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Triumph TR Series

Top Triumphs Published: 9th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Triumph TR Series

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Anything in good nick
  • Worst model: Anything tatty
  • Budget buy: Anything needing work
  • OK for unleaded?: No; you’ll need an additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 3840mm x 1410mm
  • Spares situation: Generally good
  • DIY ease?: Simpler than Meccano
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes, gradually
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Good buy
Cockpit is typical 1950s so overall refi nement is lowly but more than suffi ces Cockpit is typical 1950s so overall refi nement is lowly but more than suffi ces
Almost vintage-looking rear end means early TRs have style to spare. Almost vintage-looking rear end means early TRs have style to spare.

Model In Depth...

Engine is shared by Ferguson tractor and as gutsy as they come. Easily uprated Engine is shared by Ferguson tractor and as gutsy as they come. Easily uprated
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With their curious mix of components and magic, the TR2 and TR3 ranges offer 1950s character and style without any of the worry

Pros & Cons

Great to drive as well as to look at, robust, well supported, easy and cheap to maintain
Lots of bodged/rough cars out there, not especially practical, really nice ones are costly

When it comes to spor tscars, nobody does them quite like the British. In the post-war era, Britain led the world in terms of affordable sportsters with charm, and nowhere is this more apparent than with Triumph’s early TR models, the sidescreen TRs. Well over half a century after the fi rst of the line was unveiled, the TR2, TR3 and TR3A ooze charm simplicity and nostalgia like few other classics; few cars can guarantee so much fun every time you slide behind the wheel. However, despite these Triumphs’ straightforward engineering and simple construction, there are lots of pitfalls for the unwary, with much overpriced tat on sale – so tread carefully. Very Carefully.


It’s a lesser known fact that the TR shared its DNA with the Austin-Healeys as Donald Healey was a chief engineer for the company. The TR2 went on sale in July 1953 after Triumph teased the public with its TR1 concept car a year earlier. The TR2 was based on a revamped pre-war Standard Flying Nine chassis and used a Triumph 2100 four pot engine, down-sized to 1991cc but, tweaked to 90bhp. The fi rst cars featured a curious long-door design which used to catch high kerbs, so in November 1954 the doors were shortened (a sill was inserted to take up the gap). Popular options include an overdrive (on top only) a hard top and wire wheels. In October 1955 the TR3 superseded the TR2 after 8628 of the latter had been built. Changes were slight however; there was more power and an egg-crate grille, but that was about the extent of it.

However, in September 1956 there was a power boost, with the engine now capable of producing between 95bhp to 100bhp depending upon age, while disc brakes (a fi rst for the class of car) became standard equipment at the front. In September 1957, TR3 production ended, although the model was still available new for several months. Production of the TR3 was stopped because its successor, the TR3A, was introduced. This featured a full-width grille, along with improved seats and trim. The car was only unoffi cially known as the TR3A though; Triumph still called it a TR3. From 1959 the car was optionally available with a 2.2-litre engine, but there was no further development of the car; by September 1961 it had been killed off after over 58,000 were made, to be replaced by the completely redesigned TR4.That said there was a TR3B, for export only. Essentially it was a TR4 but with the familiar old style bodywork for traditionalists who disliked the new swinging 60s styling.


This is what it’s all about; you certainly don’t buy a sidescreen TR for its practicality or refi nement. Instead you buy one because it allows you to guarantee that every drive is a hoot, thanks to a minimal kerb weight and a superbly torquey overhead-valve four-cylinder engine in the nose. You have to wrestle with some of the controls sometimes, but that’s just part of the fun. The TR3A got discs at the front, but earlier cars feature drums all round, and as there’s no servo, if you want to haul the car down from high speeds, you’ll need to give that middle pedal quite a shove – but they do the job. The steering is heavy too, although it’s fi ne once you’re up to speed, but at low speeds it can be a pain trying to pilot the car, with things not helped by the lack of lock. These early TRs aren’t for cissies; refi nement is minimal and it’s not really a relaxed tourer.


