Brilliant.., just absolutely bloody brilliant !
I was invited to the Essex branch meeting of the TR register club, held at the Alba pub, Copford, near Colchester on Thursady evening. I only knew one gentleman (Rich) there, but was made as welcome as any old friend might have hoped for. BIG Thank You to all there. I'm not sure exactly how many TR's were there but I believe there was a TR2, a TR3A, a few TR4's, a couple of TR4A's (which is what I'm trying to buy) and then a pair of TR5's, perhaps half a dozen TR6's and just one TR8..
^ the car sneaking into the photo’s background to the left is not a Triumph. I can't imagine what sort of person drives one of those to a TR club meeting.! OK I admit to it.. it's my Citroen Ami-Super.
^ Two TR5's parked here along the road. And the equally gorgeous red car parked on the grass is a TR4A with Surrey hardtop fitted. When Rich introduced me to the owner, Mike, as being someone who was buying one, he (Mike) looked up at my broad 6'-5" stature and simply said "you want to try it ?" Well naturally I assumed he meant to sit in the car for size .. "Thanks ..yes that would be great, I would.” Then he handed me the keys and said something to the effect of "better take her down the road then" ! ..and set about adjusting the driver’s seat as far back as it would for me.
Well to be honest I had a bit of difficulties getting in. Surprisingly, it wasn't a lack of headroom with the Surrey top on, but it was managing to get my legs and feet in. This car is fitted with Mazda MX5 shallow-bucket seats in leather. In retrospect ; very comfortable and supportive, but these were limited by the runners not going back as far as they might have been. The only way it was possible for me to get in was to exaggeratedly twist my knee under and the around the steering wheel ..fortunately a smaller diameter leather-rimmed one with a nice grip, but unfortunately with very shallow dish so it seems tighter to the dashboard. My leg had to fit between the wheel and the gearbox tunnel's H frame bracing ..and then to press the clutch fully to the floor as I lowered myself into the seat.
There was no room in that car for me to slip my size-twelve brogues around the side of or under any pedal. I grabbed and pulled my right knee up towards my chest to clear the relatively short sill. It more easily unfolded again down around the wheel. Once installed I could barely move. Conversely, Mike slipped into the passenger seat as easily as if it were his favourite slippers.
My mind zapped with unspoken thoughts of whether it would be possible., let alone responsible for me to even try and drive this immaculate TR4A on a public highway.? The sole of my right shoe was almost exactly the same width as the gap between the brake pedal and the outside face of foot well (Rhd car). And to lift my foot off the clutch was to pull my vastus lateralis tight into the corner of H-frame and the dashboard. Ok, it might just be possible to drive the car ..but what would happen in an emergency situation, would I be able to get a foot onto that brake. ?
I later discovered this car has a USB socket fitted just under the dash where my left leg needed to be. Mike uses it for a digital ammeter, but for me it looses an inch or two of space into that corner. My right foot would lift only as far as the pedal was off ..only by ankle movement. Thankfully the throttle movement is relatively short travel. Still that amount of lift is just sufficient to then slip the foot sideways and across to the brake.
With the seat in that position, the steering wheel was possibly 12 - 14" off the Michelin tyre I wear ..so not exactly a straight-arm driving position for me. And my right was tight against the padded-roll capping along the top of TR4A doors. I'm not sure Mike appreciated quite how tightly I was installed, but from his perspective I must have seemed like an old cloth sack over-filled with expanding foam. Looking on the bright side of things - I wasn't likely to slide about around corners. !
Here I was face to face with the TR4A's beautiful wooden dashboard and chrome rimmed 5" speedo and rev counter, each situated immediately in front of the driver, with minor instruments clustered central to the car with the black row of switches and ignition below.
With a blip of throttle, the motor burst into life. Two and a quarter litres of 4-cylinder long-stroke, and a slightly sporty camshaft - the orchestra was glorious. The exhaust a nicely rounded tone, with a powerfully strong and discernible beat. Very nice indeed.
It's been 25 years since I owned / drove a Triumph TR4 ..and momentarily I forgot about their fly-off handbrake. Nevertheless with that politely corrected I set to ease Mike's immaculate car forward across the grass. Of course with most of the TRR group gathered immediately behind us ..watching and listening, with ankle movement only and it being an unfamiliar car.. I stalled it.
“It likes a few revs” Mike reassured me. Restarted (..oh I do love the way these engines burst into life) and revs just slightly raised ..the car smoothly eased its way across the grass. Remarkably controllable, easy and compliant, I followed Mike’s prompt and guided her down to the next driveway. Very tentatively I poked the car’s long bonnet out into the road so that I might see around the row of parked cars, and then we were onto the road.
