The continuing tale of a TR6

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My saga in the November 1973 issue of Motor Sport of my unfortunate experiences with a new Triumph TR6 provoked several hundred readers into writing to us, mostly with very similar stories to my own. Because such interest was shown, after a further year’s motoring it seems opportune to bring the Tale up to date.

“Pig-in-‘ell” is currently out to grass while her master frustratedly serves out a three month totting-up licence suspension. This and the large number of road-test cars to have come my way during my own 70,000 miles in the past 12 months have kept her annual mileage down to a modest 10,000, to bring the total to something over 21,000. Almost needless to say, those 10,000 have not been completely uneventful miles.

The week after the first Tale went to press the gearlever, in neutral, spun round uselessly in my hand when I tried to make a three-point turn to escape from a Hyde Park Corner traffic jam. As I was broadside across the road at the time I was not amused. . . . The lever suddenly popped back into place whilst I was trying to remove the centre console after the car had been pushed off the road. This problem occurred several more times before it was cured by tightening the pinch bolts at the base of the gearlever during the next service, carried out by the British Leyland Service Division in Western Avenue at 11,740 miles, just before the expiry of the warranty. At the same time the third set of brake pads was fitted (or maybe fourth if a new set had been fitted to cure the squealing the first time the car returned to the factory). Another 1,000 miles may have been wrung safely from the old pads, which I kept as spares. The erratic tachometer and a sidelight bulb were replaced and the standard service carried out, but “because we hadn’t time”, though the car had been with them for four days, the requested curing of water leaks and the inability of the claimed 11-1/4 (a claim since modified to 10-3/4) gallon tank to relinquish more than 9 gallons had not been carried out, though the depositing of grease all over the paintwork had been accomplished most thoroughly.

Those badly cracked rear Dunlop SP Sports (see the original Tale for details) were replaced gratis by Dunlop at 11,533 miles, the new ones were carefully run-in, but only 1,300 miles later, after a fast, two-up, early morning motorway trip from York to London after last year’s RAC Rally, the new ones were found to have cracked too, though not quite so badly. As this occurred just before the imposition of the 50-limit and since my cruising speeds have been lower since then in any case, I have yet to have them replaced. The spare tyre, one of the originals, was reduced to scrap by a flint in the car park of the Shuttleworth Collection and has not been replaced and the original front SP Sports still have 3-3/4 to 4-3/4 mm. left on them at over 21,000 miles, a performance helped by their 15 in. diameter.

Almost a new lease of life was acquired by this weakling TR6 at 15,000 miles when I discovered the exceptionally good service of DCM The TR Centre, whose workshop is run by Clive Jarman in Lexham Mews, W8. These people live, eat and breathe TRs, seeming to know as much about them as the factory and probably more as regards the problems normally suffered by customers. Apart from the routine servicing, most of their time was spent putting right things which had either been done wrongly or not at all at British Leyland, Western Avenue. Bear in mind that only 3,000 very gentle miles during the 50 m.p.h. restriction had been covered since the last Western Avenue service. Inlet and exhaust tappet settings for this engine should be 10 thou; they checked out as four exhausts set at 8 thou, the other two at 13 thou and all inlets at 6 thou. The timing was well out, having been set from the wrong mark on the front pulley; the nearside driveshaft splines were dry of grease; the propshaft had not been greased; the gearbox had been overfilled; the inner upper steering shaft had been wrongly positioned; and both rear brake adjusters were loose. Additionally a new condenser was needed and a choke cam was seizing up, minor routine failures. Jarman also spotted the cracks in the tyres, including the spare and heard a worrying engine noise, which we think is excessive crankshaft end float, a common problem according to readers, and unlikely to help the engine’s longevity. He also removed the rubber block in the choke slide on the metering unit, which is meant to be retained merely during the running-in period to prevent the engine being over-enrichened.

The car seemed to revel in the effects of the first decent service it had received and complete with a sumpful of Duckham’s oil for the first time and new Champions plugs, “Pigin-‘ell” at last felt like a new car. To achieve this had taken 15,000 miles and goodness knows how many hours of British Leyland work before The TR Centre finally sorted out the troubles in just one day.

