- Best model: TR4A Surrey top
- Worst model: Anything bodged
- Budget buy: Good US re-imports
- OK for unleaded?: Needs additive or converting
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): (mm): (L) 3641 x (W) 1470
- Spares situation: Brilliant
- DIY ease?: As good as you will fi nd
- Club support: Very much so
- Appreciating asset?: Very much so
- Good buy or good-bye?: Has best of both worlds
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Cheer up if you can’t afford a TR6 – the TR4 offers just as much fun and is a lot cheaper to buy and maintain
Pros & Cons
Triumph’s enduring TR4 and 4A represented something of a transition for the companay’s famous big-engined roadsters in the early 1960s. They were the fi rst in the range tofeature that distinctive chunky Michelotti-styled coachwork, which put them right up there with the prettiest cars of the sixties. However, they were also the last of the Triumphs to use the tough but utilitarian four-cylinder wet-liner engine, found in the Standard Vanguard and Grey Ferguson T30 tractors – hence the farmyard heritage that owners shy away from. The later TR5 featured Triumph’s own 2.5-litre straight-six, which was much more powerful and refi ned, yet some TR fans prefer its predecessor’s simplicity. In TR4 guise it offers a real ‘period’ driving experience with its old-fashioned cartsprung rear end. Either way, these cars remain highly usable, there are plenty of good examples about, so shop carefully and they still represent fi ne value for money. As good as a TR6? Well you just might think so after trying one!
Launched in 1962, the TR4 looked fresh with its Italian-penned bodywork, but was, in fact, a clever re-working of a sports car line which could trace its roots back nine years. The new car’s separate chassis and suspension (independent at the front with coils and wishbones, live axle and cart springs at the rear) and fourcylinder engine were all much as they had been with the earlier TR2 and TR3 ranges. Though the original chassis was little changed, shims were used to broaden it slightly at the front, and the rear axle grew two inches wider. Steering was now by rack and pinion, first gear finally acquired synchromesh and engine size grew to just over 2.1-litres.
With its 1950s chassis, nobody could call the TR4 advanced or refi ned and it took another three years for Triumph to logically introduce the 2000 saloon’s trailing arm independent rear suspension to the car, which required a fair amount of chassis reworking, and a re-christening. Now known as the TR4A this was a comfi er alternative to the TR4, although at 100lb more, a heavier and less agile choice. Styling differences are slight but it’s possible to tell the two apart by the indicators and sidelights, which are incorporated into a neat, chromed strip along the wing, together with a plush wooden dashboard for the cabin. Surprisingly the firmer TR4 was better received in the US than its more comfortable predecessor, so Triumph also made a TR4A – but with the older leaf sprung rear end. As with previous Triumphs, the model was a monster hit across the Atlantic, and continued to be made until 1968 when it was replaced by the TR5. Some 68,000 cars were made, the majority being the earlier TR4.
There’s one big misconception about the two cars, which is that the TR4A handles better than the older, less sophisticated TR4. With the 4A, it’s the ride rather than the handling that’s superior, but the TR4 is the stiffer, more precise car, but the ride suffers as a result. Even Motor magazine couldn’t decide where the improvement laid most. In it’s September 1965 test it said: “ New independent rear suspension has improved ride and road holding” but the scribes admitted it was diffi cult to decide whether it was due to the new-fangled rear end or the new French-made Dunlop SP radials! However it did say that the TR4A exhibited “very high cornering powers” although the grippier rear end did “virtually prohibit throttle steering and power sliding around corners”. Motor also criticised the body roll when cornering and was disappointed at the amount of scuttle shake still present: “The apparent lack of rigidity, which can make the scuttle shake quite violently, is the car’s biggest (and some say the only) major fault”. As for the old tractor engine: “A punchy slogger rather than a high revver” said Motor, in both models this has a rough-hewn, “big banger” charm and the sort of pulling torque properties that could uproot trees. When fi tted to the fabled Ferguson T30 “little Grey tractor” it was probably called upon to do exactly that!
With 100bhp the TR4 is no fi reball and Motor remarked that the TR4 is barely any faster than the old TR2 of 1953, hitting 60mph in just under 11 seconds. Its forte was masses of mid-range power which could eat MGs and the ability to cruise at the ton in overdrive top with the enginepulling just 4000prm and yield as much as 28mpg while doing so.
These low revving motors respond well to tuning and they can produce similar power fi gures to the six-pot TR5/6, and, thanks to less weight up front, they handle better, too. Roomy enough for civilised touring a novel feature of the TR4A was its Surrey top. This is a two-piece removable hard-top that left the curved rear window still in place (Check for condition and fi t as they are hard to locate). How much better is a TR6 (orTR5) over the older car? In terms of power a six pot has the edge; 150bhp against 104 horses. However it’s long been argued whether the power fi gures for the TR5/TR6 were representative and the 125bhp of the later cars was probably more realistic. In terms of torque - real world power - the four pot, a renowned slogger, kicks out 132lbft against 164lbft. The TR5PI was 20 seconds quicker to 100 than a TR4A (according to road tests) but well under two seconds on the important 30-50mph sprint in top gear. In other words, an in tune TR4 will keep up with an out of sorts six pot!
An immaculate TR4A can fetch over £15,000 and a TR4 in similar condition is worth around £11,000 – so the later model is ore desirable. A decent, usable 4A should set you back about £6000 and expect to knock about £500 from that for the TR4. Restorable versions of both cars can be yours for about £2000. A good deal cheaper than a TR5 or TR6, values have been stable for years, and if properly looked after, these perma popular roadsters are one of the classic car world’s safest fi nancial bets.
