By on October 15, 2013

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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.

Photo courtesy of: Car Domain.com's Domer95

Photo courtesy of: Car Domain.com’s Domer95

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.

Photo courtesy of: Car Domain.com's Domer95

Photo courtesy of: Car Domain.com’s Domer95

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.

Photo courtesy of: Car Domain.com's Domer95

Photo courtesy of: Car Domain.com’s Domer95

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.

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33 Comments on “Triumph Of The Spirit: Friendship Among Car Guys...”


  • avatar
    The Soul of Wit

    Despite the presence of awesome roads, I would think the American Northwest is NOT British Sports Car country for a very important reason: All that rain would play havoc with leaky roofs and the finicky electronics for which the Brits are reknowned.

    Other than that, great piece, mate.

    • 0 avatar
      tkmedia

      but if you think about it, the weather is a bit similar to the cars home country.

    • 0 avatar
      SimonAlberta

      I hesitated to scroll down to the comments because I knew it would only be a few comments before some jackass mentioned “the electrics”.

      Sadly it was #1 post….sad, sad, sad.

      Look, mate, a few thoughts;

      #1 This whole “problem” with British electrical problems is way overblown. I’ve owned/operated dozens of quite mundane UK tin through rain/fog/sleet/snow and have NEVER had ONE electrical issue. As a salesman and then sales manager I was involved in hundreds of sales of them with many, many satisfied customers returning for more of the same also having had few issues.

      Now, I am NOT saying there NO problems but truly they were not THAT bad. It is just unfortunate that this here internet is brilliant for an idea taking hold and being repeated and exaggerated ad nauseum until virtually the whole world thinks it is true.

      #2 Even if you get a “Friday car” that turns out to be a real dog, fixing them up is not that hard. There really isn’t all that much to replace bearing in mind none of the engines of that era had any electronics to speak of. So what if the wipers fail?

      #3 Even if this “theory” is totally accurate and literally EVERY British car ever made had shoddy electrics that left every owner in history stranded on an almost daily basis, (not the case, obviously) so what?

      My point here is this; just about EVERY thread about a British car that has been posted around the internet over many years attracts this kind of comment.

      Guess what? It is not clever. It is not original. It is only barely humorous and only to Americans by and large.

      Frankly, it has been done to death and is dull and boring.

      I issue a challenge to all here: next British car post how about you all try and resist the temptation make this kind of tedious comment.

      Sorry for the rant but this just grinds my gears.

      Oh, final thought: many American cars of that era, or a bit later for sure, were steaming piles of junk too so how about we all just try to be a bit less negative? We are supposed to be adults not school kids, I assume mostly at least.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Well said. I have owned a ’74 Triumph Spitfire for nearly 20 years, and the only electrical issue it has ever had is one failed starter solenoid.

        The cars need FAR more regular maintenance than a modern car, but none of it is hard, and as long as you do it they are quite reliable. I’d drive mine anywhere.

      • 0 avatar
        imag

        Great rant. I would say that should be a sticky at the top of every British car post, but then it might contribute to the problem.

      • 0 avatar
        rampriscort

        This bit about “correcting the record” has been coming up a lot lately, and probably for good reason. We love British cars and largely, are Anglophiles or at least Anglo-auto-philes. We know that the problem is not as bad as it’s often made out to be. It’s passed into folklore and become a running joke.

        Most people recognize that as English-speaking brother countries, we will always give each other grief over which one Mom loved more and who really won that race back when we were 10, in the way of siblings through all time. However, since the jibing about the “Prince of Darkness” has been taken by a certain contingent as a mortal blow, I will return the favor:

        Certainly, we will stop talking about the lack of working lights and wipers as a “feature” of British cars – as soon as the English stop ragging every American car for EVERYTHING. Apparently, every American car is a poorly built deathtrap that can’t do anything but float slowly down a straight road, badly, while subjecting it’s poor occupants to the horror of having to look at plastic, and any onlookers to the horror of having to see them go by. They have bad engines, bad design, bad colors, bad transmissions, bad drivers, and especially bad handling. And when they do turn, can only do so to the left. Ho ho ho, what a witty bit of witty wit that is. Never heard that one before.

        So yes, we give the Triumphs, MGs, and the others a hard time; but please recognize that we’d generally also give our right arm to have one, whatever the state of the electrical system.

        • 0 avatar
          Piston Slap Yo Mama

          Ha ha “the horror of having to see them go by” – bravo and well played sir. My gripe is the utterly death-and-taxes predictability of some commenters to post the same boilerplate, hackneyed, cliched stereotypes for certain cars. Bring-A-Trailer I’m looking totally at you. British cars gets the warm beer and magic smoke jar comments. Japanese classics elicit disbelief and disgust, Italian provokes the Fix It Again joke and on and on. The internet sags under the weight of regurgitated comments. If your sentiments aren’t original and don’t add to the discussion then DON’T POST THEM.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    I, too was lucky enough to have a John Janzen in my life. He was Michael L. Inks, a man with impeccable taste in cars. He threw me the keys to his Fairlady 240, that had replaced his ’68 SS396, which replaced the ’57 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop. Only the good die young? RIP. I sure miss him.