Or had they ? There remained at least one joker in the Triumph pack which came to light 400 miles later when I tried to push the gearlever into third gear, only to receive a graunching rejection. With only two gears available I limped into The TR Centre, who found after the gearbox had been removed that a spacer washer had broken up between second and third gear clusters, with dire results, for which the best cure was a new gearbox. Now that sounded easy enough, if expensive, to undertake, but we had reckoned without the Triumph spares situation: it took three weeks of trying all sources to obtain a box, which was only then forthcoming because I stirred up things at the Triumph factory. Triumph’s pathetic excuse for non-availability: “Oh, we’ve run out of spare UK specification gearboxes. The TR Centre should have ordered one under the US specification part number.” Perhaps The TR Centre and the various Triumph distributors they had tried were meant to be psychic ? In Triumph’s favour, they allowed that the gearbox had broken because of a manufacturing fault and extended the warranty to cover it, though the car was 3,500 miles outside the terms. They did not cover labour costs, however.

The TR Centre’s work was again impressive. On the afternoon the gearbox arrived I called at their workshops at 2.30 p.m. to find that the job of replacing it had not begun because Jarman was over at the Triumph distributors collecting several parts which were missing. Replacing the TR gearbox (with engine in situ) is not the easiest job in the world, yet when I arrived back in Lexham Mews at 5 p.m., the car was complete, clean and ready to drive away. There was also the additional bonus that, at my request, they had wired up the overdrive electrics to make the Laycock J-type overdrive operate on second gear as well as third and top. Bearing in mind that Triumph deleted second gear overdrive early in the TR6’s life because the combination of engine torque and heavy-footed drivers was causing numerous overdrive warranty claims, I am fairly judicious in its use. It often proves a useful ratio for trickling along in slowmoving, heavy traffic, but I do not use it too often on full throttle to fill the gap between second and third gears. Some nifty handwork and co-ordination is needed to do this because of the column-mounted overdrive switch, but there is no doubting its effectiveness in making the car get up and go. I am a firm believer in overdrives as providers of extra gears for the lazy, like me, and I must compliment Laycock de Normanville on providing one of the few parts of “Pig-in-‘ell” not to have given trouble. Incidentally, since the beginning of this year, overdrive has been fitted as standard equipment on the TR6.

After the gearbox replacement this TR began to provide utterly reliable motoring, which I must confess I rewarded unkindly by omitting its next 3,000-mile service, though I did check it over fairly regularly in person. Up to the next service at 20,655 miles the only comments I have noted of any significance are that puncture at the Shuttleworth Collection at 17,840 miles and the replacement of the Champion N9Y spark plugs by NGK BP6ES plugs, on several readers’ recommendations, at 16,149 miles. This was a most worthwhile change, the NGKs providing cleaner starting and, most notably, preventing the occasional fluffing which had always occurred with the Champions after long periods in heavy traffic. Their performance is excellent right through the range and after 5,000 miles their electrodes remain like new.

No particularly untoward work was required at that next service, prior to which the engine had lost a little of its sparkle, but was going well and continuing to tick over smoothly at 600 r.p.m. Instability under hard braking from high speed was traced to an oil seal which had let grease on to the rear brake shoes on one side, so all four shoes were replaced to achieve balance. The front pads, fitted at the 12,000 mile service, had given far better service than the earlier ones, but were replaced as a matter of course, though they might have lasted another 1,000 miles. Nor had they suffered, except briefly, from the “wire-brushing” squealing of the early and, I’m sure, inferior sets. The latest-type pads now fitted have larger holes for larger retaining pins than the earlier ones, as do the latest calipers, so old type calipers like mine continue to need the smaller pins. I had noted wear in the nearside wheel-bearing when checking pads a couple of weeks previously and The TR Centre spotted this, plus wear in the steering ball-joint on the same side. Both are considered safe until the next service and they have not yet made themselves noticeable at the steering wheel.

