By on April 27, 2010

For decades, British roadsters had a spell on Americans. And the rivalry between the MG and Triumph, the two leading exponents of the genre, was legendary. They each had loyal adherents to the respective marques, and the stiff competition kept the improvements coming, even if not exactly at a breakneck pace. But by about the time this TR-6 first appeared in 1969, the race was essentially over: the new MGC was DOA, and the MGB was quickly slipping into its ossification period, while the Triumph reveled in its final incarnation of the classic formula: old school, but with a healthy kick of life in it yet.

The TR Series began with the 1953 TR-2. Always a notch more powerful and expensive than the corresponding MG, the TR-2 established not only the TR formula, but was the very basis for the whole series until the all-new TR-7 appeared in 1975. The TR-6 is a direct descendant of that hoary and rough-riding TR-2, including its old-school body-on-frame (BOF) construction.

Meanwhile, the MGs enjoyed a much more vigorous rate development, given that in 1953, the MG’s TD was still very nineteen-thirties in look and feel. MG’s went through at least three major new platforms, and the MGB was a substantially more modern unibody design than the corresponding TR-4. Not that it made much difference.

Triumph’s underdog status always led to creative and incremental solutions, and the TR range continued to evolve in ways that most directly addressed its most immediate shortcomings. The 1961 TR-4 had a handsome new body designed by Michelotti, and rack and pinon steering. In 1965, The TR-4A was blessed with an independent rear suspension to tame the very much alive rear axle. And in 1967, the TR-5, oddly called TR-250 in the US, finally replaced the rude old four cylinder with a much smoother and lusty 2.5 L six. And yes, it’s true; the old four really was a design that was also used in a Ferguson tractor engine, for what its worth. The Brits liked a bit of sportiness while plowing the field.

The TR-5 is my personal favorite of the bunch including the TR-6, since I’m rather fond of the earlier Michelotti design, which looked its best with the revised grille on the TR-5. With its 150hp fuel-injected engine (not in the US), it had quite brisk performance for its day, not to mention a lovely exhaust note. And with the overdrive, one had seven gears to play with. Triumph’s first sports car, the Roadster, was an attempt to compete with Jaguar’s XK series, at lower cost. The TR-5 and 6, with their six cylinders and more refined suspensions, finally approached that goal of a poor mans Jag.

Even though I’m not so hot about the TR-6′s styling, which was obviously a low-budget face and tail lift done with help from Karmann re-using the TR-4′s center section, it has its charms, especially if British Roadsters are one’s thing. It’s clearly the most vibrant, appealing and civilized of its era, given the how the MGB became such a pathetic thing, with its hippo-nose, jacked up suspension and feeble 77hp four. The TR-6′s arrival was embraced; the MGB’s decline could only be endured, at best.

The TR-6 appeared in 1969 with generally enthusiastic reviews, as the old TR magic was still to be found in the right settings. Since US bound TR-6s had a desmogged engine with only 104 hp to the British market’s 150 hp, acceleration in that era of Detroit muscle cars was hardly breathtaking. But it had a useful torque curve, and certainly sounded right, especially with the top down. Ergonomically, the Triumph was obviously still old school: a narrow and cramped little cabin; getting in was more like sliding into a sleeping bag. But there was that handsome dash board (literally) to savor as a compensation to the lack of comforts.

The TR-6 was the best selling of the TR series so far, and some 95 k were made from ’69 through 1976. The fact that 86k of those were exported gives a pretty clear picture what the intended market for the TR-6 was. They might just as well have put the Stars and Stripes on its flank instead of the Union Jack.

The beginning of the end happened about the same time this TR-6 first appeared in 1969, and reflected the relative dynamic qualities of the two parent companies that had just merged to form British Leyland. The much smaller Leyland was essentially called on to bail out the moribund BMH (formerly BMC). Leyland was clearly the better managed of the two, but it quickly got bogged down in the mind boggling morass of over 100 companies that made up the new company, making everything from appliances to tractors (real ones, that is). Soon, the government would have to bail out the sinking conglomerate.

It was clear that Triumph, as part of the original Leyland would get preference over MG in the sports car segment, and an all-new TR-7 would soon see the (dismal) light of day as a replacement for the the TR-6. But that’s the story for another CC. TR-6s like this obviously nicely restored one enjoy an enthusiastic following. Its engine is easily upgraded for a bit more punch, and its ride is much less punishing than its predecessors. Just the ticket for as summer’s day drive into the mountains.

