A NEW BEGINNING
One of the most pleasing automotive sights on a summer afternoon is a yellow TR2 that seems ready for a jaunt along the A27, its driver wearing a Terry-Thomas-style flat hat. But Alan Kent's very handsome 1954 example is more than a reminder of a lost era of post-war British sports cars. Without the TR2, the Triumph name was unlikely to have lasted beyond the end of the 1950s.
The TR2's origins date back to the 20TS prototype, which debuted at the 1952 London Motor Show. The Standard Motor Company had acquired Triumph in 1945, and this two-seater sports car was their latest attempt at a US export winner. The formula was the 2-litre Vanguard engine in twin carburettor form, a chassis from the pre-war Standard Flying Nine and the Triumph Mayflower's front suspension and rear axle.
Standard-Triumph hoped the 20TS would appeal to well-heeled young American motorists, and to that end they printed a brochure for US customers. An equally important role was to divert attention from the Healey Hundred that also starred at Earls Court in 1952, but the new
Triumph was not devoid of problems. So, the company's chairman Sir John
Black asked the former BRM test driver Ken Richardson to assess the 20TS, because there was a distinct lack of personnel in the company with experience of developing sports cars.
Richardson subsequently noted that the brakes juddered, the chassis was prone to flexing, the top speed was just 80mph, and the driving position was awkward. Worse, the 20TS was highly unstable when cornering, and Richardson described it as the most awful car he had ever driven. Fortunately, rather than throwing his toys out of the pram, Sir John took this criticism on the chin and asked Richardson to help StandardTriumph develop the concept into something more saleable. The result was the Triumph undergoing extensive and hastily applied redevelopments. S-T's challenges were made even more acute by a three-month timetable before the Geneva Motor Show on 9th March 1953.
Fortunately, enthusiasts seemed highly impressed by the new TR2. Compared with its predecessor, there was a longer body with a more capacious boot mounted on a ladder-type chassis along with modified engine, brakes and suspension. A few weeks later, Richardson set a record for a two-litre production sports car when he drove a highly streamlined TR2 (MVC 575) at 124.783mph along the Jabbeke highway in Belgium.
Standard-Triumph had made just 248 cars by the end of 1953, and by the following year many a keen motorist was eager to test drive the TR2. John Bolster wrote in Autosport that it was: ‘the most important sports car to be introduced for some time – the first car to bring 100mph performance within the reach of the man of moderate means.’ The Motor recorded the top speed as a shade over 107mph and noted it was the cheapest British car that could exceed 100mph. Of course, £782 in 1953 was still beyond many motorists, but it was not an unattainable sum for the average young professional. It is
equally important to recall that when RCD 903 left the factory, exceeding or even achieving 'the ton' was beyond the dreams of many a driver. The TR2 seemed primed for speeding along the Great West Road, its owner dreaming of replicating Johnny Wallwork's victory in the 1954 RAC Rally, quite possibly being gonged by a police Wolseley 6/ 80 in the process.
However, Bill Boddy of Motor Sport complained that ‘the outward appearance of the TR2 leaves a good deal to be desired,’ and some motorists found the Austin- Healey 100/4 to be a slightly more elegant vehicle. Alick Dick, S-T's new Managing Director, recalled that during the John Black era, the emphasis had been on the chassis and the
car's performance rather than the bodywork. Yet to many enthusiasts, the Triumph appeared far more modern than the 1953 MG TF. Aesthetic judgements are inevitably subjective, and today both cars appear equally appealing, but when new the Abingdon sports car looked quite dated, with lines that harked back to the early 1930s.
The TR3 replaced the TR2 in October of 1955, and in that same year, a seven-year- old Alan Kent saw his first Triumph sports car outside a relative's house in a Bedford street. It was the start of a nearly seven- decade long fascination with the TR range. Then, in May of 2022, he discovered RCD 903 via the eBay listing of a Norfolk classic car dealer.
‘My TR2 was manufactured on 5th October 1954, but it was not registered until 26th October 1955,' he says. 'I suspect she had possibly sat on a dealer's forecourt for a year.’ It is hard today to figure out why it would not have sold right away because to see RCD is to be charmed by its appearance.
Alan regards it as a beautiful car, and the TR2 does possess great charm. The lack of compound curves is due to S-T's need to save on tooling costs, and the result emphasises the Triumph's purposeful air. Some owners specified the optional wire wheels, but most drivers opted for the standard discs, and plain hubcaps with Triumph's ' World' logo seem to augment RCD's looks better. As for that bombcrater grille, the great American motoring writer Tom McCahill compared it to ‘a cardboard box that someone has shoved his foot through.’ However, it certainly creates a memorable impression when glimpsed in a rear-view mirror.
Inside, the TR2 features centrally-mounted auxiliary instruments for ease of conversion to LHD, with a magnificent three-spoke steering wheel dominating the cabin. The early models had minimal visibility with the hood raised, which could make winter motoring an interesting experience. RCD has the later set-up with additional threequarter corner windows. The top enhances the TR2's appearance, but there is a reason why many 1950s sports car drivers would don a flying jacket before taking to the road. This was partially because the heater in Alan's Triumph was an extra, but also because a well-fitting hood could not be taken for granted at that time.
