On February 20th I will have owned the car for 43 years. l am finishing the third restoration on the car since I bought it. I found it behind a gas station in January of 1971 as a derelict. I had always wanted a TR-3 because as a kid, the neighbor behind us in our then new subdivision in Wisconsin had a red with black interior 1959 TR-3A as his only car. There were no garages built yet so his car sat outside all year long under a car cover. I could watch the cover being blown off of it and it being buried under snow from my bedroom window across the back yard. He was married with two kids and raced the car in the summer months by loading up his wife and 2 kids, driving it to Road America, unloading their stuff out of the TR-3 and set up the picnic area for them. Then he would replace the windshield with a racing screen, he would apply a masking tape number on the doors, cover the headlights, snap on the tonneau, ,and off he went. The car was stock except for the chicken bar he had mounted to the floor. After racing he would put the car back together, load the wife and kids back in it, and drive it home. He would let me wash it in the summer and then drive it just a little to keep me coming back to wash it the next time. What a life. I just went nuts for the car.
So when I found this one in signal red with a red interior, I just had to have it. I had just bought my first house and with two kids of my own, I really didn’t have any money. The car was still in its original paint and interior and was sitting upright on the ground….. Sort of. The top, side curtains, tonneau and hood stick boot cover were still there. The trunk lid was the only straight piece of sheet metal on the car, the left rear tail light was pushed in about 6 inches toward the center of the car to a point where you could reach into the trunk without opening it up. The interior was totally junk, the rear compartment was full of trash all the way up to the top of the bucket seats. Three tires held air, the steering box was frozen, the right front suspension had been ripped off the frame some time ago and welded back where it was leaving the right front tire listing in at the top and pointed to the curb at a 10 degree angle when the left front tire was straight. The windshield was broken, the heater was gone. Someone cut the temp gauge capillary tube to get the heater out. The rim of the steering wheel was sitting on the right front bucket with just the spokes sticking out of the steering wheel hub.. There was an awl replacing the pivot bolt in the shift mechanism and the electrics didn’t work.
My friend, John, had his TR-3A since 1967 (and still has it) and had a junker for parts as he was putting his back together. Johns green Tr-3A was built in December of 1958 and the one I was looking at was built in January of 1959. There are only two differences in the cars, My hood emblem is blue and white and his is black and red. The other difference is that there is a raised "bump" in the sheet metal under the door handles on mine...just like the bumps under the boot and bonnet hinges on the re-bodied newer 1960 TR-3A.... and his door handle is on a flat door skin. So I initially thought that this car I was looking at could be another parts car and I could go on to find another car. Wrong….
I drove past the car every day going back and forth to work and watched the January snow pile up around it and could see that the snow was not being disturbed telling me that no one was even looking at it let alone interested in buying it. So on the fateful Feb 20 day, it was payday and while I was still broke, I did have a few bucks to my name as I was an athlete in training and through self discipline I sacrificed myself by not drinking any beer for the last four weeks at my bowling league to improve my physique but more importantly, to build up my car buying fund.
So…. That payday, flush with cash, I drove into the gas station to get the car. But before I got out of my daily driver and our only car ( a 1969 AMC Javelin SST) I opened my wallet and saw about 45 bucks tucked away in there as my beer fund. I just couldn’t go in there with all that money as really I didn’t need another dry bowling league night, So I took out 23 bucks, stashed it in the Javelin glove box and went in. I asked the guy if that red Triumph parts car was still for sale, he said , “Ya, I wanted fifty dollars for it but would take thirty five”. I said deal, opened my wallet….. looked in and said, ”Aw crap, all I have is 22 bucks”. The guy looked at me, looked at me again and then said “if you can get that pile of junk out of here in an hour it is yours for the 22 bucks.“
I was gone, went the four blocks back home, got my car nut neighbor and his ’69 396 Chevelle SS and a 1 inch rope and went back and tied it on. We had to make three turns to get the car home. While I could point it with the steering wheel spokes while moving because the street was snow covered, I couldn’t turn a corner, He had to get out, grab the left front wheel and yank on it while I was inside tugging on the remains of the steering wheel to turn the wheels, , then pull it around the corner and do the process all over again to straighten it back out. Braking was no problem as it took most of what that Chevelle had to just pull it. To stop, he just put in the clutch on the Chevelle and the TR-3 dragged us both to a stop. Right now. And we broke that 1 inch rope three times pulling the TR those four blocks. Man , did my friends laugh at me when they saw that mess in the garage.