Top Gear TR6 segment here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iL0JQJNnLWo

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53 Comments on “Curbside Classic: Triumph TR-6...”


  • avatar
    salhany

    Nice writeup as always Paul. That’s a beautiful example you’ve got here.

    Did these suffer from the usual Brit fuel pump and electrical gremlins? I love the use of wood on the dashboard of what’s essentially a runabout car.

  • avatar
    Mark out West

    Had a Spitfire (via wife), TR-6, and Stag. Nothing beats driving a Triumph, top down, on a cold, sunny, spring morning with the heat going full blast. Epic.

    Sadly, nothing today even comes close to the pure joy of driving a Triumph. James May had a hilarious TG spot on the TR-6. It’s around on YouTube.

    • 0 avatar
      Irvingklaws

      …Except for a driving a Miata. Styling and history aside, it’s the same thing only better in just about every way.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      Not to burst any bubbles and I do like the TR-6 and its predecessors, but the Fiat Spider used to eat TR-6′s for breakfast. Go back and read old Road & Track, Car and Driver and other car mags of the day. The TR-6 finished last in every comparo.

      But they are pretty to look at.

  • avatar
    tiger260

    Paul

    That is an intertesting article.

    I’m disappointed that you repeat that hoary old myth about the eariler 4-cylinder TR cars having a “Ferguson tractor engine”. Standard-Triumph did indeed supply many of their 4-cylinder engines to the Ferguson tractor company. However, the engine in question was conceived and designed for use in motor cars. It was used in many of Standard Triumph’s cars and appeared in the cars before Ferguson decided that is would be great to power their tractors. It was a 100% Standard-Triumph engine. It was not a “Ferguson tractor engine” used in a Triumph but a “Standard-Triumph car engine” used in a tractor. Standard-Triumph also supplied the same engines for Morgan sports cars for many years too.

  • avatar
    NickR

    I like the TR250 and the TR6 prior to the rubber bumpers. Still looked respectable enough though.

    However, in the end, the Austin-Healey 3000 was still the best looking of the genre IMHO.

    • 0 avatar
      Slow_Joe_Crow

      The problem with the A-H 3000 is the front end weight. The rally cars had aluminum heads for handling reasons, not horsepower, oddly enough this makes the Rover V8 powered replicas better drivers than the originals.
      Back on topic, the US TR5 was called the TR250 because it had carbs instead of fuel injection and to emphasize the new 2.5 liter 6. I think TR250s also didn’t have the “surrey” top option seen on some TR5s.
      Personally I always preferred the look of the Spitfire, especially the latter Kamm tail models.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    I love British roadsters. I love them so much if I ever bought one it would be the purest modern expression, the Mazda Miata. (Sorry purists, I’d like mine to start every morning and not fight electrical gremlins.)

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    I like the TR6 better than the TR4 or TR250. I especially like them in great 70s colors like this one.

  • avatar

    I’m a big fan of British roadsters but the TR6 has never been my favorite – for reasons I can’t explain it leaves me a bit cold. The styling perhaps. It does have a wonderful exhaust note and a big manly vibe to it. I had a Spitfire many years ago and loved it. Great fun and mine was quite reliable.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    Reminds me of a red TR6 I saw at a local car show once a few years ago in Georgia. It had what was IIRC a Chevy 4.3L V6 in it. The truly odd thing was that the engine was shoved way forward so that the belt-driven fan was near the radiator, which appeared to throw the weight balance far forward in the car. I don’t know if it was to make the transmission fit the tunnel better or if appearance of offset CoG was deceiving, but it looked weird.

    For all the room it apparently left, should have gone for a V8.

  • avatar
    PaulieWalnut

    Triumph TR6: “The blokiest bloke’s car ever built”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iL0JQJNnLWo

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    I am a proud, recovering victim/survivor of British and Italian roadsters and as an obvious part of my recovery and healing from the trauma, I now own three first-generation Miatas. It is clear why Miatas quickly took over the entire roadster market.

    In the Miata, the Japanese created the finest British roadster in history.

