Tuesday July 24, 2018
The TR4 is, in my ever so humble opinion, an exceptionally handsome motor car; purposeful, commanding even, and beautifully proportioned. The coachwork blends the ruggedness of the previous TRs with such refinements as winding windows that 1961vintage sporting motorists were already starting to crave. The cabin is remarkably spacious compared with many other open two-seaters and the fascia includes such niceties as fresh air vents. Plus, that “Big Four” engine does make a most splendid noise.
By the late 1950s Standard-Triumph were planning a major upgrade to their TR formula to maintain its competitiveness in the vital US export market. The project was hampered by the company’s financial issues – it would be taken over by Leyland in 1960 – but the future TR4 sported a new body courtesy of Giovanni Michelotti, one that was far removed from the cutaway doors of the TR3A, a modified chassis, all-synchromesh transmission and rack & pinion steering.
There was also to be a choice of two body styles; the Roadster was fitted a detachable hood while the “Hard Top” predated with Porsche 911 Targa by five years with a removable metal panel between the windshield and the glass rear window frame. Unfortunately, the middle section of the roof was too large for the boot, but your dealer could offer you a vinyl panel named a “Surrey Top” for a reasonable sum of £sd.
The TR4 debuted in September 1961 and a few die-hard enthusiasts moaned about how the lack of detachable side windows, the large boot and the well-planned cabin was, together with Billy Fury records, evidence of a national decline. Others were delighted, although the Triumph was not exactly within reach of the average motorist.
When Autocar tested an example in very early 1962 the price was £1,095 with the essential heater a further £11 16s and, for a top speed of 110 mph Laycock de Normanville overdrive was yet another £61 19s 7d – but that did give you an essentially seven-speed gearbox. If you were the sort of motorist who liked to sport a Graham Hill/David Niven moustache, wire wheels were certainly worth an additional £36 9s 2d and an “Occasional” rear seat at £11 13s 4d made the TR4 marginally more family friendly.
However, the Triumph still offered excellent value as ‘an invigorating car to drive, offering eager performance with compactness and manoeuvrability’. Before long, Canley’s marketing department were already poking mild fun at the TR’s detractors, one advertisement wittily stating that when it was launched ‘die-hards raised their eyebrows. A sports car, they said, jolly well should be bumpy and draughty and cramped’.
On the other hand, ‘if you’ve wishes that sports cars were a little bit more human, the TR4 is for you’ and for an early 1960s motorist who wished to combine pleasure with business motoring, the Triumph was the perfect choice. Besides, there was still a starting handle for those who were worried that the famous marque had descended into complete decadence.
Across the Atlantic Road and Track thought that the new TR was a ‘resounding Triumph’, a headline that was clearly begging to be written. Of course, the TR4 did not make its debut in the USA until 1962; Triumph marketed a final “TR3B” while the American motorist became acclimatised to this bold new form of sports car.
By the time production ceased in 1965 with the advent of the TR4A, some 37,661 models had been exported, while just 2,592 were destined for the British market, assisted by the motor sport achievements that will be the subject of a separate blog. The Wimbledon-based Triumph dealer L F Dove created the Dové GTR4 coupe with an attractive fastback GRP upper body while a few police forces, notably Southend and Manchester, used TR4s as high speed patrol cars. A (literally) gold Triumph was even the star of the French crime film Échappement libre.
Above all, the TR4 did not dissipate an established formula but enhanced it – fun, robustness and, possibly lashings of ginger beer, in the great tradition of Triumph. And on a long summer evening, who could possibly demand more from a car?