Note the oil spots on the driveway. The true hallmark of the Brit car owner.
I bought this car from a local wrecking yard in about 1981 and just recently(March, 2012), sold it. Imagine, the wrecking yard was going to part it out.. I couldn't let that happen but I guess that, after working with it a while, I felt that, maybe they were right. It had a ton wrong with it. But, I continued, and the car turned out fairly well. Yes, a TR4 rear end will bolt into a TR3 but it makes the car rear end steer and makes the restorer think there's something wrong with the frame or suspension. This car will never be as nice as my TR3b, but it's better than a lot of 3a's I have seen. It's finished in Signal Red lacquer with clear over that. The guy I sold it to didn't want to drive it before he bought it. Just looked it over and helped me get it started so he could satisfy himself it ran at least. He liked the color.
These are nice cars for freeway driving. That big four just plonks along in overdrive top. As I recall, 3,000 in top equates to about 70mph. Car could and has, cruised at that speed all day. That big four cylunder engine started life as a tractor motor(really!) and Standard-Triumph, like most British manufacturers of that era, couldn't afford a clean sheet design, modified it for sports car use. Imagine that. Actually, the modification turned out reasonably well and the engine is stone durable and infinitely rebuildable(well, what do you expect? The thing's industrial). Anyway, they stuffed this motor into their sportscars from about the early 50's to the late 60's.
Incidentally, that's part of the charm of British cars. Britan went broke fighting WWII and most British manufacturers had very little investment capital to apply to modern design when the War ended and peacetime production resumed. All the manufacturers had to scratch around to see what pre-war bits could be updated for current models. Postwar sportscar engines came from tractors, taxicabs, firepumps and old sedans and, in the case of the AC, from a prewar BMW. Look closely at a 50's or 60's Brit sportscar and you see evidence of this creativity. It continually amazes me that they made all these obsolete bits work as well in their new life as they did.
I have fond memories of TR3a's. I owned one just like this when I was in college. My son was a baby at the time and I used to put him in his travel seat and stuff him down in the passenger footwell under the tonneau for trips to my parents' house. He loved that! The faster I went, the more he chuckled and giggled and he didn't want to get out when we got to Grandma's. We certainly live in different times. I wouldn't think of doing that today but, back then, it seemed like good fun and my son sure enjoyed our rides.
In college, I also owned a 120 Jag, Alfa and a big Healey(no, I wasn't rich. I bought wrecks or non-runners and fixed 'em). The bigger cars regularly got me into trouble on the road. Too much power and speed and mass for me. I never was able to control them properly on a consistent basis. But the TR was a different story. I was able to get all of the performance designed into that car out of it. It never got me in over my head. You know the feeling- that's when the car is about 100 yards further down the road or into the corner than you are mentally. Never had that problem with the TR. Nice and tight and controllable if somewhat tail happy. I sold that car (my first TR3a) for about, if memory serves me correctly, $650.00 to a young woman who didn't even want to drive it before buying. Her exact words were: "Ooooh, it's red, I'll buy it". There must be something to this business about red cars.
One of the nicest things about the old car hobby is the people you meet along the way. Many people I talk with that are in the hobby have a story that starts something like this: "A friend(substitute cousin, brother-in-law or whatever in here)of mine knows this guy that has a Barn(or garage or field or rental storage unit) full of parts for these cars. This guy is amazing. He knows everything about the vehicles and has been amassing parts for x (fill in the appropriate number) years. He's a little weird and reclusive but, if he likes you, he'll help you find the parts you need(and probably has 'em)."
Sounds a little tribal doesn't it? I mean, here's this cranky old coot-lives in the woods-doesn't want to see anyone but might have the part(s) you need. You have to track him down and perform some undefined ritual to gain his respect. Almost mystical. I read a little book a while ago by a guy named Fred Haefele. He wrote about restoring an old Indian motorcycle and mentioned a semi-mythical character known to his biker buddies as the "Parts Father".
What a great name - Parts Father - yep, that about sums it up. Imagine this crusty old guy who knows Everything about the car you are restoring and has every obsolete, out of production, haven't seen one of those for years, part you need. You just have to establish yourself with him and there they are.
