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Turning 50 this year, have you ever fancied these Triumphs but undecided which is right for you? Robert Couldwell gives his views
PROS: Rarity, rising values
CONS: Agricultural feel
This was another car born to exploit the burgeoning US post-war sports car market. The initial attempt, the 20TS later named the TR1, did not meet with universal acclaim at the 1952 Earls Court show and was completely overshadowed by the new Healey 100 shown at the same time.
The 20 TS with its strange beetle back shape, poor performance and appalling handling was fortunately turned into the TR2 by the legendary BRM engineer Ken Richardson and was shown at Geneva in 1953. A dynasty was born.
The TR2 with its tuned and trusty Vanguard 2.0 litre four performed as a sports car should and thanks to front coil springs and wishbones plus good old fashioned but effective rear leaf springs handled pretty well for its day. Even the steering probably didn’t seem too bad then.
The TR2 competed directly with the slightly more expensive Healey and sold in similar numbers and there was also the Morgan Plus 4 which shared the same Vanguard engine but sold in very small numbers. The TR was a true hairychested sports car like the Healey compared with the rather genteel ‘after you old boy’ MG TD and TF, but the TR was ever so slightly agricultural, not surprising considering its engine was originally designed for the Ferguson tractor (although it’s not the direct relation many would have you believe-ed).
Today the TR is for the more committed classic drivers with fairly basic weather equipment and fl appy side screens. It feels vintage and is more for crossing the moors on a bright Saturday morning than for any sort of serious commuting. The cam and lever steering is a bit woolly compared with contemporary rack and pinion systems and the car constantly moves around on the road demanding concentration and constant correction. Once you relax and let the wheel move about in your hands it does get easier. For a car of its age, performance won’t disappoint and the TR2 is more than capable of cruising at 70 or 80, particularly if overdrive is fi tted, which operates on top. TR2s are rare now and are priced accordingly with several currently advertised at £35,000 plus and they are likely to appreciate further but are defi nitely one for the purist.
PROS: Great improvement over TR2, styling
CONS: Hardly any faster than earlier TRs
By the time the TR3 arrived in 1955 fi erce competition in the sleek form of the MGA had been launched which was a much more modern design although rather softer in its dynamics. Despite a price almost identical to the MGA, the TR3 offered an extra 20bhp and more important an extra 30lbs of pulling torque. While their suspensions were almost identical and both had front discs the MGA was an easier car to drive thanks to rack and pinion steering. That said the TR3 was actually the fi rst car in the world to have disc brakes. On a straight road the TR would have the edge but on the twisty stuff the MGA would come into its own. The Morgan, thanks to its 1920s suspension and appalling ride wouldn’t keep up with either but TR and Healey would be neck and neck.
The TR3 was a mild step forward over the TR2 with its fl ush grille, extra 5bhp from bigger carbs, a quieter exhaust for more relaxed cruising and of course the disc brakes. Another benefi t was that overdrive operated on 2nd 3rd and 4th creating a seven speed transmission with third and overdrive third are particularly useful when wanting to overtake in a hurry. Just hold it in a nice relaxed third overdrive then, when the road is clear fl ick the switch to third and breeze past.
Apart from that, driving a TR3 isn’t a great deal different to a TR2 although press-on drivers will appreciate the extra grunt and stopping power this car enjoyed. In terms of buying an example today the TR3, despite its disc brakes, extra power and upgraded overdrive is a relative bargain compared with the TR2 and a really nice one can be bought for around £20,000 but you might need to do it quickly as all TR prices, and earlier versions in particular, are on the move.
PROS: Improvement over TR3, cleaner styling
CONS: Still that rather agricultural feel
Triumph never used the suffi x A but that’s what the punters called the facelift in 1957 which was probably designed to try to maintain sales against Healey’s six-cylinder 100/6 launched the previous year. It must have worked as the TR3A was the fastest selling classic TR of all with a production run of 58,000 over four years. Refi nements such as tided up styling and external door handles must been a contributory factor.
When the TR4 was launched in 1961 the American dealers were unsure how customers would react so Triumph dropped the TR4’s larger engine and all-synchro box into the last of the TR3As which sold alongside the TR4 and probably all were left hand drive. The TR3A with the larger engine became known as the TR3B.
During the TR3’s life, Sunbeam joined the two-seater fray with the Alpine. It was probably more a rival to the MGA and B than the lustier TRs. At this time there were sports cars from the likes of Alfa with the Giulietta and Fiat with the 1500 and 1800S but these were too expensive at the time and it is only now that they are competitors if you can fi nd one and afford it, if you do. Still suffering from that rather agricultural feeI of the TR2 the TR3B with its extra power and torque plus the stronger all-synchromesh gearbox would have been the ideal TR. The only real disadvantage with early cars is the old fashioned steering but rack and pinion conversions are now available and if you have spent twenty odd grand on the car, is worth doing, unless you crave originality.
