Tuesday January 15, 2019
50 years ago, yesterday (14th January), Triumph officially unveiled its latest sports car at the Brussels Motor Show – the TR6. It was the marque’s final convertible with a separate chassis and the last to convey the ethos – one of flat hats, driving gloves, Graham Hill moustaches and regarding power steering as a sign of decadence.
In essence, the TR6 was a refinement of the TR5/TR250 formula, retaining the 2.5-litre straight six engine, in either Lucas fuel injected or US-spec twin Stromberg carburettors guise, and with the doors and underpinnings of the TR4 of 1961. Karmann of Osnabruck executed the stylistic update, giving the familiar coachwork a new nose and tail.
The cabin was much the same as the TR5, but with slightly more comfortable seats. The boot was enlarged, there was an anti-roll bar at the front, and the steel wheels enhanced an image that was both purposeful and faintly aggressive. The TR6’s smart appearance was all the more remarkable given that the Leyland/Karmann contract had only been signed in 1967.
The price of a new TR6 was £1,333 19s 1d, or £1,380 if you specified the hard top, with the injected versions capable of nearly 120 mph. Overdrive was an optional extra as were wire wheels. In April 1969 Autocar informed its readership that the TR6 was the heir to the Austin-Healey 3000 as the ‘he-man’s sports car’ and that it was ‘a tremendously exhilarating car to drive anywhere’.
Two months later Motor was in a slightly more poetic mood - ‘the succession of TR models through the years has been a story of old wine in new bottles followed by new wine in the old bottle. The latest, with a new bottle holding contents which are very much in their prime, is unquestionably the best yet; we drank our fill and enjoyed it’.
In the all-important US market Car and Driver memorably observed ‘it’s a little like being introduced to a strikingly handsome daughter in a family of very plain, very earnest people you have known for ages’.
Such a comment was both a slur on all previous Triumph cars and a harbinger of the TR6’s success in the USA; references to the engine’s ‘Churchillian bellow’ cannot have harmed sales either. In fact, BL sold more examples of the TR6 than any earlier member of the TR family, with 83,430 destined for export markets – a mere 8,370 were earmarked for the UK.
The TR6 was continually modified throughout its run, gaining (very welcome) reclining front seats in late 1969, and a front spoiler plus a slightly detuned injected engine for the 1973 model year. Production of the P.I. version ceased in 1975 and the TR6 was now sold only in the USA. The final carburettor models left the factory in July 1976, bringing to end nearly a quarter century of Triumph sporting cars, with the future was represented by the TR7.
After five decades, the appeal of the TR6 is perhaps best summarised by that Autocar report that found it to be ‘very much a masculine machine, calling for beefy muscles, bold decisions, and even ruthlessness on occasion’. I.e. all long-haired hippy types should stay away. – Britain of 1969 really was another country…