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
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!
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.
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.
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.
A British press advertisement in 1954 announcing the impressive performance at Le Mans.
Below: Eoin Young with the restored record-breaking Witte long-door TR2 in 1991
Above: The red car is owned by Graeme Duff in Whitianga Below: The green car is owned by Ian Macpherson in Katikati
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 Dunedin TR2 coupé that won praise from a Triumph representative. The car is now blue and under restoration