TRIUMPH TR4 REVIEW

As British as they come, Triumph’s pretty TR4 is a potent and muscular sports car whose values are increasing steadily. We look at the pros and cons of buying one today

Classic Triumph TR4 Review

If you’re looking for deadly accurate steering and handling to shame an Elise, then look elsewhere: this is definitely a sports car in the old-school (1960s) sense of the word. Independent rear suspension didn’t arrive until the advent of the later (1965-67) TR4A, but the all-synchromesh gearbox (with some cars totalling seven gears, thanks to optional overdrive on second, third and fourth) and rack-and-pinion steering made the TR4 feel like a quantum leap over the preceding TR3.

It can be hustled along with aplomb on twisty country roads, that’s true, but in some ways this more an accomplished grand tourer than a screaming sportster. You really could imagine crossing countries in this car. The compact, yet comfortable cabin has it all, from the classic sprung steering wheel to the myriad dials (often sunk into an aftermarket or TR4A-style slab of polished timber). It feels more hemmed in the TR3, which used cut-down doors, but also less exposed to the elements. 

VITAL STATISTICS

Engine                                    2138cc/4-cyl/OHV

Power (bhp@rpm)                  100bhp@4600rpm

Torque (lb ft@rpm)                 127lb ft@3350rpm

Top speed                                104mph

0-60mph                                  10.9sec

Consumption                            22.5mpg 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK & CHASSIS
 

It’s a British car from the 1960s, so unless a prospective purchase has evidence of extensive professional restoration, there are plenty of rot spots to investigate. The separate chassis is an added complication, making it often easier to effect repairs with the body off. All the usual places corrode with the worst of them, so check the leading edges of the bonnet, bootlid and doors, windscreen surround, the tops of the rear wings, the sills, floorpan and A-pillars.

Noticeably inconsistent shutlines, particularly around the doors, should start alarm bells ringing, as chances are the root cause is a distorted chassis, either as a result of previous accident damage or a terminally rotten chassis. You really need to get the car up onto a ramp to check this properly.

ENGINE

It takes quite a bit of neglect to see off a TR4 four-cylinder engine, so keep a weather eye out for death rattles (indicating shot main bearings) and blue exhaust smoke (worn piston rings and/or cylinder bores) under load. Anything less than 60psi oil pressure is bad news, although replacing the oil pump and/or big end bearings has been known to improve matters dramatically. Chattering valve gear can often be silenced through judicious adjustment, but beware seeping oil from either the timing chain cover or rear of the crankshaft. 

ELECTRICS

Electrics are of the knife-and-fork variety, and if even elementary repairs are beyond your abilities most garages will do routine work for relatively little money. Do try all the controls, however; a non-functioning heater can point to a terminally silted-up engine block, while repairing inoperative windscreen wipers is a dashboard-out job.

RUNNING GEAR

TR4 transmissions are inherently tough, but will require attention after 100,000 miles or so, specifically to the layshaft bearings. Erratic overdrive engagement can often be cured by expert adjustment. Don’t discount non-overdrive cars out of hand, either, since swapping an overdrive into a standard car is easier than you might think. Worn synchros can often soldier on for hundreds of miles with careful driving, but a re-build will probably be needed sooner rather than later. Listen for unpleasant noises accompanying take-up – the culprit is most likely one or more of the universal joints fitted to the propshaft and/or half-shaft, but it could also be a differential that’s about to part company with its mountings. 

  BRAKES

Many TR4s have been upgraded to modern springs and telescopic shocks by now – this is a problem only if you’re a stickler for period originality, since the original lever arm dampers were considered only average at best even when relatively new, especially on uneven road surfaces. One of the biggest TR4 headaches is poorly maintained trunnions – lack of lubrication causes them to dry out and seize, which in turn places undue stresses on the lower wishbone droplinks. 

 INTERIOR

Interior trim is generally hard wearing, but unrestored cars will be looking tired by now. Sagging seats – and the driver’s one in particular – are often accompanied by damaged side bolsters; a re-build and re-trim are the only viable long-term solutions. Finding a car with the much sought-after Surrey hardtop is a real bonus since prices for this factory option are very much in the ascendancy.

OUR VERDICT

Just take a look at this car and you’ll know why you want one – there’s not an iffy angle or line anywhere to be seen on Michelotti’s masterpiece, from the rounded front to the abrupt rear end. Factor in the grunty 2.1-litre ‘four’, which elicits an evocative growl from the exhaust, and there can be few finer companions on a sunny back-road blast.

It’s surprisingly practical, too (especially compared to the preceding TR3/3A) sporting a spacious cabin and a particularly accommodating boot. Certainly, you could take one on a long-haul run and not have to skimp too much on your luggage allowance.

Reassuringly uncomplicated, the TR4 sports a separate chassis and mostly bolt-on panels, which obviously makes home repairs and restoration that much easier. Triumph parts back-up is second to none, too, so if you can’t find a particular widget for your car, chances are there’s an alternative available.

Best of all, these cars can only increase in value.

The subtly upgraded, but considerably rarer TR4A tends to be the car that many buyers actively seek out – this despite the inevitable higher asking prices – but the standard car is much more readily available and good ones will have had most, if not all of their problems ironed out by now. 

It’s easy to succumb to the power-mad six-cylinder charms of the later TR5/6, but while the TR4’s four-pot has a murky past (it can trace its roots back to a Ferguson tractor), it is torquey and mellifluous, and can easily be maintained by the enthusiast DIY ownera paThey are a particularly tempting medium-term investment. At the very least, you won’t lose any money; chances are your return will improve considerably.

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