So there it was, sitting there in my garage and me with plenty of time an no money ( I celebrated at bowling that week) trying to figure out if it was salvageable and how to put it back together again on the cheap. Or just part it out and get another car. I didn’t want to spend too much on it as a real nice one at that time was worth about $800. Therefore I didn’t want to and couldn’t over spend of it. I needed to assess what it was that I had. So, to start, I filled three garbage cans full with stuff I took out of that car. Buried in all that were letters from about six different young ladies. WOW, That car and its previous college student owner sure defined the term “lady killer”. WOW…. Anyway…… moving on. In the bottom of all that I found the key on the rear floor under all the junk and with all the parts still all there, I decided that it could be rebuilt.
I went to the junk yard and got a new steering wheel and steering box, a heater, a temp gauge a bolt for the shifter and other bits that it needed, It was a disc wheel car and I got 6, 48 spoke wire wheels, adapters, lug nuts and five knock off hubs for the princely sum of 100 bucks,. And they are still on the car today. Oh, that telescopic steering wheel cost a whole buck and I had to fill the cracks and paint it. It too is still on the car. I put a new JC Whitney muffler and front pipe on it and used the old rusted front pipe to make a new rear pipe. Sounded great. Two Years ago I finally replaced the exhaust system and threw away that old Whitney muffler I put on it way back then. The front pipe is still good and on the car. But I digress.
After cleaning it out and putting on the new junkyard parts and parts from John’s parts car, I checked all the fluids and systems, the engine was free, I got the brakes free and the wheel turning, put some gas in it, the tank was rusted and leaked but not too bad, fiberglassed it later.. I took the battery out of my Javelin, stuck it in the Triumph ….and it started!!!! And it ran!!! The clutch was frozen so I drove it in reverse down the driveway with the clutch pedal on the floor and popped the brake and it broke loose and around the block I went. I called John when I got back and asked him why I could put it in first gear while moving and it didn’t crunch. “you smart #@$, you got a TR-4 fully sync box in there”, Neat,… and he has never let me forget it to this day(his just has an overdrive).
Over the course of the next year I put it back together, I started with a sledge hammer in the trunk, bent up some new rocker panels, stripped it down to bare metal and painted it myself. My wife is an upholsterer and did the upholstery in black, I installed it, made new door panels and carpet and put it all in. I made a new front pivot bar for the front suspension and had my brother-in- law weld the right front suspension back together and it was back on the road. We drove that car as the second and backup car for the next 15 years.
I also bought a parts car and re-did it again in 1980. To this day John and I swap parts and use each other’s car to find out how it was supposed to look so we could put it back together . There was a New Years Eve party at John’s house the year I got my car (they now have moved from Milwaukee live in New Orleans) and as the party progressed, they looked around and couldn’t find me. I was in his garage with some cardboard, some markers and scissors making a template of the nose of his car so that I could reshape the bent up nose on my car correctly.
Now 43 years later, I have finished restoring my car for the third time. John got his done about two years ago And while I have driven his, he has driven mine, we had never had the two of them on the road at the same time. That changed last fall.
There was a vintage race at Road America featuring the Triumph and he drove his TR-3 to Wisconsin from Baton Rouge LA and we drove both of them to the race track. What a blast. And both cars basically made it....I only broke my speedo cable but after the event, John's daughter backed out of her garage and caved in his passenger side door, So we dug through the parts box. got a new cable and we pounded out the door and got it in primer and he drove it back home. Went down there in January and finished painting the door.
I still have all the original sheet metal, the original engine has only had a valve job, that once stuck clutch is still in it, that full sync TR-4 gear box is still there too. I got it with 62,000 miles on it and in =now has over 90,000 miles on it. Most of the chrome is original or off one of those parts cars with only the bonnet and boot hinges and rear bumper guards being replacements. The floor mats are originals as is the tools and tool roll. Even the bonnet stick cover is the same one that I pulled out from all the junk in the back seat. I have painted the car three times now and it looks great. As the car gets older and the value goes up, it gets better. It has never been in a repair shop except for mounting new tires. I did all the work on it. And that car did teach me the car nut, mechanics.
And with the help of places like Victoria British, I can again get the parts that, for so many years were made out of unobtanium, that I needed to keep it going. Thanks guys.