There is no easy way to write this, but I just don’t care for Triumph roadsters. Britain made dozens of sporty soft-tops back in the ‘50s and ‘60s – one might say that was one of the British car industry’s strong suits. And that’s the issue: if it were only Triumph and a couple other options, things might be different. But competing with Sunbeam, MG, Austin-Healey, Jaguar, Daimler, Morgan, AC, Lotus and a number of others, the TRs of any number fails to crack my personal top ten.
Well almost. If one TR were to make it to tenth place, it would be TR number 3. Number 2, with that gaping maw, looks half-finished. Not keen on the TR4/TR5, with their ineffectual IRS; same for ‘60s Spitfires’ dodgy swing axle. Pass on the staid-looking TR6, hard pass on Sad Lady of the Leylands TR7… And let’s not mention the Stag (oops!).
Point is, the TR3 is perhaps the sole model fielded by Standard-Defeat in the mid-to-late ‘50s that has stood the test of time. It managed to strike a rather pleasing balance between the rough and ready immediate post-war drop-top and the attempts at sophistication that ended up ruining British carmakers in general and roadsters in particular in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Triumph’s own IRS is a decent example of said bungling sophistication – as is a certain V8-powered two-door that shall remain nameless (Stag, re-oops). I always preferred Triumph’s ‘60s saloons: the Herald/Vitesse and especially the 2000/2500. But back in the ‘50s, when Standard were still trying to play the alpha marque role, the best car named Triumph was the swoopy roadster we’re looking into presently.
I love the wire wheels, the minimal bumpers, the turn signals tacked on as an afterthought to that pointy rear end. I also love the fact that it still has a crank starter hole in the grille. I know, some Citroëns kept theirs for eons as well – into the ‘80s, in fact. But the 2CV or the GS were not sexy 2-litre sports cars.
They only made about 13,000 of these “narrow grille” series 1 cars before a facelift in late 1957 gave the Triumph roadster a new face – well, more of a new mouth. It changed the car’s physiognomy more than facelifts usually do. On balance, the pre-facelift version wins for me – just by a nose…
Triumph installed disc brakes in their TR3 starting in 1956 – a highly commendable improvement, and one that showed a taste for innovation. On the other hand, the TR3 made it all the way to 1962 without a synchronized first gear, which must make city driving more difficult than it would be in, say, a Porsche 356 or an Alfa 1900, which had more modern gearboxes. But still far better than the Moss mess used in contemporary Jags.
My favourite bit of the TR3 is that sumptuous interior, which still has a prewar feel. The lack of walnut burl (thanks for sparing us that cliché, Mr Standard-Triumph), the giant steering wheel and in tiny gearstick, the sensible layout… It sure looks like a snug place to sit. Fundamentally close to the ground, but head on cloud nine.
Although as quintessentially British as a mug of milky tea on a rainy Sunday afternoon, our TR lacks the social pretensions of some of the other vehicles I’ve encountered here. You might have recognized the backdrop as being identical to several other British beauties caught over the past couple of years – notably the Bristols, as well as a number of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. A blue collar little red roadster? Not quite, but no-nonsense and ready to shake your fillings loose on a twisty mountain road near you.
Curbside Classic: 1959 Triumph TR3A: My Favorite ’50’s Sportscar, by Longrooffan
COAL: 1962 Triumph TR3B – Nonsense and Sensibility, by Retro Jerry
CC Outtake: A Couple Of Tasty Treats, by Chris O’Bryant