5,000 miles of misery, 5,000 miles of fun from the Assistant Editor’s TR6
When I ordered a new TR6 in Autumn last year I was looked at askance by colleagues and associates. “What on earth do you want one of those lorries for?” “Something out of the Ark.” “Terrible handling . . .” and all that sort of rubbish with which people without experience of them usually condemn TR6s. Certainly they are old-fashioned in design and one can’t compare the handling of of them with, say, a Lotus Europa. But they have many attributes, including a big, beefy engine, a solid chassis and, above all, character. They’re cars which have to be driven and tamed, one of the few remaining, traditional, hairy-chested sports cars. One has to know all its big or little vices before driving it on the limit. Above all, though I wanted an open sports car, it was to replace a Janspeed-modified MG-B roadster and join a hopefully temporarily dormant XK150 f.h.c. The open sports-car market is severely restricted, particularly in the middle price bracket, under £2,000, restricted virtually to the TR6, Jensen-Healey and the Morgan Plus 8. The Morgan I dismissed, probably inaccurately, as being insufficiently practical, but most of all because delivery time was reputed to be counted in years, and the Jensen-Healey partly because I find it unattractive — an overgrown Spitfire — and secondly because the reliability reputation of the early models amongst the members of the motoring Press was not very encouraging.
Now what better car could I choose from the point of view of reliability than one which was moving into its 21st year of production? (The TR1 prototype appeared at the 1952 Motor Show and the TR2 went into production in 1953; the TR6 appeared in January 1969.) All those years to iron out the bugs and make the TR foolproof. Or so one would think. In fact when PGN 769L was delivered to Standard House with 24 miles on the clock on February 28th this year, four months after the order was placed with Henlys Ltd., Berkeley Square, it contained so many faults that it might well have been the first car off the line of a new model. Its general finish was appalling, mechanically it was dreadful, and it was to be another 5,500 miles before this Lucas fuel-injected motor car was to run consistently on six cylinders.
Since PGN 7691. — or “Pig-in-‘ell” as my wife has at times more aptly called it — left the Triumph factory at Coventry, where it has spent a total of six weeks on two different occasions, for the last time 5,700 miles ago, it had behaved almost perfectly until last week. This report was meant to be a 10,000-mile one, but in fact its writing has been put back for a week or two, in which time the mileometer has crept up to 11,300 miles, with a critical 700 miles left to the end of the guarantee period.
However, since the 10,000-mile mark was passed I have made an alarming discovery which all TR6 owners using Dunlop SP Sport tyres would do well to take note of. At 10,156 miles, and of course at night in pouring rain, an errant piece of hacksaw blade chose to puncture the left-hand rear 165 HR-15 Dunlop SP Sport, which I changed for the unused spare. Two days later the car and I visited the British Leyland Press Test Day at Silverstone where I involved myself in a conversation with an old friend from Triumph. For some reason (I wonder why?) any conversation with British Leyland personnel always ends up on the subject of my rather notorious TR6 and on this occasion the man from Triumph suggested that I ought to change my SP Sports for Michelin XASs as soon as possible, “Because we’ve had some trouble with the SPs under sustained high-speed autoroute conditions”, “Oh, I’ve had no trouble,” said I, blithely, but what I didn’t realise was that my unrepaired, punctured spare lying in its compartment under the removable boot floor was suffering exactly the symptoms described to me (not the cause of the puncture, however). Tread blocks had broken out of the inner shoulder and deep cracks separated the blocks down the lines of the Aquajets, obscured when I changed the wheel in the dark. It was to be another week and 1,000 miles before this tyre was removed from the boot for repair and the “chunking” discovered and examination of the other rear tyre showed it to be in a similar condition.
An approach to Triumph brought an admission that they had come across the same problem “within the past month.” They knew of no similar instances in Britain, only on British-built TR6s shod with British-made Dunlop SP Sports on Continental motorways when owners were on holiday, but because of these previous reports Triumph had experimented with an SP Sport-shod TR6 on a Continental autoroute and managed to cause chunking after four-or-five hours of sustained maximum speed running under full load. As a result Triumph have ceased to fit SP Sports to new TR6s and will fit XASs as standard equipment until the Dunlop problem is resolved. This tale applies only to Britishbuilt TR6s: those sold on the Continent are assembled at the British I.eyland plant at Malines, Belgium, and are shod with Frenchmade Dunlops which I am informed do not suffer these problems. Cars for the US market built in Coventry are not affected either.
