Grandfather’s Ax: The Many Evolutions of the Triumph TR4, Part 1: TR4 and TR4A

If you replace a car’s body, a few years later replace its chassis, a few years after that replace the engine, and finally replace the body again, is it still the same car? That is the question posed by the Triumph TR4 and its immediate successors. Introduced in 1961 to replace Standard-Triumph’s popular TR3 sports car, the Michelotti-styled TR4 was less new than its appearance would suggest; it would not be until almost eight years and three name changes later that it would truly become an all-new car. In this installment, we begin our look at the curious evolution of the TR line, starting with the 1961-1967 Triumph TR4 and TR4A.

1967 Triumph TR4A badge

THE TRIUMPH TR2 AND TR3

The birth of the Triumph Motor Co.’s first postwar sports car is a convoluted saga that deserves to be explored more fully at a later date, but suffice to say that after several false starts, the initial Triumph TR2 made its public debut at the Geneva auto show in March 1953 and went on sale later that year.

Designed on a very restrictive tooling budget, the TR2 was an awkward-looking little car and its chassis and brakes were as yet underdeveloped, but it boasted a torquey 1,991 cc (121 cu. in.) OHV four, a de-bored version of the 2,088 cc (127 cu. in.) wet-liner engine found in the Standard Vanguard saloon and some Ferguson tractors (which Triumph’s parent company had been manufacturing since 1946). Initial sales were encouraging and really took off with the subsequent arrival of the facelifted TR3, which over the next few years gained worthwhile features like outside door handles and standard front disc brakes, a first for British production cars. The TR3 was a solid commercial hit, with production totaling nearly 75,000 units through the end of 1962.

1954 Triumph TR2 roadster front 3q © 2008 Brian Snelson modified 2014 Aaron Severson CC BY 2.0 Generic
The original Triumph TR2. Note the gaping-mouth grille (redesigned for the TR3 later in 1955), removable windscreen, and cutaway doors. A total of 8,628 TR2s were built between 1953 and the end of 1955. (Photo: “Triumph TR2” © 2008 Brian Snelson; modified 2014 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license with modifications offered under the same license)

The Triumph TR3 was what we might call a car of very specific appeal. Particularly in post-1957 TR3A form, it was certainly better-looking than the original TR2, but we would be hard-pressed to call it prettier than a Mk 1 MGA or an Austin-Healey 100, the TR3’s principal rivals. Civility did not rank high on the Triumph’s list of virtues either, owing to high noise levels, a backslapping ride, and slapstick weather protection. Where the TR3 earned its keep was in sheer performance. The power-to-weight ratio was a close match for the pricier Austin-Healey and enabled the TR3 to humble some significantly more expensive sports cars. Moreover, the Triumph was surprisingly fuel-efficient and it was a rugged beast capable of enduring considerable punishment, traits that lent themselves well to rallying and road racing work. The factory competitions department accumulated an impressive array of class victories in the European rally circuits and the TR3 was also very popular with amateur and semi-professional racers, bolstered by a lengthy list of optional competition equipment.

1959 Triumph TR3A front 3q
Built from September 1957, the Triumph TR3A was much like the TR3 save for its wider grille — inspired by the Michelotti-styled “Dream Car” shown at Geneva earlier that year — and the addition of outside door handles. (The TR3A designation was used by the factory, but rarely showed up in advertising or official literature; the cars were usually advertised simply as TR3s.) Late TR3s and all TR3As had Girling front disc brakes, an uncommon feature in that era. Wire wheels were optional, but frequently specified. (author photo)

While the TR3’s success was undoubtedly gratifying to Standard-Triumph management, they recognized that the tastes of sports car buyers can be fickle indeed, so advance planning for a TR3 successor began around mid-1957, with an eye toward a 1959 introduction. As is usually the way of things, early thinking focused on polishing the TR’s various rough edges: better weather protection, a more comfortable ride, and perhaps 2+2 seating. (Take-up for the TR3’s optional rear seat had been surprisingly good, particularly considering that even a largish dog would have complained about a lack of legroom.) There was also serious interest in independent rear suspension, something even Jaguar did not yet offer in those days.

However, in the meantime, Standard-Triumph had many more pressing matters to consider, some of which would have a profound effect on the future of the TR line.

1959 Triumph TR3A rear 3q
With cutaway doors, snap-in side screens, and a rather rudimentary top, weather protection was not a TR3 strong suit; a detachable hardtop was optional. An interesting feature is the small hatch behind the rear license plate, which allows access to the spare wheel (located beneath the boot) without unloading one’s luggage. (author photo)

ZEST, ZOOM, ITALIA

One of the most significant of these developments was the decision in mid-1957 to retain the services of a gifted Italian stylist by the name of Giovanni Michelotti.

Michelotti had begun his career in the mid-thirties as an apprentice for Stabilimenti Farina (founded by Pinin Farina’s older brother Giovanni) and started his own Turin shop in 1949. While he did work for and with some of the other major Italian styling houses, particularly Vignale, Michelotti remained resolutely independent throughout his career. He was introduced to Standard-Triumph in early 1957 through an outside businessman who claimed to know a designer capable of styling and building a complete car in 12 weeks or less at what was by contemporary British standards an outlandishly low price.

If Standard-Triumph managing director Alick Dick and chief engineer Harry Webster were initially skeptical, they soon learned that this was no idle boast: Michelotti was highly inventive, worked cheap, and was extraordinarily fast. According to Webster, it took Michelotti less than 24 hours to not only create a completely new concept for the car that became the Triumph Herald (the first production car he did for the company), but also produce a complete set of scale illustrations. This was fortunate indeed for Standard-Triumph, as chief designer Walter Belgrove had resigned in late 1955, leaving the company’s in-house styling efforts in a state of flux.

1966 Triumph 1200 front 3q © 2012 pyntofmyld CC BY 2.0 Generic
The first production design Michelotti created for Standard was the subcompact Triumph Herald, launched in 1959 to replace the Standard 8 and 10. This is a 1966 Herald 1200, which has a larger, 1,147 cc (70 cu. in.) engine rather than the original 948 cc (58 cu. in.) version. (Photo: “Triumph Herald” © 2012 pyntofmyld; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

Michelotti’s first pass at a new Triumph sports car was the be-finned, TR3-based “Dream Car” that Standard-Triumph exhibited at Geneva in March 1957. That car was more an audition than a serious production prospect, but later in the year, Standard-Triumph commissioned Michelotti to develop a proposal for a new TR. The result, completed in early 1958, was a prototype codenamed Zest. (Four-letter codenames, initially all beginning with “Z,” were a tactic recently developed by Harry Webster to confuse Standard-Triumph’s competition — a practical move, given the speed with which the company’s suppliers were being absorbed by rivals in the mid-1950s.) Zest rode the latest TR3A chassis, but the new body had a more squared-off shape than the TR3, with fin-like rear fenders, a bonnet scoop, and partly hooded headlights set into the grille. Zest also featured a steel hardtop based on the roof of the Triumph Herald coupe.

