V8.

The team thankfully missed the chance to embarrass themselves further on track when an accident in testing put an end to the misery. The crash had smashed the front of the car to bits, and with Le Mans just a month away there was no time for adequate repairs. As a result ADA withdrew the car from the 1981 race and focused on a new effort for 1982.

This cheery poster would be all to come of ADA's 1982 Le Mans bid.

The TR8’s obvious lack of competitiveness was starting to dawn on ADA and Janspeed. All through the program they had been struggling with funding, and the sudden drop in sponsorship earnings was starting to get to them. Even though ADA had started an advertising campaign to promote its desperate attempt to run at Le Mans, the project was scrapped due to lack of funds before the race.

The Janspeed Triumph TR8 Turbo was an overly ambitious project in the traditional British sense, as it turned out to be completely rubbish. It was the product of two small cash-strapped organizations working together to take on multi million dollar automotive powerhouses.

A lack of testing, development, speed and overall competitiveness gives it the dubious honor of being the fastest, the least successful and the last Triumph to ever grace Le Mans.