Triumph Makes Romance Easier
Story and Photography by Dave Burnett for Petrolicious
I’d like to take a moment to address a touchy subject, especially for us menfolk. I’m talking about Rmmmmnchh. ROMMMANCH. See? I can’t even pronounce the word because I am for some reason suddenly clenching my jaw very tightly and sweating. Romance isn’t easy for many guys. Listen ladies, just because we don’t want to be caught buying you an [adorable] fireman teddy bear for Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean we don’t care about you. It just proves that we have no business expressing any sort of feelings. Women are born with fully developed, adult-sized “romance expression genes” and it’s why they are always right outside the bathroom door whispering about feelings and potpourri while we are on the john (please god, tell me they all do that, right?). Men have these genes too, but they are deficient, and I am not sure where mine are located. I am pretty certain at this point they are nowhere near my pants.
So how can a red blooded man express the true romance that lies dormant just waiting to burst from his heart? How about the best damn way possible: with a bloody proper English sports car. A convertible. A red one. One that you’ll own your whole life. This is the story of what some say is perhaps British Leyland’s greatest car, the Triumph TR-6, and one owner’s forty year long romance with his.
“I fell in love with it when I saw it for sale on a guy’s lawn,” said Mr. Joe Nazzaro of his 1973 TR-6. This was in 1974, when the Triumph was still nearly brand new. Despite the fact that Joe’s wife Sharon was pregnant with their first child at home in New Jersey, Joe was clearly set on having a family that included an English roadster. ”After a test drive I was sold and so was the car,” he said. The TR-6 was promptly put into service as a daily driver. The family history with this car is deep: Joe has stacks of photos of his sons Jody and Tim growing up, and often you’ll spot the familiar red TR-6 in the background. Even the family dog, who loved riding shotgun, was connected to the car. The TR-6 has a lot of significance in the Triumph family tree as well, and to understand that we’ll need to rewind even further and go back to the battle for post-war American sports car buyers in the early 1950s.
Try to remember a time before cars like the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Thunderbird existed. You can’t. Weird right? That’s because you’re nowhere near old enough you damn hipster, or you are old enough but can’t even remember if you turned the stove off. In the early 1950s, America’s idea of a sports car was the Hudson Hornet, and the only hope you had of going around corners quickly in anything made by Detroit would be to take nearly everything off a Model A (Deuce or otherwise) Ford except the engine. As a result, rival British carmaker MG was killing it in North America thanks to interest from the American soldiers who developed a taste for MG’s stylish little TC roadster in Europe during World War II. Triumph launched the TR line in 1953 largely to compete with MG and get a piece of this hot sports car action. It worked. The vast majority of the TR cars were exported, with many hitting American shores.
The first in the TR production bloodline was the TR-2, whose fascia resembled a happy child having a sugar high. And although it wore slightly dated, swoopy bodywork, its little twin-carb four-banger could push it to a top speed of 107 miles per hour, which made it the best performance value in all of England in 1953. It was a potent recipe: small, light, fast, and affordable. Every TR until the TR7 that came next was essentially an update of this body on chassis car.
The TR3 upped the power slightly and looked essentially like the TR2, until a mild facelift with a wider grill gave it a distinctively toothy grin. In 1961, the TR-4 was released with a fantastic new design penned by Mr. Giovanni Michelotti. The TR-4 had beautiful, clean lines which discarded the ancient styling cues of the previous TR series and looked ready to take on the swinging ‘60s. When the TR-6 came out in 1967, it retained these excellent Italian body lines but appeared with a completely new front and rear design that came from the German design-house Karmann. One of Karmann’s masterstrokes was to implement a Kamm tail on the TR-6, meaning they just lopped the rear end clean off, leaving a flat tail on that car. It looks great. The new front end cleaned up the design and still looks bold and aggressive after forty years. It’s surprising that a great, successful design like the TR-5 can be thoroughly re-designed by a completely different company from a completely different country, and come out looking even better.
Pop open the sporty front-hinged hood on Joe’s TR-6 and you’ll see a 2.5 liter straight six engine and the dual Stromberg carburetors that we got here in the US. Elsewhere in the world people are fiddling with their Lucas fuel injection but over here our Triumphs got carbs. The straight six fires up with a throaty burble and makes just enough noise out the back when you give it the beans. The four speed transmission could be had with an optional overdrive, which narrowed the gear ratios slightly. Joe’s car had the standard four speed, and it certainly had no trouble scooting.
One thing that separates these these old Triumphs from say, Italian sports cars of the same vintage, aside from many, many buckets full of cash, is that the Triumphs get driven. A lot. They are honest, hard working vintage sports cars, and as a result if you see one on the road you can be sure it has had a lot of maintenance to keep it that way. By the mid 2000s, Joe’s TR-6 had already gone through two cosmetic restorations and wasn’t long for this world. “The frame was deteriorating to the point where no more metal could be welded onto it,” said Joe. “But I was planning to retire from work and restoring my car was number one on my bucket list.” Joe needed some help. Somewhat miraculously, he found ”English Rich”, a former Triumph employee who owned a shop only four miles from Joe’s house in Randolph, New Jersey. English Rich would be the TR-6’s savior as he helped source a new frame (that included the steel roll hoop) and led the frame-off restoration effort, along with Joe, completed in 2011.
It takes a lot of love to keep a sports car on the road for forty years. Here’s to ya, Joe! But I’m starting to think he didn’t buy the Triumph to compensate for inadequate feelings in 1974. He even drove Sharon, six months pregnant, up to Cape Cod that year in the TR-6. That’s pretty romantic, if you ask me, which you shouldn’t, because I am not good at RommNNCH. RMMGHNG. Ah, just ask Joe. Both Sharon and the TR-6 are still with him, after all.