Tri­umph TR5 at 50

Sports car hit takes on TR6

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week -

‘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

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