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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 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 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.
Though produced and dispatched to Stockport Triumph Dealers Hollingdrake Limited in August 1965, this lovely TR4A was not sold until March the following year. The ‘Heritage Certificate’ on file and the car’s Commission Plate showing paint and trim codes 32 and 11 confirm it was originally finished in Signal Red with black interior trim and hood, a colour combination it still sports today. It was also specified with a heater for those less hairy of chest, screen washers and new-fangled radial tyres courtesy of Mr Goodyear.
Fast forward fifty-three years and the 4A looks for the most part as if it has just been driven out of the Hollingdrake showroom. The bodywork is amongst the best we have seen on a separate-chassis Triumph with excellent panel fit and gaps. A virtually new looking top quality cloth hood with clear screens showing no misting or scratches fits very well indeed and contrasts nicely with the paint which is itself very good indeed; even and smooth with good shine and depth. Invoice and photo documentation on file indicate that the TR was repainted in 2016 and it still looks ‘booth fresh’ with the work having obviously been carried out skilfully with great attention to detail shown in oft-neglected areas such as door shuts and under the bonnet.
Set against this background the chrome-work doesn’t disappoint, being very good in most areas. The period factory option chrome wire wheels have clearly been well maintained and the front sidelight housings are similarly very good. Being hypercritical there is a very small amount of pitting to the rear lights and the chrome has worn slightly thin on the passenger door handle.
For the most part the same high standards are maintained inside though the possibly original black with white piping seats show a small, slightly crude repair to the driver’s side as shown in the photo gallery. The matching black carpets are in very good condition and protected by (slightly too modern for our tastes) over-mats. The beautiful walnut dashboard is in good condition with no sign of cracking to the lacquer or lifting of the veneer while the somewhat fragile plastics above and below are in similarly nice order. The original ‘banjo’ steering wheel is nice to see though in the interest of picking some nits, a modern period radio/CD player is less at home. A virtually full team of Jaeger instruments are in play with just one substitute modern ammeter rather letting the side down, though this is very much a relatively easy fix in our view.
Into the boot and the floor looks very solid indeed and though no spare wheel is present an original looking hood cover requiring some work is. Staying with the more mundane but equally critical areas of the TR, up on the seller’s lift it is clear firstly that we have a genuine Independent Rear Suspension 4A here – a surprising number of 4As still sported a live axle – and this is bolted to a very solid chassis. Equally encouraging, the floors, outriggers, inner and outer sills also look to be in similarly exemplary condition. As can be seen in the photo gallery, the underside enjoys a nice protective coating of oil but this is not excessive or evidence of untoward leaks from the major mechanical components – engine, gearbox and differential. An ever popular twin stainless ‘Spots’ exhaust set up is fitted and there are numerous new suspension joints present. The wishbones and other suspension components are in very good shape being clean, well finished and obviously well maintained. Aeroquip brake lines and an oil cooler have been fitted along with new brake callipers and wheel cylinders while there is plenty of tyre wear left. Under the bonnet K&N air filters are present along with a powder fire extinguisher and Kenlow cooling fan.
Starting easily, the evergreen 2138cc engine soon settles to a smooth (given its sizeable displacement for a four cylinder) 1,000 RPM idle with well over 50 PSI showing on the oil pressure gauge. In line with its visual appearance, the TR certainly drives very nicely indeed, feeling taught and generally well sorted; careful maintenance over the years and particularly recently certainly seems to have paid dividends.
A more than respectable history file accompanies the Triumph with a current V5C showing just eight owners from new and only three in the last sixteen years. Various invoices document both mechanical fettling carried out by renowned specialists TR Enterprises and the paintwork previously referred to. There is also a receipt relating to a previous sale of the TR, a copy of an earlier V5 and some twenty-one tax discs dating back to 1985 along with the TR’s Heritage Certificate.
On the button, ready to go and needing nothing (why use just one cliché when you can use three?) this delightful TR 4A is ready to be enjoyed. Road Tax and MOT free, just add fuel!