The TRS that were a Tri­umph

TRI­UMPH T R 2 SAND T R3S MADE QUITE AN IM­PACT WHEN THEY AR­RIVED IN NEW ZEALAND—AND THEY STILL DO, AS DON N AN­DER­SON DIS­COVER S WHILE RE­SEARCH­ING THIS UNIQUE-LOOK­ING SPORTS CAR

New Zealand Classic Car - - Motorman -

Tri­umph’s TR2 had the distinc­tion of be­ing the least-ex­pen­sive 100mph Bri­tish car in 1953. The es­sen­tially sim­i­lar TR3 that fol­lowed was the first Bri­tish-se­ries pro­duc­tion car to have disc brakes. What’s more, as a di­rect re­sult of the TR2, the Stan­dard-tri­umph com­pany de­cided that all its fu­ture cars would be badged ‘Tri­umph’, drop­ping the ‘Stan­dard’ nomen­cla­ture.

De­spite mak­ing quite an im­pact, only 8,628 TR2S were made be­tween 1953 and 1955, and the TR Reg­is­ter be­lieves that 81 of them are still in New Zealand, while some have been ex­ported. There were five TR2S in the first New Zealand ship­ment, and it is reck­oned that three of them re­main in Christchurch to­day.

World de­mand had grown with ar­rival of the TR3 in 1956, hav­ing a pro­duc­tion to­tal of 13,377 un­til 1957, with 31 ex­am­ples known to still be here. A fur­ther 65 TR3A and TR3B mod­els re­main in New Zealand from a world to­tal of 58,236. Tri­umph built 3,331 left­hand-drive TR3BS, but this was a Us-mar­ke­tonly car. The TR3B has a TR4 gear­box with syn­chro­mesh on first gear. Two were im­ported lo­cally, with one of them con­verted to right hand drive. The other TR3B has since been ex­ported and re­stored in Eng­land. Be­tween 1953 and 1962, a grand to­tal of 83,572 TR2/ TR3/TR3A/TR3B mod­els found keen buy­ers.

The low-slung, ro­bust, and straight­for­ward TR2 is clearly a highly us­able clas­sic, with dis­tinc­tive looks and a fair mea­sure of Bri­tish quirk­i­ness. Stan­dard Mo­tor Com­pany boss Sir John Black sought an af­ford­able sports car to chal­lenge the suc­cess of MG, al­though, in 1951, the two Manx-tailed pro­to­types code-named ‘20TS’ were never go­ing to pass muster. Their han­dling was sus­pect, and, hap­pily, they never went into pro­duc­tion in that form. De­spite sug­ges­tions that these early pro­to­types were named ‘TR1’, ex­perts claim this is er­ro­neous.

Pre­vi­ously in­volved with English Rac­ing Au­to­mo­biles and Bri­tish Rac­ing Mo­tors, chief test driver Ken Richard­son de­scribed the pro­to­types as “bloody death­traps”, so it was no sur­prise that the car un­der­went a chas­sis up­grade and many other mod­i­fi­ca­tions. The short rounded tail with ex­posed spare wheel was deemed too dated, and, by the time the car went into pro­duc­tion, a longer tail not only im­proved the form of the body but also re­duced drag and al­lowed more room for lug­gage. It was a hit at its Geneva Mo­tor Show de­but in March 1953.

Early ex­am­ples were known as ‘ long doors’ be­cause the cut-away doors went to the bot­tom of the body­work, but they were later short­ened to pre­vent dam­age when open­ing near kerbs or other ob­struc­tions. When seated, you can reach out and touch the ground.

The car has a pressed-steel chas­sis with X-shaped brac­ing and was praised for its taut­ness and road man­ners. How­ever, the hard-spring and damper set­tings were detri­men­tal to ride, these a con­se­quence of the back axle rid­ing above the chas­sis side mem­bers, lim­it­ing the amount of move­ment when cor­ner­ing.

Wal­ter Bel­grove de­signed the TR2 with its un­usual re­cessed grille and chunky looks. There are no ex­ter­nal door han­dles, but they ar­rived in the TR3A in 1957. The wind­screen ap­pears flat but is slightly curved to pre­vent bow­ing, and, for those in­tent on com­pe­ti­tion,

the TR2 has holes in the scut­tle so that aero screens can be fit­ted when the wind­screen is re­moved. Some early testers com­mended the side screens, while oth­ers reck­oned that in heavy rain there would be more rain in­side the cock­pit than out!