    • 0 avatar
      1996MEdition

      Agreed…..the Miata is easy enough to work on if necessary and there are tons of mods that one can do. Kind of nice not having to replace burnt points every couple of months, throw-out bearings once a year…….and always trying (never successful) to balance the carbs. I cut my teeth on Midgets…..driven lots of “roadsters” and the Miata is the closest to the original British experience.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      Miatas are great cars (I bought my #1 son a beautiful, black ’92 Special Edition for his HS graduation in 2000), but the ride is too busy for extended highway cruising… just my opinion. Only flaw I can think of.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    I hate the US spec black bumper over-riders on this car.I gather that the fuel injection system was very troublesome and many cars were converted back to carburettors.
    I fell in love with the TR2 as a small boy and always loved the TR cars ( except the TR7 of course)

  • avatar
    MGRon

    Great article Paul. As a former owner of an MGC and present day owner of a Triumph 1967 GT6 (the poor man’s E-type)I have enjoyed the best of both worlds. There are a number of TR6′s in our club and I admit to being envious of the owners. The affordable TR6 is on my short list.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    Miata: A TR6 that runs.

  • avatar
    red60r

    I had a 1963 TR-4. With its wind-up glass side windows it had better visibility than the TR-2 and 3 models, but the same fully-removable cloth top. What transformed the car for Chicago winters, actually allowing the feeble heater to warm the interior, was addition of an aftermarket, double-walled fiberglass hard top. Glass all around, including opera windows, and enough insulation to keep out the weather. Back in those days, no one worried about NHTSA rollover standards. Those side windows did have a tendency to pop out of their tracks and sit at a silly angle; I got so I could pull the door liners and pop the glass back into place in about 5 minutes a side.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    Why oh why didn’t MG send the mid engined F to the USA to hurt the Miata? And more importantly why doesn’t BMW get it’s finger out and do to Triumph what it did to MINI.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      There were stories put out going back about 5 years about a factory in Oklahoma. It always smelled worse than fishy, but it was a fun PR exercise.

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/west_midlands/5173028.stm

  • avatar
    Motorhead10

    had a friend that was a fan of Brit roadsters – he had an MG Midget in high school. I was with him when the o-ring sized tires let lose and he stuffed it under a parked Firebird at 40mph. Still have the scar on my head. About 10 years later he bought a TR6 – same color as car pictured here. We went out for a beer the night the Yankees won the WS in ’96 (after the game) – dark, woodsy, winding road on the north shore of Long Island. Car needed a tune (or more) and would stall on clutch-in. We happened upon an accident scene in which local law (seemed like ALL of the them) was letting cars creep through 1by1. He had to keep revving to keep it running. Cops get mad, pull us over, empty Heiniken bottles, disagreement, punch an officer, mace, beating, hauled to jail. So I’m left with mad police people and a sick TR6. They tell me to get it out of there. I’m thinking, “they’re setting me up”. I make them give me the field test to clear me for driving. I pass. Car stalls 50 times. Cops standing around the car laughing at me. Finally limp it back to my sister’s place in Bayville and leave it on the front lawn. Not a good night – but better than the MG crash…for me at least.

    • 0 avatar
      CC_Stadt

      Thank you, Motorhead10, that stenographed story made my afternoon! I had a similar issue with unbalanced carbs in my old Benz a few weeks back, so I can relate. Did not end up involving punches or jail, though.

    • 0 avatar
      Motorhead10

      the wind-up of the MG crash is that he kept the car in the horse corral on his parents’ property for 20+ years (we crashed in ’86), vowing to restore it. There wasn’t ONE SINGLE part of that car that was salvageable. So we meet for a beer in Manhattan one night a few years ago and when I go to close the bar tab, he slaps three crisp $20s on the bar. When I insist on paying, he explains that he sold the MG for scrap that afternoon and that was the $60 he got for it. I let him pay – as there was no more fitting use for those $20s than squaring a bar tab and closing the book on the that car.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    @Tstag — Good question, altho I don’t know if BMW owns the Triumph mark. That said, one could argue that the Z3 was one answer to your question. As initially conceived, a little more substantial than the Miata and, with the 6, faster although not as nimble. I drove a TR-4 in the late 1960s and own a Z3, which captures most of the good things of the TR-4 that I can remember . . . without the punishing ride and darty steering. At 6’4″ I just barely fit with the top up . . . as was the case with the TR-4. Regrettably, BMW insisted on stuffing increasing amounts of power into the Z3, which mostly served to highlight the limitations of its suspension and body. The original Z4 was, in my view a WTF? car; and the revised version is lovely inside and out. But, with the folding metal hardtop and premium pricing, BMW has clearly moved away from the “Miata+” market to the Mercedes SLK market.