Dunlop prefer not to make an official comment until my tyres have been examined, but their general comment (the spokesman did not know that Triumph were concerned enough to remove them as OE tyres on TRs) was that this could be a had batch of tyres.
Whatever the fault within the SP Sports may be, the fact is that it is brought to the surface only by the TR6s semi-trailing-arm independent rear suspension, which can exhibit a great deal of camber change and consequently temperature build-up on the inner shoulders of the tyres at high speed. I’m told unofficially that a milder form of the same ailment has afflicted the rear SP Sports on some Police 2.5 Pls under extremes of punishment.
Triumph say that this chunking and cracking should not cause sudden deflation and a driver would be able to feel the symptoms occurring before they became serious. However, my tyres gave no such warning of imbalance or similar and probably had they been examined by the Police would have been deemed to be in a dangerous condition — and the result of that could be a fine and licence endorsement, which in my case would have resulted in disqualification under the totting-up system.
The strange thing about all this is that SP Sports have been amongst the tyres fitted to TR6s since they were introduced, yet the problem has been unknown previously. Most owners are unlikely to give their cars the punishment necessary to cause it, under British driving conditions anyway. Mine on the other hand, has spent much of its time cruising at high speed. Readers who own SP-shod TR6s and drive them hard would do well to examine the inner shoulders of their rear tyres frequently and to consult a Dunlop dealer if signs develop.
But to return to the beginning of the saga of the car itself . . . In between my order being placed and the car being delivered a number of alterations were made to the TR6’s specification for 1973. Externally these were a front spoiler below the bumper, chrome beading along the top and bottom edges of the grille, satin instead of black-finish hub trims and black instead of satin-finish wiper arms, thicker stainless beading along the sills and stronger front-bumper mountings to comply with the US 5 m.p.h. impact requirements. Inside the cockpit the foot-operated dip-switch was replaced by a column-mounted one, a slightly smaller steering Wheel fitted, instruments were restyled and the ammeter replaced by a battery-condition indicator, all trim made flame-retardant, provision for headrests made in the seats, Kangol one-hando-peration, central fixing scat belts fitted, and the tunnel-mounted interior light replaced by two under the facia.
What I didn’t know when I ordered the car was that the 2,498 c.c. straight-six engine had been de-rated to 125 b.h.p. for 1973 by changing the camshaft to 2.5 PI specifications and one or two Other things in order to comply with the new European emission requirements. How times have changed. Original brochures claimed 150 b.h.p., later ones 142 and now 125. The result has been to take some of the edge off the “rorty” TR performance, particularly at the top end of the rev. range where torque feels to have dropped severely. Another change about which Triumph have kept quiet, although this One is to the car’s advantage, is rear suspension revisions which have improved handling tremendously. Actual details are vague, because nobody at Triumph seems to want to talk about them, but it seems that alterations have been made to the positions of the pivot points for the semi-trailing rear arms. This has removed much of the squat under power for which the TR6 was renowned and reduced the camber change under cornering. In fact this revision may have been made as early as 1972, but again nobody at the Triumph factory seems to be able to or want to pinpoint it. If your TR6 points its nose at the sky and scrapes its silencer on the road under hard acceleration then the suspension is unmodified — if not the changes are likely to have been incorporated.
Another change to the 1973 model was the introduction of the Laycock J-type overdrive unit as an optional extra, this new design having its own oil supply instead of sharing that of the gearbox. I would not consider a TR without overdrive, so this was duly ordered for my car, but I was disappointed to discover that for some time now the TR has offered overdrive only on 3rd and top. That delightful 2nd-gear overdrive ratio had to be deleted (merely a matter of a switchgear modification) because a combination Of torque and heavy-footed drivers was creating far too many service problems.