  • avatar
    mikedt

    The blokiest bloke’s car
    “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FageCtKA0g”

  • avatar
    bunkie

    A lovely piece about a lovely car. Triumphs can be cruel mistresses, I know, I owned a GT6+. But of all the cars I’ve owned in my life, it’s the one I miss the most. By way of curious coincidence, earlier today, I rode my bike to the local Advance Auto Parts for pick up some oil and as I was standing next to the bike, leafing through the owners manual to check the required oil type, the nicest looking TR-7/8 pulled up into the space next to me. Now these later TRs are not beloved, but this one was lovely in BRG. It turns out to have started life as a TR-8, but the owner dropped a small-block Chevy into it.

    My introduction to British cars came courtesy of my Godfather who owned two MG Magnettes and a Rover 3500 which he let me drive not long after I got my license.

    • 0 avatar
      Delta9A1

      I owned a 1980 3.5L TR8 as a second car for a number of years. Wonky electrics, ill-fitting top, and massive understeer, but the sound of a V8 in a small British sports car made up for a lot.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    As a one-time part owner of a ’62 TR4, nice piece. The TR-4 had narrow wheels and “darty” steering; I wonder if the TR6 corrected that. The TR-4 really wasn’t happy over 80, although it would do 90+ Other than the darty steering, I don’t recall any handling vices. The later TR4 with the independent rear suspension might have been another story, however. Rear wheel camber changes under cornering loads can make for some unpleasant surprises.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Had one of these. Loved it, loved it. Even the dreaded “Prince of Darkness” electrics were not too bad – I lived in a very dry area. I’d love to have it back now. At least one doesn’t need a degree in computer science to play with the engine. Reliable? Not very. Fun? Very.

  • avatar
    Pan

    Great story. That’s why, after almost 40 years, I still have and drive my ’74 TR6.

  • avatar
    Unlimited Headroom

    I too have been bitten by the TR6 bug and am loving it.
    They are fun to drive as from light to light you really are street racing but nobody knows it as a packed minivan is nicely keeping up. The fun is not how fast you are driving but how fast you are perceiving the drive.
    One more note on ownership is that even little kids recognize the car out of a whole line up of newer daily drivers and wave as we drive by.
    “Look Mummy, a toy car”.
    The exhaust note is so different and ‘burbly’ that I never have the radio on. As if I would even hear it.

  • avatar
    Piston Slap Yo Mama

    First I liked Thomas after his initial entry to the TTAC fray with a piece on putting a haggard Honda Dream back on the road – one of which is parked in my garage. Now he puts a red TR6 up as a paragon of automotive honesty and … there’s a red one in my garage. What a mensch! When I was a young guy I had a 240Z with a very massaged engine and the sound of that inline-6 at full tilt is still with me – but the 6 in my TR is a close 2nd. A Z3-M passed through my garage, and while I loved the wail its engine made, I passed it to a friend as my TR6 already scratched that itch.
    James May pronounced the TR6 “the blokiest bloke’s car ever built” and I completely agree. http://youtu.be/4FageCtKA0g

  • avatar
    kuponoodles

    Thanks again Thomas for a great read.

    My sister was my “John Janzen”. when she finally let me drive the family’s 89 civic (laugh it out now, get it outta your system.)
    But being a 1st gen immigrant family where our parents didn’t drive, that econobox was a luxury that we could barely afford but needed when my dad hurt his foot for 8 months.

    For a 16.5 year old boy who just got his license on the driving school’s ancient Nissan Sentra and Dodge Aires, that Civic was a very plush ride… (power windows? Pimp!!)
    Also, before the internets, cell phones and what not, seeing the world mean getting off your @ss and driving somewhere.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    If your LBC isn’t reliable as a daily driver , you’re not taking proper care of it ~ I drive one almost daily and I typically run it petal to the metal all the time as the tiny 1500 C.C. engine only6 puts out 55 ~ 65 HP even after massaging it a fair bit .

    As mentioned : they’re not _race_cars_ , they’re _Sports_Cars_ ~ to have fun and be Sporting in .

    This aspect makes them fun to drive to work in dense , crappy daily traffic .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    The nicest one of all the BL models. They’re starting to get a little rare as the cancer eats away at them. Still, a brilliant car and what I think of when anyone mentions a “sports car.”

  • avatar
    71 MKIV

    Thanks Tom for the story. I only stop at first look through for you and MM. Everybody else waits their turn.
    Back in 82 I had a choice between a 6 for a 1000 bucks and a Spitfire for 1200. The guy with the 6 wanted money up front, The Spit’s owner would take payments. Nobody would front me the money, so I took the Spit.
    It’s still in the garage. If you ever get down this way stop in and you can take it out for a spin. The electrics have been stone reliable, it’s vapor locked on me once or twice, but I think I have that solved now.

