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“Let us get the Triumph TR4 in correct perspective from the start. It is a sports car pure and simple, not a G.T. machine, and is intended to instil fun into your motoring rather than provide effortless long-distance travel across Europe.” Motor Sport, January 1963.
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 ender, 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 most significantly 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.
The early history of this very late production TR4A is not clear but the current V5C held on file notes it was produced in 1968, registered overseas and not UK registered until 1997, though bills in the history folder confirm it had been treated to a significant ‘body-off’ restoration in the early 1990s by A&M Motors in Liverpool at a cost of over £5,000. Reference to the purchase of a new right hand drive steering rack in 1991 and moving the pedals to the other side of the cockpit plus a speedometer calibrated in Miles Per Hour indicate it may well have originally been exported to the USA; a readily available ‘Heritage Certificate’ would doubtless reveal all.
With its last MOT certificate having expired in June 2018 and a recent pre-MOT test apparently revealing a few chassis issues, our expectations for the TR were not high but we are happy to say this turned out to be one of those rare instances when things are not as bad as anticipated. The chassis is actually one of the better ones we have seen with just one neatly executed repair and the dreaded ‘yellow chalk of doom’ highlighting just one slight crack which we doubtless would not have noticed had it not been pointed out to us. Other than that, there are one or two areas of surface rust but even the notoriously susceptible outriggers look to be in great shape and generally the chassis seems to be in good condition, helped it is fair to say by slight oil leaks from the engine, gearbox and differential. Please see the selection of photographs in the gallery and draw your own conclusions or better still, inspect the car personally on the vendor’s car lift.
Though the bodywork is not structural on a TR4 it certainly has some issues on this example but it seems to us that these are for the most part confined to the rear wings and sills. The bonnet and front wings are really pretty good with just a small area of corrosion in the lower edge of the near-side wing. Working towards the back of the car, at some stage the passenger’s door has opened wider than it was designed to and it has been dented against the trailing edge of the front wing. There are a couple of rust spots in both door bottoms and the off-side outer sill has developed a four to five inch split along its length which could be relatively easily welded up though replacements are available for as little as £53. There is evidence of some ‘activity’ in both rear wings particularly along their leading edges and there are various ‘blebs’ present especially where they meet the rear deck. On the upside, as far as we could see, the inner panels are in good shape. Though this is not an exhaustive list of bodywork corrosion, it and the photo gallery hopefully give you some idea of its condition.
The TR’s paintwork is very presentable in terms of finish though there are one or two chips in it and it is of course compromised by the issues with its underlying bodywork.
Chrome on the Triumph is in fair to average condition with some pitting to the bumpers and a bit of distortion to the offside rear. It is acceptable from a distance and set against the overall condition of the car, though if the body and paintwork were in better order one would probably want to bring it up to a similar standard. Fortunately the tricky to refinish mazak components such as the front indicator housings are in somewhat better condition.
All five painted wire wheels are seventy-two spoke ‘competition’ versions from MWS (over £1,100 at today’s prices) and are clad in tyres of indeterminate age that are starting to show signs of sidewall cracking – replacement should probably be considered.
The interior is for the most part very presentable with the black with white-piped seats, dash, dash top, door panels and so on all very good. It would however benefit from new carpeting, at least in the front section of the cockpit and some of the plastics in areas such as the centre console are cracked. A very nice Moto-Lita wood-rim steering wheel is a lovely touch which complements the walnut dashboard.
Fun fact; the ‘Surrey Top’ is actually the name for the fabric centre section with the rest of the roof technically a ‘hardtop’. There is no rigid centre section with the car but the Surrey Top is a Moss item dated 2007 which is in good condition with no rips though it requires one new popper fitting (the surrounding fabric is undamaged) and perhaps a bit of a clean. Its frame is also in good condition and may be of the same vintage while the hardtop section is similarly good with a clear and scratch-free screen.
Correctly finished in body colour, the engine bay is currently not especially beautiful but honestly grubby and a good clean would doubtless improve things significantly. The battery clamp has worked free and should be re-secured before the TR is driven with any gusto.
Mechanically the Triumph looks and sounds to be in rude health, the 2,138cc litre engine starting well enough with some choke and a prolonged period of idling did not push the engine temperature up or oil pressure down unduly. At a slightly high idle, perhaps due to an underused throttle pedal or sticky choke, the temperature needle stayed just below mid-gauge with oil pressure at around 40 PSI. During our quick buzz up the road the impression was that a lack of use had allowed the suspension, brakes and steering to stiffen up somewhat and warming everything up a few times while putting mechanical components through their normal range of movements would, we suspect, be beneficial. The vendor suggested that the rear brakes may need a precautionary inspection as they seemed to be dragging very slightly and may not be working particularly well. Though we didn’t have the opportunity to test it ourselves, we understand the overdrive is only working intermittently. Again it might benefit from use or perhaps a cleaning up of all the relevant electrical connections.
The TR4A sports a few subtle modifications aside from the uprated wire wheels previously referred to. Adjustable Gas Spax telescopic shock absorbers are fitted all round, replacing the lever arm dampers normally found at the rear; a desirable modification which improves a TR’s on the road behaviour. Pancake air filters and a twin pipe stainless steel exhaust system help engine breathing and subtly up the aural experience too.
Extensively restored bodily in the early 1990s to an apparently high standard including lead loading of the repairs, use and the passing of nigh on thirty years has taken its toll and a refresh is certainly now due. Having debated marketing this Triumph as an out and out restoration project, we are now more inclined to put it in the ‘use and improve’ category with some mechanical fettling and use set to pay dividends, perhaps before attention is turned to the cosmetic issues the bodywork undoubtedly has; it hence offers terrific value at the ‘project’ level reserve set.