Space precludes a full list Of the faiths which were present when my Mimosa yellow TR6 was delivered, so the following are just a few examples. The engine misfired below 1.500 r.p.m.; the high pressure fuel pump would have drowned the noise of Concorde; the throttle had an inch of dead movement and full throttle was unavailable; the fan belt had four inches of slackness; fuel or brake pipes rattled against the bulkhead; the front pads squeaked permanently when the brakes were not applied; the driver’s door fouled the wing; the wiper motor floated loose because the packing surround within its horseshoe bracket had been omitted; the heater blower wouldn’t switch off and only one speed worked; the bulb had failed in the nearside repeater flasher; wind noise was terrible because the door windows were incorrectly set; paint was spilt on the carpet; paint around the door areas appeared to have been applied with -a tar brush; gooey black sealer oozed out from the tail-lamp surrounds, windscreen, and hard-top windows. Oh, and then there was the rust. Rust speckles covered the headlining in the steel hardtop and the bottom rear interior corners of it were full of rust and muck; the air-flow grilles, hardtop attachment nuts and facia screws were all rusty; there were several rust speckles on the hardtop and bodywork; and engine Omponents were so rusty it looked as though it had stood in the rain for a week. As for the handling . . . the dampers were weak and the car geometry steered even in a straight line, while all four wheels and possibly the propshaft were out of balance.
In short, its condition was atrocious and I was so incensed that after one week I took it to the Coventry factory, where a Triumph engineer confirmed all the faults. Five days later I needed the car to travel to the Ford Germany Competitions Department in Cologne, so the following day it was rushed into British Leyland’s Service Department in Western Avenue, London, for the more serious faults to be rectified and the 1,000mile service to be carried out.
I should have known better than to risk taking this very second-hand new car on the Continent, A mere 40 miles along the Belgian autoroute on the way down to Cologne at night the straight-six became an in-line-four when the electrodes burnt away on two plugs. One of the little yellow Renault 4 rescue vehicles provided two old plugs at a price, which regained one cylinder. Ten five-cylinder miles later I found out that this TR6’s claimed 11.1/4 gallons fuel tank exhausted itself at nine gallons, as it still does, and had to be rescued Once more, another expensive experience. In Cologne I Checked the injectors to find them spraying fuel and fitted a new set of plugs — but still only five cylinders, so I assumed a valve to he burnt Out. Risking more serious damage — by now I was past caring — I drove the misfiring, illhandling heap back to England and the Triumph factory. In fact before leaving for Cologne I’d made arrangements for the car to be returned to the factory afterwards, because if fierily’s’ pre-delivery check was anything to go by I preferred not to have the warranty work carried out by them.
PGN remained in Coventry for three weeks, during which time Triumph loaned me another TR of Similar age, but superior in most respects. This one too, however, disliked running smoothly below 1,500 r.p.m. and also accepted only 9 gallons of fuel after spluttering to a halt.
Meanwhile PGN had been almost completely rebuilt, though exactly what was done to it I have been unable to find out. Certainly the complete Lucas fuel-injection system was replaced, the original .cause of the engine troubles being a faulty metering unit. The suspension too was corrected and handling and straight-line stability were improved 100%. Paintwork was made presentable, although the general standard of external finish is still pretty grim.
The transformation seemed too good to he true — and it was. Within 100 miles the brakes had begun their annoying screeching again and a smell of petrol from the boot announced that the new Lucas high-pressure fuel pump was leaking. Another couple of hundred miles later the steady tickover became erratic and the engine had a trace of roughness at low .revs., presumably either an injection or compression problem, but it wasn’t too had and I soldiered on. As the miles went by the low-speed running grew worse and starting from hot became 2 major difficulty, and when finally I found time to put a compression gauge on the engine at 5,066 miles the reason became obvious: compressions from number one cylinder rearwards read 15, 95, 100, 52, 72, 100, whereas the correct reading should have been 120 psi. As this was just five days before my wedding I was thankful that I’d borrowed a BMW 2002 Cabriolet for the Continental honeymoon and the TR once• again returned for a three-week spell in its birthplace.
This time the cylinder head was found to be cracked and was replaced, but my complaint about heavy oil consumption did not achieve the desired new engine and Shell Super Multigrade continues to be consumed at less than 150 m.p.p. during fast motorway driving. Another complaint had been that the brakes from new had had too much pedal travel and insufficient feel, plus the recurrent squeaking (or wire-brushing, as it’s known in Coventry). They’d been examined when the car first returned to the factory and so far as I know may have been fitted with new pads on that occasion. Whatever, when they were examined this time, the pads were found to be partially down to the metal and the discs were scored, so all the lot had to be replaced; this being at not much more than 5,000 miles. The new pads remain reasonably good with the speedometer reading 11,300 miles after a far less gentle bedding-in period and much harder use since the engine has had its full power, so I can only assume that the worn pads were below standard or of the wrong material. At the same time the third Lucas high-pressure fuel pump was installed and whoever did this forgot to reconnect the boot courtesy light in the panel covering tank, pump and filter. Headlamps were adjusted for the first time and unsuccessful attempts made to cure a severe water-leak from above the passenger footwell. A bad oil leak from the differential transpired to be from an oil seal put on the wrong way round in production.
