Grandfather’s Ax: The Many Evolutions of the Triumph TR4, Part 2: TR5, TR250, and TR6

GRANDFATHER’S AX

The late Triumph TR6s had shed almost every vestige of the original TR2 and TR3, but, like the old paradox of grandfather’s ax, it was still in some sense the same car, replaced bit by bit. Excepting the injected cars, which were really rather rare, the performance of the last TR6s was remarkably similar to that of their predecessors of 22 years earlier. The ride and brakes were better, there were windows instead of side curtains, and American buyers could even order air conditioning, but these were essentially refinements of the basic concept rather than a fundamental reinvention.

What had changed in the interim were Triumph’s customers. When the TR debuted, its central appeal was that it was a $2,500 sports car that could run with $4,500 Porsches and give a credible account of itself on a racetrack. Certainly, some TR6 owners raced their cars, as they had with the TR2, TR3, and TR4, but that was no longer the primary draw. In stock form, the TR6’s biggest selling points — at least in the U.S. — were its convertible top (a feature becoming very scarce in the North American market by the early seventies) and old-school flavor. It was retro years before that term was coined, a vivid relic of an era when rough-and-ready sports cars were the rule rather than the exception.

1968 Triumph TR250 front 3q
1975 Triumph TR6 front 3q
If you replace the head of the ax and then later replace the handle, is it still the same ax? It depends on your point of view — much like the differences between this TR250 and late North American TR6 (or, for that matter, the injected TR5 and TR6 PI). (author photos)

If the TR6 had become a sort of rolling nostalgia piece, more quaint than ferocious, that nostalgic appeal was also the main thing that kept it viable in its final years. Since the mid-sixties, Standard-Triumph executives like Mike Cook had recognized that the TR’s best defense against new threats like the American pony cars was to maintain its traditional character. Even if Leyland had been willing to finance an all-new unit-body sports coupe in the modern idiom, there was no guarantee that such a car would have been well received by buyers and it might well have alienated the TR’s existing audience. That is essentially what happened to the TR7: While it was more modern, more practical, and more comfortable than the TR6, most critics and many buyers felt the TR7 wasn’t fast enough, sporty enough, or pretty enough to compensate for the loss of the TR6’s torque, long-striding overdrive, or wind-in-the-hair joie de vivre.

Total production of the TR4/TR4A, TR5/TR250, and TR6 amounted to almost 175,000 units, well short of the cheaper Spitfire — which accounted for more than 314,000 units from 1962 to 1980 — and a fraction of the MGB’s tally, but still decent by Triumph standards (no pun intended). Interestingly, the federalized TR6 accounted for not only the lion’s share of TR6 production, but also close to half of all TRs built between 1961 and 1976, which says something about buyer priorities.

Considered another way, though, it makes perfect sense: The TR6, particularly the pre-1974 form, retained most of the virtues of earlier TRs while at least mitigating most of their worst shortcomings. If it was still a little crude and noisy, that was at least half the point, and if the stock performance wasn’t quite enough, there were ample ways to brighten it up. For a lot of people, those qualities are exactly what sports cars are all about.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author would like to thank Jeff Kyle and Peter Laurence for the use of their photos.


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; 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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6 Comments

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  1. what engines will fit my 72 tr6? id like to
    put an early Toyota Corolla(DXL) or Nissan
    (Datsun)?????
    PLEASE HELP!

    1. Judy,

      I omitted your phone number — if you really want, I can put it back, but generally posting your phone number online is asking for trouble. If anyone wants to reach you, they can contact me via the contact form and I will forward their information to you.

  2. Thanks very much for your well-researched article. It brought back many happy memories of my all too brief years with my restored 1967 TR4A IRS. I’ve often fantasized about tracking down and importing a TR5, but your description of the overly fussy PI has driven the last nail in that coffin.

    1. A lot of mechanical injection systems are fairly fussy things, at least in street car applications. The big problem, from an ownership standpoint, is having someone who knows how to work on it when necessary. That can be a big headache with a system not ever sold in the U.S.

  3. Did I miss mention of the TR6 PI listed in the title link?

    1. It is described in the text (it’s not in the title, but the title was already getting long). However, the TR6 PI was in most mechanical respects a TR5 PI with the restyled body. There were some mechanical changes to rationalize production with the 2.5 PI and to back off on the cam timing for a smoother idle, at the cost of some power.

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