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“Sometimes legends arise from the most unlikely places. After all, who would have thought that a sports car that was, in essence, a quick engine and tape-stripe update designed to tide its maker over for a year until its more comprehensively updated successor was ready for launch, would become a cult favourite in the classic British sports car world? Triumph's TR250 may have been a stopgap marketing exercise, but for many enthusiasts, it symbolizes the best of the two worlds it straddles.” Hemmings, August 2011.
Into the ‘export at all costs’ post-war sports car market the Standard Motor Company launched the immediately successful Triumph TR2 in 1953 (the “TR1” having been labelled a ‘death trap’ by its development engineer), which morphed pretty seamlessly into the TR3 just two years later. Well engineered with good performance they were visually very similar if a little ‘pre-war’ perhaps with bodywork showing the remnants of the separate wings that the market was inexorably evolving away from. Without the spare capital to develop a replacement, the TR3 batted on like a stubborn tail end batsman, earning valuable foreign currency particularly from the USA, for the next seven years. Come 1961 the corporate coffers had recovered sufficiently to facilitate the launch of the next generation TR, not surprisingly (or that imaginatively) titled the TR4. The tried and tested running gear hung off an effective separate chassis was for the most part left well alone though the introduction of rack and pinion steering was a significant dynamic step forward. The available cash was instead splashed on the area most needing attention, namely updating the TR’s looks and incorporating such by then ‘must haves’ as wind-up windows as opposed to separate side screens. To this end Triumph, as they had been for all their new models since the Herald of 1959, turned south-southeast to the styling house of one Giovanni Michelotti. Dressed in its sharp new Italian threads, the TR4, despite its rather more staid homespun M&S underwear, proved to be just the ticket for the 1960’s sports car market.
Pitched naturally between the MGB and Austin Healey 3000 on both price and performance, TR4 sales were ‘adequate’ though frankly dwarfed by its rival from Abingdon. As its minimal mechanical upgrades vis a vis the TR3 started to catch up with it, the TR4A was introduced in 1965 which bought a worthwhile improvement to the rear suspension with a fully independent set up replacing the live axle and cart springs that dated back to the early 1950s. Thankfully (some might say) this was a semi-trailing arm system rather than the, how can we put it, less predictable swing axle arrangement utilised on ‘inferior’ machines such as the Herald, Spitfire and 300 SL ‘Gullwing’ Mercedes. Though at the time the toss was argued as to whether the TR’s handling was significantly improved or not, the general consensus was that the ride certainly was. Tweaks to the cylinder head and its manifolds upped power and torque while a smart walnut dash moved from the options list to become standard equipment. Badging aside, visually the exterior’s biggest change was a new grill with the front indicator lights repositioned from within it into rather lovely deco-esc flowing housings on the front wings from which chrome strips ran back to near the trailing edge of the doors.
Next on the cycle of upgrades was possibly the most significant for the TR line, namely its engine with a game changing move from the worthy if slightly agricultural four pot to a silky smooth six. Intended to coincide with a ‘face and tail lift’ to visually update the TR line, the engine was ready to go before the new bodywork could be put into production and hence the relatively short and small production run TR5 and its American counterpart the TR250 were born; the sweet spot of the early beautiful, curvaceous Italian body-style married to the British brawn 2.5 litre six cylinder engine.
Working in the USA has its attractions and for us by no means the least of these is not only having access to a plethora of rust free classics but also the time to select the very best example for your own personal collection, something a previous owner of this TR250 was able to do in 2013 before repatriating the car to the UK. The TR, then a slightly paler green with a black hard top, was very straight and in excellent structural condition as can be seen in the photo gallery; it was the perfect candidate for a total restoration with minimal welding required. The Triumph was stripped to its component parts and the chassis dispatched to CTM Engineering Ltd. who blast and steam cleaned it before dimensionally checking it, making some repairs and fitting it with their respected and very worthwhile strengthening kit. Meanwhile, the then owner made good the body and rebuilt the engine but at this point the restoration stalled and the TR was sold in early 2015. The new and most recent private owner reinvigorated the project and by January 2016 the TR was finished to an exceptional standard, MOT tested and registered. The history file that accompanies the Triumph is something to behold with copies of over eighty invoices detailing the parts and work lavished on the beyond comprehensive restoration and even though these are meticulously arranged, they take some wading through. Needless to say, the names one might expect keep cropping up; Moss, TR Shop, Revington TR, Rimmer Brothers, MEV Spares and SC Parts. Perusing these records it is clear that during the restoration no stone (or should we say nut or bolt) was left unturned and the suggested investment of over £43,000 in the project is entirely believable. While it is clearly not possible to detail every invoice and penny spent here, (some highlights are new bumpers and over riders in stainless steel, new light units, springs, steering rack, pedal box, interior, dashboard, windscreen, wheels, tyres, wiring loom etc.) a summary on file is shown in the photo gallery.