That was all 5,700 miles ago and since then the engine has behaved itself superbly except for the heavy oil consumption, which curiously enough is accompanied only occasionally by a pull of blue smoke when lifting off at high speed. Triumph and Lucas between them have succeeded in convincing me that the Lucas fuel-injection system can be made to. work satisfactorily when set up correctly — but unfortunately not every customer can have my privilege of having this done by the experts in the Triumph Engineering Division. Since they had their hands on the injection when the cylinder head was replaced, it has proved to be invariably a first-time starter when hot or cold, which is more than can be said for other PI Triumphs I have driven. Starting still needs the right knack, however — strangers to the car sometimes have trouble. Full-choke and a whiff of throttle does the trick when cold, after which the choke must be pushed in half-way almost immediately and can be dispensed with after a couple of minutes. Usually full-choke is required too after the car has stood for half-an-hour from warm, but can be pushed home immediately the engine fires.
Tickover never varies from 600 r.p.m. whether the car has come straight off a fast motorway run or has crawled for an hour through London traffic and firing is smooth and even from tickover upwards. But at the top end of the scale the engine is not very willing above 5,000 r.p.m. and though the 5,750 r.p.m. red line can be reached, its availability is almost academic. The legal limit is accomplished at a mere 2,702 r.p.m. in overdrive top and 100 m.p.h. is equal to only 3,860 r.p.m. which means that the sustained high-speed cruising which may adversely effect the SP Sports is unlikely to have an adverse effect on the engine. Unfortunately the de-rated engine has badly affected high-speed performance. My memories of earlier TR6s were of flooring the throttle at 100 m.p.h. or even 110 m.p.h. and seeing the speedometer needle surge round to 120 m.p.h. or so. The lion has almost become a lamb, for 100 m.p.h. (103 m.p.h. indicated) in itself is difficult enough to achieve and certainly with my car patience is necessary before the needle swings to a level maximum of a true 110 m.p.h. in either direct or overdrive top (increased as the engine has loosened, from a poor 107 m.p.h.). Triumph claim 116 m.p.h. maximum for the latest model, but in my case a downhill gradient and a following wind are necessary to achieve it.
However, I suppose I shouldn’t fuss too much about maximum speed in this country. The fact is, performance is reasonably adequate to 90 m.p.h. ensured by the low and mid-range torque, but it is “sometimes embarrassing to find difficulty in pulling away from cars such as 2-litre Cortinas without changing down a gear. Maximum speeds in the gears of 39 m.p.h.: 1st, 61 m.p.h.: 2nd, 92 m.p.h.: 3rd, sound useful, though one would use normally 750 r.p.m. less than those 5,750-r.p.m. speeds. Sixty miles per hour comes up in 9.1 sec. and 100 in 33 sec.
Handling is very much a matter of opinion, very vintage and reasonably entertaining. Certainly it is nowhere near as had as those who have never driven TR6s try to make out! It errs very much on the side of safe understeer, for Spen King decided to fit a thicker front anti-roll bar than the TR5 had, and surprisingly high cross-country averages can be maintained. Having driven TRs on both the SP Sports and XAS, I must say I prefer the handling with SPs: the XASs hold the road much better, hut they do tend to promote understeer, whereas the SPs allow the car to be thrown around quite aggressively to negate the understeer. Ultimately the XASs may be the faster tyre, but the SPs are more enjoyable. Ride ten is vintage but only really had bumps cause any severe discomfort. One must also learn to live with scuttle shake: after a big Healey and the XK150 I hardly notice the TR’s any longer. It is much more prominent when the car is in soft-top form (this was fitted at the first visit to the factory, the car having been delivered in hard-top form), the rigid steel hard-top creating a much tauter unit.