1964 Triumph TR4 front © 2008 TR001 CC BY3.0 Unported-AS
The front-end treatment of the production TR4 looks much like Michelotti’s original Zest prototype, although the Zest was narrower (in part because it retained the TR3’s 45-inch (1,143mm) front tread), had a flatter bonnet scoop rather than an asymmetric bulge, and mounted its bumper guards farther inboard. (Photo: “Triumph TR4 (front) © 2008 TR001; resized and modified 2012 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license with modifications offered under the same license)

Michelotti subsequently created a third design on the TR3 chassis: a neat fixed-head coupe, assembled by Vignale and sporting a completely new nose treatment with pop-up headlights. This was not an official Standard-Triumph project; Michelotti created it at his own expense to show at the 1958 Turin show. However, the car caught the fancy of executives from Standard-Triumph’s Italian distributor, Ruffino S.p.A., which commissioned Michelotti to revise the design (substituting conventional exposed headlights for the pop-up units), arranged to buy chassis and running gear from Standard, and offered the car to private buyers as the Triumph Italia 2000 GT. About 300 of these were made, all again built but not designed by Vignale.

Standard-Triumph executives liked Michelotti’s Zest proposal, but asked him to go a different direction. The main rationale for the new design was the need to accommodate a new engine: not, as you might expect, the small six that would shortly power the Standard Vanguard Six and Triumph Vitesse (although Standard did apparently consider that possibility, albeit briefly), but an entirely new DOHC four. Codenamed 20X, the twin-cam engine had nearly the same displacement as the wet-sleeve engine (1,985 cc/121 cu. in.), but had oversquare dimensions and five main bearings to the existing engine’s three. Although intended primarily for competition — in June, the company would run three 20X-powered cars at Le Mans — the 20X needed to fit the production car, if only for homologation purposes. That initially seemed a tall order; since the 20X was a good deal bulkier than the existing four, Standard-Triumph engineers assumed that the twin-cam engine would not fit the TR3A chassis without modification.

1959 Triumph Italia 2000 front 3q © 2010 Rex Gray CC BY 2.0 Generic
Under the skin, the Michelotti-styled, Vignale-built Triumph Italia was basically a stock TR3A. The Italia was handsome, but very high prices made for slow sales and many remained unsold by the time Standard-Triumph bought out Ruffino’s distribution contract in 1961. A few dozen Italias were sold in the U.S. in 1962-63. List price was $3,695 POE — fully $1,000 more than a mechanically similar TR3B. (Photo: “1959 Triumph Italia 2000” © 2010 Rex Gray; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

To that end, around the end of 1958 Standard-Triumph commissioned Michelotti to create two new prototypes, codenamed Zoom. These featured a 4-inch (102mm) wider tread and a 6-inch (152mm) wheelbase stretch ahead of the firewall to make room for the DOHC engine. The Zoom looked quite a bit different from the initial Zest, with headlights similar to those of the Italia 2000 GT and a new grille treatment.

What Zest and Zoom had in common was that neither was a roadster: Both traded the TR3’s cutaway doors, side curtains, and folding windscreen for conventional doors, roll-up windows, and a fixed, curved windshield. The Zoom had a proper convertible top and we assume that had the Zest reached production it would have as well. Those features meant more weight, which made the extra power of the Zoom’s DOHC engine particularly attractive (although in production form it was to be optional, not standard equipment). By year’s end, the Zoom was the frontrunner to become the next TR.

RESCUED BY LEYLAND

The fly in the ointment, as you might expect, was money. Standard-Triumph had been profitable for some time, but a great deal of the company’s available capital had gone into a far-reaching expansion/consolidation program, sparked by rival BMC’s acquisition of Fisher & Ludlow, which made the body stampings for some Standard and Triumph cars. Deciding that the only way to ensure Standard-Triumph’s security was to bring the supply chain in-house, Alick Dick had begun buying up suppliers like the Birmingham-based coachbuilder Mulliners Ltd. and suspension manufacturer Alford and Adler before they could be absorbed by similarly minded rivals.

Around the same time, Standard decided to get out of the tractor business. Back in 1953, Ferguson had been acquired by the Canadian tractor company Massey-Harris. While Standard-Triumph had renewed their manufacturing contract with the new Massey-Harris-Ferguson conglomerate, the relationship had become increasingly uneasy, culminating in M-H-F’s unsuccessful attempt to snatch Mulliners out from under Standard’s nose in the summer of 1958. By mid-1959, Standard-Triumph had divorced itself from the Canadian firm, a move that brought a short-term infusion of cash, but deprived Standard of a major revenue stream. Most of the proceeds from the divorce went into the purchase of a body-stamping plant in the Liverpool area (later known as Speke No. 1) and land for a second, adjacent plant that would be able to assemble, paint, and trim complete cars; the latter was completed in 1969 as Speke No. 2.

Triumph TR3A engine
While Standard-Triumph had hoped to offer the DOHC 20X engine as an option in the Triumph TR4, standard power was to be the TR3’s familiar OHV four, commonly known as the “wet-sleeve” engine for its detachable cylinder liners. Designed in 1945, this engine also saw duty in a variety of Ferguson tractors and the Morgan Plus 4, while a 2,088 cc (127 cu. in.) version was used in the Standard Vanguard. The TR2, TR3, and TR3A retained the 92mm (3.62-inch) stroke of the Vanguard engine, but substituted cylinder liners with a narrower 83mm (3.27-inch) bore. The 2,138 cc (130 cu. in.) version, originally developed for the works rally cars and standardized on the TR4, had a bore of 86 mm (3.39 in.). There is no external difference between the 1,991 cc and 2,138 cc (122 and 130 cu. in.) versions; since the cylinder liners are removable, interchanging them is straightforward and quite a few owners have done so. (author photo)

None of these was a bad business decision, but together these purchases left Standard-Triumph’s pockets rather light at what proved to be a very inopportune moment. Export sales, previously strong, suddenly began to slip badly just as the British government, nervous about rising inflation, put the brakes on credit and consumer spending. Standard-Triumph’s total volume plunged by more than 40% from the previous year’s record and by summer the company’s monthly losses had reached £600,000 (equivalent to $1.7 million at the contemporary exchange rate).

Since becoming managing director in early 1954, Alick Dick had devoted considerable energy to finding an outside partner for Standard-Triumph, resulting in ultimately fruitless discussions with the likes of the Rootes Group, Rover (on two separate occasions), and even American Motors. With the situation growing increasingly desperate, Dick approached Sir Henry Spurrier of Leyland Motors, a major British truck and bus manufacturer. Despite the increasingly bloody state of Standard’s balance sheet, Leyland officials were receptive; Sir Henry had been considering a return to the automobile market and acquiring Standard-Triumph was a straightforward way to do so. A deal was announced in December.

Remarkably, Standard-Triumph’s mounting financial crisis did not prevent the company from returning to Le Mans in June 1960. The DOHC-engined TRS prototypes had not finished the race in 1959, but Dick and Harry Webster opted to try again with three new cars, all sporting fiberglass bodies molded in the shape of Michelotti’s Zoom prototypes. Unfortunately, while all three cars made it to the finish line, they were not counted among the finishers because their average speed was deemed insufficient.

