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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Around the same time, Michelotti also created a third design on the TR3 chassis: a neat fixed-head coupe called the Triumph 2000 Italia (later renamed Italia 2000). The Italia, which made its public debut at the 1958 Turin show. did not originate in Coventry; the project was the brainchild of Salvatore Ruffino, head of CESAC SpA, Standard-Triumph’s Italian distributor. Ruffino intended to offer the Italia in low-volume production, establishing a new company, Ruffino SpA, for that purpose. After some further adjustments to Michelotti’s original design, including a new front clip with exposed headlights and a conventional grille, the Italia was launched in 1959, with Vignale adding the Michelotti-designed bodywork and well-appointed interior to TR3 chassis and running gear. (Ruffino hoped to establish his own assembly plant for the cars, to be based in Naples, but he was unable to secure the necessary financing.) Sadly, Standard-Triumph’s initial interest in the project abruptly soured in 1960, leading to a legal battle over ownership of the Italia design and ending any chance of distributing the cars through U.S. Standard-Triumph dealerships. Ruffino threw in the towel in 1962, having built only about one-third of the 1,000 cars originally planned.
Although Standard-Triumph executives had liked Michelotti’s 1957 Zest proposal, they asked him to go in a different direction, commissioning two additional prototypes toward end of 1958. The main rationale for the new designs, which were codenamed Zoom, 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 rather an entirely new DOHC four. Codenamed 20X and nicknamed “Sabrina” (after the well-known contemporary model-actress), 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 1959, 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.
To that end, the Zoom prototypes 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. Consequently, the Zoom looked quite a bit different from the initial Zest, with headlights similar to those of the production Italia 2000 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 Alder Ltd. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 suspension 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; Giancarlo Cavallini (translated from Italian by Giovanni Uguccioni), “‘Captains Courageous’: Salvatore Ruffino and his Italia,” Triumph in Italy 17 April 2015, www.triumphinitaly.it, accessed 7 February 2020; 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, https://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!
- A Big Healey History: The Austin-Healey 100, 100-6, and 3000
- All the Way from A to B: The History of the MGB, Part One
- All the Way from A to B: The History of the MGB, Part Two
- Cheap and Cheerful: The European Ford Capri
- Class Acts, Part 1: The Triumph 2000 and 2.5 PI Mk 1
- Class Acts, Part 2: Triumph 2000, 2.5 PI, and 2500 Mk 2
- Grandfather’s Ax: The Many Evolutions of the Triumph TR4, Part 2: TR5, TR250, and TR6
- Plan C: The Short-Lived Six-Cylinder MGC and MGC GT
- Way of the Wedge: The Triumph TR7 and TR8