COAL #9: 1963 Triumph TR4 – (My) Perfect Sports Car

This COAL is the first about a car I still own today. As a result it has more than the usual number of pictures.

The company I started working for in 1990 offered company share stock options for the employees. Now I am not much into finances, and never looked into the world of shares and such. But this looked interesting. You are given a fixed price for a share. Then you have to say what number of shares you would like to buy in the future. For this number tax is calculated and has to be paid in advance. After a period of time you are allowed to buy shares for the price which was agreed earlier. This is a gamble, it may be that the share prices are lower than agreed before – then you do not buy shares but still you have lost the tax you paid earlier. But on the other hand, if the share price is higher than agreed you can buy the agreed amount of shares for the lower agreed price – and sell them for the higher market value if you want.

So I took part and paid the tax. I forgot all about this when 5 years later it was announced we could buy our shares if we wanted. The shares price had gone up quite considerably so yes of course! If I would buy my amount and immediately sell them, I would gain a very nice profit.

This unexpected profit all went to buying a car I lusted after for years. A proper British two seater open sports car. These were always too expensive for me but now I had the chance.

But what make / type?



Some cars were out of the question, too expensive – the “big” Austin Healey, MGC, Jaguar E-type, Lotus Elan, MG TC, TR5.  Other cars were maybe too slow – Austin Healey Sprite, MG Midget, Triumph Spitfire. The Jensen Healey I felt was too modern. A Sunbeam Alpine, hmmm. Too high on the wheels? Wheels too small? The earlier examples with the higher rear fins were pretty but overall it just did not do it for me.



The MGB, good styling, fast enough but there were too many around. MGA, lovely as were the Triumph TR2/3. But these did not have wind up door windows, and I thought that would be too tiring when making long distances on the motorway. Also these tended to be a touch too expensive. A TR6 was very nice. I owned a Triumph 2000 with more or less the same drive line (six cylinder engine, gearbox and rear suspension). But I hated the under-developed rear suspension with wearable spline shafts and universal joints. Where the TR4 still had an old fashioned rear axle with leaf springs, the TR6, TR250, TR4A all had this IRS system. Also they did not look as nice as a TR4…. So I went for a TR4. In my view then and now, one of the best. Great styling, lovely steel dash, capable 4 cylinder 2 litre engine with just the right amount of “rawness”. And no plastics to be seen.

Finding a suitable TR4 proved difficult. The perfect examples were far beyond my price range, so I had to aim for a car which, ideally, was in a good mechanical condition but maybe had cosmetic issues. Since the early 90s, there had been a whole influx of British sports cars imported from the US. The most attractive aspect of these cars was that they did not have the rust problems we were used to in Europe.



At Tom’s showroom (he was a Volvo specialist where I used to help / work on Saturdays), there were always two or three cars on display from a classic car dealer nearby. This was good thing for both Tom and the classic car dealer. One Saturday when that dealer was around for a coffee I asked him if he knew of a decent TR4 for sale. It turned out a transport from California would come in the next week which included a white TR4! He agreed to get this to the showroom at the Volvo specialist, and I would have the first chance.



This was a car made for me, 1963 – same birth year! On the front half (fenders and hood) paint was not too good, clearly had a half respray long ago in the past. There was some evidence that the front right wing was replaced or repaired at one time. But the rest of the car was as original as they come. Some wear and tear but not too bad. Flawless bumpers and the engine ran very well. Because the paint was not perfect and the carpets were quite bad, it was sold at a lower price than usual. The fact I was a friend of Tom did help too! A deal was made.


Towed the TR4 home behind my Triumph 2000



Putting the car through the registration test was easy. I replaced the flexi brake lines, put grease in all the suspension joints, replaced wiper blades and got the windscreen washer system working. Replaced the headlamps with euro spec lamps and bought new tires.


At first my son did not like it!

A couple of years ago


It was kind of weird to buy a two seater car just a year after our family was extended to three persons! But then again this was never going to be a family car. It gets used when the outside temp is above 12 degrees, below that the heater cannot cope and you get too cold. Also I do not like to drive it when it rains – it is made for better weather.


love this dash


Driving the TR4 is wonderful. Back then it was quite fast (100 BHP), nowadays almost every modern car can run rings around it. That does not matter. The TR feels fast. It makes a very nice sound, the engine provides ample torque in every gear even on the hills and mountains. Shifting a gear really is that: you need to work the gear lever in every gear. It is very unlike a modern car where you only have to touch the gear lever with your small finger and it goes. The steering wheel is huge, the rack and pinion is precise and light (unassisted). The brakes needs a good push but do their work well. Sitting so low makes you believe you go much faster as you imagined. It is a good motorway car, easy to do 70 mph all day and faster if needed (taking over slower cars).


