By Brian Earnest
Rena Valentine knows that it might sound a little strange to serious car guys, but her first priority when it came to shopping for a Triumph sports car was color. The car had to be baby blue with a white top — not necessarily because those are Valentine’s favorite colors, but more for sentimental reasons.
“The attraction is because when I was about 7, maybe 9 years old, I found pictures of my uncle’s car. It was a 1959 TR3, powder blue convertible with a white top,” recalled Valentine, who splits time living in both New Jersey and Connecticut. “In the pictures were all these trophies, and he raced the car, and it was just so cool. It looked like a baby Jaguar. I always knew I wanted a car like that. I didn’t know exactly what year of car it was, or exactly what model, but I knew I wanted a car just like that.
“For some reason growing up I had this affinity for that powder blue car. Little did I know that very few cars were made in that color, let alone left now in Britain or in the U.S. That’s a specific color for a TR3B. They only came in 3 or 4 colors.”
Valentine decided that she needed a little help before she took the plunge and bought a Triumph, so she joined a local club a full two years before she got her first car. It didn’t take long for her to find out what she up was up against in her search for a powder blue Triumph with a white top and a dark blue interior. “I went to the first meeting and figured, ‘Hey you guys will help me find one, right,’” she said. “You’ll sell me one, right?’ They said, ‘Good luck!’”
“It took me three years to finally find my car. I found one each year for about three years. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Valentine was too late to buy the first two cars she pursued — they had both been sold by the time she called on them. The third one she found, in Texas, was priced too high. So she kept looking, and hoping.
A year after passing up the third car, however, Valentine found it up for sale again, and this time she couldn’t resist. The car, a rare 1962 TR3B with 90,000 miles, had been owned and completely restored back to show-winning condition by Triumph restorer Ron Harrison, who operates Ron’s Vintage Auto Restoration in Salado, Texas. The shop specializes in restorations on Triumph, MG, Austin Healey and Jaguar. The car was then purchased by a second owner in Ohio, who never even got the car registered.
“The guy had it shipped up to Ohio and parked it up next to a 1959 TR3A that he was restoring,” Valentine said. “But when he decided to sell his ’59, his wife said ‘No, we’re keeping that one and putting the ’62 up for sale.’ So he never did anything with it! He just owned it for a while and flipped it. He sold it after putting no miles on it! He told me the car had never been driven outside of Texas, and I knew he was telling the truth because of the mileage and because I had tried to buy the car before.
“The guy told me it was probably the best one in the country. I told him I didn’t want the best one in the country, because I couldn’t afford it. I had just been looking for a driver in maybe the $10,000 or $12,000 range, and that’s what the other ones I found were. But he said, ‘You might never find another one,’ and I just decided I had to buy that car.”
“He never did a thing with it after he bought it, so officially I’m the second owner of the car.”
The TR3B was as a two-door, two-seat roadster offered only in 1962. The car was really a one-year extension of the TR3 line designed to overlap the introduction of the new TR4, which some dealers were worried would not sell well when it was launched in 1962. The TR4 was wider, heavier and a much different animal than the TR3 series cars, which lasted from 1957-’62, if you include the 1962 TR3B. Not everyone was high on the TR4 as a replacement for the TR3A, but the cars did last four years before spawning the next-generation TR4A in 1965.
Early production TR3Bs were identical to the TR3A, but the later, and more desirable examples, carried the TR4’s larger engine and its new all-synchromesh gearbox.
The 3Bs had all the other typical TR3A trademarks, including removable side curtains and a snap-on top. The cars rode on 15-inch wheels with solid axles. They had front disc brakes with drum binders in back. Spoke wheels were optional, as was a heater.
Late-production TR3Bs, like Valentine’s, were powered by the 104-hp, 2,138 cc four-cylinder. Earlier cars had the TR3A 1,991-cc, 100-hp four-cylinder. All cars carried a four-speed manual transmission with an optional overdrive.
Only about 3,331 TR3Bs were built for 1962, and they were only available in the U.S. “But it’s actually less than that,” said Valentine. “That’s how many chassis were built, but some of those chassis were sent out to build other cars. I think 2,804 is supposed to be the real number.”
Most of those cars didn’t survive the last 47 years. Valentine said Triumph aficionados have estimated that less than 300 of the TRBs are still around, and Valentine can attest that only a handful are dressed in factory-correct baby blue with a white top.
Some of the pieces on her car were replaced during its ground-up restoration a few years back, but Valentine still has the original parts that were part of the deal. She even got the trophies that the car won. “He told me I was getting every trophy that went with the car. So the trunk was loaded!”
“It has the original radio, and it has some other pieces that were period correct,” she said. “He gave me an extra set of carburetors, manifolds, the valve cover, valve cover gasket … I have the old side curtains. It has a rare ashtray. It has a rare map light. Optional rear seat… The car originally came with whitewalls and mine doesn’t have those. And it originally came with disc wheels, which mine doesn’t have. I have the spoked wheels.
“But everything works in this car, that’s why I feel like I’m driving in the past when I’m in it.”
So far, Valentine has only put about 150 miles on the car, but they have been eventful. She is assimilating into the British car crowd when she takes the car to shows and is soaking up as much Triumph insight and knowledge as she can from “old guard” collectors. “At the Touch of England Show at Hermitage in Saddle River (N.J.), I won first place in the TR3 division, and one of the older retired guys came up and was ribbing me,” she said. “He said, ‘Let me know what shows you are going to. I used to win and I’m not going where you’re going.’ But we’re best friends now.”
Valentine is also enjoying the driving thrill she hoped would come with a roadster of such vintage. “It’s like I’m driving … geez how do you put it? It’s like I’m driving a piece of art. Even though I wasn’t born then, I feel like I belong in that car. It’s just a blast from the past. It’s like going back in time.”
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