Ex­tremely ro­bust

An­i­mos­ity from MG en­thu­si­asts abounded when the TR ar­rived, with jokes that the in-line-four pushrod over­head-valve en­gine — sim­i­lar to that found in the Stan­dard Van­guard sedan — had ori­gins in a Fer­gu­son trac­tor. The cast-iron 1991cc three-bear­ing en­gine has wet-lined cylin­ders and is ex­tremely ro­bust. TR2S came with a pair of 1.5-inch SU car­bu­ret­tors, and the TR3 with larger 1.75-inch SUS. Low-port cylin­der heads were re­placed in mid-1956 with more ef­fi­cient high-port heads with bet­ter gas flow.

While the TR2 had its grille at the back of the air in­take, when the TR3 ar­rived, in 1955, the grille was placed at the in­take en­trance. At the same time, power in­creased by 5bhp (3.7kw) to 95bhp (70.8kw) with larger in­let ports and big­ger SU car­bu­ret­tors. Later cars had the 100bhp (74.5kw) 2138cc en­gine.

The 1957 TR3A, which was in pro­duc­tion un­til 1962, was dis­tin­guished by the wider ‘ dol­lar grin’ grille. Small re­vi­sions were made to the head­lamp pods and ex­ter­nal han­dles for the doors and boot lid. Pro­duc­tion over­lapped with the newer TR4, re­sult­ing in the TR3B for the US mar­ket.

An in­de­pen­dent test of a four-year-old TR2 in 1958 was com­pli­men­tary about the firm-butwell-damped sus­pen­sion and com­fort­able ride. How­ever, the scut­tle shake at 100kph be­came in­creas­ingly an­noy­ing and re­sulted in steer­ing wheel tremor and even made the in­stru­ments dif­fi­cult to read.

Com­pe­ti­tion her­itage

At its first com­pe­ti­tion out­ing in the 1954 RAC Rally, Johnny Wall­work’s TR2 was the out­right win­ner, and Mary Walker clinched the Ladies’ Prize in an iden­ti­cal car. Soon af­ter, the lit­tle Tri­umph took the first three plac­ings in the Grand Prix of Ma­cau. TR2S ran in the Mille Miglia and raced at Se­bring, while three of them com­peted at Le Mans in 1955, with the Dick­son/sander­son ex­am­ple av­er­ag­ing 135kph over the 24-hour jour­ney to fin­ish 14th and the two oth­ers fin­ish­ing 15th and 19th. Apart from mi­nor mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the cylin­der head and brakes, those TR2S were stock stan­dard. Two types of disc brakes were fit­ted to the works cars — a four-wheel Dun­lop sys­tem on one and Gir­ling front-disc-and-rear-drum ar­range­ment on the other two cars. The Gir­ling discs would be­come stan­dard on TR3S.

A year ear­lier, at Le Mans, a stock-stan­dard pri­vately owned TR2 av­er­aged 120.2kph and fin­ished 15th out of 58 starters. But what was most re­mark­able was this car’s al­most un­be­liev­able fuel con­sump­tion of 8.1 litres/100km (34.69mpg) over a dis­tance of 2902 rac­ing kilo­me­tres. TR2S also proved pop­u­lar in Euro­pean ral­lies, win­ning awards in the Alpine and Tourist Tro­phy events.

TR2S were not with­out a com­pe­ti­tion his­tory in New Zealand. Ross Jensen, one of our best driv­ers, was spon­sored by the Auck­land Tri­umph agent North­ern Au­to­mo­biles to race a TR2 in the 1955 New Zealand Grand Prix at Ard­more, fin­ish­ing a highly cred­itable ninth. All the ma­chines in front of him were full rac­ing cars, and he was the first sports car across the line in the 100-lap marathon. Ross mod­i­fied the car, fit­ting an oil cooler, larger brakes, and other mod­i­fi­ca­tions, and also ran the Tri­umph in hill climbs.

Three TR2S in the hands of Dun­can Ruther­ford, June Monk, and Ted Bristed en­tered the 1955

Hamil­ton Tro­phy at Maire­hau, an event held in lieu of Wi­gram, which was hav­ing its run­ways resur­faced. Ruther­ford fin­ished sev­enth. Two other events the same year saw TR2S rac­ing in earnest, with John Mc­dougall, M Orr, and S Bein com­pet­ing in the Ohakea Tro­phy, and four ex­am­ples were raced by Mc­dougall, SB Robin­son, BJ Hen­der­son, and BW Hobbs at the Dunedin street races.