2002, next to our Sunbeam Chamois, in our old garage (now living room)

Twenty years later, next to the same Sunbeam Chamois, in the current garage


There is quite a large luggage compartment at the rear. I usually leave the tonneau cover in place for the last half (behind the seats) which means behind the seats and under the tonneau there is plenty space to put jackets, maps (anyone else other than me still use these?) etc out of sight. Enough room to pack a small tent and camping gear for a few days.


paint flaking off

not looking good!


Around 2006, after ten years ownership, that old first half respray paint got worse: it lifted at places. Action was needed. This worried me for a long time. I did and do not like completely restored cars, I like to see originality in a car. Other people would probably take it all apart and do a full restoration. I did not want that, the car did not really need it and I would have no more pleasure in an as new car. The car was in a good driveable condition, if I would take the car apart I was afraid I had to make decisions which would prolong the weeks/months off the road. For example, when do you stop replacing parts? As a precaution? Are new parts as good as the originals? Or would it be better to find as new second hand parts? Etc. Ideally I would want to paint the front half only, matching the rest of the car which still had the original paint. But knowing I would never get a perfect match, there would always be a visible divider between the two.


stored under sheets

stored under rubbish


In the mean time the car stood there, waiting for my decision.


just before the respray, another trip to the UK


So I chose for a complete repaint. Well not complete, just the outside. This means under the bonnet and in the interior the old paint is still there.


At a friend’s workshop


with the original old soft top


A big disadvantage of the TR4 is the original soft top. It works well, taut and looking good, but is very clumsy to put up. The top is separate from the frame. First put up and unfold the frame, then throw the top over it. Needs to slide in a slit at the top of the windscreen frame, then top needs to be fixed to the frame and rear deck with many push buttons and lift-a-dots. Doing this properly means a couple of minutes at least. Triumph probably also realized they should do better and came up with a slightly different top to the TR4’s successor, the TR4A. This uses a car mounted folding frame to which the top is already fixed. On top of the windscreen frame just two levers are needed, and two push buttons at the B posts. I hated the top on my TR4 so much I converted my car to the TR4A type top. Before converting I was hesitant to take the car out if the weather forecasted a possibility of rain, now I do not care.


Another TR4 somewhere in the UK

Another TR4 somewhere on the motorway


Some things have been done to the car. Pointless ignition is installed. Then the cooling problems. I had problems with the engine getting almost too hot. A recore of the radiator did not help enough. I fitted an extra electric fan in front of the radiator. That did not help much either. I fitted an upgraded water pump. Not a significant difference. Fitted an old bellow type of thermostat so more flow would go into the rad. Still the car would go near the red, for example when in traffic or on long hills. Then I took the plunge. Removed the old mechanical driven fan, fitted a new, modern high performance electric fan behind the radiator. This meant more electric power was needed so I fitted an alternator instead of the dynamo. This all did the trick. Before, I always had an eye on the temp gauge. Now I never worry, the temp needle never goes to the too hot zone.



A stainless steel exhaust was fitted the second year I had the car. After 24 years, I got tired of the increasing noise the car made. Checked the exhaust but there was no leak. I removed the silencer and made a cut over the complete upper side so I could fold, “open” it up. As expected, it was empty. I got glass wool from the home DIY shop and crammed the silencer full of it. Then welded the top shut again. This made a marked difference. But during the summer the noise increased gradually and after a few months it was too much again. I suspected the glass wool was not up to the job. So I removed the silencer again and for the second time cut it open. Most of the glass wool was gone. I bought wire steel wool and again crammed as much as possible in the silencer, once again welded it shut. Now 6 years later it still holds up, the noise has not increased much – at least not to unacceptable levels.


getting new tires


at home


There have been some repairs. A front suspension spring broke, a new one has been fitted. The speedo stopped working, I had it repaired at a specialist. A rear lever arm damper was exchanged for a better one. I have refurbished the SU carburettors years ago. The rear leaf springs were not of the original type, the car sat too high at the rear so I exchanged these to the original type.



The car is my summer car. If the sun is out and no rain predicted, I take the TR4. Still makes me smile each time I drive it.


Stranded. Not sure what the driver did there!


Four years ago, when we were on a Triumph club trip in the UK, the car left us standing. It just stopped. I checked all the obvious things but could not see anything amiss. Called the AA, the car was transported to our hotel where we stayed along with many more Triumph owners. Of course arriving on the back of a truck got the interest of all others. By thorough checking it was found the rotor had a tiny hair crack, almost invisible to the eye. We were lucky someone had a spare!

We try to do a longer trip every summer, often to the UK. Also did a few trips to the Alps with friends. Some pictures:

Pretty cold up these mountains!

Nice scenery in Scotland. Superb old textile mill in Leeds

A proper Bed and Breakfast address

On a trip with two other car friends. Aston Martin DB9 and Sunbeam Stiletto.

Walking duties with Els, our dachshund. She died last year (nearly 14 years old). Loved driving in de TR4!


Will not be sold, ever. I would not exchange it to another 2 seater convertible, am happy that I made a good choice 28 years ago.