Even if you want to keep the car standard, TR experts reckon they were somewhat under cooled even when n ew, a n d u s i n g unleaded fuel makes them run hotter still, so a bigger radiator is a popular mod. The engine can be bored out to 2.2-litres and kick o u t a u s e a b l e 130bhp to see off many a TR6, while the handling is inherently superior due to a lighter lump up front and the usual spring/damper upgrades are sufficient for r o a d u s e . I n c i d e n t a l l y, the disc brakes o n p r e - 1 9 6 4 TRs were bigger better and more powerful than those on later cars. So long as they are in proper order, the normal set up (with uprated pads) will handle up to 150bhp.
What To Look For
- Mechanically, the TR4 and 4A are as tough as a pair of regulation army boots. The engine’s wet liner design means the bores can be re-sleeved ad infi nitum, which means almost open ended engine life provided these power units haven’t been horribly abused. Look for a 70lb oil pressure and watch for oil leaks.
- Look for signs of overheating and head gasket failure. Many reckon these cars were somewhat under cooled even when new.
- Although straightforward, gearboxes can get tired with layshaft problems. The 4A had a diaphragm clutch, which is more failure prone, so watch for judder, slip and thrust bearing noise when driving. The original 4A clutch was a Laycock unit, which is apparently becoming scarce. Many owners fi t aftermarket Borg and Beck units, but these aren’t quite as longlasting.
- When fi tted, the overdrive units can suffer oil leaks and solenoid problems, which is par for the course with this technology when it gets old. In the 4A, a lot clutch backlash could mean worn drive shaft splines, as could clonking noises, although equally these could relate to worn universal joints. The drive train has six, and the only way to get at the prop-shaft is to remove either the differential or the gearbox.
- The chassis will rot, since rust proofi ng was something of a black art to 1960s carmakers. Check the trailing arm locating areas on 4As, as these are rust traps. Body locating chassis outriggers – a common rot point, and often badly repaired – and the chassis arms located under the boot fl oor can give trouble on both 4s and 4As, so check carefully.
- Look for problems with lower suspension wishbone mounting brackets falling off. If you’re looking at a car re-imported from America, about 40 per cent of them will have been hard swiped on the right hand side. A high proportion will have had damage on the right-hand front wishbone, too. You need to look at the side rails of the chassis to see if these have been knocked out.
- In the main cabin fl oor rot is also common, although this isn’t fatal. Hoods leaked – just like all the cars of this period. Wings bolt on, andwere originally attached virtually metal-to-metal with the inner counterparts. There are plenty of drain holes to block up, and searching for body rot is mostly a matter of common sense, looking for damage where there are obvious rust traps where panels join each other, although the rear wings will apparently rot from the inside out.
- Other danger points are the chassis frames and outriggers, front and rear suspension pick up points, steering rack brackets, inner sills, front and rear bulkheads, boot fl oors and around the window frame, particularly at its base. Even if you can’t see rot in any of these areas, suspect the look and smell of fresh paint and a lick of underseal…
- See that the doors shut properly, that the gaps are fairly uniform and that the doors don’t foul the body. If bad, it is because the shell has probably lost its rigidity due to excessive corrosion. With the doors open, have a good prod around the sills and B-post (it acts as the anchorage points for the seat belts): one tell-tale sign is smoothness where there should be mating seams – a sure sign of fi ller work! According to leading TR specialist John Sykes of TR Bitz (01925 861861) it’s the fi rst thing he checks out when TR vetting.
- The front suspension trunnions can seize up if they are starved of servicing and the dampers can weaken, If wire wheels are fi tted, then checkthe spokes for looseness – a tap with a pencil is the usual policy.
- The good news is that parts availability for these now very venerable cars is fantastic, with a wide range of items remanufactured or refurbished. TR Bits can supply a front wing for £354, and a vinyl hood for £140. A wood veneer fascia will set you back £150 and a refurbished, exchange overdrive £300. These prices don’t include VAT. If you really need it, new chassis frames are available for that basket case at £2000.
- Many original spec US TRs did without overdrive units to avoid being clobbered by hefty purchase taxes on optional extras, so retro fi tting these items is popular. Also several yank TRs did without the A’s suspension.
- Is that clever Surrey top okay? Check for condition and fi t as they are hard to locate.
Three Of A Kind
MGBArch-rival to the TR4, the MGB was just as ancient in design and provided similar performance qualities. Today, they are just as evenly matched and have similar club support. Perhaps the MG is a tad more civilised while the GT is surprisingly practical. Supply is huge and prices are low, but like the TR, there’s a lot of dross around, too. Arguably the Triumph is the more macho looking while the MG still exudes timeless taste and style.
Alfa SpiderA more sophisticated alternative to the TR4 and the MGB, the Alfa, with its advanced twin-cam engine and modern suspension, is the drivers’ choice. Lasted well into the 1990s, in various forms, so there’s a modern take on the car, though the earlier ones are by far the nicest and the most valued. Good back-up plus there’s fair scope for improvements with later Alfa components, although rust is still the major worry and late models aren’t as good as the fi rst cars.
Fiat 124Ever considered this Italian? Well, you should because this Fiat is no second stranger to the Alfa Spider and is an equally good bet. The ‘Italian MGB’ is a lot more sophisticated than any Brit while its looks have aged well – it also feels as though it’s from another age in terms of handling. Made from 1966 to 1985 in variety of guises it’s a left hooker only although right-hand-drive conversions are available for around £1500.
“It’s a car that you grow to like,” said Motor’s verdict and while lacking the rumbling machismo of later TRs the TR4 and 4A offer buckets of fun and period charm in a more practical, simple guise than the TR5/6.They are cheaper and better value, plus there are plenty of specialists around and DIY maintenance is perfectly feasible. Given the choice between a ratty TR6 or a good TR4 for the same money, we’d go for the latter every time.
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