When appreciating Alan's Triumph, the initial impression is of a vehicle created for another world. Of course, a 1955 sports car buyer would have expected a lack of external door handles and winding windows – such luxuries were not found in a TR until the 1961 TR4 – while sun visors and an ashtray are clearly too decadent for the average 1950s Triumph TR owner. Also harking back to this bygone era, you can detach the windshield to fit the optional
aero screens, and below the grille is a starting handle bracket for cold mornings. One especially intriguing detail of the detachable side screens is the flaps for hand-signalling. Alan remarks: 'Some early TR2s were fitted with rigid side screen flaps which also had zips in them to enable the occupants to open the doors from the outside!' The TR2 has flashing indicators, which were essential fittings for the US market, but on this side of the Atlantic quite a few motorists preferred the older form of signalling.
Possibly the most notable aspect of the TR2 is those cut-away doors, which tall drivers were able to climb over. Today the occupants of the average saloon are almost hermetically sealed from the elements. By contrast, when the hood is lowered, the Triumph provides any amount of natural air- conditioning. RCD is also probably one of the last TR2s fitted with the long doors of the first versions. The company adopted short doors (ie shallow ones that started higher up and had an exposed sill panel below) in 1954 as passengers often encountered problems when trying to make an exit if parked next to a high kerb.
When Alan presses the starter button, the sound of the engine reminds that McCahill referred to the TR2 as ‘a hairy- chested flame-spitting wildcat.’ The note of the 1991cc motor also makes it nearly impossible to believe that the Triumph is related to the agreeable but very nonsporting Vanguard Phase II. The difference between the large Standard saloon and the TR2 is not so much vast as akin to the
Grand Canyon. If the former is associated with National Service, polished shoes and no frivolity whatsoever, the latter is a very suede-boot-and- cravat type of vehicle. The proud owner of our test car also points out that despite its name, the AustinHealey 100/4 was not quite able to achieve the magic 100mph, unlike its Canley rival. And it cost quite a bit more!
As for road manners, Alan remarks: ‘ The TR2 is fabulous to drive, and I find her to be very positive, lively but tight and secure, and torquey. It has also been well restored, and the refurbishment included an upgrade to the later TR3 front disc brakes for that extra stopping power.’ Some TR2 owners complain about a tendency to jump out of gear
Today's occupants of the average saloon are almost hermetically sealed from the elements. By contrast, when the hood is lowered, the Triumph provides any amount of natural air-conditioning
and a sense of vagueness in the cam-and-peg steering. Happily, Alan has not encountered either of these issues. His Triumph is also equipped with the very popular overdrive option, which he finds enhances the performance whilst not overworking the engine.
Of course, there are several challenges in owning a car dating from when the Prime Minster was Winston Churchill. Virtually any Triumph aficionado such as Alan will readily tell you that the TR2 can suffer from rust of the bulkhead, front scuttle, floorpan, A-post, front wings, sills, bootlid and back panels. Fortunately, the wet-liner engine is extremely robust, as is the chassis, although only a foolish owner would neglect the maintenance of either.
As far as spare parts are concerned, Alan observes:
‘ There are not really any major problems, as there are numerous suppliers, for both new and secondhand spares. A lot of used cars from dry states in the USA have been – and still are being – returned to the UK, and it is relatively easy to convert them to RHD. It is important to remember that when manufactured, the TR2 had provision for both left and righthand steering, knowing at least 80% of all production was destined for overseas and mainly the US. Hence, they had one dual-purpose shell for simplicity of production.’
Alan further points out: ‘Due to the numbers produced, interchangeability of parts between models and sheer overall demand, a lot of essential parts when NLA are worth refabricating.
These are done in minimum quantities, such as batches of 100.’ Another essential form of support for any would-be TR2 owner is the TR Register, the largest singlemake car club globally, with circa 50,000 members.
In 1955 Triumph promoted the TR2 as ‘the object of admiration in the busy street,’ and Alan finds that RCD more than fulfils this promise. ‘ There is always a lot of interest and waving as you drive along, with turned heads responding to the exhaust note when I rev the engine. People also regularly gather around it at car shows, and even at TR Register meets. This is probably due to the unusual pale Lemon Yellow paintwork, which is very pretty but not an original Triumph colour. She left the factory painted in Geranium, a not-sonice deep pink colour, which may even have been why she sat around unsold for a whole year.’
Canley may have produced just 8636 TR2s, but cars such as RCD were not only the founder of a dynasty of sports cars, but saved one of the most famous names in British motoring. The Herald, the Spitfire, the 2000/ 2500, the GT6, the 1300/1500/ Toledo/
Dolomite and the Stag all owe a vast debt to the TR2. Seven decades ago, there was a real possibility that the Triumph marque would eventually go the way of Lanchester or LeaFrancis, but within a few years, S-T rebranded Australia, New Zealand and US market Standard Ten saloons as Triumphs following the impact of the TR2. By the end of 1963, the Standard badge was no more, a development that would have been almost unthinkable to any Earls Court visitor in 1952. The fact that RCD 903 can more than hold its own in 2022 traffic is a tribute to its concept, to the foresight of S-T's management and to enthusiasts such as Alan. Long may this remain so.
This is probably due to the unusual pale Lemon Yellow paintwork, which is very pretty but not an original Triumph colour