In the post-war years there was only one place to go if you wanted a real sportscar, and that was Great Britain. Whether it was something fast and exclusive or more affordable with a healthy dose of fun, only Britain had something for everyone. There’s something about British-built sportsters; the two go together like strawberries and cream, and few are sweeter than the fabulously nostalgic sidescreen TRs, the TR2, TR3 and TR3A. With their charming simplicity, fabulous lines and vintage driving experience, few cars are so capable of guaranteeing so much fun every time you slide behind the wheel.
The TR’s familiarity also guarantees a ready market, ensuring that if you take the plunge and later decide the Triumph isn’t for you, selling the car on without losing your shirt is a distinct possibility. Even better, there’s great club and specialist support for the TR, plenty of cars to go round and something for every budget too – although you’ll have to get your hands dirty if you’re on a tight budget. The brilliance of these cars is no secret, which is why values have been on the rise for several years.
Can owning a TR3 today be a satisfying proposition? Certainly! If it’s in fine mechanical fettle, and TR3 should be able to keep up with modern traffic, but with a few tweaks they can be made significantly easier to live with, and a whole lot of fun. Unlike a lot of more exotic classics, the TR3 is simple to fix, easy to live with and generally cheap to run. Just be sure to buy the right car from the outset.
Which Triumph TR3 to buy?
Early TR2s and late TR3s are what most buyers want, but any straight and unmolested sidescreen TR will easily find a buyer if it’s priced fairly. Because these cars are all so similar, the one you buy will almost certainly be down to a combination of condition and personal preference in terms of styling.
Cars with a factory hard top will fetch a premium while for many buyers originality isn’t important if any modifications are reversible. For some buyers, more significant changes are fine, if it improves the usability of the car.
If you prefer your cars with a permanent tin-top, there is also the option of the much rarer Triumph Italia 2000. Designed by Michelotti, the Italia was – as the name suggests – built in Italy by Vignale. It was based on the TR3’s chassis, but due to the extra work involved ended up costing considerably more than the convertible. That meant that few were sold, and even fewer remain today.
The sort of thing that appeals to most TR buyers is a pepped-up engine that features a spicier camshaft, a later cylinder head or some extra carburation – as long the latter isn’t overdone. Fitting a TR4 all-synchro gearbox is a popular upgrade as minimal changes are required to make it fit, although a Toyota-built five-speed gearbox can also be slotted in.
What you definitely don’t want to buy is a car that’s had piecemeal upgrades. A whole package of changes can work brilliantly, but just the odd modification here and there can lead to a car that isn’t as nice to drive or own as something left completely standard.
Performance and specs
Engine 1991cc, four-cylinder
Power 95bhp @ 4800rpm
Torque 117lb ft @ 3000rpm
Top speed 105mph
Fuel consumption 27mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• A TR’s value is in its bodyshell, so scrutinise it thoroughly. Rubbish rustproofing when new means few unrestored TRs are left, which isn’t a problem if the work has been done to a high standard, but it may not have been. Check the body panel gaps and see if there’s any evidence of crash damage. The chassis may also be showing signs of crash damage, so put the car on a ramp for a good look.
• Everything needs to be inspected for corrosion. The chassis’ outriggers rust, along with the floorpans, A-posts and rear quarter panels. The lower portions of the front wings, battery tray and the inside walls of the spare wheel compartment are also rust-prone.
• The engines are derived from Ferguson tractor units; they were also used in the Standard Vanguard. Wonderfully durable, make sure the oil pressure is at least 50psi when warm and up to speed. Any wear will be obvious so just check for rattling and blue smoke under acceleration. A tappety top end might just need some adjustment. DIY rebuilds are straightforward.
• All variations have the same four-speed manual gearbox. The first TR2s weren’t offered with overdrive, then it became available on top gear only. From May 1955, overdrive (where fitted) was fitted to second, third and fourth. This is the pick, also because the transmission is stronger.
• The gearbox is tough, but the synchromesh and layshaft bearings wear eventually, the latter given away by chattering at tickover in neutral, but silence with the clutch dipped. Clattering in first or reverse gears means a gear has lost a tooth.
• Clutches are strong but the TR2’s half-shafts break if the car is driven hard on modern radial tyres. A much stronger TR3 or TR3A axle is the standard fix, but all TR back axles tend to leak oil.
• The worm-and-peg steering is vague but still pleasant enough to use. Expect oil leaks from the steering box, leading to rapid wear – particularly when wide tyres are fitted. Some owners convert to rack-and-pinion steering which is lighter and more precise but it means the horn and indicator buttons on the steering wheel are lost.
• The suspension is reliable but up front the trunnions wear through a lack of lubrication; LM grease should be pumped in every 1000 miles. Broken springs and tired lever arm dampers are common at the back.
• Don’t dismiss uneven tyre wear too readily as a wheel might have been kerbed, pushing the front suspension out of alignment. Fixing this is involved and costly.
• The electrics and trim are much the same; simple and durable with everything available if needed. Costs can quickly mount if much is needed though, especially where the brightwork is concerned.
1953: TR2 goes on sale, based on revamped pre-war Standard Flying Nine chassis. First cars have a long-door design.
1954: The doors are shortened, while a hard top and wire wheels are now available at extra cost.
1955: TR3 supersedes TR2. Changes are slight; there’s more power and an egg-crate grille.
1956: The engine gets an upgrade to 100bhp and disc brakes become standard at the front.
1957: TR3 production ends, although the cars are available new for several months. The TR3a arrives, with full-width grille, plus improved seats and trim. The car was only unofficially known as the TR3a though; Triumph still called it a TR3.
1959: There’s now a 2.2-litre engine option.
1961: The TR4 replaces the TR3A, with an all-new bodyshell.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• club.triumph.org.uk – Triumph Owners' Club
• www.trdrivers.com – The Triumph TR Drivers' Club
• www.tr-register.co.uk – The Triumph TR Register
• www.tssc.org.uk – The Triumph Sports Six Club
Summary and prices
If you’re looking for the British sportscar experience at its purest, not much can match the an early TR. Projects can still be found for around £5000, however this will require substantial work to bring it up to scratch. Decent runners stat at £15,000 today, while top examples range between £21,000-£32,000. You may very well need to spend considerably more than that to find a completely original example in perfect condition.
Words: Richard Dredge