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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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. 17, No. 5 (January 1966), p. 53; “Multi-Purpose Triumph,” Road & Track Vol. 18, No. 4 (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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