Joe Henning loves English sports cars and American V-8 power.
"I'm a British car nut. They just appealed to me. My older brother had an MG in high school," he said.
His particular passion runs more toward the car that aficionados refer to as "the Wedge," the angular-styled Triumph TR7. So far, he's restored three of them, including his latest, a British racing green metallic version that was treated to an American-based V-8 engine conversion.
Triumph actually built a V-8 version of the car, called the TR8. "But the TR8 was a limited production model and they are real expensive," Henning said. "There are a lot more TR7s around and sometimes you can buy one for a couple of hundred dollars."
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But then there's the issue of power. "This car had the 4-cylinder engine in it, and it was pretty wimpy. It actually was a Saab engine," Henning said. "When they first designed the TR7, it was meant to have a V-8 in it, but they decided it was too expensive to sell and it wouldn't make very good gas mileage, so they went with the Saab," he said.
He bought his 1970 TR7 in 2002 from a mechanic in Augusta. The nose of the car had been damaged and he was able to pick up a correct Rover V-8 engine at the same time. That engine was developed by GM engineers who installed the lightweight aluminum 215-cubic-inch engine in Buick Specials, Pontiac Tempests and Olds Cutlass F85s.
In 1967, with big engines and cheap gas in vogue stateside, GM sold the rights to the aluminum V-8 to the British Rover Motor Co., which continued its development and installed it in everything from Range Rovers to TR8s.
Besides producing decent power, the aluminum V-8 offers several hundred pounds in weight savings over a traditional cast-iron block, which is perfect for a lightweight car like the TR7. In the process of rebuilding the car, Henning found he could mix and match Buick and Rover parts to produce an even better setup.
His engine is based on a bored out Buick block and intake manifold, but uses a Rover crank, heads, pistons and rods, plus "the biggest cam they make," Henning said. "It all transferred over just fine."
The original TR7 5-speed transmission was built in anticipation of V-8 power and, so, bolted right up to the new engine.
Henning added a British-made aftermarket ground effects kit and rear wing to his TR7 and had Roger Bybee spray the car in authentic British racing green after the bodywork was completed.
He swapped out the original 13-inch stock wheels in favor of sportier 14-inch Panasport Minilites mounting Yokahoma 195/60/14 directional tires. The suspension was also upgraded for better handling.
The estimated 200 horsepower is now delivered to the original Rover 3:90 rear end via a lengthened TR6 driveshaft.
Henning installed a set of tubular stiffeners between the front shock towers and built his own hydraulic strut system to balance the forward-opening hood.
Inside, he used upholstery kits to redo the bucket seats and door panels in a combination of vintage tan vinyl and plaid cloth. A correct English-built twin-bar roll bar was installed and wrapped in black padding and fits snugly under the soft top when it is in use.
"The TR7 convertible is one of the best bargains in the classic car convertible market," Henning says. "A fully restored two-seater convertible with reliable American V-8 power (can be built) for somewhere in the region of $10,000-$15,000."
And the resulting car handles with British sports car agility and performs with American V-8 horsepower, providing him with the best of both worlds.