Vintage SCI Review: 1957 Triumph TR-3 – Disc Braked!

Last but not least in our survey of sports cars and American GT cars from 1956-1957 via reviews from Sports Car Illustrated is the Triumph TR-3. The TR series of sports cars, starting with the TR-2 in 1953, had quickly established itself as being the fastest affordable sports car, with a roarty 2 liter four that could push the TR-3 to sixty in about 11 seconds, or a good three seconds faster than the MGA. That was a brisk time back in 1956, even for American V8 cars. But unlike everyone else, the TR-3 could also stop faster, harder and repeatedly without the fade that drum brakes invariably experienced, because it was now the first mass-production sports car to have disc brakes.

It would be another decade before the Corvette finally got discs, so this was a big deal. And they performed as well or better than expected. Ten grueling stops from 60mph in a row, and the tenth stop was every bit as fast as the first. This was unprecedented in SCI’s experience.

Disc brakes burst on the sports-racing scene in 1955 at LeMans, where two Triumphs were entered, one with four wheel Dunlop discs, and the other with Girlings on the front and drums at the rear. The Girling-equipped car gave a way very little to the four-disc TS, and as a consequence Triumph chose to go that route, which was of course cheaper too.

SCI noted that disc detractors predicted that they wouldn’t work when wet or dirty, but the opposite was the case. In the wet, after a quick wipe to clear the discs, they worked much better and more consistently than drums.

The three-bearing, wet sleeve pushrod four also got some attention for 1957, with improved porting and bigger SU carbs to take advantage of that. The engine was noted for being responsive and having a wide range of power as well as being “buzzy”.

In addition to the four speed transmission, with “good though beatable synchromesh”, there was also a Laycock overdrive, which could be selected on 2 -4th gear. SCI got the best 0-60 time by using 1, 2, and 2OD. But the real benefit came on the highway, where cruising was much more pleasant, given the buzzy engine.

The handling department was more of a mixed bag. TR’s were known for their firmer than average ride, which is saying a lot given the nature of British sports cars back then. As in…hard. And the lack of suspension travel could cause a rather abrupt transition to oversteer when the inside rear wheel suddenly ran out of travel in a curve and lifted off the pavement, placing too great of cornering forces on the outside rear wheel.