    I believe there was talk — before the latest recession — of BMW reintroducing a roadster at the original Z3 relative price point, but, I think that plan has been shelved. Perhaps the problem is that that market (softtop 2-seat roadsters) just isn’t big enough to be shared with Mazda and be worthwhile.

    Last fall, I happened to see a fully restored TR-4A, in “British Racing Green” with IRS and the wood dash. Lovely! And, unlike Paul, I don’t/didn’t have a problem with the original 4, altho I’m sure a six is nicer. The 4 was quite happy up to about 3500 rpm (which equaled 70 mph with the 4-speed and no OD). Pushing it up to 4000, much less its redline of 5000, seemed like something that you didn’t want to do very often or very long.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    Since Triumph is a British marque, shouldn’t this piece be a “Kerbside Classic”?

  • avatar
    tiger260

    Hi Paul

    “I meant to/should have said “shared with”.

    Noted. Thanks. I have the pleasure of owning a 1961 TR4. Not that we TR fans are too sensitive about the “tractor engine” jibe. the truth is that a large part of the attraction of those TRs, especially the 4-cylinder cars is that they are so mechanically “rugged” and robust, just the qualities that Ferguson wanted in an engine for their tractors. I think that the tractor engine slight was probably perpetuated by those slightly sniffy MG fans who liked to insinuate that the Triumphs weren’t true sports cars.

    I tend to agree with you that the TR5 was probably the pinnacle of the series combining the handsome TR4-styling with the injected 6-cyclinder drive-train and IRS. The classic car prices tend to support that view too. I believe that the injected TR5 is still the fastest production Triumph ever, as the TR8 used a pretty softly tuned version of the Rover/Buick V8?

    There is a certain butch slab-sided charm to the TR6 even if it does represent the end-of-an-era model. And unlike may TR purists, I don’t really have a problem with the TR7 and TR8. They were also quite fun cars in their own right – they just can’t really be considered as in the same family as the earlers TRs.

    Thanks

  • avatar

    Sorry gentlemen, the Miata is a testosterone-free chick car. The TR6 may be a quirky British sports car, but it is definitely a macho car. In fact, the TR6 will eventually require its owners to get their hands dirty-another rite of manhood.

    • 0 avatar
      xyzzy

      I’ve heard that insult before but it’s BS. All the Miatas I see on the road are driven by middle aged dudes like myself. The car that’s surprisingly chicky us the BMW 3 series, just judging by who seems to be driving them

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Yeah how bout the fact that judging from the online forums that many Miata owners get their hands dirty. Not cause they have too to keep their POS running, but to tune the Miata for their own particular driving style and needs.

    • 0 avatar

      A man can drive any car without having his masculinity questioned if it has a manual transmission. MINI Coopers were initially advertised with a male-centric ad campaign comparing them to go-karts.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    Circa late 60s’ Old Blighty was under labour Govt, by Harold Wilson.
    They way it was running spell the end of all British industries.

    One article I read says BLMC shifted a lot of money to Triumph, where they made the V8 for Stag, and that engine went no where.

    TR7 kind of spell the end of TR. I didnt think TR8 did much help either.

    One bloke worked for the Rover fact then says, all the workers would put a handful of nuts & bolts in their pocket to take home.
    One guy always took a new battery every night and only to throw it into the ditch.

  • avatar

    I’m surprised you could find such a bloky bloke’s car in Eugene. In Cambridge (MA, not UK) as soon as that James May video was aired the city council banned this car.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    Lots of my friends had old british sports cars like these in the late 70s to early 80s. Even then, they had the stench of failure about them. Granted, they handled well, but oh so unreliable. I think every one of those friends was driving Hondas by the end of the decade.

    If you want to waste a perfectly good few hours, go browse the galleries at http://www.britishV8.org . There are a good twenty TR6 swaps. This is one of those perfect applications where installing a smallblock v8 not only increases performance AND reliability but also decreases weight.

    • 0 avatar
      Nicodemus

      Hell’s Bells! There are one or two nice tasteful efforts in that site, but most are genuinely, mind-boggling in their ghastliness. I find it astounding that people have spent so much time and money making them.

