There two things that are imbedded into my family genes. One is the love of music and the other is the love for automobiles. Some family members have one gene that is more pronounced than the other. Take my cousin Colin for example. He is an accomplished musician who has played and taught all over the world. He is in the top tier of his field. As for me, I can’t play a musical instrument to save my life; however I have a deep appreciation for all genres of music. A world with out music is not a world I could imagine. As for Colin, he may not be able to heel and toe down shift or rebuild an engine, but he does have a passion for all things automotive. As a proper automobile connoisseur, a Triumph TR6 is tucked away in his garage.
Triumph TR6’s have long been a heavy influence on stoking my love of British sports cars and my passion of cars in general. This little gem has had the same affect on my cousin Colin. Several years ago, with the means and an insuppressible desire to own a British sports car Colin took the plunge and bought himself this TR6. Originally delivered new to Saskatchewan, the car has been a long-term drivable project with many dollars spent along with many miles of enjoyment.
The brawny Triumph TR6 was introduced in early 1969 as a clever redesign of the TR5/TR250 range, with Karmann of Germany responsible for the aggressive good looks. Unlike most British sports cars of the era that possessed a curvy feminine type shape, the TR6 was slab sided and chiseled. An aggressively styled squared off front end along with wide wheels and tires filling out the wheel wells gave the TR6 graceful and stylish look. The rear end was a Kamm tail design with the rear panel painted black to give the observer the illusion of width. The TR6 is the Daniel Craig of British sports cars of the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, brawny, chiseled and looks great just about anywhere.
The interior can be described as typically British, meaning two low slung seats, an upright dash with real wood veneer spanning the width of the cockpit. Simple, yet elegant. The full set of easy to read gauges are set into the beautiful wood trimmed dash and for the most part everything is laid out well. With one exception; the ignition switch is nestled underneath the steering column with the barrel for the key pointing directly towards the driver’s crotch. Imagine trying to press in the clutch, reaching around or through the three spoke steering wheel and blindly searching for the slot to insert the key. You then have to somehow turn the key and then snake your arm out. It’s a cruel joke in an otherwise well designed space. Although you may not have the smells of fine Connolly hides filling your senses as you do in a Jaguar the interior is a great place to be and I still get a smile on my face when I climb into a TR6.
At the time the TR6 was conceived Triumph wasn’t exactly rolling in money, so in order to keep costs down the TR6 used as many components from the TR4/TR5/TR250 as possible. The frame, drive train and suspension are very similar to the TR5/TR250 with many improvements thrown in. A roll bar was added to the front suspension and combined with the wider wheels and rubber on the road helped the TR6 turn much more gracefully than its older brother. The rear suspension was an independent swing arm design giving the TR6 some potential in the handling department. One of the best components passed down from the TR250 was the 2.5 litre in-line 6 cylinder engine. This smooth running and flexible engine provides reliable if not powerful performance. The engine in the early cars was originally 150 bhp with Lucas mechanical fuel injection, but North American cars had Zenith-Stromberg carbs, and the engine was de-tuned to comply with new and more stringent U.S. emissions standards. With only 105 bhp the TR6 isn’t a powerhouse but it makes some of the best sounds you could ever hear in the sports car world. Overall the TR6 was a nice evolution of from the earlier TR series and it still managed to hold on to all the elements that make British sports cars so wonderful.
Colin’s car is finished in Pimento Red with a beautiful tan interior. Pimento Red is a very bright red with just a hint of an orange hue and beautiful contrast to the black panel in the rear and large silver steel wheels. This was just one of 5 shades of red available for the TR6 through out its production. One particularly nice detail on this TR6 is the red stripe Michelin tires that give the car a period correct look. The tan interior is nearly pristine and has a much richer look than the black that came on so many of these cars. This TR6 is equipped with the somewhat less desirable but perhaps more reliable 4 speed manual transmission instead of the Laycock overdrive system, with overdrive in third and fourth gears. Mercifully the "Prince of Darkness" electrical system had been (mostly) redone, but the rest of the engine is pretty much stock, with the exception of K & N air filters and an electronic ignition which makes a world of difference when it comes to maintenance and drivability. The suspension and drive axles have all been rebuilt and upgraded with urethane bushings replacing all the nasty rotted rubber bits. Of all the updates and improvements, the one-off custom Stebro exhaust system done 8 years ago has to be my personal favourite. The sound emanating from the tailpipes is simply epic. All the improvements make this the perfect car for weekend sprints through two lane back-country roads.
