Car of the Week: 1962 Triumph TR4

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Story and photos by Brian Earnest

John Myers figures his 1962 Triumph TR4 is sort of the automotive equivalent of an organ transplant recipient.

It’s taken parts and pieces from two other deceased Triumphs to keep his glorious little sports cars on the road, so he figures the best thing is to let his TR4 live life to the fullest. Today, it is equal parts show car and weekend getaway car. Myers, a resident of Rochester, Minn., has rolled up 20,000-plus miles on the car in the past 16 years since resurrecting the Triumph. And even though he drives it plenty, you won’t many TR4s around that are any nicer.

“I bought it in ’98, mostly because it had an overdrive transmission,” Myers says. “And I had a TR6 at the time and I liked the looks of the 4.

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“It came from Germany. It’s got the German registration on it. It’s got the amber lights and the locking steering column. What they did then was they would send the parts over to Europe and they would assemble the car in Europe and they wouldn’t have to pay the English back tax and whatever. [The original owner] bought it when he was in the service in the Air Force and he drove it during his tour of duty. He lived in Faribault, Minn. … That would have been ‘62-‘63, and then when they got out of the service they would ship these cars back here. He said it came over on an aircraft carrier. Then later in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s he started racing in the SCCA and of course he took the seats out of it and everything. From the mid-‘70s to the ‘90s they raced this car, and it went from a white, to a gray, to a purple … They just kept painting it.”

Myers attributes the car’s current Powder Blue-and-White color combination to his wife, who spotted a similar car a while back and lobbied for that combination on the couple’s born-again ’62.

“It had been a Minnesota car and I had to do a complete ground-up restoration on it. Over 4 or 5 years I kept finding new old stock (NOS) parts for it,” he says. Myers stumbled across a couple of donor cars that supplied the gauges, hood and deck lid and other goodies. “It was really hard finding the hood because in ’62 it was a one-year deal with what they call the ‘short bubble.’ So I had to find a third Triumph and it turned out to be a local guy near me who had a bunch of cars sitting in his barn. He had mostly MG parts, but I got the right hood and right trunk from him.”

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Myers had landed another donor car earlier “for like 150 bucks.” He did much of the restoration work himself, but had help from a body man in La Crosse, Wis. By 2002, four years after he paid for his battle-worn TR4, he had the cool convertible back on the road.

 

An ‘Italian’ Brit

Triumph introduced the restyled TR4 in 1961, as a 1962 model. With the assistance of Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti, the TR4 represented Triumph’s “next-generation” full-size sports car. Two models were available. The 2,072 lb. roadster had an East Coast Port-of-Entry price of $2,849. The coupe—which had a POE price of $2,999—-was not a roadster with a detachable hardtop.

It had a new 2.1-liter engine and rack-and-pinion steering. “The TR4: It Won Its First Medal Standing Still” said an April 1962 advertisement that heralded Triumph’s first place and a gold medal for coachwork at the Earls Court Show, in London, six days after the car’s release.

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It had a removable steel roof panel, but a fixed-in-position rear light (rear window) and frame. Owners who feared getting caught in the rain after leaving the steel roof home could order an optional fabric top to cover the opening between the fixed windshield and fixed rear window. Production of the TR4 started in August 1961 and lasted until January 1965, even though American Triumph dealers lacked sufficient faith in the new car.

The TR4 persisted for four model years and, following that run, a similar TR4A model arrived and remained available until August 1967. Approximately 40,253 Triumph TR4s were produced over the full model run, from 1961-1964. About 28,465 TR4As were produced between 1965 and 1967.

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The TR4 front end retained some of the TR3’s styling trademarks like a lattice-work grille and “frog-eye” headlights. These were presented in totally new ways. The wide grille had fewer vertical blades, which gave it a more horizontal look. The grille was slightly recessed under the lip of the bonnet and incorporated headlights below humps that formed small eyelids.

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The wraparound style front bumper had large overriders inboard of the headlight position. The flat TR3 windshield gave way to a larger, slightly curved windshield. The left side of the hood had a “power blister” that provided clearance for the inclined carburetors.