I looked to where I was to go and depressed the volume control and we were there. No drama just a firm push of acceleration through the comfortable armchair ..and instant transportation. To where I looked from where I was, every straight and every corner, road positioning was faultless. I wasn’t even thinking, the car just moved itself in an unprecedented manner - reassuring, precise, super quick, fabulous acoustics and yet extraordinarily comfortable.
I’ve heard the impression “just think and it would take you there” ..but this was a just matter of looking ..without even time to consciously think, and we were conveyed.! There was no hint of the car’s handling, chassis or rear axle being upset, nor of under or over-steering, nor brakes not doing exactly what they were meant to ..so progressively, despite the road’s undulations, adverse cambers and the sometimes increasingly tightening corners of this tiny little Suffolk back road to nowhere. This car was utterly exhilarating.
Now into my sixties, I’ve owned and otherwise driven a number of very nice motorcycles and cars. In fact as a (very much) younger man I used to design, build and drive very quickly, sport cars with a super low c. of g. and a terrific power-to-weight ratio ..and then I moved on (?) to driving decent production cars. Most memorable / favourites were the 850 Norton Commando (motorcycle), the 1147cc MkII Spitfire (car), a 998cc Mini Clubman, a 3.3ltr 7-series BMW, a 911 Porsche, and a few (now classic) Jaguars. And of course I’m well enough versed with (..what used to be) modern cars of the 90’s and hereafter. But somewhere along the line I’d lost the joy of driving. I put this down to restrictive speed limits and traffic, boring motorways, and otherwise sub-conscientiously recognizing that I must have lost the touch in my old age. But after driving Mike’s TR4A I instantly realized that its the cars which have most changed. I’m still that same foolish young man inside this greying outer persona.
As a self made businessman I went up-market in the type of car I drove, and as technology and design moved on, the more modern car became so capable and yet so insular that the driver in me was designated passenger doing little more than avoiding other users and giving directions. In truth these modern cars don’t handle and steer so very well as Mike’s 1960’s TR. Indeed their lack of feedback, the roll and easily induced tyre squeal, and the vagueness of the steering and unsupportive seats necessitate you back-off to a safe and controllable, sensible place. In terms of top speed, fuel economy, highway comfort, safety and reliable practicality, ingress and exit - they are a best compromise. But man ! ..they are also nanny state mind-numbingly soul less.
From my admittedly short drive, it seems to me that the TR4A can be all absorbing to drive, as you feel everything but the discomfort of vibration and nasty noises. But that ‘feel’ is a direct feedback to the driver. Each and every very slight nudge in the seat of your pants or to your leg, shoulder, or finger tip ..caused by road irregularities or change in direction triggers an instantaneous response of subtle correction to the steering &/or the throttle. There’s no thinking involved it’s purely interactive (although that’s probably too modern a word for it) ..but whatever the word is, there’s a connection to what’s going on at every instant. That’s not easy or relaxed driving, but it sure as hell is FUN.
And the car is not so powerful (..as some I have experienced) which toys with you for control. But still., it’s more than adequate for spirited driving, and it looks after you. It let’s you know what’s happening in a calm and collective manner, to trigger your reflex response. And that’s positively stimulating.
We returned to the Alma (public house) and the car very quietly sauntered across the grass, back to the TR party. If she were a mare then I think she’d have given a last shake of her mane. I can barely remember such a great drive. I want one ..and I want to head out to find many, many miles of still-unspoilt roads.
Getting out of the car seemed much easier than my getting in. And as I later pointed out to Rich, I was surprised that headroom and visibility were not an issue for me, even though the roof was in place. First impressions were that the interior of the car was rattle free, pleasantly quiet of mechanical and/or wind noise and very comfortable, although I suspect I would have liked more room if I were to be stuck in a summer-hot traffic jam.
Massive thanks to Mike for his generously allowing me to experience a superb TR4A from the driver’s seat. It reaffirms my decision to own one. Only now I’m a little less patient.!
But the story doesn’t end there..
Mike suggested I ask Rich if I might possibly sit in his equally gorgeous ’62 TR4, which is fitted with later (slightly deeper padded) seats ..by way of direct comparison of the seating positions and the fact that the roof was down. Rich was engrossed in conversation but half an hour later cleared a cardboard box out from behind the driver’s seat and invited me to try it.
Phew, I was being blown away by these guys kindness to me. As I approached the car he handed me the keys. ..Again I could only have hoped to be allowed to sit in the car, to try it for size, but no, he had placed the box on the passenger seat and encouraged me to take the car for a spin. WOW ! on my own ? “without you ?” accompanying me ? I was anxious. This was huge responsibility.
I soon settled into the driver’s seat. With its full size steering wheel it was even further a twisted knee to get my leg around the wheel but without a roof I could stand taller and with the seat being slightly further back (perhaps a couple of inches) ..overall ingress was much easier. Without such things as the aforementioned USB port being fitted to the underside of the dashboard, I had more room to move. Not a lot but still an inch or two when previously there was none feels like liberation !
