TR4: A New Generation
By the time the Triumph TR4 was made ready for sale, in the fall of 1961, the original "side-screen" model had been on the market for eight years. An all-new car would have been much preferred, but the TR4 was being developed at a time when Standard-Triumph's finances were in a terrible mess, so that simply wasn't possible. In fact, the company had to be rescued by Leyland Motors in the winter of 1960-1961.
The rear-end styling of the 1964 Triumph TR4
featured a squared-up decklid for luggage space.
Under the skin, therefore, a lot of TR3A engineering was carried over, except for some important updates. Among them was a slightly stiffer frame, front and rear track dimensions that were pushed out four inches front/three inches rear (but still on an 88-inch wheelbase), and rack-and-pinion steering, which replaced the ancient cam-and-lever type.
The engine was the same rugged old favorite, the "wet-liner" four-cylinder unit, this time expanded to 130.4-cid (2138-cc), with the old 121.5-cid (1991-cc) version a step-down, special-order option (mainly for 2.0-liter competition). Meanwhile, synchromesh had been added to first gear in the four-speed gearbox and there was a lock-out device for reverse. As before, Laycock overdrive was optional, and desirable for high-speed touring.
It was Michelotti's all-new, five-inch-longer body, however, that caused a stir, for there was much innovation beyond the new styling that Triumph never really promoted. To begin with, the cockpit was noticeably more spacious than before, and with the hardtop in place, the new TR was almost a two-seater sedan -- something nobody ever claimed for the TR3A.
Wind-up windows helped make the TR4 snug in practically all weather conditions, though they were known to sometimes develop rattles and minor leaks around the seals. Apart from the full-width hood panel, which gave perfect access to the engine bay, the TR4 provided fresh-air, face-level ventilation for the passengers; an early type of safety-collapsible steering column (via U-joints in the angled column); and an improved heater/defroster. Upmarket features included standard leather upholstery in three colors and a traditionally British polished walnut dashboard.
As an option, there was a cleverly detailed two-piece "Surrey" hardtop. A steel roof panel could be completely lifted out, to provide for open-air motoring, and because it didn't fit into the trunk, it could be replaced by a simple framed fabric panel. The fixed rear window to which the panels attached was surrounded by a solid aluminum casting.
The hardtop model, effectively, featured a Porsche Targa-style rollover hoop years before Porsche "invented" it, the face-level ventilation was a European first (Ford, with its Cortina, made a lot noise about that -- three years later), and no one else ever produced such a large "sunshine roof." With all its new features, the TR4 suddenly made MG's soon-to-be-phased-out MGA and the Austin-Healey 3000 look old fashioned.
Introduced for the 1962 model year (a year before the similarly sized rival MGB), the TR4 was an instant success in the U.S., where most production from the Coventry factory was sent. However, Triumph's U.S. dealers, fearing higher prices, insisted that the old TR3A should be continued, even though sales of this model had largely dried up.
Thus, they got the TR3B, which looked the same as the TR3A, but used TR4 engines and gearboxes. And it was priced lower: $2,675 versus $2,849 for the TR4. But this USA-only special flopped. Only 3,331 cars were ever produced, all in 1962, while more than 10,000 TR4s were sold in the States in the same year.
By comparison, the MGB was priced at $2,658 when it arrived for 1963. On the track, the TR4 proved to be top dog in its class in Sports Car Club of America competition. In fact, so successful was it in Class E-Production in 1962, that it was bumped up to Class D in 1963, which it then proceeded to dominate for three years.
Road & Track tested a TR4 in its February 1962 issue, complaining about the typically complicated British top (29 snap fasteners, a pair of hooks, and a long metal slide), twitchy steering at low speeds, the "harsh and rough-running" four when extended, and a rear suspension that had "an unfortunate tendency to dance and skitter to the outside whenever a bumpy corner was negotiated with any vigor."
Compliments were forthcoming for the roomier and more civilized interior (including the little bench at the rear that could carry a small child), the new transmission (including the revised low gear ratio), steering at highway speeds, "stable and forgiving handling," and performance. Road & Track accepted the manufacturer's claimed top speed of 110 mph, and in its own tests clocked 0-60 at 10.5 seconds, the quarter-mile at 17.8 seconds and 77.2 mph. The ultimate judgment was that "The TR4 offers excellent performance at a moderate initial cost and a sporting driver would search for a long time to beat the combination."
On the other hand, Road & Track also commented that "Our staff never reached unanimity of opinion regarding the TR4. Some thought it was very worthwhile despite its obvious shortcomings -- others were not convinced." And so it went -- in the U.S., as in the rest of the world, pundits and enthusiasts liked the TR4, but didn't love it. The top speed and acceleration were fine, as was the new steering, all-synchromesh gearbox, and more comfortable cabin. But why, they complained, couldn't they have more performance, better suspension, more options?
Triumph salesmen and factory people sat back, listened, and eventually reacted. As the Sixties unfolded, the TR changed gradually -- but completely. By the end of the decade, it would be virtually an entirely different car.
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