Early TR2s and late TR3s are the most sought after. Cars that are rough but running are £3000- £5000, but you need £10,000-£12,000 to secure something good. Really superb cars can sell for over £20,000, but they have to be exceptional to secure that sort of cash.


All sidescreen TRs featured essentially the same four-speed manual gearbox, but in varying specifi cations. The fi rst TR2s didn’t offer overdrive, then it became available on top gear only. However, from May 1955, anyone who ticked the overdrive option got it fitted to second, third and four th gears; this is the most desirable ver s ion as it’s also a stronger transmission. Even better though is a conversion to the TR4’s all-synchro gearbox, which bolts into place with only minimal changes. If even this isn’t enough, for £2500, Revington TR will supply a kit to fi t a slick Toyota-sourced fi ve-speed gearbox. Steering upgrades are popular; many owners ditch the original box for a rackand- pinion system, which is more direct and lighter. But in the process, you’ll lose those characterful- sounding horn and indicator buttons set into the steering wheel. That old tractor-derived engine can be tuned to easily give TR6-like pace and 130bhp is easily achievable. However be wary of cars that have had piecemeal upgrades; if everything is modified so it all works well together, that’s fine, but just one upgraded component will probably lead to dynamics that are worse rather than better.

What To Look For

  • The TR’s value is largely in its bodyshell, so close and careful inspection is critical. Factoryapplied rustproofi ng was poor, so most survivors have been restored; check everything lines up. Panel fi t may be everywhere and if the bodyshell has been separated from the chassis, it might be twisted out of true. If the car is a US import, crash damage is more likely than corrosion so check everything closely for ripples and kinks.
  • The chassis should also be straight, so put the car on a ramp and take a good look underneath. Outriggers can rot badly – as can any of the car’s steel parts, but everything is available.
  • You’ve got a choice of alloy or steel panels; until 1954, the bonnet and spare wheel lid were made of aluminium. Oddly, even when made of steel, these are the only two areas usually unaffected by rust – which is why you need to inspect all the bodywork carefully.
  • Floorpans are especially rot-prone, along with the A-posts, inner rear panels and the quarter panels behind the doors. Also particularly prone are the bottoms of the front wings, inside walls of the spare wheel compartment and the battery tray.
  • Many of the replacement panels simply bolt into place, but some repro items will need lots of fettling to make them fi t properly.
  • If you’re lucky enough to fi nd a car with an original hardtop you’ll have to pay a £500 premium for it.
  • If looked after, a TR engine will rack up 150,000 miles without complaint; the key thing to look for is 50psi on the oil pressure gauge, once everything has warmed up and you’re up to speed.
  • The four-cylinder overhead-valve engine is simple, so signs of wear are straightforward; rattling and blue smoke under acceleration. The former indicates fresh main bearings are needed while the latter points to worn cylinder bores and/or piston rings. Tappets can also get vocal after a while, but it’s usually possible to adjust everything to quell the racket.
  • If a rebuild is needed, it’s easy enough to do the work at home, or you could get a specialist in. Take the former route and you’ll pay £1500+ for the parts if there isn’t much machining needed; choose the latter option and you should budget at least £3000 plus your old unit as long as it’s serviceable.
  • Tuned engines are par for the course, and if done properly this is fi ne. Even in standard form these cars are sprightly; fi t a later cylinder head, extra carburation or a slightly wilder camshaft and things can be even better. However, some modifi cations make the car less usable, the classic example being over-carburation; twin Webers are popular, but they’re often not set up properly.
  • All TR gearboxes are tough, but synchromesh can give up eventually. The first thing to go though is usually the layshaft bearings, given away by a chattering noise at tickover in neutral, then silence when the clutch is dipped. More of a problem is clattering in fi rst or reverse gears, signifying that a gear has lost a tooth.
  • The TR2’s Lockheed-built back axle isn’t very durable if the car is driven hard on modern radial tyres. The problem is that the half-shafts break, which is why many cars have been upgradedto the Girling-built axle of the TR3 and TR3A – it’s much stronger and never gives problems because of it. Whatever axle is fi tted, you need to make sure there isn’t oil everywhere; leaks are common but are easy enough to fi x.
  • One of the things that gives the TR its vintage feel is the worm-and-peg steering; it’s a little vague but not enough to spoil the driving experience. Steering box leaks are common and if the oil level isn’t maintained, rapid wear is inevitable – especially if wider tyres are fi tted.. Lots of play means the box has clearly worn; similarly, tight spots indicate somebody has overtightened things to mask the wear.
  • The TR’s suspension is simple and durable, but problems can creep in. The most likely is trunnion wear because of insuffi cient lubrication; every 1000 miles, LM grease needs to be pumped in. That’s at the front; at the rear there can also be broken springs or lever arm dampers that have seen better days, but it’s all cheap and easy to fi x.
  • Even if a complete suspension rebuild is needed, the work is straightforward and the costs are manageable, as long as you do the work yourself. Because it typically takes at least a day to repair each side, professional help will quickly get costly.
  • Check the state of the tyre tread; if it’s worn unevenly it’s probably because one of the wheels has been kerbed at some point, knocking the front suspension out of alignment. Putting it all right is an involved process, so don’t assume it’s just a matter of the tracking being out.
  • The TR2’s pressed-steel wheels were initially just four inches wide, but from May 1954 that grew by half an inch; all TR3 and TR3a wheels were 4.5 inches wide. There are few early wheels left, but there are some. Whatever wheels are fi tted, make sure there are no cracks around the mounting holes; you’ll need to remove the hubcaps to check properly.
  • Wire wheels have other potential problems, such as worn splines and rusty, loose or broken spokes, so feel for play against the hubs and feel for spokes that aren’t tensioned. New wheels are available of course, but they’re not cheap at £420 per set for painted units or £755 for chrome ones.
  • The TR’s interior trim is simple and easily replaced if necessary. Everything is available, including higher quality materials than the original plastic trim and hood, but costs will add up if everything is needed. That’s why you need to itemise everything that needs attention, and work out what it’ll cost to put it all right. There isn’t much interior trim, but again, you need to make sure that everything is there; some of the brightwork can prove costly to replace but at least it’s all available.
  • The electrics are much like the trim; simple, durable and everything is available if any problems occur. Poor earths and brittle looms are the most likely issues, but fi xes can be done on a DIY basis – although replacing a loom (around £175) is an involved job. Starter motors can also prove fragile, but a high-torque unit effects a complete cure, at the expense of originality.

