Classic Cars: Triumph TR3
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Triumph with just the bare basics
Whether you think Nigel Hayman is a dream neighbour or not may depend on whether you’re talking to Warrick Orr.
Warrick had owned Triumph TR6s before, and a Spitfire, “when they were pretty much new”. Then his neighbour Nigel saw a 1958 TR3 for sale at Brits at the Beach festival at Whangamata. It was still there the next year so Warrick bought the car.
Which means there are two Triumph TRs in this street, for as you may have guessed, Nigel also owns one – the green 1954 TR2 you see here.
“There are noticeable differences, especially in the front, but the body design is the same,” he says.
Nigel bought his car in 2003, his first TR after spending his teens in a Model T Ford and later owning an SS1, the forerunner of the SS Jaguar. A friend of his had one he’d bought from a wrecker who had three identical TR2s.
“My friend bought all three, and sold two. I bought one of them, NZ new, it was going but it’d never get a WoF. It was a bit boggy, so I did a full chassis-up restoration, it took me five years.”
Nigel’s an engineer, not a mechanic, so he got the motor done by the experts, and a professional took care of the paint. “We don’t know what the original paint was, it was multi-layered. It was white when I purchased it, and it’s now a Triumph Green.”
The floor was pretty rotten. “One advantage of British cars is you can buy any part, and I had to buy two new floor panels. Fitting them was a challenge, but components are readily available, it’s no big deal.” It helped that the New Zealand TR Register carries a huge inventory of parts,
“They bring a big container in once or twice a year, and there’s a lot of help within the club — a big database of knowledge if you need assistance.”
He finished the job in 2008, still using the original engine and chassis, “nothing has been modified at all,” so this is a bare basics vehicle, with no radio, no heating, and the original upholstery, complete with horsehair stuffing. “I poked some foam in, as it got hard on the bum.”
Nigel wasn’t game to take his TR to the next club rally, in Cromwell, but the following year he drove to the Waitomo one, and he’s since driven it to Whanganui, Christchurch and the west coast of the South Island. The car covered around 6000km on one extended trip to Blenheim, including a single run to get home to north of Auckland, and over that distance it only had a flat tyre.
“The car is just so reliable, you get small electric problems, but one advantage of driving with the club is most members have a boatload of spares,” said Nige.
Warrick’s car broke an oil line on one run, “probably the original 1925 copper”. Those who stopped had enough bits between them to sleeve the copper and refill the car, “It took 1.5 hours.”
The TR2 looks so sporty it’s hard to credit that its robust nature is due in part to the fact the engine was developed from a tractor. Yes, back then the Triumph factory was producing a four-cylinder wet-liner Massey-Ferguson motor, which had already been modified for use in the Standard Vanguard sedan and was then adapted for the new TR.
Nigel’s had a few adventures in his car, not least a crash test in Whanganui. “We were going round a roundabout and a guy came straight in, I heard this bang! Suddenly I was facing the opposite direction as we spun, and the spare wheel and tools flew out,” he said.
Fortunately he and his wife were fine, and could drive home.
“It was just body damage and insurance paid up — it cost $14,000 to repair.”
His racetrack jaunts have been less eventful — he’s done half a dozen laps at Ruapuna, and some time at Hampton Downs.
“It’s fabulous to drive, and you can wind it out. It’s a nice track car,” said Nigel.
And it keeps up with modern traffic. “I can pass cars without trying.” That is not surprising given the torquey motor and that it weighs under a ton — nowhere near enough to challenge the drum brakes, or create too much of a challenge to a modern driver more used to power steering.
On a sunny day in the hills around Algies Bay, Auckland, with the two cars in tandem, you can see why these guys love their TRs. Plenty of torque to power out of bends, nimble handling, the sun flashing off those curves.