Veteran to classic - Triumph TR
WPK continues his story on three different Triumph TRs and finishes by concentrating on a works replica TR4 in which he acted as navigator on last year’s Pirelli Classic Marathon.
This car was bought as a $300 wreck in California to meet Ron Gammons’ taunt about the non-existent TR challenge to the almighty MGB on historic rallying events. In fact it was the MGB exponent who found the TR4 in America whilst on MGB business!
Once brought back to England, cleared of external debris, Californian spiders, several different speakers, a chrome boot rack and several other extraneous items, the body was found to be pretty sound, although it still needed a huge amount of work.
Evan took a deep breath, scrutinised his bank statements, consulted his bank manager and took the plunge. Impressed with Chris Carter’s work and his competition success, he decided Chestnut House would be entrusted with the project while he used all his contacts to gather all his resources. Of these, none was more vital than Moss Europe, the company which took over Cox and Buckles. Again and again there’s is a name which keeps cropping up in the restoration of Triumphs and MGs in particular. As soon as parts are discontinued by Austin-Rover, Moss arrange for their remanufacture. “Without Moss, we wouldn’t be here,” claims Carter, “Nor would any other TR specialist in the country. For example, TR6 boot lids were very difficult to get hold of, but Moss in conjunction with Heritage located the original press tools and have remanufactured a wonderful copy, identical to the original. The same goes for TR6 bonnets. These items are now fairly freely available which means that there is now no room for speculators who bought panels when they were being sold by Leyland and made a great deal of money selling them on to the impecunious TR enthusiast for more money than they were really worth.” It was this company who were to supply Mackenzie with several parts that had every right to be extinct, long dead and forgotten. Parts such as twin piston rear dampers, wiring looms etc.
One of the larger treasured items were the alloy wings, complete with cut-out holes on either side for under-bonnet ventilation. Enquiries revealed that Triumph Herald grilles fitted the bill here and much beavering about enabled Evan to come up with the appropriate parts from a car dump under the railway arches.
Evan was also to prosper by the attention to detail of the Triumph Competitions Manager of the time, none other than renowned author Graham Robson. He had homologated parts that others hadn’t even thought of, and Evan was able to put much of this into practice, although the sheer expense prohibited everything. Apart from the alloy wings, Evan could quite legitimately use an alloy boot and bonnet, but these had to wait, although there are plans for both items to be eventually fitted. Being a former Canley man, Evan’s influence reached far and wide. Ken Tomlinson, for example, used to build the gearboxes for the works cars and still had all his original notebooks covering every model from the first Le Mans TRs to the TR7 V8s. He was enlisted in rebuilding the back axle and gearbox. All the Triumph, BMC, Rootes and Jaguar works competition cars were looked after by Ernie Garbutt, Laycock’s field engineer. He rebuilt Evan’s overdrive.
The engine itself, which Evan acquired through advertising in the TR Register’s TR Action, was the responsibility of Chestnut’s Jon Wood. It was totally stripped and cleaned before being bored out to accept 87mm pistons, the biggest allowed under Appendix K. As the car was destined to become a rally machine not a racing car, good torque characteristics were important, so the cam profiles and balancing reflected that. The 45 DCOE Webers were rebuilt by Aldon of Birmingham.
Safety points included chassis strengthening in the areas shown to be weak by contemporary photographs, while tradition gave way to practicalities when Evan installed proper seats with high backs, full harness belts, fire extinguisher, cut-out switches and full roll bar. Although much of this was compulsory, he was not cost cutting on these items.
The unleaded situation came about as a result of a telephone conversation between Evan and Chris Carter. “We knew of no-one else converting TRs to run on unleaded,” stated Carter, “But having offered Evan the option of running on unleaded, we had to do some rather rapid research to find out who would actually do the thing for us. In the event, it didn’t actually prove too difficult for I found somebody who had been working with cylinder heads for a number of years converting MGs to unleaded.”
The benefits one gets from unleaded fuel, apart from the smaller queues at petrol stations on events like the Marathon, are that the engine revs much more freely and the high octane fuel used means that there is potentially an increase in engine performance available.
After the Marathon, the head was taken off and checked, but there was very little that needed even comment; it was a good, clean head that had done 5000 miles. A couple of valve guides were replaced because they were out, but from the leadfree point of view, there was no problem at all.
Using the knowledge gained on the Marathon, another couple of thou have been taken off the head, raising the compression from 9.7 to 10.2 to 1. “We still have an immense amount of oil pressure and it uses a good deal of oil, so I suppose it cleans itself,” muses Evan.
Towards the end of the Pirelli we were losing power, as readers may recall in my report in the August issue, and we thought it was entirely down to the Brillo pads we had stuffed up the exhaust. It was subsequently discovered, though, that the cam was losing some of its lobes, progressively just wearing off and taking the edge off the performance. By the time I saw the car again at Cadwell Park, the imperfect example had been replaced by a camshaft from another supplier which has helped boost the horsepower from 107 bhp to 131 bhp at the rear wheels.