The right leg was similarly pulled in and unfolded down to the throttle, where I found half an inch clearance between the brake pedal and the side of the footwell - ample ! This seat was only a bit further back than those on Mike’s car but with the seat back's slimmer padding every fraction of an inch helps. Rich helped with the ignition key (a matter of knowing the technique) and then I started her up.
What a difference ! ..the audio arrangement peaked to a brief but wonderful crescendo of revs with the sharper tones of a stainless exhaust system. Throttle pickup seemed quicker but in truth I couldn’t say that was fact or just that it sounded so, with the louder tone and it being an open top. It wasn’t at all offensive a sound track, just a very different orchestra with more brass rather than bass guitar.
First impressions of Mike’s TR4A was that the clutch was heavy to operate, but perhaps that was because of my being so tightly confined, because I never noticed it as soon as we were on the road. Rich’s TR4 didn’t seem so from the outset. I soon found reverse and eased the car out into the road. Rear visibility wasn’t of course an issue but I was trying to pull out from between parked cars. Someone kindly stepped out into the road to guide me, again I think that was Mike. Thank you Sir. And then I was gone.. I had looked 200 yards down the road and I was there, spot on where I wanted to be ..correctly positioned to see further along the road. It seemed like an instant and the thought crossed my mind that I might have seemed a bit reckless in someone else’s car, so I eased off.
The feel of this car was different. No better and no worse than the 4A just different. Perhaps that was because of it being open, the rasp of the exhaust note and the seemingly faster engine pick-up (both cars have lighten flywheels), or just because I felt more anxious about driving someone else superb-condition TR4 for the first time on my own.
An oncoming car sped around a corner and seemed very much over the middle of the road to me. The leather sleeve over this steering wheel moved a little as I responded, and then the branches of hedgerow trees seemed a little close. I slowed a little to ‘be sensible’ ..but in truth I was a little too anxious to enjoy this drive as much as I had been with Mike’s quiet reassurance.
Mike had been chatting as I drove his car, and I gathered by the tone in his voice that he wasn’t terrified. But now I was driving Rich’s car and if something happened, even if that wasn’t directly my fault, then how the heck might I explain it.?
Still it was great fun and exhilarating. Does this car have lighter handling, or was the live rear axle giving a little more feedback on these undulating sometimes adversely cambered unclassified roads ? Just a degree difference in tracking adjustment &/or a few pound in tyre pressure can make things feel lighter, and of course here I was driving solo, so the weight and its distribution was also slightly different. My test drive was too short to ascertain what was what. The word, reputedly from the racing boys, is that the TR4 chassis is better when pushed hard. Perhaps the 4A’s IRS is more forgiving for the novice ..but in skilled hands has lower limits.? Conversely I might just have felt a bit more vulnerable in an open top.? Although I ride motorcycles, I’m trying to remember when I last drove an open top car ? Many years ago it seems.
Certainly Rich’s TR4 was more spacious ..both physically and visually airy (..white dashboard, which I do like, and with a very nice almost Wedgewood blue hue to the upholstery) ..and equally as comfortable as the 4A. So I relaxed a little and simply enjoyed the drive, the feel, and this engine’s superb response. I felt an instant rapport with Mike’s 4A but perhaps the TR4 takes a little more getting used, or was it that by now I was just thinking too much and felt someone else’s car in such exemplary condition was too precious to really enjoy ?
I returned in a civilized manner and easily turned in to park. The engine ticked over beautifully before I switched off. The handbrake lever in the foot well was (again surprisingly) not an issue for my long legs, and its operation felt perfectly natural to me. I lifted myself out of the car with ease. With the seat runners just another 2” or 3" further back then I don’t think I’ll have issues with living with a TR, but the full-size banjo steering wheel, even though I prefer its look - feels less responsive to drive with. Though it is easier for parking-speed tight maneuvers.
All in all - each car is BLOODY FANTASTIC ! ..no doubt it is the car I want. I’m of a freakish size but even with inappropriately wide shoes and restrictive seat runner positions I can drive these cars safely and have more fun than I’ve had (when driving) for very many years.
As and when I get my car (..an abandoned-project 4A) I can make things easier for ingress and getting out : the size and dish of the steering wheel, the padded capping on the door, the choice of seat and its runners, clearing the underside of the dashboard, the door handles positions, and the pedal spacing., are the most obvious. All in all the TR is a seat-of-the-pants sports car which is so incredibly capable. My Jaguars were elegant, comfortable, fast and sublime ..but the TR4 / 4A communicates directly with me ..and is just so much fun.
Massive thanks to both Rich and Mike for letting me experience their fabulous cars in person. My own car will never be as pristine (..nor so precious) as theirs, but I hope it might achieve similar all-round competence as their cars amply demonstrated.
I'm smitten !