  • avatar
    carguy1994

    I agree with everything that was said about the Miata, but the TR6 was a beautiful car with all its flaws. In 70′s in Detroit, my friend and I would ride our bikes to the Triumph dealership and dream about owning a TR6 or Spitfire.

  • avatar
    TAP

    It was said that if forced into reverse while moving forward , the car would simply stop- then move backward with no ill effects.
    I accidentally drifted into a TR-6 one time long ago, and its owner would have flattened me on the spot if not for the presence of his fiance’. Probably deserved it.

  • avatar
    bevo

    I love the TR6; a true classic. I drove a restored TR6. You gotta be a jockey or British to fit into one of these things.

    It was a great drive even with my knees in my nose.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I’ve owned owned a Spitfire for nearly 15 years now. Other than a broken crank due to a bone-headed mistake in parts sourcing by a previous owner, it has been boringly reliable. Starts first time, every time, and I would drive it from Maine to California tomorrow if I thought I would be able to still walk afterwards. About as complicated as an anvil. I think restored British cars are generally FAR superior in build quality to what the factories did back in the 70′s.

    In contrast, I also recently purchased an ’86 Alfa Spider. Which so far has also proved very reliable. But a FAR more complex car, and HUGELY harder to work on. On the other hand, it is amazingly comfortable, has a brilliant heater, and a top that keeps the elements out. But not nearly as sporting, though a ton faster. I’ll be driving it from Maine to D.C. next month. Of course, back in the day when they were direct competitors, I believe the Alfa Spiders cost a good bit more than the TR6 did.

    I’ve always liked Miatas, but feel about them in relation to real European sportscars the same way I have always felt about Japanese sports sedans – why bother with the relativelty characterless copy? Plus I FIT in a Spitfire, I do not fit in a 1st gen Miata. All that safety and convenience crap takes up a lot of space! :-)

  • avatar
    Vetteman

    This article is why I enjoy this site so very much and seem to visit it almost every day. As a strapping young lad of 21 years and owning a nearly new domestic car I happened into a tiny little showroom in Walnut creek california and walked out with a spanking new 1970 Jasmine yellow TR 6 in exchange for my 69 chevy . That car was so much fun . Also that was the car I courted my wife of 40 years in. Great comments from all who posted . It sure was a different world back in 1970 . 35 cents a gallon for gas. The pinacle of the muscle car era . I also bought my used 69 GTX hemi that year which I also wish I still had. Now that car was a real kick ass car. That car was the best car I have ever driven for smokeing the rear tires . I loved being able to light them up and the car would get sideways enough to require one to look out the side window and then a sharp powershift and a flick of the steering wheel and she would snap back the other way and you would get crossed up in the other direction.Kind of a pendulume effect You would have to experience it to truly appreciate it. Wow that was 40 years ago

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Gas in Marysville/Yuba City in the time period 1969 – March 1973 was generally 24.9 cents per gallon. Went up to 30.9 – 31.9 in March 1973 when the first oil shock hit, so you were over-charged, unless you used premium, and that was high! Man, I miss that era when I was in the Air Force!

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    These looked better in french racing blue….but this is still a fine specimen. Would that someone would buy the tools and build this over a modern drive train….

  • avatar
    Pan

    As an owner of a ’74 TR6 for the past 35 yrs. I have really enjoyed these comments by so many TR fans. Yes, it’s an old car ( even when it was new); but, the fun quotient is still there as much as when I used to drive it back and forth from Toronto to Ottawa 25 yrs. ago at speeds that the traffic doesn’t drive to-day, and a trip I took down to Virginia Beach. The car has been very reliable, never letting me down. Right now, I’m having the engine compartment detailed and adding the green hoses and plug wires and a few other good looking pieces.
    Yes, it’s primitive by modern standards; but, ultimately, a TR6 is a state of mind. You either get it or you don’t.
    For those of you with or getting TR’s, PRESS ON !!

    • 0 avatar
      Greybeard

      As an original owner of a 1970 TR-6 I still enjoy taking it for a spin and being asked two questions by the younger kids…what is it? and does it go fast?  It remains a most enjoyable sportscar and has required almost no work.  I have rebuilt the carbs and the brake power assist, changed coil and batteries but all else is original.  It runs great and is a blast in the summer with the top down.

  • avatar
    Joss

    British Leyland or British Rail? Hard to know which was the more reliable commute of the day…


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