1961 Triumph TRS 929HP front3q © 2002 James Tworow per
One of the three TRS cars built for Le Mans; this one ran in both 1959 and 1961, but not 1960. The TRS cars were bodied in fiberglass, but their shape was that of Michelotti’s Zoom prototype and therefore they look much like the TR4 might have (less bumpers and other accoutrements) had financial problems not interfered. The TRS cars were powered by the 1,985 cc (121 cu. in.) DOHC engine — officially codenamed 20X, but often called “Sabrina” because the bulbous timing gear covers at the end of each camshaft reminded some observers of busty British actress Norma Ann Sykes, whose screen name was Sabrina. (Photo: “Triumph TRS” © 2003 James Tworow; used with permission)

The 20X-powered cars would run again in 1961 with better results, but by the late summer of 1960, the Zoom project was losing momentum. While Standard-Triumph was still committed to a new body — unsold TR3s were fast accumulating at Triumph distributors and dealerships — there was now little money to spare for a new chassis. The plans for a longer wheelbase were dropped; it ultimately proved unnecessary in any case, as engineers belatedly discovered that the 20X engine could indeed be shoehorned into the existing TR3A chassis. However, Standard decided that the wider track was worth preserving, particularly since that change required only minor alterations to the existing frame and axle tubes.

This new brief — wider tracks, same wheelbase — meant that the existing Zest prototype was too small and the Zoom too big, so Standard-Triumph went back to Michelotti and asked him to create a Goldilocks version. With customary alacrity, Michelotti returned with a tidy amalgam of the two previous designs. He also added several minor refinements, including the deletion of the bonnet scoops in favor of an asymmetric bonnet bulge, which allowed the low bonnet to clear the carburetors.

Despite Standard’s financial constriction, a few mechanical changes did make the cut, including new rack-and-pinion steering (with a telescoping, collapsible “Impactoscopic” steering column) and a redesigned four-speed gearbox with a synchronized low gear. These revisions were defensible as production rationalization: The steering was an adaptation of the Herald’s, while the all-synchro gearbox had obvious applications elsewhere in the line. Another significant modification was the standardization of the previously optional 2,138 cc (130 cu. in.) version of the wet-sleeve engine, whose additional torque would compensate for the extra weight of the new body. While helpful, this was not a particularly dramatic change, since the big engine differed from the 1,991 cc (121 cu. in.) four only in the bore diameter of the replaceable cylinder liners; the 2.1-liter version was already optional on the TR3A.

THE TRIUMPH TR3B

Although less elaborate than originally envisioned, the TR redesign was still costly; the tooling alone ran to almost £1 million ($2.6 million U.S.), a lot of money for Standard-Triumph at that point. After the merger was completed the following spring, Leyland management — already alarmed by what they saw as a general lack of corporate thrift — considered various cost-saving measures, including the possibility of abandoning the roll-up windows in favor of side curtains. The board eventually concluded that such revisions would be a false economy and approved the design as was. Now officially called TR4, the new sports car went into pilot production in August 1961, nearly two years behind schedule.

There was one final complication, however, this time from overseas. While one might assume that the TR4’s added amenities would appeal to buyers in the crucial U.S. market, Triumph’s North American distributors worried that their buyers might see the new car as a sign that Triumph had gone soft. Part of the TR3’s appeal to Americans was precisely that it was stark and uncompromising; U.S. buyers who wanted a big, plush convertible had many other options. The possibility of automatic transmission, also floated around this time, received a similarly negative response.

1962 Triumph TR3B front 3q © 2012 Clive Barker per
A rare Triumph TR3B, offered only in 1962 and only for the North American market. Standard-Triumph abandoned early plans to mate the TR4’s chassis to the TR3A body — which is not difficult if the bolt-on fenders are modified to accommodate the TR4’s wider track dimensions — and so the production TR3B was essentially just a TR3A with (in all but the first 500 cars) the TR4’s all-synchro four-speed and the big-bore 2,138 cc (130 cu. in.) engine. (Photo: “1962 Triumph TR3B” © 2012 Clive Barker; used with permission)

The automatic transmission option was not pursued, but Standard-Triumph did agree to continue production of the TR3 for an additional year alongside the new TR4. This was perhaps slightly less inconvenient than it might otherwise have been because the bodies for the two cars were produced at different factories: The TR3’s stampings came from Mulliners (and its Forward Radiator Co. subsidiary) in Birmingham, while the TR4’s body was made at the former Hall Engineering plant in Speke that Standard had purchased in 1959. Bodies were trucked to the Canley-Fletchamstead complex in Coventry for final assembly.

It would have been a simple exercise to mate the old body with the new chassis. In fact, Triumph built two “TR3B” prototypes that did just that, adding wider fenders and a new grille to account for the greater track width. However, the company decided not to go that route, so the actual TR3B was much like the last TR3A, albeit with the new fully synchronized gearbox and the previously optional 2,138 cc (130 cu. in.) engine — a potentially appealing combination for racers.

The TR3B did not actually go into production until March 1962, probably to allow time to clear stocks of leftover TR3As. As it turned out, the TR3B’s career would be very short-lived.

THE TRIUMPH TR4

The Triumph TR4 finally made its public debut in September 1961. In the U.K., it had a basic price of £750, £51 more than the last TR3A, which pushed the price with purchase tax over the £1,000 mark (by £32 5s 3d) for the first time. However, as before, very few TRs were sold in the home market. Most went to the U.S., where the TR4 now listed for $2,849 POE, $174 more than the TR3A (or the TR3B, which did not appear until the following spring). Although the TR4 was more expensive than before, its market position had not really changed: It was still priced roughly halfway between an MGA roadster and an Austin-Healey 3000 Mk II.

1961 Triumph TR4 front 3q © 2010 Mick from Northamptonshire, England (Lumix) (CC BY 2.0 Generic) modified by Aaron Severson
An early Triumph TR4 hardtop, identifiable by the short bonnet bulge; starting sometime in 1962, the bulge was extended nearly to the trailing edge of the bonnet. On the earliest TR4 hardtops the center roof panel, like the rear section, was aluminum, but this was soon changed to steel. Both the hardtop and windscreen were removable, although it was a cumbersome operation and factory hardtop cars did not have a soft top installed. Even so, the hardtop cost about £50 more than the convertible in the U.K., a round $150 extra in the U.S. (Photo: “Triumph TR4 1961” © 2010 Mick from Northamptonshire, England (Lumix); used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

At least on U.S. price lists, there were technically two TR4s: a convertible and a hardtop coupe. The latter was not exactly a separate body style, but a convertible with the folding top deleted in favor of a semi-permanent bolt-on hardtop. (We assume the rationale for offering the hardtop as a separate model was to facilitate racing homologation. Hardtop-equipped TR3s had been allowed to compete in the GT classes rather than as sports cars, a distinction the factory was no doubt eager to preserve.)

The hardtop was a novel two-piece affair, conceived by Michelotti and previously seen on the Zoom prototype. The center roof panel, made of steel on all but the earliest cars, could be detached without removing the rear section or its wraparound glass backlight, giving an effect much like the lift-off roof of the later Porsche 911 Targa. Unfortunately, the center panel was too big to fit in the boot, leaving occupants at the mercy of changeable weather. To cope with sudden showers, a snap-on vinyl panel known as the “Surrey top” was offered as an additional extra-cost option.

With either top, the TR4 had a wider and more comfortable cabin and a larger boot than the TR3. The new car was still a two-seater, but the factory again offered a set of rear cushions that could be installed in the tonneau area behind the front seats, providing at least notional capacity for a small child or a medium-size and reasonably compliant dog. A new ventilation system provided face-level vents, rare in British cars of the era, and a new and more powerful heater was optional. In addition to wind-up windows, there was a much-improved convertible top with a large three-section backlight for better rear visibility.