Parts availability for the TR6 is terrific if you want to keep the car completely and properly original. For the more adventurous there are many engine, drive train and suspension upgrades, from triple Weber side-droughts (and triple Z-S outfits) to 5-speed Toyota transmissions to beefed-up adjustable front and rear anti-sway bars. There are also tube shock conversions available to replace the Armstrong lever shocks, but their use is a matter of debate. With so many different parts available it is very easy to customize a TR6 to your very own taste or just subtly improve on a great vehicle.
Driving a TR6 can be an incredible experience or a completely frightening one depending on the car you drive. The suspension makes all the difference and with the proper care and updates this old Triumph can be a great driver. When new TR6’s were decent driving and handling cars; not the best but they got by just fine. As they age the driving experience becomes less and less satisfying because the rubber suspension bushings deteriorate and axle half shafts get worn making the car feel loose and nervous. Fortunately Colin’s TR6 has had a complete overhaul of the suspension including upgraded CV joints and stronger rear hub assemblies. No worries about the wheels coming off or unintentional excursions into farmer’s fields when driving this TR6!
Walk up and climb into a TR6 and you will realize how small this car actually is. Without a doubt the interior is tighter then a Mazda Miata. Any minute, I felt that a hidden television crew was about to come out of hiding just waiting to film the spectacle of me attempting to exit the car. Even worse, I imagined, would be if my better half came out laughing and pointing at me while exclaiming “Fat man in little car!” at the top of her lungs. I wouldn’t put it past her. Once settled and you are somehow able to find the damned slot for the ignition key, you give the key a twist and the magic begins!
Firing up that engine results in one of the most melodic engine sounds in the automotive world. The Stebro exhaust has a wonderful mellow burble at idle. It may even sound better then my Cobra, dare I say. Press in the clutch, grab the gear selector and slide into first gear to let the fun begin. British sports cars are all about the driving experience. Having the sun in your face, the wind in your hair, the smells of the fumes and the trumpet of that wonderful exhaust note while you drive down the road are the elements make driving these cars such a pleasure. This particular TR6 has all these elements in spades. As we travel down the road Colin shouts out as the exhaust note changes pitch while going through the gears “Now you can’t get all this in a Miata!”, and he is right. The Miata is a great car and is a wonderful treat for the soul, but it just can’t match the way this Triumph tickles the senses.
Power and handling may not be up to modern car standards. A Hyundai Accent could probably out handle and out accelerate this TR6, but that’s not the point. Driving this car at 50 kph makes you feel like you are flying down the road going at least 80. Getting up to speed is just as fun since you have to rev the engine more and work you way through the gears in order to wring out every last drop of performance. Not only is this entertaining, it’s good for the soul. Combine the sense of speed with all the other sensory inputs this car transmits and going to the convenience store for a carton of milk becomes an adventure, although you might make the clerk behind the count feel a little nervous as you walk up with a stupid grin on your face.
Thankfully the suspension upgrades has resulted in a car that actually rides quite well. Colin’s TR6 just seems to glide over road irregularities that would normally result in a thud and a bang. This Triumph is much more civilized and much more pleasant to drive than ones I have driven in the past. Even better, it will go around a corner without too much drama. As a matter of fact you can take corners with some enthusiasm, something I would never consider with some of these older cars since handling is generally quite nervous. Often handling could be described as “floaty” and almost scary at times in these old and usually worn Triumph sports cars, but thankfully the demons have been worked out of this Triumph. Although you may not be a big winner at the next autocross event, you could drive in this TR6 on your favourite twisty road in complete confidence.
At the end of a drive I understand how wonderful the Triumph TR6 really is. An Austin Healey 3000 might be more coveted and the MGB may be better known but this Triumph strikes all the right chords and hits all the right notes. As my cousin drives away I can hear him going through the gears making some wonderful mechanical music long after his Pimento Red TR6 is long out of sight and I go in the house with a smile on my face. Well done, Colin!