Long, low and impossibly red, the TR6 was unlike any car I had ever seen. Despite an endless supply of tight, winding roads Snohomish Washington has never been “sports car” country. When my brother’s friend John showed up with the Triumph, it made a hell of an impression. John was a nice guy and that’s saying a lot, honestly, because when you are a little kid, most of your older brothers’ friends don’t even bother to give you the time of day. But John was different. Tall, with movie-star good looks, he could have been a snob but he just wasn’t wired that way. Maybe that’s why the old car fit him so well. It was sporty and good-looking to be sure, but it was also restrained and somehow more approachable than its higher strung brethren. Naturally, I asked if I could drive it.
There is something pure and uncompromising about the TR6 that, in my mind, makes it the perfect sports car. Classically proportioned with a long hood, tiny cockpit and small boot, the TR6’s stocky body lacks the sinuous curves of so many of its contemporaries. The car’s style, it has always seemed to me, took a back seat function in the design process. The designers probably gathered the parts and assembled the running gear, the engine and the transmission, and added tires to a set of huge (for the time) 15” rims and then thought, “Oh yeah we should probably have some kind of bodywork to cover this.” Then, as good engineers do, they got out their straight edges, drew a car-like box on top of their real work and sent everything to the factory which faithfully built it.
The truth is that the TR6 is an evolution of the TR4/TR5. That earlier body design, which actually had some curves and even vestigial tail fins was updated and squared off on the advice of the famous German design company Karmann. There are dozens of detail differences between the TR6 and its predecessors and because of them, the TR6 really works for me in a way that those earlier cars don’t. Whereas those other cars look like quaint products of their own better, vanished time, the TR6 still looks modern and clean to my eye.
Seventeen year old boys ask to drive everything and they are used to getting “no” for an answer, so I was more than a little shocked when John threw me the keys to the car and told me to have at it. I didn’t have to be told twice and I slipped behind the wheel of a real two-seater for the first time in my life, covered the clutch and fired the willing engine.
Inside, the cockpit was impossibly small and the car’s wheel seemed at least two sizes too big. The wooden dashboard made the little car feel classy, and the gauges told me at a glance that everything was in good order. Out front, the Triumph’s long, tall hood stretched halfway to the horizon and the giant blind spot just ahead of its leading edge reminded me of my father’s Chevrolet pick up. Under my hand, the shift knob on the four speed felt cue-ball smooth, and the way it buzzed let me know that it offered a direct connection to the little car’s drive train.
I backed slowly out of our steep gravel driveway and pointed the car up the road that ran in front of our house. I knew that road well. It was the sole link to the world outside of the forest, and as such I had endlessly traveled back and forth along its length, first as a passenger, then by bicycle and finally from the seat of my own car. I knew it as I know a part of my own body. Every curve was an old friend, every ripple or crack upon its surface was a major landmark and every bump, every jolt, every judder formed a warm, familiar narrative that played out daily beneath my backside as I traversed its length. Now, with the top down and the trees reaching towards the sky above, I felt a new connection with it.
The Triumph stuck to the road as I worked my way up through the gears. I took the first few corners easily, the massive steering wheel giving me the leverage I needed to muscle the car around with minimal effort, and rolled on the gas at the top of the first straightaway. The exhaust barked out a long staccato burst as I wound out third gear and grabbed fourth. The road dipped and bucked but I had been expecting that and countered it easily. At the familiar place where the new blacktop gave way to old cracked asphalt, I slipped to the left to avoid the poorly mated repair patches along the road’s edge and the car’s speed increased with each passing second. The end of the straight approached but I felt no alarm as I got off the gas and let the car slow on the approach to the slight right-hander. I shot through the corner easily and then got hard on the brakes as I approached my turn around point.
The entrance to the old logging road was wide and smooth and I was able to turn the car around without difficulty. Glancing over my shoulder, I merged back onto the roadway and got right back on the gas and I shot homeward as fast as the little car would carry me. This was the perfect place for a speed run, no one around, no houses and children or pets to worry about, and now that I was fully comfortable behind the wheel I gave the little car all it would take. As I whipped down the road, my speed climbed up towards triple digits and I had a real sense that I had gotten all I could get before I reached the end of the straight. Stepping off the gas I let the car shrug off its speed as it coasted uphill and back into the neighborhood. As civilization reasserted itself, I stepped on the brakes and slowed the car back to the 35 MPH speed limit before I reached the first mailbox. I cruised through the neighborhood, arm on the windowsill feel like a rock start and was flush with excitement as I pulled into the driveway and shot the parking brake.
My brother Bruce was waiting for me in the driveway, hands on hips. “Are you nuts?” he asked.
“What?” I asked innocently.
“We know what you did. We heard you through the trees you idiot.” He snorted.
Caught red-handed, I apologized as I passed the keys back to John but as our eyes met an understanding flashed between us. We had something in common, John and I. We had both been there out in the wind, the wheel in our hands and our foot on hard on the gas, our fate resting in our own hands. In that moment, I think, John became my own friend as much as he was my brother’s. It was the friendship of equals, without regard for the difference in our ages and born of a common experience and recognition that I was, in his eyes at least, an adult. Although he suddenly passed away a few years ago, I still think of John Janzen often and I am proud that I earned his friendship in the short time that he had on Earth. To this day, I can’t see a TR6 without thinking of him and smiling.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.