1961 Triumph TR4 hardtop Surrey © 2012 Clive Barker per
Another 1961 TR4 hardtop, this one with the optional “Surrey” top installed. Modern fans and even some contemporary journalists often refer to the two-piece hardtop itself as the Surrey top, but the factory used that term only for the snap-in vinyl panel, which was an extra-cost option on hardtop cars. (Photo: “1961 Triumph TR4 ‘Surry top’ Roadster” © 2012 Clive Barker; used with permission)

The first indication that the TR4 was still the same familiar brute under its new Italian suit was the ride quality. While the shock absorbers were slightly softer than before and effective spring rates a touch lower (the springs themselves were unchanged), the TR4’s ride remained harsh and choppy enough to threaten directional stability on bumpy surfaces. The TR4 had learned some manners — the steering was sharper than before and the wider track and improved weight distribution made smooth-road handling more nimble than ever — but broken pavement still brought out the Triumph’s thuggish side, a consequence not only of the stiff springs but also of the carryover chassis’ acute shortage of rear wheel travel. Some critics also complained that the quicker steering made the TR4 rather twitchy, particularly given the car’s susceptibility to bump steer.

Some Triumph fans were undoubtedly disappointed to learn that the TR4 was no faster than the TR3A. The 2,138 cc (130 cu. in.) engine now had 105 gross horsepower (78 kW; 100 hp/75 kW net) and 127 lb-ft (172 N-m) of torque, up 5 hp (3 kW) and 10 lb-ft (14 N-m) from the 1,991 cc (122 cu. in.) TR3A, but those increases were neatly canceled by the new body’s slightly greater frontal area and greater weight (up 78 lb (35 kg), according to factory figures). Measured performance was almost unchanged: 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in 10 to 11 seconds, a top speed of nearly 110 mph (175 km/h). That was still very good by contemporary sports car standards — drivers of any Porsche 356 other than a Carrera were advised to tread cautiously at stoplights — but not by as commanding a margin as before, leaving some reviewers wondering when the DOHC Le Mans engine would be available. The answer, sadly, was “Never,” although the earlier 1,991 cc (121 cu. in.) wet-sleeve engine was optional for owners looking to campaign their cars in the under-2.0-liter classes.

1962 Triumph TR4 roadster rear 3q © 2014 Greg Gjerdingen modified 2014 Aaron Severson CC BY 2.0 Generic
While the nose of the production TR4 looks like Michelotti’s Zest prototype, the rear fenders and tail combine the basic shape of the Zoom with the Zest’s taillight treatment. (The Zoom-based TRS cars had three free-standing taillight bulbs per side). In convertible form, the TR4 benefited from a new top with large rear quarter panes for better top-up visibility. Although a great improvement over the TR3A, the top was still fussy to erect, so Triumph redesigned it again for the TR4A. (Photo: “1962 Triumph TR4” © 2014 Greg Gjerdingen; modified 2014 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license with modifications offered under the same license)

Nonetheless, the Triumph TR4 was still one of the sportiest sports cars available in its price class, offering strong acceleration, nimble handling, and first-rank stopping power. Rivals like the Sunbeam Alpine or Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider were a little more livable on real-world roads, but neither stood a chance against the Triumph in any sort of direct performance contest. The TR4 also benefited from Triumph’s comprehensive assortment of competition equipment (most TR3/TR3A pieces would bolt on), as well as the optional but commonly installed Laycock de Normanville overdrive. The latter was usable on every forward gear except first, effectively giving the Triumph seven speeds — very handy for rallying. The overdrive could also be ordered with a shorter 4.10 axle ratio (replacing the standard 3.70), also benefiting acceleration.

Even at its peak, the TR4 never quite matched the popularity of the TR3A, but concerns that North American buyers would shy away from the new body proved unfounded. The TR3B, introduced in the spring of 1962, survived only seven months and sold only 3,331 copies, making it very rare today.

RACING THE TR4

In August 1961, shortly before the Triumph TR4 went on sale, Leyland sacked almost the entire Standard-Triumph board and asked for the resignation of Alick Dick, who was promptly replaced by Stanley Markland. An early casualty of the new administration was the factory racing program, shuttered about the time the TR4 debuted. Others included the Le Mans effort and the 20X engine, both of which were deemed too expensive and of limited commercial applicability.

Nonetheless, the TR4 had obvious potential for racing. In 1962, the factory reopened the competitions department, now under the direction of Graham Robson, later to become a well-known automotive writer. The budget was a modest £16,000 (about $45,000), enough for only four TR4s, each painted powder blue. These started off relatively stock, but became progressively less so over the next two years, gaining lightweight aluminum body panels and various engine modifications.

1962 Triumph TR4 roadster © 2014 Greg Gjerdingen CC BY 2.0 Generic
Triumph factory figures give the TR4’s overall length as 153.6 inches (3,901 mm), but most contemporary tests list it as 156 inches (3,962 mm), which presumably includes the bumper guards. Wheelbase is 88 inches (2,235 mm), unchanged from the TR3, but the TR4’s track width is 49 inches (1,245 mm) in front, 48 inches (1,219 mm) in back, about 4 inches (102 mm) wider than the TR3. Curb weight is about 2,240 lb (970 kg) for a convertible with overdrive; hardtop cars were perhaps 25 lb (11 kg) heavier. Note the “long” bonnet bulge on this car, which extends farther back than the “short” bulge on the 1961 cars pictured above. There were actually two variations of the long-bulge bonnet during the TR4’s run, although the distinction is more obvious with the bonnet raised because the under-bonnet bracing and latches are different. (Photo: “1962 Triumph TR4” © 2014 Greg Gjerdingen; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

The factory cars won a number of team prizes, but the 2.5-liter (153 cu. in.) class had become tougher than before and the TR4’s European rally career was short. By 1964, Standard-Triumph decided it was no longer competitive and withdrew the TR4 in favor of the Spitfire and 2000 saloon.

It was a different story in the U.S., where TR4s were well-represented in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) competition. The initial impetus came from driver Bob Tullius, who spent weeks lobbying Mike Cook, then Triumph’s U.S. advertising manager, for a TR4 to drive in the 1962 season. Cook and Standard-Triumph U.S. president Martin Tustin eventually agreed, but the factory-provided TR4 was wrecked during a practice session shortly afterward. Since the U.S. organization wasn’t willing to provide a second car, Tullius and his friend Ed Diehl cobbled together a TR4 out of the remains of three different wrecks, which Tullius used to claim the 1962 SCCA E-Production national championship.

1965 Triumph TR4 Surrey top rear 3q © 2013 Steve Glover CC BY 2.0 Generic
A great many surviving Triumph TR4s now sport Minilites or wire wheels, but the latter were an extra-cost option; the TR4’s standard wheels were 4.5×15 steel discs. Radial tires were not standard either, but were a wise choice because the standard bias-ply tires weren’t rated for the TR4’s top speed. Inside, leather upholstery and a wood-paneled dashboard were also optional, as were rear cushions to turn the tonneau area into a rough approximation of a rear seat. Note that in contrast to the TR3, the TR4’s boot lid goes down nearly to bumper height, benefiting loading, but forcing the deletion of the TR3’s separate access door for the spare wheel. (Photo: “Triumph TR4 (1965)” © 2013 Steve Glover; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

Inspired, Triumph’s North American organization decided to run three cars at the 1963 Sebring 12 Hour, prepared by R.W. “Kas” Kastner. Kastner, who had won the 1959 SCCA F-Production Pacific Championship in a TR3A, had previously been the service manager for West Coast Triumph distributor Cal Sales, becoming Western Zone service manager when Cal Sales was bought out by Standard-Triumph in 1961. Kastner resigned after being told that as a Triumph executive he could no longer compete, but he was lured back by the Sebring project, the cars for which were prepared in Kastner’s home garage in Manhattan Beach, California, south of Los Angeles. TR4s took first, second, and fourth place in their class at Sebring, after which Kastner was appointed the head of a new U.S. competitions department.

