Triumph TR4 and TR4A Buying Guide
Stylish and usable TR4 and TR4A remain well supported by specialists and clubs, cheap to run and intoxicating to drive. Here’s how to find a good one
How much to pay
• Project £6000-8000 • Good £17,000-23,550 • Concours £30,000-35,000
Running costs ★★★
DIY friendly ★★★★
When Triumph unveiled its Michelotti-designed TR4 at the 1961 London Motor Show, the British brand took a step forward from the preceding TR3A. The newcomer’s modern lines set the trend for others to follow. However, under the skin, the two cars were all but identical. The emperor simply had new clothes.
This didn’t really matter, though. Triumph had come up with a winning formula; the model’s torquey engine and simple mechanicals meant construction (and hence purchase) costs were low. The TR4 and TR4A might not have been the last word in sophistication, but they provided affordable and very stylish transport.
In the 21st century, pretty much everything that applied to the TR4 and TR4A when they were new is still relevant, with these classics still ideal for long-distance touring. Prices have risen as they have for pretty much any historic model of this era, but that doesn’t make the TR poor value – it just means you need to be even more careful when buying, to ensure you don’t get your fingers burned.
Your AutoClassics Triumph TR4/TR4A inspection checklist
The TR4 and TR4A were fitted with a 2138cc four-cylinder engine derived from the unit fitted to the Standard Vanguard. This conventionally engineered unit will despatch 100,000 miles between rebuilds if it’s not neglected.
You can expect oil leaks from the timing chain cover as well as the scroll seal at the rear of the crankshaft, but both should be minor so it’s just a question of topping up the oil occasionally. Once a healthy engine is warm, expect to see 70psi on the clock when cruising.
The four-speed gearbox is tough, but after 100,000 miles the bearings will start grumbling and it will start to jump out of gear. A rebuilt trans is the only option, but this isn’t especially costly.
Overdrive was an extra that’s well worth having. It’s usually reliable, but if there are any problems it will probably be down to an electrical glitch that’s easily fixed. If it’s something more serious, rebuilt overdrives are available at reasonable prices.
The clevis pin that connects the clutch pedal to the master cylinder can wear, leading to play, and the slave cylinder must be mounted so the bleed nipple faces upwards. It’s sometimes fitted upside down, which means the hydraulics can’t be bled fully – this leads to the baulk rings being battered because the clutch doesn’t give enough clearance.
Worn propshaft and driveshaft universal joints leads to clonks as the drive is taken up. The same symptoms can also result from worn driveshaft splines; these are best swapped for Jaguar units, which are much stronger. Propshafts can seize if not greased every 3000 miles.
Suspension and brakes
Aside from wear, there’s nothing to fear with the suspension. Converting to telescopic dampers at the back is worthwhile, along with a swap to uprated springs. The latter must be fitted without the aluminium spacer that sits between the top of the spring and the top spring mounting. Leaving this in place raises the ride height and upsets the car’s handling; you shouldn’t be able to get more than two fingers between the top of the tyre and the rear wheelarch.
The front trunnions need to be lubricated properly as they’re fitted. Otherwise they may seize, putting strain on other suspension areas such as the drop links. Check the trunnions’ condition by jacking up the car from underneath the wishbone and making sure they swivel properly.
The front and rear wheelbearings don’t last long, and while some play can be adjusted out, assume that you’ll have to replace any that show signs of play. It’s not a costly job, though.
Servo assistance was optional on the TR4 and TR4A. Whether or not a servo is fitted, the brakes should be up to the job – but the handbrake is notoriously weak.
The separate chassis can rot in all sorts of places, and it can only be repaired properly if the bodyshell is removed. However, the revised chassis design of the TR4A means many repairs can be undertaken with the body still in place.
The worst-affected areas are usually the diff-mounting brackets (which can snap off), while the centre section of the chassis also needs careful analysis; it bulges as it gets weaker. TR4s survive the best because the chassis is less complex. The TR4A has internal strengthening where the rear suspension is bolted to the chassis, and this is an area that corrodes quite readily.
This later variant can suffer from flexing that can crack the chassis, too, with poorly repaired accident damage another probability. The chassis isn’t that tough, so even small parking nudges can lead to distortion. Focus on the front suspension turrets, wishbone-mounting brackets, outriggers, steering-rack mountings and suspension itself. Look for kinks where the chassis gets wider on either side of the sump, cracks, poor plating and uneven tyre wear; all of these point to problems.
Blocked sill drain holes lead to corrosion munching its way from the inside out. The tops and bottoms of the doors and wings rot; analyse the inner and outer wings closely, along with the battery tray. The door gaps can open up at the top if the chassis has been weakened by rust or if the car hasn’t been properly braced during sill replacement. The B-posts and door tops also rot, as can the lip of the boot lid.
A sure sign of a bodged rebuild is missing beading along the seam between the top of the rear wings and the deck. The rear wings bolt on, and filler is often used along the tops of them while the beading is left out.
Unless the interior is absolutely wrecked, a bit of scruffiness inside the car isn’t anything to worry about as everything is available. The Surrey hard-tops were always an option, and are now sought after – but they do come up for sale.
Replacement electrical parts are cheap, and apart from poor connections there’s little to worry about. New wiring looms are available and they’re not that tricky to fit. Beware if the windscreen wipers are playing up; if it’s a faulty motor you’ll be okay, but if it’s the rack you’ll have to remove the dash to get to it.
- 1961: TR4 replaces the TR3A, gaining rack-and-pinion steering, wider front and rear tracks and an all-syncromesh gearbox. The engine is bored out to 2138cc, and there’s a targa roof arrangement called the Surrey Top.
- 1965: TR4A arrives with a redesigned rear chassis incorporating independent rear suspension with coil springs and semi-trailing wishbones. However, for the North American market only, the original live-axled configuration is still offered.
There’s something about Triumph roadsters that means they’ll never go out of fashion. Buy a good example of any TR, look after it and drive it sympathetically, and you’ll be able to sell it on without losing your shirt. Projects are readily available, and with the right tools and advice they’re a realistic DIY prospect – although you need to manage costs very carefully. Pay over the odds for a car that needs a lot of parts and work, and you could be left seriously out of pocket.
If you fancy something unusual, track down a Dove GTR4; built by Wimbledon-based LF Dove, this saw the TR being converted into a hatchback configuration. Fewer than 50 were made, and these now fetch a hefty premium over a regular convertible.
While independent rear suspension makes the TR4A more sophisticated than the TR4, don’t assume it’s the one you must have. The earlier model has slightly cleaner lines and it tends to be worth slightly less, but it feels much the same to drive in everyday use. The later car has a better ride, but when buying, your focus should be on condition rather than specification. Around 90 percent of these cars were exported to the US, with about a third of TR4A buyers taking the cheaper, non-IRS route. If buying a US-spec TR4A, make sure it’s fitted with the upgraded rear suspension if that’s important to you.
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