PROS: Styling, Surrey top, all round improvements, attractive value
CONS: Pace as TR2 harsh ride
In 1961 Triumph beat MG to produce a new car suitable for the swinging sixties. The TR4 was a foot longer than its predecessor and had a wider track which improved handling and road holding olus rack and pinion steering too. Increased interior comfort included proper wind up windows and fresh air vents – the latter a first for a British car – along with an easier to use all-synchromesh and servo assisted brakes.
Understandably some of the hardcore drivers felt that the TR – a miniature Healey – had gone soft, although it was still brawnier than the rival MGB. Power was up slightly at 105bhp and torque was a very respectable 132lbs/ft yet it was no quicker than the old TR2 until at the top end where superior aerodynamics took over.
Overall the TR4 is a nicer car to drive than earlier TR and easier to live with care of wind up windows and an optional targa top which not only made the car more weather proof but also stiffened it and reduced the considerable scuttle shake. Cheaper than the TR2/3/3A/B for a much better drive, a very nice TR4 can be bought for £18-20,000 and will not be expensive to run. In many ways the TR4 is the best of the lot, sharing the same macho looks of the six pot 5/6 but without the fuel injection hassles. Also the lighter fourcylinder engine, which can easily be tuned to match the six, resulted in less nose heavy handling and so more agility.
PROS: A somewhat smoother riding car
CONS: IRS weight hurts performance and handling
It didn’t take long for the TR4 to be revamped and the jury’s still out whether the one mechanical change was an improvement; the fitting of independent rear suspension. The system was fi rst used on the Triumph 2000 saloon and it made sense to spread production costs as well as improve the TR’s bone shaking ride.
Unfortunately the IRS added another 100lbs of weight which did nothing for the performance but the roadholding was better and the ride was defi nitely improved. That said it depended what sort of driver you were. As one specialist remarked to us, the TR4 is better for throwing around, the 4A nicer on a touring holiday. The TR4A was still selling in good numbers during the 1960s but nothing like the sales of the MGB which seemed to appeal to a wider audience.
If anything, the TR4A will cost a little more than an earlier 4 but in the end your purchasing decision may well come down to the condition and provenance rather than what rear suspension it wears.
PROS: Performance, rarity, values
CONS: Any advancement over the TR4?
After the saloon’s IRS came its silky six pot engine. Triumph fi nally realised that increasing weight with the same power didn’t work and they had the basis of a perfect solution sitting in the parts bin; a six cylinder engine fi rst used in the Standard Vanguard Six in 1961 and then in the innovative Triumph 2000, launched in 1963.
For the TR5 launched in 1967 the trusty 2-litre six was stroked out to 2498cc with Lucas fuel injection in UK spec cars giving a lusty 150bhp. Alas emissions meant that for the USA, Stromberg carbs had to be fi tted downgrading the ‘TR250’ as it became known to a weedy 104bhp – barely any better than a 2000 saloon!
Performance of UK spec cars was transformed however with nearly 120mph on the cards and 0-60 in around nine seconds fi nally putting the archrival MGB and its six-cylinder sibling, the ‘C’ in its place. Motor magazine certainly rated the TR5 describing the new engine as ‘magnifi cent’ but that was before fuel injection woes started to surface!
Happily those well known running problems will either have been solved in TR5s available today or carburettors will have been fi tted. The TR5 is one of the rarest TRs which is refl ected in prices for good cars of £25 – 35,000
With the full 150bhp and fully working fuel injection the TR5 is quite a beast if all the performance is used to tax that aging chassis. The TR feels a handful if you’re used to a modern – and it’s a car that you need to grab by the scruff of the neck to show it who’s boss – and with a skittish tail and a damp road it could well be the car! For those put off by this truly hairychested sports car, there are loads of upgrades available from a range of specialists which can transform the way the car drives but not dilute its Big Healey-like character.
PROS: Styling popularity, numbers about
CONS: Early Heritage reshell restos
As TR4/5 designer Michelotti was heavily committed elsewhere, Triumph turned to German Karmann for the styling of this facelift and the TR6, launched in 1969 is arguably the best looking of all TRs after just a simple top and tail job. The high tune 150bhp TR5 engine was used initially but then down graded to 124bhp in 1972 to improve its fl exibility.