Later that year, Bob Tullius drove one of the Sebring cars to another SCCA national championship, this time in D-Production, where the SCCA had recently reclassified the TR4. (Since 1960, the SCCA had classified cars based on relative performance rather than engine displacement, so it was not uncommon for cars to be bumped up or down a class to keep things competitive.) Tullius would repeat that achievement in 1964. Amateur and semi-pro drivers also had great success with the TR4, thanks in part to Kastner’s driver assistance program, which provided small cash prizes to drivers who won or placed in competition to partially offset the cost of tires, fuel, and maintenance.

SIDEBAR: The Dové GTR4

While Standard-Triumph marketed a hardtop version of the Triumph TR4 from the beginning, there was also a short-lived attempt to create a more commodious GT version: the Dové GTR4, marketed not by Triumph, but by L.F. Dove & Company Ltd. in Wimbledon, a major Standard-Triumph distributor.

The Dové GTR4 was a conversion of the standard TR4 with new fastback roof designed and built by Thomas Harrington Ltd., a Sussex-based coachbuilder that normally did most of its work for the Rootes Group. The Dové’s origins are hazy, but it may have been proposed by Harrington design chief Clifford Harrington as a follow-on to the firm’s 1962-1963 Harrington Alpine Le Mans, a fastback conversion of the Sunbeam Alpine. Dove was amenable and the first GTR4s were built by early 1963.

As with the Alpine Le Mans, the GTR4’s new roof was fiberglass with a lift-up rear window for added cargo-carrying versatility. Since the conversion required relocating the fuel filler, Harrington also took the opportunity to add a larger fuel tank. All of this added nearly 400 lb (180 kg) to the TR4’s curb weight, so some GTR4s received mildly massaged engines (a £35 option) and many had the TR4’s optional 4.10 axle with overdrive. Autocar tested a GTR4 in June 1963 and found it slower than a standard TR4 to 60 mph (97 km/h), but quicker at speeds over 80 mph (129 km/h), suggesting that whatever its aesthetic virtues, the new roofline reduced aerodynamic drag.

1965 Triumph Dové GTR4 side © 2010 Robert Grounds/Rally Pix (used with permission)
Harrington made a valiant effort to make the GTR4 a 2+2, but an unchanged wheelbase meant that rear occupancy was still best limited to the short-legged and unusually limber. Although at least one owner has outfitted his GTR4 to resemble a works competition car, historian Jon Marshall, who has studied these cars in detail, insists that the persistent rumor that Dové prepared several cars for an abortive Le Mans run is false. The factory competitions department certainly never campaigned the GTR4, although they did run an unrelated fastback GT version of the Spitfire at Le Mans in 1964 and 1965. (Photo: “Triumph TR Day – 01 – TR4 – Dove GTR4” © 2010 Robert Grounds (Rally Pix); used with permission)

The GTR4’s downfall was its price: £1,093 basic, £1,250 with purchase tax, which did not include the blueprinted engine or other options. That was nearly £300 (roughly $800) more than a TR4 hardtop, which greatly limited sales. The subsequent closure of Harrington’s coachbuilding department nearly finished the project after 1964, but the L.F. Dove organization persisted for two more years, producing a few more conversions on the new TR4A chassis in 1965 and 1966. Total Dové production is unknown, but Hon Marshall estimates that it amounted to around 55 cars, including perhaps 10 GTR4As.

Standard-Triumph was certainly aware of the GTR4, but as far as we know had no serious interest in it. By the time the Dové appeared, the factory was already working on its own fastback GT project, based not on the TR4 but on the smaller Triumph Spitfire. In May 1964, the Standard board decided a six-cylinder version of that car, dubbed GT6, would be Triumph’s answer to the forthcoming MGB GT, a project of which Standard had recently become aware. We assume the main reason Standard did not opt for a GT version of the TR4 was price. At launch, the GT6 cost as much as a soft-top TR4A and only £25 less than an MGB GT; a TR4 GT would undoubtedly have cost substantially more, reducing its sales potential.

THE INDEPENDENT TR4

The Triumph TR4 underwent a number of running changes throughout its lifespan, including slightly smaller Girling front discs, revised suspension geometry, better-padded seats, and a gradual phase-out of the original S.U. HS6 carburetors in favor of new Stromberg 175CD units, manufactured by Zenith but designed by Standard-Triumph itself. The carburetor switch had nothing to do with performance and everything to do with cost: According to Harry Webster, then technical director, Standard had been paying a substantial premium for the HS6 since BMC bought out Skinners Union in the mid-1950s.

Meanwhile, Standard-Triumph engineers were working on a more elaborate project: a new chassis. The company was by no means oblivious to the criticism of the TR4’s harsh ride and uncouth behavior on rough surfaces and was determined to do something about it without hurting handling. The obvious solution was independent rear suspension, something that had been considered during the TR4’s development but tabled for cost reasons. By 1962, however, it was clear that the TR4 would shortly become Standard-Triumph’s only live-axle model: the smaller Herald/Vitesse and the upcoming Spitfire already had swing axles (although these presented dynamic problems of their own) and the company was developing a semi-trailing arm for the new 2000 saloon, which was slated to replace the Standard Vanguard in late 1963. Given that, it only made sense for the TR to follow suit, although the fact that Standard-Triumph was quickly returning to profitability probably didn’t hurt. It’s doubtful that Leyland would have countenanced such an expense had Triumph still been deep in the red.

1965-1967 Triumph TR4A roadster front 3q © 2009 MartinHansV CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
There are various minor visual cues that distinguish a Triumph TR4A from an earlier TR4: a new grille, a new badge (reviving Triumph’s old globe insignia), and side marker lights with chrome rub strips running through the doors. The front bumper is also a bit higher than before, although it’s hard to notice without comparing a TR4 and TR4A side by side. (Photo: “MHV Triumph TR4A 01” © 2009 MartinHansV; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)

In some respects, the new chassis represented what the TR4 might have become had Standard not had money problems a few years earlier. The frame was almost completely redesigned, retaining the same wheelbase but with reshaped and stiffened side rails. The front suspension still used double wishbones and coil springs, but spring travel was increased and the front geometry revised to maintain ride height. In back, the only items carried over from the previous design were the lever-action shock absorbers, retained because there was no room for tube shocks. Rear springs were now coils, softer than before and carried on a rubber-isolated crossmember that also supported the differential. As on the Triumph 2000 saloon, the rear wheels were located by big aluminum semi-trailing arms, providing a longer effective swing-arm length and lower roll center than the swing axles of the Herald and Spitfire to reduce the camber changes and jacking that could make those cars a handful in extremis. Meanwhile, the TR4’s steering ratio was slowed about 20% in order to reduce steering effort and answer complaints about twitchiness.