    71 MKIV

  • avatar
    JimC2

    This car was built in an era when synchromesh on *all* forward gears was still something special. I don’t know which model (prior to the TR6) that first featured a synchro first gear (in addition to the higher gears), such luxury was not always the case.

    The overdrives were also really interesting pieces of equipment- a nifty way to offer buyers a higher gear but still allow the company to continue producing their same old (and perfectly adequate) transmissions.

  • avatar
    campocaceres

    Great piece about a great car. I almost got my father’s TR6 as my first car, but there was a change of heart and it didn’t happen. Frankly, I’m glad it didn’t, because my dumbass teenage self would’ve wrecked it, and it wouldn’t still be sitting on my father’s garage today.

    After I finally learned how to drive a manual transmission properly, I did get to drive it during one of the very short windows when it was actually running. It’s still the only “old car” I’ve ever driven, and I was completely taken aback by how different it feels as compared to modern cars. It was honestly terrifying because the brakes were barely functional, but I can definitely appreciate the visceral aspect offered from piloting one.

  • avatar
    AoLetsGo

    One of my high school cars was a Spit which I really liked and one of my friends had the GT6. We were dwarfed by all the monster 70′s Detroit Iron but we had fun. That is until I took it all the way up to 65pmh and threw a rod. Unfortunately that fix was beyond my skill set so I let it go.
    I always did have TR6 envy though.

  • avatar
    imag

    I always thought these were one of the best looking roadsters ever. With the right wheels and tires, the stance is just dead on.

    I know it’s a travesty, but I always kind of wanted a restomod version with a LSX in it. It would probably weigh the same, and it could cash the check written by the body.

  • avatar
    nutbags

    Excellent story Thomas. The TR6 is on my short list (getting shorter as values increase) of old sports cars I would like to own/drive one day. Thank you for giving me a glimpse into what it would be like and stoking that fire in me again but I know what the answer from the Mrs. will be.

  • avatar
    red60r

    I had a 1963 TR4 and put several thousand miles on it during its first summer of rallyes. During the three years I had it, I had to contend with a few amusing issues — like having the return spring break in the clutch master cylinder during one of those “low-speed” contests and limping home, very thankful for that synchromesh first gear. With a little careful rev matching and gentle approaches to stoplights, we (I and future bride-as-navigator) made it back without having to try a dead start with the drivetrain connected. A later trip found me having to drive from northern Wisconsin back to Chicago with a dead generator. Yay, Lucas. A third-party, double-layer insulated fiberglass hardtop made a huge difference in the winter, giving the feeble British heater a chance to be felt.

  • avatar
    waltercat

    Thomas, as always, your writing makes my day. Thank you.

    It made me think back to a close college friend who had a ’71 TR6 that I worked on and drove occasionally. Back in the day – the early 70s – this car was hot stuff: a ton of torque, that great elemental feeling of manual-everything, great looks, and the way that exhaust sounded. My friend’s car was a little temperamental, but nothing crazy. I’ve lost touch with my friend and have no idea what ever became of that car, or him for that matter. But thanks for a great trip down memory lane.

  • avatar
    Lopaka

    As an owner of a ’74 TR6 living in Portland, OR I don’t get to drive it quite as often as I like but it has been a very reliable car. I can usually have it on the road 8 months out of the year. Provided you keep up the basic mantenance that all vintage sports cars need it will run for years. The best part is that I can do it all myself as opposed to taking it into a shop and I am not a mechanically inclined person.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I enjoyed that story too. I can’t say I ever had a friend quite like that, but I certainly had roads like that. A couple of them still exist, slightly widened and indifferently paved twisty ex-logging roads through the hills and forests of western Washington.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I had one uncle who always bought English sportscars for his own car and one time I got to drive his TR-6 , a 1972 model I think when we were at the beach and went on a beer run . Fun car , and the uncle always being a nice guy , not only let me drive it back but urged me to drive faster . Great guy . My only other experience ” piloting “a six – cylinder Triumph was steering my cousin’s BF’s dead 5 year old 1970 GT6 at the end of a tow rope , while he pulled it with his other car , a Chrysler Town- and – Country .

  • avatar
    HiFlite999

    My second car ever was a gorgeous 1969 GT6+ in BRG. The original 2.0L engine was fried by previous owner after a stuck thermostat, but was replaced under warranty by a 2.5L from the TR-6. With only 1900 lbs to pull and the extra power, my GT was a fast little bugger! Unlike my subsequent VW/Audis, the Triumph had zero electrical problems and the Smith guages set a reliability standard that put the constant failures of VDOs to shame.

    Since both front fenders lifted with the forward-opening hood, it was the easiest car to work on I’ve ever owned or seen. When fiddling with the side-draft Strombergs, one had a nice comfy seat on the front tire!


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