The gearbox was stripped after the event. Apart from a couple of gears being chipped, the only other fault was that a couple of bushes were a little tired, something to be expected after the gruelling event it went through. Nevertheless all the innards were replaced with sturdier parts to ensure a greater length of time between rebuilds.
Apart from these items, little else needed rectifying on the car. There was nothing to do to the body except tighten it down to the chassis again which Mackenzie would expect to do anyway whether it had been on the Marathon or not.
“With regard to the suspension, we have spoken to a couple of suspension experts to take advice,” Evan told me, “And what we now have is a very stiff anti-roll bar at the rear which will get rid of that ploughing understeer every time we put the power on, so it should make the tail come out.” The rear springs remain the same, but at the front there have been quite a few changes. Apart from the addition of a small anti-roll bar, the original, rather weak, standard road car one, the biggest single change is to go from a progressive rate front spring, which makes a super road spring, but which doesn’t give the bite on an initial turn-in to a corner, to a straight rate, not quite race, front spring. The car has also been lowered a little resulting in the positive camber at the front becoming about half a degree of negative.
The changes yet to come on the car are to fit a quicker steering rack, a smaller steering wheel and a lower final drive ratio, the latter which Mackenzie has already acquired, courtesy of Moss.
”If there is a scale from ‘race’ to ‘rally’, we have moved from being purely ‘rally’ to being almost ‘race’. But what I have not done is to get rid of any appreciable amount of ground clearance. We could have gone an inch or so lower front and rear without any disadvantage, but I haven’t done that because I think it should look like a rally car. I still want it to be easy to drive as a rally car should be, so it should be basically unsettled unlike a race car which is absolutely settled because you know where all the corners are going to be and can set the car well up in advance.” Thus spoke Evan minutes before I was allowed to go and play on the circuit with his baby.
Unlike the other two TRs, I found it difficult to settle immediately into his car. Whether it was the fact that I knew just how much work had been put into it and how much he cared for it, or whether it was because it was a left hooker, I don’t know, but I felt ill at ease.
It had the poke though. It may not have felt as dramatic as the racing TR5, but on the other hand I was cocooned inside, not open to the elements. First problem was how to release the fly-off handbrake when it is located in the passenger footwell and I am restrained by a full race harness. A dim light begins to flicker inside my head as I see one of the problems Evan must have had during the event.
Once that problem is out of the way, I am off and up the hill at Cadwell, snicking into third gear as a matter of course through the left-hander. Or I expected to snick it into third, but I made a mess. It must be changing gear with my right hand I suppose.
A couple of laps to get my confidence up and then I start to push her harder and put her and myself under pressure. It feels a great deal more nervous than the other two I had just driven. The brakes work well enough, it holds the road, but when braking hard for the sharp left-hander coming down the hill, I feel the car needs a great deal more caressing to get it to turn in. Pursued by the TR5, I go for it and then realise that it’s not going to make the corner. I keep braking as late as I dare, even into the corner, but it is too late. The back end breaks away to the right, I just manage to hold it, it then swings back to the left. I hope the TR5 behind is keeping his distance. It would be bad enough damaging one TR, I don’t think I could face it if two were involved. Still I somehow manage to hold onto the car. There’s another lurid swing to the right, but then I bring it back under control. I make a mental note to take that corner with a little more circumspection from then on.
The TR5 flew past once my manoeuvres had finished. I found that unlike the other cars, the left and righthanders going up the hill didn’t need braking for, just a temporary lift off the throttle. The car had a tendency to run wide out of the corner, but it could be reigned in. But what was confusing me now was the seven different ratios available in the gearbox. First was simple, but the other three gears all had overdrive. I could not get myself properly coordinated, changing gear far too early, or otherwise entering a corner in a ratio too high. The worst incident came when I went wide at the top of the hill and almost ran out of rumble strip, but fortunately we didn’t go grass cutting. The only embarrassment was that it was Evan just behind me in the TR4A. Soon after I returned the car to the paddock before any real damage was done. A subsequent inspection of the car revealed that the limited slip differential was very wrongly set up.
Driving all three cars on the track was a real eye-opener. Without doubt, the most powerful car was the easiest to drive, but Carter’s TR5 is a well sorted machine and ideal for track racing. Philip Hunter’s TR4A was underpowered but predictable. It was almost impossible to make a mistake unless particularly foolhardy. Evan’s car I found the most difficult. The dominating understeering trait, the lefthand drive and the plethora of gears all left me confused and nonplussed. But as a good compromise between a true competiton car and a road car, it was the best. As the day began to be wrapped up and we all began to make our way home, my thoughts turned to Evan manhandling his car up the Stelvio Pass last June and wondered about not how he accomplished it, but how on earth he did it so quickly?