To compensate for the extra weight of the new frame and suspension, the wet-sleeve engine’s output was increased by about 4% thanks to a revised intake manifold and a dual exhaust system that also eliminated most of the engine’s characteristic bark. There was also now a PCV valve to meet California emissions standards. The dual exhausts and mufflers, of course, added yet more weight, bringing the total penalty for the new chassis (again according to factory figures) to 112 lb (50 kg).

Triumph TR4A rear 3q © 2008 Arnaud 25 PD
Unlike the TR3A, the TR4A designation appeared in all of Triumph’s promotional literature and advertising, accompanied, where applicable, by “IRS” badges proclaiming the presence of the new independent suspension. The TR4A also had dual exhausts (intended mainly to reduce noise, although they did contribute to the slight power increase) and a new, more easily erected top, stowed in the tonneau area rather than the boot. The new top was much more convenient, but largely precluded the use of the optional rear seat. (Photo: “Triumph TR4A 01” © 2008 Arnaud 25; released to the public domain by the photographer and modified 2012 by Aaron Severson)

Beyond the extra weight, the cost of these changes was, in British retail price terms, a round £50 (about $140) not including purchase tax. That raised eyebrows among some of Triumph’s U.S. dealers because it would push the TR4’s U.S. list price over the $3,000 mark for the first time. Of course, most TR4s sold for more than that in any case — adding a heater, radio, overdrive, and a few other accessories brought the tab to around $3,300 plus freight — but Genser-Forman, Triumph’s northeastern distributor, was convinced that the higher base price would present a dangerous psychological handicap.

After much cajoling, Standard-Triumph agreed to make to make the independent rear optional rather than standard on North American TRs. Retaining the old chassis was impractical, but Standard engineers were able to combine the existing live axle and leaf springs with the new frame, eliminating the independent suspension’s rear crossmember in the process.

TR4A AND TRIUMPH SUPER STOCK

The revised car, now badged Triumph TR4A, debuted at Geneva in March 1965. In addition to the new chassis and revised engine, it had a few other minor mechanical and cosmetic changes, most noticeably chrome rub strips, a wood-paneled dashboard, and a coolant recovery tank for the radiator. Outside North America, all TR4As had the new independent rear suspension, but it was a $147 option on U.S. cars; unfortunately, factory figures do not indicate how many cars were built without it.

1966 Triumph TR4A interior © 2008 Arnaud 25 PD
The Triumph TR4A’s interior had some revised minor controls, new seats, a shorter gearshift, and a relocated handbrake, now mounted on the transmission hump. The walnut paneling on the dash was newly standard. (It was an option on the earlier TR4, although our unscientific observation suggests that it’s a good deal more common now than it was when these cars were new.) As with the earlier TR4, the steering wheel is adjustable for reach. (Photo: “Triumph TR4A 03” © 2008 Arnaud 25; released to the public domain by the photographer and modified 2012 by Aaron Severson)

Contemporary testers found the independent rear suspension a step in the right direction, but not a complete solution to the TR4’s ride and handling shortcomings. Ride quality was much improved, but reviewers complained that the rear springs were now too soft, bottoming readily over sharp dips and demonstrating noticeable squat on acceleration. As with the 2000, the splined halfshafts (which accommodated the slight track changes that occurred as the wheels moved through their travel) could also bind under power. As for handling, overall grip on anything other than a completely smooth road was improved, but body lean was more pronounced than before and there was a new propensity to send the tail wide if driver lifted off the throttle in mid-corner, a common trait of semi-trailing arm suspensions. Correcting such a slide was complicated by the slower steering and some critics complained that the rubber bushings in the rear suspension and steering rack allowed too much deflection in sudden maneuvers.

The new chassis was a mixed blessing for racing. On an unblemished track, the independent rear suspension offered no particular advantage over the live axle, being somewhat heavier and more expensive to beef up for competition. The TR4A’s late arrival also prevented the U.S. competitions department from homologating the new model for D-Production. Told by SCCA officials that the new car could be entered only in the much tougher Modified class, Kas Kastner decided to do just that, creating a TR4A “Triumph Super Stock” with lightweight body panels, a retuned suspension, and a heavily modified engine with about 160 hp (119 kW); Charlie Gates used that car to claim the 1965 D-Modified national championship. TR4As also took a team prize at Sebring in March 1966.

1965-1967 Triumph TR4A engine © 2012 Akela NDE CC BY-SA 2.0 France
The 2,138 cc (130 cu. in.) engine in a U.S. Triumph TR4A, distinguishable from earlier marks by new manifolds, new closed-circuit radiator (with a plastic coolant recovery tank), and the PCV hoses on the breather cap. This car has Zenith-Stromberg 175CD carburetors, but some 1966-67 TR4As reverted to the S.U. HS6, possibly for supply reasons. Performance is identical, but the S.U.s were more expensive for Triumph to buy. The TR4A engine had 109 gross horsepower (81 kW) — 104 hp (78 kW) net — and 132 lb-ft (179 N-m) of torque, an increase of roughly 10% from the TR3A’s 1,991 cc (122 cu. in.) version. (Photo: “Triumph TR4 late US engine” © 2012 Akela NDE; used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 France license)

The introduction of the TR4A perked up sales a little from 1963-1964, but the 1965 tally — just shy of 14,000 units — was still down nearly 30% from the TR4’s 1962 peak. Sales for 1966 would be back down to about 11,000 units, no better than in 1964. Some buyers may have been lured away by the significantly cheaper Mk 2 Spitfire or, from late 1966, the new Spitfire-based, six-cylinder GT6 coupe, but there was also the MGB to contend with, not to mention the 1,725 cc (105 cu. in.) Sunbeam Alpine Series V. The TR4A was faster than those rivals, but its edge was shrinking rapidly. True, getting a significantly faster sports car involved spending a lot more money, but the TR4A was no longer the screaming bargain it had once been. To remain competitive, it would need more power.

We’ll take a look at the results of that decision — the project called Wasp — in our next installment.

# # #

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author would like to thank Clive Barker, Robert Grounds, and James Tworow for the use of their photos, without which this article would have been considerably more difficult.


