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Triumph Goes Modern
Triumph was one of the most popular entries in the budding sports car market of the 1950s with their popular and relatively economical TR-2 roadsters. First introduced to the American market in 1954, two years later an updated and slightly more powerful TR-3 came to the colonies. Sales were strong at about 8,000 copies per year, with nearly 80% of production coming to the U.S.A.
In 1958, Triumph released the TR-3A which was even more successful than the previous editions. It featured more contemporary looks, and an even more powerful version of the 1991cc in-line four, advertised with a horsepower rating of an even 100. This sportier model was carried over for three seasons when in 1961 a few TR-3Bs were released. While looking just like the previous edition, under the hood, errr bonnet, the future of Triumph sports cars was seen with an even larger four-cylinder engine, now sporting 2138cc, but still rated at 100hp.
Throughout its run, the majority of these Triumphs were aimed toward the American market, and while many drivers loved the cool chill of an autumn morning blowing through their hair while motoring in a top up or down roadster, most U.S. customers preferred more creature comforts, such as an efficient heater, secure top and roll-up side windows. With the folks in the United States taking the biggest share of Triumph sports car production, it was to these people that the all-new 1962 TR-4 was introduced.
From the outset, clean, simple, yet stylish good looks graced the new TR-4, provided by the Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti. With slab side design, the traditional appearance of independent fenders, or should we say "wings", went away forever. These new cars used a chassis set-up similar to the later TR-3A and 3B models, but featured a vastly improved rack and pinion steering system, and a wider tread for the wheels. To the rear of the car resided a solid axle with semi-elliptic springs.
From 1962 to 1964, the American public flocked to Triumph dealerships, snatching up the major portion of the 40,000 units produced. The larger 2138cc engine was carried over from the TR-3B as the standard power-plant, however for those wanting to compete in the under 2000cc sports car category, a TR-4 could be ordered with the older 1991cc four-cylinder mill, with the same 100 hp of the larger, more street ready version. Both editions were equipped with dual-downdraft SU carburetors. The 4-speed manual (overdrive optional) is both stout and a joy to row. While both engines will move the TR4 briskly enough, don’t expect to win any drag races. In the true British tradition, these are “momentum machines” that you put in their “zone” and guide smoothly and competently. They return a great deal of motoring satisfaction driven in this manner.
One interesting option for the TR-4 was the factory removable hardtop. Today, these are quite rare and highly prized, adding an easy $1,000 to the value of these cars. This unit featured a opening hatch to act as a sunroof. Other factory TR-4 accessories were few in number but included real wire wheels painted argent (silver matte), fresh-air heater, and a chrome plated Rootes trunk rack.
Second Version Debuts
A new version of the TR-4 hit the market for the 1965 model year, with an "A" suffix. For this model, the engine was tweaked a little, now producing 104 hp. Cosmetically, there were no major outward changes except for a couple emblem changes, a slightly revised grille, and a chrome surround for the new turn/running light cluster on the front fender. The side turn lights were blacked out in U.S. versions, but can be made operable by scraping the black paint off the inside of the lens. Also, a new chrome strip flowed back from this surround to the back of the door. It added just a bit of flash. Overall, we like the style of the TR4A just a bit better. It’s not often that “updated” styling improves on the original, especially an original as clean as the TR4.
What really set these cars apart was the availability of a new semi-trailing arm independent rear suspension. This nimble, sweet handling little car now gained increased roadability on bumpy or uneven road surfaces. The solid rear axle remained available as well. The TR4A would continue in production until August 1967 when it was replaced by the TR-5 (TR250 in the States), which again retained the basic exterior styling of the earlier models, but sported a new in-line six under the hood.
What to Look For
First, we’ll offer our standard advice: read all you can about the model before you start your search. Plagued by the typical British car syndrome of "Unusual Systems of Electrical Looms Emitting Static and Shorts" sometimes jokingly referred to as "USELESS" circuitry, you can be assured that by owning one of these cars you will get to know all of its workings, intimately. We, and most everyone else, continue to poke jabs at British electrics, but in reality most of the gremlins of these cars have probably long since been worked out by their owners, so don’t get too concerned about their poor reputation.
Fortunately, the British design their cars to be owner-repaired. Access is easy, and with a proper set of wrenches, or spanners as they call them over there, simple maintenance will keep these cars running well. On occasion the factory installed SU carbs can become a little touchy, and need some fine tuning. A number of owners have up-dated or swapped out this system, (Webers seems to be a popular conversion).
The TR4 is no better or worse than most British tin when it comes to rust. Particularly susceptible are the floors, rockers and the trunk area. Look closely at suspension mounts, too. Although the independent rear suspension adds a bit of sophistication and handling prowess, it also adds complexity and increased service and repair requirements to this simple car. If you’re a beginner, you might want to stick with the solid axle cars.
The removable hardtop (the factory “surrey top”) is a coveted item and on a restored vehicle can add at least a couple thousand dollars the a vehicle’s value. This unit featured a opening hatch to act as a sunroof. Other factory TR-4 accessories were few in number but included real wire wheels painted argent (silver matte), fresh-air heater, and a chrome plated Rootes trunk rack.
A plus with these -- and most British sports cars -- is the variety of parts that can still be purchased. Reproduction, used, and NOS mechanical and body parts are available through many vendors.
The TR4 and TR-4A are both cherished by their owners. They are very popular little cars which are surprisingly comfortable, and as much fun to drive as they are to work on. As with a number of other British Sports cars, prices of the TR-4 and TR-4A have been rising steadily over the past few years. At some of the high-buck auctions mint examples of early versions command prices approaching the $20,000 mark, while the later and better handling "A" models can bring at least ten percent more when in the same condition (update 2015--now over $30,000). Despite a plentiful supply, relatively few come up at auciton. This may be indicative of the strong enthusiast following this model enjoys -- most trade hands privately, and at prices below what you see at the major auctions.
We expect values to increase about in line with the market, with no sudden significant jumps in values. There are too many out there, even with so many falling victim to the ravages of rust. Unless you buy cheap, you're not going to make a living buying them, holding on for a couple years and selling. It's not that kind of car. Yes, there are some extremely nice examples that bring strong money, but it's likely that it took even more money to get them that way.
P. Skinner and the editors at Collector Car Market Review
This profile first appeared in the May 2003 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide. (C) Copyright 2003- VMR International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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