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Triumph TR3: buying guide and review (1955-1961)

Triumph TR3: buying guide and review (1955-1961) Classic and Performance Car
Triumph TR3 Triumph TR3 Triumph TR3A
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 

 
Triumph TR3
Engine 1991cc, four-cylinder
Power 95bhp @ 4800rpm
Torque 117lb ft @ 3000rpm
Top speed 105mph
0-60mph 12.2sec
Fuel consumption 27mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
 

Dimensions and weight 

 
Wheelbase 2238mm
Length 3835mm
Width 1410mm
Height 1270mm
Weight 904kg
 

Common problems 

 
• 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.
 

Model history

 
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
Triumph TR3 Triumph TR3 Triumph TR3A
Last updated: 26th Sep 2016
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Triumph TR3
21995 39950 GBP
  • Triumph - TR3 A - 1960

    €15,501 - €20,151.30 est. (£0 - £0 est.) €15,501 - €20,151.30 est. (£0 - £0 est.)
    Auction Date: 01 Jan 1970
    RESERVE PRICE
    Online Auction
    €15,501 - €20,151.30 est. (£0 - £0 est.) €15,501 - €20,151.30 est. (£0 - £0 est.)
    Auction Date: 01 Jan 1970
    RESERVE PRICE
    Catawiki Auctions
  • Triumph TR3 A '62

    €39,950(£0) €39,950(£0)

    The Triumph TR2 is a sports car which was produced by the Standard Motor Company in the United Kingdom between 1953 and 1955, during which time 8,636 cars were produced. The car used a twin SU carburetor version of the 121 cid (1991 cc) four-cylinder Standard Vanguard engine tuned to increase its output to 90 bhp (67 kW). The body was mounted on a substantial separate chassis with coil-sprung independent suspension at the front and a leaf spring live axle at the rear. Either wire or disc wheels could be supplied. The standard transmission was a four-speed manual unit but overdrive was available on top gear as an option. Lockheed drum brakes were fitted all round. As of Q1 2011 there were approximately 377 licensed and 52 SORN TR2's registered with the DVLA. The TR2 was designed to challenge MG in the sports car export market to North America.[citation needed] It was also built because Sir John Black, the boss of the Standard Motor Company, made a bid for the Morgan Motor Company and failed. So he would have to build his own sports car that could compete with MG. Triumph already made the Triumph Roadster, but it was out dated and under-powered. Sir John Black wanted an affordable sp

    • Year: 1952
    • Mileage: 644 mi
    For sale
    €39,950(£0) €39,950(£0)
  • TRIUMPH TR3-B

    POA POA

    Description The Triumph TR3 was built between 1955 and 1957 during which time only 1286 cars were produced for the home market. According to the TR Register, as of 2002, there remains only 893 registered TR3/3A’s on UK roads. The TR3-B is an unofficial name given nowadays to the final version of the TR3 which was produced in 1962. It was offered concurrent with the TR4 which started production in 1961 and was a special short-production run in response to dealer concerns that the buying public might not welcome the TR4. It had the body of the later TR3-A and two series were produced, one with a commission number preceeded by ‘TSF’ of which 530 were produced and one with commission numbers preceeded by the TCF of which 2,804 were produced. The TSF series were identical to the last run of TR3A’s and the TCF series had the 2.2 litre, TR4 engine. It also had different headlight rims, a wider grille and door handles. This stunning example has been totally restored in 2013 with such fundamental elements such as the body, frame, chassis interior and engine all recieving due attention. The frame and suspension particularly has been sand-blasted and painted. She sits on new chrome wire wheel

    For sale
    POA POA
  • TRIUMPH TR3 TR3A Overdrive 1962

    £26,950 £26,950

    We are delighted to bring to market this stunning 1962 Triumph TR3A with Overdrive matching numbers. This TR3A was imported into the UK some 4 years ago as a dry state US car, at that time the car was restored and converted to RHD, the engine was rebuilt to 2.0 spec with the addition of an unleaded head, there are a number of invoices in the cars history file confirming these works. Owned for the last few years by a titled owner the car is now well patinated and settled after the works. The car has a good hood, tonneau and side screens. On the road she drives well with engine being more torquey that normal with the overdrive clicking in and out smoothly. She is fitted with a nice set of chrome wire wheels and the brakes pull up straight and well.;The TR has received some minor re-commissioning from us mainly consisting of a full body machine polish. We will also be selling the car fully serviced and with a rebuilt up-rated radiator and new MOT. Although a converted car she is a sound car and offers exceptional value for money at the price offered.

    • Engine size: 1.991
    For sale
    £26,950 £26,950
    Hartford Automotive
    01252 842899 / 01252 845845 View contact number
    Hartford Automotive
    01252 842899 / 01252 845845 View contact number
  • TRIUMPH TR3 TR3B 1962

    £27,750 £27,750

    After spending most of its' life in California this rare model was repatriated in 1994. Since then it has undergone a most comprehensive and sympathetic 'no expense spared' full nut and bolt restoration (photographic evidence and Hertitage Certificate) also converting to RHD. Unfortunately due to the owners ill health this superb classic has never been registered or indeed on the road so has come to us to find a new owner who will appreciate and use her.;Finished in 'Signal Red' with luxurious black leather interior with red piping and chrome fitments.This is the TSF model of which only 530 were made so quite a rare example. Will be sold with a fresh MOT and registration plate.

    For sale
    £27,750 £27,750