Triumph TR5 at 50
Sports car hit takes on TR6
‘The TR5 holds the accolade of being Britain’s first fuelinjected production car’
This week marks 50 years since the Triumph TR5 made headlines as ‘the fastest production TR ever made’. Although visually similar to the outgoing TR4A – styled by Giovanni Michelotti, who was responsible for most of Triumph’s Sixties and Seventies offerings – it was powered by Triumph’s 2.5-litre six-cylinder engine, complete with a mechanical petrol injection system courtesy of Lucas. As such, the TR5 holds the accolade of being Britain’s first fuel-injected production car, with a resultant power hike to a factory-stated 150bhp.
However, the TR5 was only ever going to be a stopgap. With the TR4’s lack of power addressed, refreshing the Sixties styling was considered the next priority. Rebodying the TR wasn’t an option for cash-strapped British Leyland, so Triumph recruited German coachbuilder, Karmann (Michelotti was working on other projects at the time) to update the TR6 with a squared-off, angular look front and rear. Karmann completed the redesign in just over a year and the result was a success. The market for twoseater sports cars was declining towards the end of the Sixties, but with the TR6, Triumph could offer an incredible package that was cheaper than the Jaguar E-type and Morgan Plus 8, but faster than the MGB and Lotus Elan.
Fast-forward to 2017, however, and despite their similarities, the TR5 is still far and away the more desirable – and the most expensive – of the two.
The accepted wisdom has always been that the ‘5 occupies a sweet spot in the TR line, possessing the greatest performance from its fuel-injected six-pot (being 0.3 seconds faster from rest to 60mph than even the TR8), with the prettiest (read ‘traditional Sixties’) styling. That it was in production for just 13 months only adds to its desirability – the ‘best’ TR is always bound to be the most sought-after, and the TR5’s limited run guarantees that demand will always outstrip supply.
With the TR5 reaching a milestone anniversary, now’s the perfect time to question the established logic. Is the TR5 really the ultimate TR? To find out, we brought together Dave Burgess’s fuel-injected TR5, registered during the final month of production (September 1968), and Darren Salmon’s twin-carb (SUs, not the original Strombergs) TR6, which comes from the penultimate year of production.
Observing the pair, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking the TR6 is an entirely new car. Its large grille, which pushes the headlights out to the front corners, is the focal point and makes this British sports car look like a baby American muscle car. Less chrome, a thinner bumper and a single slat within the grille also make the ‘6 appear less fussy and more modern.
It isn’t until you begin poring over the details that you realise that the doors, windscreen, inner panels and much of the middle section are almost identical, with the underpinnings of both dating back 1961. It’s a similar story from the back; the bumper overriders and vertical lights date the TR5’s shape. You’ll notice that Dave’s TR5 has a boot rack where Darren’s TR6 doesn’t – clearly, the TR6 has the bigger boot and, being wider, it’s easier to access, too. That alone hardly constitutes a victory for the ‘6; each is handsome in its own way and each typifies the styling trends of their respective eras. It’d be like suggesting that The Who’s My Generation is somehow better than Bruce Springsteen’s Born to
Run. You can have your favourites, but can’t deny that each is emblematic in its own way.
Open the door, lower yourself inside and it’s even more difficult to determine which is which. The layout of the instruments in each is practically identical. Overdrive is on a stalk, with two big gauges for revs and speed directly in front of the driver, and four auxiliary gauges for volts, oil, fuel and water temperature in the centre of the dash. What differences there are, are purely personal modifications, the TR5’s MX-5 seats being a prime example.
These aren’t large roadsters, but their cabins are far from small. Your right arm tends to get pressed flush to the door card, but you won’t find yourself being overly familiar with the person sitting next to
you. Pedals are offset to the right and the steering wheel to the left, so the bottom of the steering wheel is in line with your left knee and makes clutch operation a bit more challenging. And yet, the driving position of these six-pot TRs is actually superb; being quite upright results in bent arms and legs, and it’s comfortable. From here visibility down the bonnet is good, with the wings on the TR6 in particular making it easy place the car on the road and emphasising just how narrow it is. You sit in the TR5 with your shoulders only slightly above the door cappings, so you feel as though you’re sitting in it rather than on it.
The fact that all the controls require minimal inputs helps, too. There’s a directness to each car’s steering that doesn’t require big sweeping motions to change direction, and their gearchanges are sharp; a short travel clutch pedal means that you can change ratios very quickly in both. Front disc brakes debuted on the TR3 (a first on a production car in 1956) and here they inspire confidence thanks to servo assistance.
The differences between the engines are far more acute they you might expect, though this has much to do with the tuning work that twin-carb engine in Darren’s TR6 has seen. As it is, the TR5 still comes out on top – but only just. It accelerates more keenly, with an even power delivery, though Darren’s ‘6 is no slouch – tease the throttle and the power is immediate, pinning you back in your seat. Lift off and the car rocks forward petulantly, almost as if it’s disappointed that playtime is over – and you will be too once you get a sense of just how good they sound.
Get these sixes past 2000rpm and the exhaust notes really kick in, first as a deep grumble and then, north of 3500rpm, as a deeply addictive howl. This rich bellow eggs you on and creates the impression the engines are straining at the leash, when in reality they’re quite happy to cruise. That’s because they are both incredibly versatile machines, blessed with generous amounts of torque. There’s no need to change down a gear to get up steep inclines, even in fourth gear, because both will still pull cleanly, practically burbling away at tickover.
There’s nothing to separate the pair in terms of handling. The independent rear suspension carried over from the TR4A allows each to flow through corners with minimal roll and the feeling that there’s plenty of grip. To a point, the trade-off for this is quite a firm ride. It’s compliant in each for the most part, but a degree of scuttle shake on uneven road surfaces serves as a timely reminder that these are separate chassis sports cars. It doesn’t mean that you’re constantly scanning the road on the look-out for potholes, but here are rattles over genuinely uneven surfaces that jar with the overall driving experience.
To fixate on this would be to do these sports cars a great disservice, however. Each is fantastic, regardless of how they look or (in the case of these two) deliver their fuel. It’s just that one happens to be rather more affordable than the other…
Dave’s Tr5 is a genuine Uk example with lucas fuel injection. TRIUMPH TR5
Darren’s Tr6 is a Us car, running on twin carbs (sUs not strombergs). TRIUMPH TR6