NOTES ON SOURCES

Our sources on the development of the Triumph TR family and on the travails of Standard-Triumph International during this period included Keith Adams, “Feature: Triumph TRs, 30 years on — The end of the line,” Octane October 2011, www.classicandperformancecar. com, accessed 3 January 2012; “All-independent TR4,” The Motor 13 March 1965, reprinted in Triumph TR4 – TR5 – TR250 1961-1968 (Brooklands Road Test Series), ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1997), pp. 49-51; “A New Triumph TR Sports Car,” Cars Illustrated October 1961, reprinted in ibid, pp. 16-18; “A short history of Lucas Mk1 and Mk2 fuel /petrol injection” and “Triumph 2.5 P.I. Lucas Mk2 System” Lucas Injection, www.lucasinjection. com/, accessed 20 September 2012; “Auto Test: Ford Capri 3000 GXL,” Autocar 8 March 1973, reprinted in High Performance Capris: Gold Portfolio 1969-1987 (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1990), pp. 40-45; Sam Barer, “Triumph TR6 proves itself a reliable daily driver,” Sound Classics, reprinted at British Car Forum, n.d., www.britishcarforum. com/ files/ sammyb3.pdf, accessed 18 October 2012; John Blunsden, “TR4 on Test,” Motor Racing October 1961, reprinted in Triumph TR4 – TR5 – TR250 1961-1968, pp. 14-15; John Blunsden and John Sprinzel, “Coupe Winning TR4 on Test,” Motor Racing August 1962, reprinted in ibid, p. 37; “Boots and All Take No Notice of the Pictures: The TR5 Is All Male,” Car October 1967, reprinted in ibid, p. 78; Michael Cook, Triumph Cars in America (St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing Co., 2001); Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002, Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); James T. Crow, “Profile: Kas Kastner: ‘Anybody can give you romance, I can give you results,” Road & Track Vol. 29, No. 10 (June 1978), pp. 14-15, 18; “Design at BRE,” Brock Racing Enterprises, bre2. net, accessed 20 September 2012; Jim Donnelly, “Kas Kastner,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #37 (September 2008), p. 60; “Enter, like a peal of thunder… Triumph’s petrol injected TR5,” Sports Car World October 1968, reprinted in Triumph TR4 – TR5 – TR250 1961-1968, pp. 90-93, 102; Edwin Storm’s Free Car Brochures website at the Old Car Manual Project (storm.oldcarmanualproject. com); Gregor Grant, “The Triumph TR4,” Autosport 14 September 1962, reprinted in ibid, pp. 38-39, and “The Triumph TR4A,” Autosport 10 September 1965, reprinted in ibid, pp. 70-71; Peter Garnier, “Around the Competition Departments, Part 3 – Standard-Triumph,” The Autocar 15 December 1961, reprinted in ibid, pp. 19-22; “Injection TR,” Motor 7 October 1967, pp. 54-57; “Invigorating Injection (Motor Road Test No. 19/68: Triumph TR5,” The Motor 4 May 1968, reprinted in Triumph TR4 – TR5 – TR250 1961-1968, pp. 79-84; Gordon Jennings, “At Sebring: Inside Triumph’s Triumph,” Road & Track Vol. 14, No. 10 (June 1963), reprinted in ibid, pp. 40-42, and “Kas Kastner and his Super Triumph: The car they couldn’t keep from winning,” Car & Driver Vol. 11, No. 8 (February 1966), pp. 48-49, 92; “Kas Kastner,” The Triumph Sports Six Club, n.d., www.tssc. org.uk, accessed 20 September 2012; R.W. Kastner, “Kas Kastner — Vintage Triumph Racing and More,” kaskastner. com, accessed 20 September 2012, and “P.I. Performance,” Triumph World April-May 2004, pp. 62-65; “Ken Miles and the editors of Car and Driver road test six sports roadsters,” Car and Driver September 1966, reprinted in Car and Driver on Datsun Z, 1600 & 2000 1966-84 (Brooklands Books), ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1986), pp. 7-16; David Knowles, MG: The Untold Story (Osceola, WI: Motorboks International, 1997); William Krause, Triumph Sports Cars (Enthusiast Color Series) (Osceola, WI: MBI Publishing Company, 1998); David LaChance, “Rubery Owen,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #78 (February 2012); Leon Mandel, “TR-250K: Salvation of an Empire,” Car & Driver Vol. 13, No. 10 (April 1968); Nicola Marras, “L’angolo della TR4: Group 44,” 2004, www.nicolamarras. it/ tr4/ group_44/ group_44.html, accessed 20 September 2012; Mark J. McCourt, “1968 Triumph TR250,” Hemmings Motor News January 2007; Bob McVay, “Triumph’s New TR4-A Features Semi-Swing Rear!” Motor Trend Vol. 18, No. 1 (January 1966), p. 53; “Multi-Purpose Triumph,” Road & Track Vol. 18, No. 6 (December 1966), pp. 92-94; Robert A. Myers, “Road & Track Owner Survey: Triumph TR4/4A/250,” Road & Track Vol. 20, No. 12 (August 1969); reprinted in Triumph TR4 – TR5 – TR250 1961-1968, pp. 99-102; “Opposed Valve Cylinder Head for Triumph TR3 and 4,” The Autocar 23 August 1963, reprinted in ibid, p. 48; Jan P. Norbye and Jim Dunne, “The $3,000 Roadsters,” Popular Science Vol. 195, No. 2 (August 1969), pp. 96-101; Terry O’Beirne, “History of 6 cyl Triumph engine,” Triumph Sports Owners Association Queensland Inc., www.tsoaq. org.au, accessed 25 October 2012; Harold Pace, Vintage American Road Racing Cars 1950-1970 (St. Paul, MN: Motorbooks International, 2004); David Phipps, “Triumph TR-4: A welcome new bundle from Britain,” Canadian Track & Traffic September 1961, reprinted in Triumph TR4 – TR5 – TR250 1961-1968, pp. 12-13; Bill Piggott, Triumph TR2 TR3 TR4 TR5 TR6 TR7 TR8 (Collector’s Originality Guide) (Minneapolis, MN: Motorbooks/MBI Publishing Co., 2009) and Original Triumph TR4/4A/5/6: The Restorer’s Guide (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 2001); Productioncars. com, Book of Automobile Production and Sales Figures, 1945-2005 (N.p.: 2006); “Road Research Report: Triumph TR-4,” Car and Driver Vol. 7, No. 10 (April 1962), reprinted in Triumph TR4 – TR5 – TR250 1961-1968, pp. 25-30; “Road Research Report: Triumph TR-4A,” Car and Driver Vol. 10, No. 11 (May 1965), reprinted in ibid, pp. 61-68; “Road-Test Report on a Sports Car: The Fuel-Injection Triumph TR5 PI,” Motor Sport August 1968, reprinted in ibid, pp. 88-89; Graham Robson, The Triumph TRs: A Collector’s Guide, Second Edition (London: Motor Racing Publications Ltd., 1981); Graham Robson and Richard Langworth, Triumph Cars: The Complete Story, Second Edition (Pitlake, Croydon: Motor Racing Publications Ltd., 1979, 1988); Bill Sanders, “Triumph 250: Six Cylinders for ’68,” Motor Trend Vol. 20, No. 4 (April 1968), reprinted in Triumph TR4 – TR5 – TR250 1961-1968, pp. 86-87; “Sports Cars in Australia: TR4 Is Rugged, Fast and Stable,” Australian Motor Sports January 1965, reprinted in ibid, p. 69; Standard-Triumph Group, “Open up a whole new world of sports car driving!” [Triumph TR5 PI brochure 387/967/UK], c. September 1967, and “Take a good look at the hot new TR6 PI while you’ve got the chance” [advertisement, c. 1969]; Tim Suddard, “Rivals at Speed: MG vs. Triumph,” Classic Motorsports November 2005, www.classicmotorsports. net, accessed 25 October 2012; “The TR-4: It won its first medal standing still” [advertisement, c. November 1961], reprinted in Triumph TR4 – TR5 – TR250 1961-1968, p. 9; “The Triumph TR4,” Autosport 1 September 1961, reprinted in ibid, pp. 10-11; Wayne Thoms, “Race-Tuning the TR4,” Car and Driver Vol. 8, No. 2 (August 1962), reprinted in ibid, pp. 34-36; “TR-4 Street vs. Racing,” Car and Driver Vol. 9, No. 2 (August 1963), reprinted in ibid, pp. 44-47; “Triumph Before Tragedy: The Odyssey of the TR Sports Car,” Automobile Quarterly Vol. 28, No. 1 (1990), p. 29+; “Triumph Go All Independent,” Cars Illustrated April 1965, reprinted in Triumph TR4 – TR5 – TR250 1961-1968, pp. 52-53; “Triumph TR250,” Road & Track Vol. 19, No. 4 (December 1967), reprinted in ibid, pp. 75-77; “Triumph TR250 Road Test,” Road Test Annual 1968, reprinted in ibid, pp. 72-74; “Triumph TR4,” The Autocar 1 September 1961, reprinted in ibid, pp. 5-8; “Triumph TR6,” Car and Driver Vol. 14, No. 8 (February 1969), pp. 25-28, 84; “Triumph TR4: A Decade of Development (Road Test No. 26/62),” The Motor 11 July 1962, reprinted in Triumph TR4 – TR5 – TR250 1961-1968, pp. 31-33; “Triumph TR4A IRS (Autocar Road Test Number 2029),” The Autocar 28 May 1965, reprinted in ibid, pp. 55-60; “Triumph TR-4: How little does it cost to run a big sports car?” [advertisement, c. 1962], reprinted in ibid, p. 23; “Triumph TR-4: It takes more than bucket seats to make a sports car” [advertisement, c. 1965], reprinted in ibid, p. 54; “Triumph TR5 Petrol Injection,” Cars & Car Conversions September 1968, reprinted in ibid, pp. 94-96, 103; “Used Car Test 284: 1962 Triumph TR4,” Autocar 5 September 1968, reprinted in ibid, pp. 97-98; Roger Williams, How to Restore Triumph TR2, 3, 3A, 4 & 4A: Your step-by-step guide to body, trim and mechanical restoration (Dorchester: Veloce Publishing Ltd., 2009), How to Restore the Triumph: TR5/250 and TR6 (Dorchester, Veloce Publishing Ltd., 2001), and Triumph TR6: The Essential Buyer’s Guide (Dorchester: Veloce Publishing Ltd., 2006); and the Wikipedia® entries for the Triumph TR4 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_TR4, accessed 20 September 2012) and TR5 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_TR5, accessed 13 September 2012).