At the North­ern Sports Car Club’s Ostrich Farm Hill­climb near Pukekohe in Oc­to­ber 1959, KR Mil­lar’s TR2 won the two-litre sports car class, head­ing off a TR3 driven by J Sloan. At the same event, G Wil­son’s su­per­charged TR2 took out the three-litre cat­e­gory. No fewer than four TRS took part in the North Is­land Cham­pi­onship Hill­climb at the same venue two months later.

This com­pe­ti­tion her­itage was still present half a cen­tury later. In 1991, the late Eoin Young took his white 1954 long-door TR2 on a rally run in con­junc­tion with the South­ern Fes­ti­val of Speed. He teamed up with daugh­ter Selina on the South Is­land drive, mo­tor­ing top-down through­out, de­spite dusty roads and blaz­ing sun­shine. Leon Witte, who owned this ex­am­ple in the ’50s, had care­fully bal­anced and tuned the en­gine to per­fec­tion and, in 1958, fit­ted an un­der tray, slip­pery cowl on the nose, and other wind-cheat­ing body changes to set a class record of 122mph

(196kph) for the fly­ing kilo­me­tre on Tram Road near Christchurch on Septem­ber 17, 1959. His best speed was just 2.9mph (4.7kph) slower than the time set by Ken Richard­son in a works TR2 on the Jabbeke high­way in Bel­gium.

Witte ac­quired the Tri­umph, chas­sis/ com­mis­sion num­ber TS3672, when it was near new and sold it in 1960 af­ter sev­eral com­pe­ti­tion out­ings. At a Can­ter­bury Car Club Port Hills Hill­climb in Novem­ber 1958, he won his class, and the Christchurch news­pa­per wrote, “Witte drove his TR2 Tri­umph far bet­ter than any­body else”. A Gold Star Hill­climb on the 1.6-mile Geb­bies Pass saw Leon fin­ish out­right sec­ond, and less than a sec­ond slower than the more for­mi­da­ble Jaguar C-type of David Young. At the same time, the Witte TR2 was al­most seven sec­onds faster than an­other TR2 driven by MC Wells.

Years and sev­eral own­ers later, the Witte Tri­umph was pur­chased for $4K af­ter be­ing found in boxes in Dunedin. John Bar­rett re­stored the car in Christchurch. It had orig­i­nally ar­rived new in New Zealand as a well-spec­i­fied ex­am­ple with a hard­top, lug­gage rack, wire wheels, over­drive, leather up­hol­stery, spe­cial car­bu­ret­tor nee­dles, com­pe­ti­tion front springs and rear shock ab­sorbers, and 5.50x15 Dun­lop Road Speed tyres. The car was some­thing of a drive down mem­ory lane for Eoin. Decades ear­lier, he had bor­rowed a TR2 to drive from Ti­maru to Christchurch in the ’50s and saw his first in­di­cated 100mph (161kph) on that jour­ney.

In the late ’90s, the Witte Tri­umph passed into the hands of Phips and Amanda Ri­naldo in Kaik­oura. Pa­trick Wil­liams, who swapped a 1959 Hill­man Minx for the car in the ’80s, said that, while it was in a sad con­di­tion at the time, it was still us­able and went well. A pre­vi­ous owner had rolled the TR2 af­ter en­coun­ter­ing ice.

Mean­while, back in the UK, Richard­son’s record-break­ing car, reg­is­tra­tion MVC575, laid around for years but was pur­chased in 2015 and to­tally re­stored over 18 months with its wind-cheat­ing ton­neau, aero screen, rear wing spats, and metal cock­pit cover. In this guise, the car recorded 124mph (201kph) and then achieved 114mph (184kph) when re­turned to tour­ing trim with full wind­screen and hood erected. Apart from a care­fully bal­anced en­gine, this TR2 was me­chan­i­cally stan­dard, run­ning with all drum brakes and cross-ply tyres.