A word in your ear squire… Don’t get too hung up on this ‘150bhp’ say TR specialists as the quoted horsepower fi gures were suspect at best. Indeed if you believe Triumph, the TR6 was detuned to 125bhp but the comany left the same engine fi tted the to the 2.5Pi saloon and estate unchanged at a mid-way 132bhp. So what fi gure is the genuine one?
The TR6 couldn’t fail to be a success as the Healey 3000 had gone to its grave and the MGC had been killed by the press anyway leaving the TR6 with the, admittedly dying, hairy chested sports car market virtually to itself unless you include specialists such as TVR, which used the TR6 engine for its 2500M
Surprisingly, in view of its lorry-like handling, a mint MGC Roadster will fetch a lot more than a typical TR6 and while it will be a better cruiser than the TR it will struggle to keep up on the twisty bits. A well sorted TR6 remains a very rewarding car and thanks to excellent clubs and lots of specialists, an easy car to own. Surprisingly, considering the TR6 with the fuel injected engine is the fastest and best handling of all classic TRs it is probably the bargain worth much less than all but the TR7. A mint early 150bhp car can be had for around £12-15,000 but that won’t stay this way for long. The only detriment is that due to their popularity and affordability there’s a lot of tatty ones around and early BMH ‘Heritage’ re-shell restorations aren’t liked by specialists.
PROS: Affordability, ease of running, great cockpit
CONS: Too meek for many – and those looks!
This really is the bargain of the dynasty with a good coupé available for £2000 and a Convertible for just £3000, surely a great investment for the future?
The TR7 was first launched as a coupé in 1975 after the demise of the TR6. It was a victim of the chaotic and failing British Leyland and during its life was built in Speke, Coventry and Solihull. Quality improved with each move and the last dropheads made at the Solihull factory are probably the best of the bunch.
The wedge shape was very seventies and was designed to appeal to women as well as men – as well as the US who at one stage ‘outlawed’ rag tops. However by the time Nixon changed his mind, it was too late to change the TR7…
Looks aside, the Seven was finally a TR with really decent handling and a fi ne ride. Despite the detuned Dolomite Sprint engine offering just eight valves and 105bhp it remains quite satisfying to drive. The obvious move was the fitting of the full-fat Sprint engine which did happen and a few were made although it was never launched.
However there was the TR7-V8, the official TR8 (the car enthusiasts pleaded with Leyland to make) and even automatics if you wished. The TR7 is more comfortable than any previous TR with a nicely finished cockpit and the drop head launched in 1980 is really very desirable and surely a ‘sleeper’. All TR7s make a tremendous starter classic being cheap to buy and cheap to run plus, as a result of it being the best selling TR by far, there’s still plenty around. If truth be told they are a darn sight better than what you’ve been lead to believe according to road test expert Stuart Bladon – see his own story below.
Stuart Bladon still loves his Triumph TR7 – here’s why
It was my car insurance company that first set me thinking about running a classic car. Despite making no claims, each year the outfit almost doubled the premium on our family Peugeot 205 CTI (see Car Choice in this issue to discover why they are great-ed), arguing that convertibles were a bad risk. A former colleague said: “Why not get a classic and insure it on limited mileage?”
Unlike many observers, I had always liked the wedge shape of the Triumph TR7, and enjoyed the car tremendously when I did the road test on it for Autocar in 1976. Having owned a Dolomite 1850 with basically the same engine, I knew its basic engineering was good; so the search was on. It would have to be a convertible, would have to be red, and would need the later five-speed gearbox for cruising.
I know I paid well over the odds for the one I set my heart on, but didn’t want to lose the opportunity to buy, since it was in excellent condition, had covered only 24,000 miles, and had not been first registered until August 1982, more than a year after production had ended.
It’s one of the very few with a genuine ‘Y’ registration letter. The deal was done for £4625 in 1993, when it was just 11 years old. Insurance through the TR Owners’ Club was £143 – less than a third of the absurd amount my insurer had been demanding for the 205 CTI. Like all classics, at once there was a lot of work to do. The brakes (never the car’s best feature) were frankly pathetic but improved a lot after fitting new discs, pads, and new rear linings.
New Monroe suspension cartridges for the front struts, plus three years later, new rear dampers and complete front suspension rebuild, made further a improvement. The only major task required since was to replace the fuel tank which had begun to leak.
Driving the TR7 is always enjoyed best with the hood down. With the car closed, there’s a lot of wind noise and all other noises are more noticeable. I try to keep the cruising speed below 80, and then normally achieve 33-37 mpg. Now nearly 20 years and 22,000 miles later my TR7 is still in fine order and has just provided a most enjoyable 550-mile run to North Wales. So what’s really wrong with a Triumph TR7?
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