Aside from the plethora of new parts purchased, the Triumph’s overdrive gearbox was professionally rebuilt at a cost of some £1,600, the bodywork was repainted by MJR Body Repairs (over £7,500) and the interior was re-trimmed in three shades of gorgeously soft leather by John Skinner. An original ‘Surrey Top’ was acquired and completely refurbished with new rubbers paintwork and headlining.
While the aforementioned engine rebuild was being carried out, the opportunity was taken to carry out some mild tuning. T&L Engineering recut the valves and their seats and skimmed the head by .057” to give the same compression ratio as the UK specification 2.5 fuel injection engines. They also chemically cleaned the bottom end and ground the crankshaft’s big end journals by just .010”, the mains needing nothing more than a polish and the cylinder bores only a hone. The engine was then reassembled with a 2.5 fuel injection camshaft, Duplex timing chain and high pressure oil pump while externally it was treated to an aluminium rocker cover and more importantly a pair of specialist refurbished HS6 SU carburettors. The respected Distributor Doctor rebuilt the distributor to suit the engine’s specification and the final tweaking was carried out on Hi-Tech Motorsport’s rolling road. While we wouldn’t suggest the engine now gives quite as much power as the injected TR5s and early TR6s, the work carried out would indicate that something in the region of 25% may have been gained over a standard TR250.
As one might expect given the integrity of the stepping off point, the body is in very fine fettle indeed being arrow straight with excellent panel gaps which is not something you can always say regarding TRs. All the trim strips and swage lines align well and there is obviously no evidence of any corrosion at all.
Refinished in the Triumph’s original factory ‘Code 25’ Conifer Green (how very festive), the paintwork is similarly excellent with good depth, shine and a superb even finish. Given the body was already prepared for paint, the £7,500 plus spent on the final finish was not insignificant but the results speak for themselves even now, some five years down the line.
The bright-work is all new and consequently in excellent condition and both the stainless steel bumpers and beautifully ornate front sidelight units should have significantly better longevity than the original steel and Mazak versions. New 72 spoke chrome wire wheels have been fitted and these are shod with quality Avon tyres which have covered less than 1,000 miles.
The interior of the TR250 is a beautiful and considerably more luxurious take on the car’s original 1960s verse in vinyl. As mentioned, John Skinner (Manufacturing) Ltd. were commissioned to trim some shapely and comfortable yet appropriate Mazda MX5 seats, along with the various door and trim panels, in three shades of wonderfully soft tan leather. Contrast piping and perforated centre sections to the seats are a stylish detail. Matching light tan carpets and new seat belts were also fitted along with a shapely Nardi steering wheel. Classical Dash provided a new dashboard in (according to their invoice) elm into which a set of very smart reconditioned white faced instruments were fitted. Behind the trim panels and carpeting Dynamat sound proofing sheets were installed which along with Surrey Top, complete with a new headlining, lift the Triumph’s interior firmly into ‘GT’ territory. Settled in the uber-comfortable interior, the predominantly light tan materials and airy rear window of the hardtop make for a snug yet bright environment while the new leather and top quality carpeting give it an ‘Eau de Showroom’ aroma.
Reluctantly climbing out to check the underside this, as can be appreciated from the photo gallery, is in similarly good order if not quite as luxurious. The finish to the black painted chassis has just the odd jacking mark and it contrasts nicely with the body coloured floors and inner sills. A twin pipe stainless steel exhaust system of generous bore still has the remains of its maker’s labels on it and there are new nuts, bolts and washers wherever one looks. The well finished suspension components have just the lightest coating of road grime which could be easily removed and there is just the lightest misting of oil.
The engine bay is painted to the same high standard as the rest of the car and the refreshingly simple instillation is neat, tidy, well ordered and both clean and dry.
On the move the driving experience emphasises the Triumph’s GT credentials being smooth and civilised with a tight and up-together, all of a piece feel. The SU carburettors offer a significant improvement over the original Strombergs which were forced upon the TR250 ostensibly to enable it to comply with stringent US emissions regulations though cost, reliability and ease of servicing may have had as much to do with Triumph not offering the car with fuel injection back in 1967. The engine starts easily from cold with some choke (which can soon be dispensed with) and oil pressure shows as 60 PSI at a silky smooth 600 RPM idle. The new clutch operates smoothly as does the rebuilt overdrive gearbox and progress is accompanied by a lovely mellow six cylinder exhaust note.
The history file contains not only the restoration paperwork already mentioned but the V5C, importation documentation, MOT test certificates and photographs taken before, during and after the work was carried out; please see the photo gallery.
The TR also comes with a fire extinguisher, tool kit, workshop manual and the now, for this example at least, somewhat redundant publication, “How to Restore Triumph TR5/250 & TR6”.
Extensively and expertly restored we see this TR250 as the best of all worlds. A model produced for not much more than a year it is consequently the rarest and most desirable of the TR range – including the TR7! The most fully developed underpinnings coupled with the early cars’ good looks; we’d say Hemmings really nailed it.