The vinyl hood is reasonably easy to lower and erect, two levers attaching it to the screen rail and Velcro material secures the fabric to the folding side rails. It folds neatly out of place in the “parcel shelf” behind the seats (not even room for a dwarf there), where it is covered by a shaped hood cover or a full tonneau. My main criticism of the arrangement is the nasty, cheap and useless plastic studs which secure the sides of the hood to the body and are fitted similarly to the tonneau and hood cover. So far five of these have broken. Similarly annoying are the two plastic blanks which fill the holes for the optional headrests in the reclining seat backrests: so far eight have fallen out, to disappear forever into the seats. Rear visibility is good through the large rear window which can be unzipped for extra ventilation, and two wrap-round side-windows.
The interior trim is typically Triumph and typically attractive, if one likes wood facia, which I do. Instruments include speedometer with trip, tachometer, oil pressure, water temperature and fuel gauges and a battery-condition indicator, all illuminated at night with rheostat-controlled green lighting. There’s a useful, lockable cubby-hole in the woodwork and map pockets in the doors, ‘while any unaccommodated oddments tend to be thrown behind the seats in my car.
There is no cigarette-lighter and the ashtray is mounted. awkwardly in the top of the facia where at night a wrongly directed cigarette end could well damage the vinyl Little matters like that used to annoy me, but two months as a non-smoker have made them acceptable.
Long journeys result in aching shoulders because the seat backs are too short, but otherwise I find them reasonably comfortable, as is the general seating position in relation to the well-spaced pedals and almost vertical, mock-leather steering wheel.
The boot is necessarily fairly limited in size, but one reasonably-sized suitcase, large, stiff briefcase and portable typewriter can all he accommodated together with small, soft luggage. Anything else tends to be squashed down behind the seats.
On these latest TR6s the openable heater flap in front of the windscreen has been removed in favour of a normal grille offering permanent fresh air instead of a choice of fresh or recirculated. The heater is very powerful — at full blast you could just about bake a cake — but offers no happy medium, being either too warm or too cold. Eyeball vents in the ends of the facia and two more directed at the feet below the facia (and very awkward to operate) offer respite in hot weather if the draught-free hood remains erected.
At one time I thought this TR6 would drive me up the wall, but over the last 5,000 miles I have grown to love it. It has character, it has reasonable performance and that open-top potential, while I even enjoy the fairly primitive handling. With hardtop re-fitted and the Radiomobile push-button radio properly tuned to avoid the fade which it suffers from at the moment, it should even provide comfortable winter transport, which is less than similarly performing sports cars of the past have been able to offer.
All I wish was that it had been new when it was purchased, but this 24-mile-old TR6 was practically second-hand when it arrived, wasn’t it Henlys? Enquiries by Triumph after all those early problems uncovered the fact that this car was delivered into Henlys’ hands on December 18th, 1972, and from that date until approximately February 13th it stood outside in winter weather at Henlys’ Wellesbourne, Warwickshire, storage compound. The paintwork may have been covered by wax, but the weather did the rest of the car no good at all.. It appears that Henlys had lost the car, because when I started to enquire about its whereabouts in the second week of January replies were successively that it was about to go down the production line, that its whereabouts were unknown, that it was held up within the factory waiting for parts from Lucas, and again after I had confirmed that the car had indeed left the factory, that its whereabouts were unknown.. Subsequently it was thought to he strikebound in the BRS Coventry depot but finally turned up at Wellesbourne, where it had stood for two months! It could have been delivered to me before Christmas, instead of which I had to remain car-less (the MG-B had been sold) for another two months. After all this, Henlys failed to give the car a proper pre-delivery check, probably not one at all, which could have prevented many of those early problems.
Hopefully the next 10,000 miles Will be much more reliable once the second of two clutch master cylinders and the tyres have been replaced. I think I deserve them to Ise. I am prepared to accept that this car may have been a 1-in-10,000 bastard, hut what worries me is what satisfaction I would have had with rectifying matters if I had not been a member of the Press.
In conclusion, another TR6 on the staff delivered in June (not by Henlys), has remained virtually trouble-free to date. However, just as we thought that Triumph quality control had improved, another staff-member’s new Dolomite Sprint has arrived with numerous faults, including non-functioning brake lights, heated rear screen and heater blower switches, imbalanced wheels, leaking screen, rear end clonks and no handbook nor cigarette-lighter.—C.R.