The Triumph Stag – plagued by a reputation for unreliability when new, a lazy stereotype that endures with many pub bores to this day. To prove once and for all what a magnificent vehicle the Stag was - and still very much is, myself and Deputy editor James Walshe decided to head to Paris and it’s infamous Peripherique, regularly a place of ruinous traffic jams whose length in miles exceeds double figures. Survive that and we’d be onto the internal roads and faced with crazed locals intent on occupying the exact piece of highway that you’re on at any one time. In January, when the temperatures have plummeted. But we have total confidence in our choice of transportation. We secured an entry to the Traversée de Paris – an annual event where classics cars join forces in a huge convoy and basically run amok in the city centre – booked ferry crossings and hotel rooms, then declared the plan complete. But we still needed a car.
Happily, a call to my old friends Phil and Rachael Gunn secured the use of their Stag – a 1975 model in suitably Seventies Java Green. The people of Paris would surely love it. I’d driven automatic Stags before, but this would be my first shot in a manual and I was looking forward to putting it through its paces and showing the French how we Brits did GT cars back in the day.
We departed Peterborough on a brisk but bright Friday morning, bound first for Dover and the comfort of our DFDS ferry. The Stag took the motorway jaunt in its stride and we arrived in plenty of time, boosting our confidence in the car. I’ve done plenty of trips in borrowed metal and it’s always good to get that first foray out of the way without a hitch.
Once on French soil we leave Calais and settle into a steady rhythm on the autoroute, with the occasional stretch of toll road mixed in. The car feels tight and together, with none of the clonks and rattles that plague lesser machines. It’s a testament to Phil and family, who incidentally also own three other Triumphs in the form of a 2000 MkII estate, 2500TC MkII and a TR7. Already I have a sneaking suspicion thia Stag isn’t going to give us any trouble at all… a conviction that I keep from James in the interests of not tempting fate. The long run to Paris passes without incident, a stop for fuel being the only requirement. Upon reaching the hotel and stashing the Stag in the underground car park, I grab a quick snap on my phone and send it to Phil to let him know we’ve arrived.
OUT AND ABOUT
Come the morning we fire up the Stag and leave it running for a couple of minutes to warm up. It’s only when we pull away that I realise we’ve left an almighty black soot stain from the twin tail pipes on the otherwise pristine whitewashed walls… oops. Edging out into the traffic, the V8 soundtrack burbles away and reverberates off the walls – it sounds fabulous, too. Out on the road, we’re immediately dicing with the locals, anxious as ever to get on with their business and hang the consequences: standard Paris operating procedure. I quickly realise that even the briefest indecision on our part would be to invite disaster – positivity becomes the order of the day. I find the combination of a thrusting V8 and a chunky manual gearchange ideal for zipping in and out of gaps as they appear… with my pick of six ratios thanks to the Laycock de Normanville overdrive its simplicity itself to keep the V8 on song. Plus, with the roof down the all-round visibility is superb, too. Before long my worries about the traffic have melted away in the winter sunshine and I’m really enjoying myself. In fact, both of us are chuckling at how a GT car designed for long-distance motorway jaunts is proving to be such an ideal inner-city runabout.
After a day spent playing the tourist card, we take the Metro back into town later that evening and enjoy a couple of beers… the pub seems as good a place as any to discuss the Stag’s merits. I’ve fallen for it more than I expected, partly because the suspension isn’t anywhere near as soft or wallowy as I thought it would be. The power-assisted steering also offers more feel than anticipated, although a manual rack would still be my preference. For his part James is also appreciating the car much more than I thought he would, although he is still content for me to do all the driving, which suits me just fine.
Sunday morning sees us up and about before sunrise – the Traversée is an event for early risers. Entrants congregate in and around the grounds of the Chateau Vincennes, with cars, vans and buses spilling out of the grounds and hogging the surrounding roads. We park up where we can and get involved in the action. Confirmed Citroeniste James was beside himself with joy, as everything from DSs, Traction Avants, H-Vans and of course his beloved 2CVs buzzed by. I particularly enjoyed the numerous Sixties and Seventies Porsche 911s taking part, but our Stag was also getting its fair share of attention. As we’d found on our recce the day before, Paris loves Canley’s cruiser alright.
8am is the official kick-off time, at which point we take our place in a snaking queue of old motors that stretches onwards seemingly without end. In true French fashion there are plenty of stops along the way for participants to indulge in a coffee or a Gauloises… or both in most cases.
By late morning we’ve taken in the sights of all the major landmarks – including the Eiffel Tower, James’ camera is full of delights and we are buzzing. Once the manic activity of the Traversée draws to a close, we are happy to peel off from the pack and join the Peripherique to begin our homeward journey. Luckily the Sunday traffic is light and soon we are leaving the sprawling expanse of the city behind us.
Blasting up the motorway, the hood is down, the (excellent) heater is blaring and we’re both wrapped up from head to toe… but we’re still freezing our fingers and toes off. Recalling the fate that befell ex-PC staffer Mark Dixon many moons ago on a winter road trip to Paris, where he stubbornly kept the roof down on his Sunbeam Alpine throughout – a rampant dose of flu – we wimp out and stop to put the hood up. The return journey to Calais is accomplished with ease and the ferry crossing is uneventful. In no time at all, we’re back in Cambridgeshire – I drop James off at his place and head home to my flat. When I’ve parked up in the driveway, I sit for a minute or two, savouring the V8 grumble for a little while longer. Well, you just have to in a Stag, don’t you?