Three Of A Kind

Austin Healey 100/4
Austin Healey 100/4
If you want a hairy-chested sportscar but don’t want a TR, this is the key alternative. It looks great, is brilliantly supported by clubs and specialists plus values are only going one way, and that’s up. Most importantly though, the 100/4 is great to drive; it’s better balanced than the six-cylinder cars and lighter, so it’s more agile and virtually as quick as
the bigger Healey 3000s. Peerless GT
the bigger Healey 3000s. Peerless GT
It used Triumph TR3 mechanicals, but there was a bespoke bodyshell based on a spaceframe chassis, complete with an advanced De Dion rear end. Offered as a four-seater fastback only, the Peerless is unusual, easy to maintain and good to drive, especially with the optional overdrive. But as less than 300 were made between 1957-58 there aren’t many to go round, not helped by grp body riveted to the chassis.
Arch rival to the TR was the elegant-looking MGA. Based upon the old TF, the MGA was more antiquated than those looks suggested but some still maintain that a good one drives better than not only a TR but also the MGB. Like the Triumph, they are hugely popular and club and specialist support is second to none. Twin Cams are lovely but mega dear to buy or restore; 1600 De Luxes are best all rounders


Whether you go for a TR that’s completely standard or sympathetically upgraded, you’ll love every minute of driving it. You’ll also fi nd ownership a breeze, thanks to great club and specialist support – DIY maintenance is also a doddle. Even better, sure-fi re investments don’t come any more certain than these fabulous British sportsters; unless you buy really badly, you can’t lose.

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