Kevin Tin­kler, who looks af­ter the com­pre­hen­sive TR Reg­is­ter New Zealand, says that ev­i­dence sug­gests three ‘SP’ speed mod­els were pro­duced by the fac­tory. These were es­sen­tially Jabbeke repli­cas, and, re­mark­ably, two of them were im­ported into New Zealand. TS612 is owned by Shane Tay­lor and Barry Wil­son and was once raced by Alan Paul at Dunedin and In­ver­cargill. Dave Mckin­lay from Whanganui owned TS767, the sec­ond speed model, and it now re­sides in Katikati. The third ex­am­ple is left­hand drive and is in Canada.

TR2 coupé

A TR2 im­ported new by South­land dis­trib­u­tor TR Tay­lor Ltd was later on­sold in 1957 with 3500 miles on the clock in mint con­di­tion to Dunedin op­ti­cian Mathe­son Beau­mont. He liked the car but needed more room for the fam­ily, so he

de­signed a stylish coupé and in­volved Ital­ian coach builder Elio Chiminello, while Harold Cle­ments, of coach­builder Cle­ments and Stevens Ltd, com­pleted the en­gi­neer­ing. The end re­sult was a hand­some, al­beit heav­ier, car.

In 1960, Beau­mont re­ceived a visit from a Tri­umph fac­tory rep­re­sen­ta­tive, who asked if he could have a drive in this spe­cial TR2. “As I was in­volved with a client, I gave him the keys and told him to help him­self,” said Mathe­son. “He was away for over an hour and when he came back he pro­nounced it as the best han­dling TR he had ever driven. Guess that the ex­tra rigid­ity im­parted by the roof struc­ture was the key.” At least 13 own­ers later, the TR2 coupé is un­der restora­tion and is now blue in­stead of its orig­i­nal red.

Buy­ing a TR2/3

Those as­pir­ing to buy a TR2 or TR3 may well be dis­ap­pointed, since most New Zealand own­ers seem happy to keep their cars. In a re­cent check, not one was on of­fer lo­cally, and those for sale in North Amer­ica or Europe are ex­pen­sive. Off­shore prices vary con­sid­er­ably, with re­stored UK and US ex­am­ples rang­ing from the equiv­a­lent of $40K to $92K and starter project cars from $8K. Un­sur­pris­ingly, given the low pro­duc­tion of the orig­i­nal model, there are far fewer TR2S around than TR3S. Re­cent lo­cal ask­ing prices in­clude $55K for` a mint 1954 TR2 and $27K for a 1958 TR3A. A 1958 ex-fac­tory works TR3 with a com­pre­hen­sive com­pe­ti­tion his­tory was re­cently sold by Sotheby’s in Lon­don for the equiv­a­lent of $300K.

The best ex­am­ples are those with op­tional cen­tre-lock wire wheels in­stead of the pressed-steel rims with chrome hub­caps, Lay­cock over­drive, and a re­mov­able hard­top. Boast­ing 300 mem­bers in to­tal, the TR club in New Zealand is strong and ac­tive, with branches in Auck­land, Welling­ton, Christchurch, and Dunedin, and smaller groups in Blen­heim, Whanganui, Manawatu, Napier, and the Bay of Plenty. An an­nual na­tional week­end is pop­u­lar, with last year’s gath­er­ing in Napier at­tract­ing 70 cars.

Kevin Tin­kler owned his im­mac­u­late TR2 in the early ’60s, and, since then, the car has had 34 own­ers and is now owned by Ian Macpher­son in Katikati. When Kevin sold the car, he moved on to a TR4, but that’s a dif­fer­ent story for an­other time.

TR2S and TR3S are spe­cial cars that are sim­ple to work on, have enough power to be fun, and are very dis­tinc­tive. They are func­tional, un­pre­ten­tious, old-school Bri­tish, and while they def­i­nitely com­mand re­spect when pushed to lim­its, they de­serve a place in the list of the top-100 great­est cars in the world.

Above: The black-and-white photo of Ross Jensen in car num­ber 18 is sig­nif­i­cant — the only pho­tos around of when Jensen ran the TR2 in the New Zealand Grand Prix at Ard­more

Above: The red car is owned by Graeme Duff in Whi­tianga Be­low: The green car is owned by Ian Macpher­son in Katikati

Be­low: Eoin Young with the re­stored record-break­ing Witte long-door TR2 in 1991

A Bri­tish press ad­ver­tise­ment in 1954 an­nounc­ing the im­pres­sive per­for­mance at Le Mans.

Above: The Dunedin TR2 coupé that won praise from a Tri­umph rep­re­sen­ta­tive. The car is now blue and un­der restora­tion

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