Additional information on British Leyland corporate politics, other Triumph models, rivals, and designer Giovanni Michelotti came from Keith Adams, “The cars: Triumph Herald/Vitesse,” AROnline, 4 July 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 4 January 2012, and “The cars: Triumph 2000/2500 development history,” AROnline, 29 August 2011, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 10 January 2012; David Traver Adolphus, “Visionaries: Henry George Webster,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #22 (June 2007), p. 60; “Autocar road test 1894: Porsche Super 90 1,582 c.c.,” Autocar 21 September 1962, reprinted in Porsche 956 Ultimate Portfolio, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2006), pp. 148-152; “Autocar road test No. 1956: Triumph 2000 1,998 c.c.,” Autocar 10 January 1964, pp. 66-70; “Autotest: Triumph 2000 Mk2 (1,998cc),” Autocar 16 October 1969, pp. 132-135; “Autotest: Triumph 2500S 2,498 c.c.,” Autocar 5 July 1975, pp. 25-29; Serge Bellu, “People in history: Giovanni Michelotti, a great free-spirited designer,” Auto & Design No. 154 (2005), p. 50; Griff Borgeson, “Pininfarina: Man, Myth, & Monopoly: Part One: The Early Years,” Road & Track Vol. 15, No. 4 (December 1963), pp. 34-39; Mike Cook, “Passing of a Pioneer,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #20 (April 2007); “Giovanni Michelotti,” Triumph Sports Six Club, n.d., www.tssc. org.uk, accessed 9 January 2012; Edgardo Michelotti, “g m profile,” n.d., www.michelotti. com, accessed 9 January 2012; “Obituary: Lord Stokes,” The Guardian [London, U.K.], 21 July 2008, www.guardian. co.uk, accessed 20 September 2012; “Shaping up well (Motor Road Test No. 51/69: Triumph 2.5 PI Mk. II),” The Motor 25 October 1969, pp. 27-32; “The M.G. A 1600 Two-Seater,” The Motor 2 September 1959, pp. 86-89; and Jonathan Wood, “Obituary: Sir George Turnbull,” The Independent [London, U.K.] 24 December 1992, www.independent. co.uk, 13 October 2012.

Some additional background on the Dové GTR4 came from information cards entitled “The Dove Story” and “6285PG Provenance” that appeared with a surviving car at the 2010 Pershore Plum Festival Classic Car Show (with thanks to Martin Alford); Steve Dival, “The Dove GTR4,” TR Drivers, 2003, www.trdrivers. com/ the_dove_gtr4.html, accessed 18 October 2012; David LaChance, “Caged Dove,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #79 (March 2012); and “Two Syllables: 1963 Dové GTR4 Hardtop,” Bring a Trailer, 13 December 2010, bringatrailer. com, accessed 18 October 2012.

Some exchange rates for the dollar and the sterling were estimated based on Lawrence H. Officer, “Exchange Rates Between the United States Dollar and Forty-one Currencies,” Measuring Worth, 2011-2012, http://www.measuringworth.org/exchangeglobal/, used with permission). Exchange rate values cited in the text represent the approximate equivalency of British and U.S. currency at the time, not contemporary U.S. suggested retail prices, which are listed separately. Please note that all exchange rate equivalencies cited in the text are approximate, provided solely for the reader’s general reference; this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!


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  1. drifting a little off topic …

    About a year ago I was at an informal show (cruise night) parked next to a ’63 TR4. The couple who owned it had purchased new it on their honeymoon in England, the car and the marriage still intact.

    Perhaps one of the longest current ownerships of one of these cars.

  2. I’m looking for a fully restored 1967 Triumph TR4A IRS, overdrive would be nice, convertible and with left hand drive.

    1. Harry,

      I’m afraid I can’t help with buying or selling cars or parts — sorry!

  3. thanks. Nice article. BTW, the TR2 did not have a folding windscreen. Wish it did. It was, however, removable and could be fitted with optional folding brooklands screens.

    1. Thanks for the clarification — I’ve amended the text.

  4. Thanks for the website. My first new car was a 1966 TR4A IRS; British racing green, wire wheels and knock off hubs. It was hot in summer and cold in winter. Wife (no, we) got pregnant and the Triumph got traded off for a 1968 Opel Kadett station wagon. We have a wonderful daughter and 3 grandkids, but I still miss my TR4A!

  5. While the road-going version of the 2.0 DOHC 20X Sabrina prototype engine was said to put out around 120 hp or more (and around 150-200 + hp in race tune), it would have been interesting to find out how much of a power increase a full production Sabrina DOHC engine would have put out had it been equipped with fuel-injection like on the 150 hp 2.5 Triumph I6 PI.

    One question though is how did the 2.0 Sabrina DOHC compare with the 2.0/2.5 Triumph I6 in terms of size and weight?

    And would a production Sabrina DOHC engine have fitted into models like the Triumph GT6 and (pre-Sprint) RWD Triumph Toledo / Triumph Dolomite?

    1. These are excellent questions to which I unfortunately don’t have answers. My guess (which is worth about as much as guesses usually are) is that the 20X was around the same length, a little taller, and probably more or less the same weight as the 1,998cc Triumph six, but my sources didn’t have any specific dimensions or weight figures, so that’s just a very rough guess. If anyone has real numbers, I’d love to see them.

  6. I had a ’63 TR4 and a ’66 TR4A. Drove them across country, including Chicago to LA with all my earthly possessions. Good cars for their time.

    One aspect you might have mentioned: The TR4 had the world’s first Targa top. Porsche copied it for their 911 Targa.

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