The new sports car’s body had a much different look. It was longer, lower, wider, more square and more contemporary, with straight-through fender lines and a wider stance. The doors were no longer cut down and had only a modest recess along the window sill. The rear end look was totally different from any previous TR. The taper-tail was gone and the new trunk lid was on level with the hood, curving gently down at the rear. The slightly “slab sided” fenders ended with a hint of tail fins.

A major convenience advance was wind-up side windows, a first for Triumph roadsters. The TR4’s new face-level ventilation system featured the same type of air ducts with butterfly valves and wheel adjuster many cars use today. Standard TR4 exterior body colors were: Spa White, Signal Red, black, Powder Blue, or British Racing Green.

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Triumph listed the TR4 as a two-passenger model. Individually adjustable front bucket seats were provided. A padded backrest was behind the seats and seat cushions were optional. The seats, door panels, and backrest were trimmed in pleated imitation leather with piping in a contrasting color. Genuine leather was optional. Upholstery could be black, red, or blue and was color-keyed to the body color. Convertible tops came only in black or white.

Instrumentation was split into two groups. A large circular speedometer and a match tachometer sat directly in front of the driver. A trapezoid-shaped panel in the center held the ammeter, oil pressure gauge, thermo gauge, and fuel gauge. Below this was a horizontal panel housing the choke, wiper, lights, ignition, and windscreen washer controls. There was a locking glove box on the passenger side. The three-spoke steering wheel was of an attractive “banjo” design.

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Chassis details weren’t much different than the TR3A, except for rack-and-pinion steering. The TR4 retained an 88-inch wheelbase with an overall length of 156 inches, a bit more than the TR3. Its top-of-the-windshield height was 50 inches. It was much wider than earlier TRs at 57.5 inches. The steel disc wheels held 5.90 x 15 tires and wire wheels were again optional.

Power came from a 2138cc engine with an 86 x 92mm bore and stroke, the same used in late TR3Bs. The use of twin S.U. carburetors and a 9.0:1 compression ratio was carried over. In England, this engine was rated 100 hp at 4600 rpm, but the U.S. rating was 105 hp at 4750 rpm. Torque was 128 lbs.-ft. at 3350 rpm.

“It’s got the wet-sleeve Vanguard engine in it. It’s basically a Massey Ferguson tractor engine. It’s the same engine they were using in the English tractor. It’s got a lot of torque,” says Myers.

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The smaller 1991cc engine remained available for use in 2.0-liter class racing. It was rated 100 hp at 5000 rpm and 117 lbs.-ft. of torque at 3000 rpm. The TR4’s top speed was in excess of 110 mph and it was tested at 11.5 seconds for 0-to-60 mph and 18.2 seconds for the quarter-mile.

The TR4’s run came to and end for 1965 with the introduction of the TR4A. It had a modified grille, revised badges and emblems, more luxurious interior furnishings, a fancier hood and a re-worked rear chassis with an independent suspension incorporating semi-trailing arms and coil springs.

An interesting Triumph owner survey published in the April 1969 Road & Track showed 67 percent of TR4 owners and 72 percent of TR4A owners would buy another Triumph. They overwhelmingly picked handling as the car’s best feature.

“They wound up being very popular. This was a high-production car – like 170,000 of them,” Myers noted. “It’s surprising how many of them don’t exist anymore. I think mostly because of the little rust issues!”

 

Show and go

Myers said he had the car judged at the 2002 Vintage Triumph Register convention in Rockford, Ill., and wound up taking second to “another guy who was also in the service and bought a car. His was British Racing Green, though!” He’s planning to do some more judged shows in the future, but such shows are a distant second when it comes to his priorities with the TR4. He wants the car on the highway and the Minnesota backroads as much as possible.

“It’s just a great car to drive. I’ve got a few rock chips. But I just love driving this car. With that tractor engine in it, it’s just so torquey. And with that overdrive, I can go on any interstate 70-plus mph no problem,” he says with a grin.

“It’s just a great car. If people knew how fun these cars are to drive, more people would have them.”

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