I was watching a TV program last fall with a handful of fellow Triumph owners. The episode covered some huge British car show in the Midwest. One half-hour of English automobiles—surely there would have to be an image of a sparkling TR3 or row of TR6s. But there wasn’t, not even in the corner of the screen as they panned across the field. There were Triumphs at the show, you can be sure, but our cameraman never pointed at a single one.
Why don’t Triumphs get more respect? This question filtered through the room as we fans of the marque tried in vain to spot one of our own among the Jags and Healeys and MGs.
Here’s my radical suggestion: it’s the name “Triumph.” This may be counterintuitive, given that the name conveys victory, achievement, goals set and surpassed. But there are other qualities in a name besides its mere meaning.
Think of Austin Healey…it could be the name of a Member of Parliament. It makes you think you’re getting a classy ride when you buy one. And somehow, the “Healey” part of it sounds just friendly and unpretentious enough for the general public not to be scared away. Had the company been called, say, “Austin-Kensington,” then they could only have made limousines for the rich, not sports cars.
When people hear “Austin-Healey,” what’s the next thing they know? That there’s a model called “3000.” Never has simple engine size been put to such good use in naming a car. (The actual displacement was 88ccs shy of 3000, but they wisely didn’t call the car the “Austin-Healey 2912.”) Something about “3000” suggests enormous power; it may even hint at the future, the distant year 3000. The Austin-Healey 100 is a better car than the 3000 in some ways, but it just doesn’t have as cool a name.
I won’t discuss “Sunbeam” here. They’ve got their own respect problem, from always being asked if their car company also makes blenders. And what of “Morris” and “Morgan?” These are names you might give your house cat.
Jaguar, on the other hand, has a jungle cat as its mascot, and also has the mystery of “X” in the names of its sports cars (because of the XK engine). This explains why Americans prefer to call the E-type by the name “XKE.” People like a car name with X in it. It sounds new and revolutionary. (Experimental is usually what it means.) We think of spy planes, espionage, adventure.
MG also has the edge over ‘Triumph in the sound of its name. Very clever to go with a pair of initials rather than “Morris Garages.” Say the initials three times in a row: “Em-gee, em-gee, em-gee.” You smile, don’t you? You nearly have to in order to get that “em”sound out of your mouth. Now try “‘Triumph.” Say it three times…something about that “uumf” sound just gets in the way. What kind of advertising campaign can come from such a sound? “Try power. Try excitement. Try uumf.” Not real catchy.
So what can we do? There’s no obvious reason for us Triumph owners to play second-fiddle to other English cars. But we can’t rename the company now. The only thing left is to act as if the car has the most attractive name imaginable.”Uumf,” after all, is the sound that comes in the middle of “some fun!”
—John Paul Middlesworth