If readers wonder why I have not yet mentioned the notorious Lucas fuel injection system which gave so much trouble in the early life of this TR6 and those of many readers, there is a good reason: astonishingly the system has not once given trouble since it was rebuilt by the Triumph Engineering Division 16,000 miles ago. Specific instructions not to touch the system have been given by me every time the rest of the car has been serviced since then, yet not a beat has been missed and the only indirect complaint has been a leaking oil seal between the metering unit and the block, replaced at the last service. Such exceptional reliability—even a single carburetter would have required more attention—I suspect lies in very careful selection of a metering unit by Triumph Engineering, because my experience certainly seems against the law of readers’ averages. If every Lucas system worked as well as mine does now, doubtless we should all be praising the design to high heaven instead of damning it because of what would seem to be inconsistent engineering quality.

“Pig-in-‘ell” received a sore rump when a lorry backed into her outside this office a week after the 12,000-mile service. A hole was punched through the offside rear wing which had to be replaced, but the Warwick body repairers who carried out the work were unable to match the mimosa paintwork. Although they had another attempt at matching it six months later and assured me that this time the paint would settle down, the repair still stands out like a sore thumb, even though I have cut back the rest of the paintwork with that excellent “T-cut” product. Nor have I been able to obtain a replacement black TR6 transfer. Surface scratches on some panels were caused by an idiot car wash man in Selfridge’s car park, who appeared to have used sand-paper or similar to remove sticky tree droppings. Stone chips and subsequently rust have penetrated the incredibly poor paintwork below the front grille, rust bubbles are appearing from beneath the stainless sill trim strips and most of the black paint has peeled off the chassis to make way for a rust complexion. Helped by regular cleaning, the good quality interior is just like new; it seems a pity that the paintwork couldn’t be up to the same standard.

New owners of TR6s should be warned that the soft-top’s rear window scratches easily if the hood is left folded for long, as mine was when I had the hardtop in place last winter. I have learnt now to cover the plastic with an old towel before fitting the hood cover or tonneau. Those disappearing plastic caps over the headrest holes in the seat backrests have been made permanent with a couple of dabs of clear Bostik.

Although “Pig-in-‘ell” seems to have become relatively reliable in the last 5,000 miles (touch wood), I remain too sceptical to take her too far afield, certainly on the Continent. This is not encouraged in any case by the tyre problem, which I hope to overcome soon, and the poor fuel capacity. Neither that nor the water leaks have been cured and probably never will be; after washing or parking in heavy rain the front carpets become saturated and very heavy rain causes water to drip over my ankles when on the move.

My general opinions on handling, comfort and so on remain as I wrote last November, except that performance is considerably better since The TR Centre took the car under their wing. This includes throttle response, which is creditably instantaneous, and acceleration through and in the gears, though top speed on a level road remains not much more than 110 m.p.h. All the same, performance stays inferior to the original TR6. Unfortunately, oil consumption has not improved—still about 150 m.p.p. when used hard—and fuel consumption between Hertfordshire and the office continues to vary around the dreadful 17 to 18 m.p.g. mark, figures considerably improved upon by potentially much thirstier test cars. On the other hand, on the way northwards during the 50 m.p.h. limit last Christmas, doing 60 to 70 in convoy with other traffic (I wasn’t brave enough to stick to 50 m.p.h. on the motorway), 31 m.p.g. was recorded and my last journey northwards, at 70 to 80 m.p.h. on the way to my court case, saw a useful 26 m.p.g. recorded, a very good recommendation for overdrive.

In spite of everything, and possibly because the infrequency of driving this car makes it more of a novelty when I do so, and again because I have a certain feeling of sympathy for her because of my critical Motor Sport story, I have developed a soft spot for “Pig-in-‘ell”. She has become quite one of the family and, because of inflation, may have to remain so for a long time to come: when this car was purchased in February 1973 the basic price of the hardtop model was £1,387 plus £290 Purchase Tax, with another £73, including PT, asked for overdrive and £48 for a soft-top (not including tonneau), making a total of £1,798; the basic price for a hardtop model today, remembering that overdrive and tonneau are now included as standard, is £1,911, while a soft-top now costs £63, so my car today would cost a grand total of £2,309. Nevertheless, if one could rely on better quality control and a higher standard of exterior finish, the TR6 would be good value for money if a relatively powerful two-seater, open sports car meets your needs; after all it is one of the few remaining examples of a dying breed of car, and I understand from Triumph that contrary to rumour it will continue in production for some time.—C.R.