An American Restoration Tale

I met and became friends with Rob Duncan way back in the 70’s when Rob and family lived here in Adelaide for a number of years. They returned to Oregon USA where Rob enjoyed success with his home and business security installation and monitoring business. Rob’s interests in automobiles goes way back to his youth – I have heard mention of a big Healey in his college days, and a short wheelbase V8 engined Jeep that was nicknamed “The Frog” because of the way it simply leaped away when the clutch was dropped. More recently, Rob has enjoyed Mercedes 560SL and a couple of Porsche’s, the current one being a hotted up version of a late 90’s twin turbo 911 Carrera.

Rob has retired from his business interests, and has always had an automobile restoration project in the back of his mind for when the time was right. Imagine my surprise when the project taken on was a Triumph Stag. Of all the cars he could have chosen, he chose a Stag – imagine that! Well, the project is now complete, and here is his story.


1971 Triumph Stag, VIN: LE2733LBW- A brief history.

Anne and I were visiting friends in Albuquerque, New Mexico a few years back. We drove over to their friend’s house for tea one day. Jack, the new friend, has a few acres, with a barn, and he is retired. Jack’s wife is a mobile home broker, so Jack takes advantage of this auction privilege to peruse collector automobile auctions, as well.

Jack’s collecting has been going on for several decades. It is, naturally, his dream to refurbish each of his treasures. In the barn they sit; except for the Stag. Jack enjoyed being the second owner and driving the Stag when he first bought it. He put a few thousand miles on it and then parked it, where it sat, for over twenty years.

New Mexico enjoys a very dry climate. As a consequence, what you park is what you get, years later, except for an incredible layer of added dust. I told Jack that if he ever decided to sell the Triumph, to let me know first. I would make him a good offer.

Late spring of `06 we drove to Albuquerque to once again visit our friends. While there, I insisted we have a visit to see Jack. I discovered that Jack had sold the 50’s Porsche, which he had claimed he was never going to do. Darn it! But, he still had the Stag. An offer was made, and a deal was struck. On the long drive north to Oregon I mused over how I was going to get the car home.

My neighbor, Jim, hadn’t been out of his digs for some time and agreed to ride shotgun with me in Big Red, my `94 GMC pickup, when I returned to New Mexico in July. Once there, I would rent a U-Haul trailer for the haul back. The trip down went well. Every few hundred miles we would find a hotel, buy a few tinny’s, and enjoy an evening out of the brutal S.W. heat.

Somewhere near Death Valley, California the truck’s AC went out. This meant that the rest of the drive would be with the windows down. We entered the Mojave Desert land’s 110F, tumble weeded highways. This part of the trip was not good. The trip to New Mexico took two and half days. We rested a few days before loading the Stag for the return trip.


With the windows down, off we went. We stopped when needed for fuel or food, but we just kept on. 24-hours later we drove into Medford. We had covered the 1618km trip without a break. During the night, however, we did roll the windows up a bit.

In `06 Anne and I lived in a condo. There was no place to park the Triumph. My son, Matt, had a cemented pad next to his garage and offered that as a place to park my new treasure. A new 10’x20’ vehicle storage tent served as my garage for the tear-down stages of the project during the winter of `06.

By spring of `07 I had stripped the car naked and had replaced all of the factory rubber, brakes, and fitted the car with GAZ adjustable shocks. The engine had been taken to a machine shop to do the necessary over-bore to clean up the cylinders. While there, I supplied the new Rimmer Bros’ parts to rebuild the bottom and top ends.

The car was ready to leave tent-land and go to the body shop for its much needed facial. I have known Doug, the body man, for many years through our joint interest in flying and through the work he has done for me on touching up my Porsches. Doug advises that the new paints won’t sit well on top the older ones and that the Stag will have to be taken down to the metal. Over the summer he would fit it in.

The year `07 found us moving from the 3-storey condo to a place in Flat-Land. The new home had a carport, but no garage. By late fall of the year, Doug had finished his work and the shiny new car was parked under the temporary shelter of the carport. It was too cold to work outdoors this season. So the Stag sat. It was during this winter period that I would lay awake at night trying to picture how all of the bits and pieces would fit back together.  Day by day the air began to warm. It was time to test my recall, and to drag out the photos when memory failed.

Construction of a new 3-car garage started in the spring of `08. During that time, I worked in the carport and reinstalled the engine, transmission, and the refinished dash assembly. Rimmer Bros to the rescue again – the seats were refitted with new vinyl covers and under-felt and carpeting was installed.

No new garage, for an auto hobbyist, is complete without an asymmetrical lift installed in the sunniest bay. The Stag had snug new digs for the remaining undercarriage work. Does the phrase, God-sent, have a new meaning?  By late August the car came to life. Albeit, not without some discoveries.

The factory AC compressor didn’t want to remount on the port side of the engine. Had I done something wrong? An email to Rimmer Bros cleared the air. Apparently it didn’t get into the sale’s script that the tubular sports manifold wouldn’t accommodate the factory air. So, out it came. This also meant I could remove the AC radiator and fan assembly. That cleaned up the front end a bit.

No one reads the Triumph web sites without coming away with nightmare stories about the Lucas electrical system. So, early on in my Rimmer Bros shopping, I invested in a Lumenition ignition kit. Gone were the rotor and the twin point contacts. Life with Lucas would be better.

The new plugs were gapped and the static timing was set. I had mounted a new set of SU carbs, in lieu of attempting a first time go at rebuilding the old ones. I hadn’t yet tweaked the trip pots. After a few hesitant, reflective moments, I turned the key. Crank, crank- nothing was happening. Matt suspected the distributor was 180 degrees off. He quickly provided a remedy fix for the problem. The engine then turned about four times and fired to life. Wow! Something had to be wrong with this picture. Two years later; this was too good to be true.

Meanwhile, on the starboard side of the engine, the new exhaust blocked removal of the oil pump and the oil transfer housing. During the normal life of a new engine, this wouldn’t be a problem. However, some aspect of the oil transfer housing’s o-ring hadn’t seated well and the engine had a small drip. The loss was not great, but what did come out dripped on the new stainless exhaust pipe and put up quite a stink, and a small cloud.

Now, a rebuild purist would have simply said, “The engine must be immediately removed”, but Rob said, “Let’s see how everything else goes, first.” A small flash of tin fitted between the oil filter and the exhaust pipe served to deflect the occasional drop of oil to the pavement, which is more properly where it should end up after its outing.


Roger Lange had told me there was nothing sweeter sounding than the rumbling, deep tonal quality of the Stag exhaust. On the couple of occasions when I have had someone else revving the engine, I have stood behind and admired his apt description. At all other times, I have found myself motoring with the window rolled down while hoping I would drive past a sound reflecting cement wall.
Yes, there’s a hard top, too. I just don’t care for the looks of it, compared to the ragtop. This winter I will install its new headliner and find an out-of-the-way resting place for it in the upper atmosphere of one of the garage bays. Now, what am I going to do next?

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