Car of the Week: 1954 Triumph TR2

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By John Gunnell

In 1954, Motor Trend magazine test drove the first Triumph TR2 on the West Coast. It was a Pearl White roadster with Geranium upholstery, a Geranium top and matching side curtains. That must have been a favorite color combination of some some Triumph executive, because the first TR2 models seen in North America and Europe were the same. This is the story of one of those cars.

The subject car has commission number TS1/LO. The “TS1” indicates that it was the very first car in a long line of TR models from the TR2 through the TR6. The “L” indicates that it was a “left-hand-drive” car and the “O” indicates that it has overdrive. This car was built specifically for display at the Toronto Motor Show in Toronto, Canada. When Mark Macy of Macy’s Garage in Tipp City, Ohio restored TS1/LO he found the word “Canadian” written in pencil underneath the door cappings. Number TS2 was a nearly identical car sent to the Dublin Auto Show.

The Triumph was connected with sporty cars from the 1920s onward. Cars like the Gloria and the supercharged Triumph Super Seven reinforced that image. Then, in 1945, Triumph Motor Car Co., Ltd. was acquired by the Standard Motor Co. and Triumph became a subsidiary of that firm.

In the early postwar years, Triumph offered conservative-looking, fancy versions of the Standard saloon.

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Sir John Black, who headed Triumph, decided he needed a sports car. He tried and failed to buy Morgan, so he created his own sports car and exhibited it at the 1952 London Motor Show. This car — known as the 20TS — generated interest, though it was gawky, underpowered and had a weak suspension. The next year’s TR2 roadster was different — it was a real sports car designed by Walter Belgrove with a sunken “small-mouth” grille, cut-down doors and a 2.0-liter, 90-hp version of the Vanguard engine that was good for 100 mph.

TR meant “Triumph” and the company’s advertising department promised “more performance per dollar than any other car in the world.” Triumph claimed 0-to-50-mph acceleration in 7.5 seconds. “You’re as young as you feel at the wheel of a T.R.2,” the early ads said. “The car that let’s you drive, and doesn’t drive you!”

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The Triumph TR2 roadster carried an East Coast Port-of-Entry price of $2,448 and weighed just 1,960 lbs. Its 1991-cc pushrod engine featured three main bearings, solid valve lifters, an 8.5:1 compression ratio and twin S.U. carburetors. The Vanguard four-speed gearbox was linked to a 3.7:1 rear axle.

The TR2 could go from 0-to-60 mph in 11.9 to 13.7 seconds and flash through the standing-start quarter-mile in 19.6 seconds at 70 mph. Fitted with an optional overdrive and a belly pan (or “undershield” in British terminology); one Triumph hit 124.095 mph on the world-famous Jabbeke Highway in Belgium. Advertisements promoted this performance as being timed by the Royal Auto Club of Belgium using a car “in speed trim.” Test driver Ken Richardson drove it.

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The TR2 had an 88-inch wheelbase with a 148-inch overall length. It was 50 inches high with the top up, 55.5 inches wide and had a 44.8-inch front tread and 45.5-inch rear tread. Ground clearance was a mere 6 inches. The independent front suspension had coil springs up front. Semi-elliptic rear leaf springs were employed. The standard 5.50 x 15 tires were mounted on disc wheels.

Production of the TR2 ran from August 1953 to October 1955. Fergus Motors in New York City and Standard-Triumph Motor Co. in New York and Los Angeles distributed the cars in the U.S. Approximately 8,636 Triumph TR2s were produced over the full model run and 5,521 of them were exported to America.

Car No, TS1/LO was used as a factory demonstrator for about a year after its debut in Toronto. This makes us wonder if it was the car that Motor Trend tested, but there’s no way to know for sure. (Though it looked similar, TS2 was different in that it was a right-hand drive car and did not have overdrive.) In any case, Triumph sold the car and it went through a couple of owners before a man named Joe Richards found it and gave the Triumph its first restoration.

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Joe Richards was the Founding President of the Triumph Register of America (TRA), an organization dedicated to the big four-cylinder Triumphs — the 1954 Tr2 thru the 1967 TR4A. The TRA does concours judging of these models. The man who owned TS1/LO lived in Canada and wanted to join TRA. He sent Joe Richards his car’s commission number and Richards initially told him, “Something is wrong because you don’t have enough numbers there, give me the rest of the number.” Of course, there were no additional numbers.

Richards then realized that the man had the first Triumph TR model built. From that point, it took him about five years to buy the car. “The owner finally figured out that the car was too far gone for him to save,” Mark Macy told Old Cars Weekly. “He was in over his head. So Joe Richards picked the project up and with his dedication finished a project lots of people would have turned down.”

According to Macy, Richards researched the car for five years before he rolled up his sleeves and started working on it. He put together an entire notebook on the car and its history. As luck would have it, TS2 had been found in England at about the same time and the Triumph Register there was restoring it. Since they were virtually identical cars, the two parties worked back and forth. “They answered all the originality questions and got that all solved,” Macy explained. “But Joe Richards’ project was a home restoration that he did part time at night and on weekends. He didn’t have a real well-established shop with all kinds of equipment. He restored it to the standards of that time period.”

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Richards got the car done in time for the TR series’ 50th anniversary. It debuted at the TRA meet in Ft. Wayne, Ind. He kept the car for another year after that, then decided it would be better off in a museum or collection. It eventually went to Robert Smith, who lived on the big island in Hawaii. “It was in a private museum so to speak,” says Macy. “But the environment over there was not car-friendly and it began to deteriorate rapidly. Finishes on the nuts and bolts didn’t last and the body work developed blisters and cracks.” After four or five years, Robert Smith sold the car to Dr. Phillip Hoopes of Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Hoopes is a British car aficionado whose first car was a TR3A. Today, He owns a TR3A, a Morgan and Austin-Healeys. According to Macy, Dr. Hoopes wanted TS1/LO to be pristine. He tried to get Joe Richards to do another restoration, but Richards recommended Macy’s Garage, a shop that specializes in TR2 thru TR6 models. “We do these cars exclusively,” Mark Macy noted. “We are a company of 10 people and we get cars from all over the U.S.

When Macy’s staff started working on the historic Triumph, the members suspected that something was “going on” with the metal work and Dr. Hoopes agreed that it had to come apart and be done right. There were voids in the metal that needed to be corrected. Macy’s shop had the tools and talent to get the car back to original condition. The restoration took a little less than two years. “We were honored to work on this car,” Macy said. “All my guys made sure that everything we did maintained the history of the car as much as possible.”

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