I've found Parts Fathers for most every make of car I have restored. The AC-a guy in Colorado, the Jags- a guy who would regularly travel to England and scour the country for the part you needed, the MGs -well, I have already written about him(and he wasn't really a Parts Father-more an erratic "Parts Uncle", Morgans - a fellow in Pennsylvania, Old Porsches - a guy in Oregon. The Triumph guy - well, I'll tell you a little about him.
This guy has been scrapping Triumphs for at least 30 years. He buys 'em, disassembles 'em and stores the parts in two quonset huts located behind his house. His garage is attached to his house and, over the years, it has been converted to his den. The den contains most of his favorite parts, complete set of Truimph factory tools, his library of shop manuals and technical literature, a couple of greasy armchairs and some ashtrays. I've visited him many times over the years and every visit seems to involve the same script. First, there's kinda a sitting and smoking phase where we both light up and sit and chat about cars and I mention the car I am currently working on. He then talks about the various parts on that car. Their differences from prior models, variations in part numbers and so on. Then I usually get a very interesting lecture in the factory options that could possibly have been supplied with that model car. I then list the parts I am looking for and we talk about them for a bit. About this time we take a walk out into one of his storage buildings and, let me tell you, the amount of stuff he has in there is truly mind-boggling. Floor to ceiling plastic detergent buckets, each labelled with the part number and description. Sheet metal, top bows and fiberglass hardtops hanging from the rafters. Engines, trannys, overdrives and frames stacked on the floor. Wow! I remember one time when I was working on the TR3b I have and we spent about an hour rootling through those detergent buckets to find a fuseholder with the correct manufacture date etched on the back of it. I never knew that Lucas did that but, sure 'nuff, the fuseholders didn't change design for years but, every one had its date of manufacture engraved on the back.
I can only remember one time I stumped this guy and that was when I broke a halfshaft on the Lotus. You might remember that the Lotus rear end originally started life as a rear end from a Triumph 10. A Triumph 10 was a singularly undistinguished little Triumph sedan produced in the 50s more for the English market than for export. Not too many Triumph 10s on the ground in the US. Well, since it was a Triumph, I called this guy. Nope-he didn't have one but he would sniff around for me.
Well, one of the things about Parts Fathers is that you really need to have faith in them. I didn't understand that then so, I continued shopping and finally located a halfshaft in Rhode Island at a completely exhorbitant price. What'cha gonna do?-probably the only one in this sector of the galaxy. Sure, I bought it and had it shipped out.
The day after I made that deal, Parts Father called me and said he knew a guy that was selling a partially restored Triumph 10 and, was I interested? Oh Hell, probably only a dozen of these things ever imported to the US and he finds one for sale in his neighborhood? I told him sure, I wanted the rear end and, if we could use his truck and trailer to transport the car, he could have the rest for parts. So, that's what happened. We called the seller up and drove out to look at the 10. Actually, the seller had done a pretty fair job of restoration and had all of the mechanical bits cleaned up and reinstalled on the car. I bought it for $90.00 and, promising to give it a good home, loving care and a tasteful restoration, loaded it on the Parts Father's trailer. We drove a few blocks down the street to a 7-11 parking lot where we popped the rear end out, threw that in the trunk of my Jag and then towed the 10 out to a farmyard where Parts Father stored the cars he hadn't gotten around to disassembling.
So, I imagine that by now, all the 10's parts are cozily nestled in those detergent buckets just waiting for the next supplicant to come knocking on the door. The thing about this Parts Father is that I think he was more interested in the parts than the car and I can sorta relate to that. A NOS part in the original package is a real little time trip. I always wonder where it has been living these last 50 years or so and at the same time marvel at the technology of yesterday embodied in the part. Brass and bakelite in the Lucas boxes. REAL metal and chrome make up the trim pieces. Real bendable, hammerable metal and not this nasty hi-tensile stuff in the fenders. In fact, I have accumulated a fair collection of old car parts myself. I have 'em squirreled away in various places. TR3a sheet metal here, TR4 engine there, MGA engine there, NOS voltage regulators and generators elsewhere. And, of course, more Lotus/Triumph 10 halfshafts than I will hopefully need in a lifetime. Maybe I'm becoming a Parts Father.