If it’s a classic British roadster you’re after, you cannot afford to ignore the TR2.
Said to be the cheapest British car to top 100mph, the TR2 received plenty of plaudits from road testers of the time and “fun to drive” was a regular comment. And they were right, the TR2 is just that.
Its 90bhp may not sound a lot today, but allied to compact dimensions and light kerb weight, it was more than enough to entertain an enthusiastic driver.
The cabin is a mite cramped if truth be told and the steering wheel skims the thighs of tall drivers, but ignore these foibles and the Triumph is terrific fun to throw around.
Big bumps will cause the rear end to skip around a bit but the otherwise secure handling inspires confidence. Which is more than can be said for the brakes, so a disc upgrade is a useful addition if you’re planning on regular use. A well-maintained engine should burst into life quickly and pick-up cleanly at all engine speeds, so you’ll need to investigate if this isn’t the case. But find a properly sorted example and the TR2 will prove a superb country lane entertainer.
Top speed 107mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Check the wings, sills, floor panels, spare wheel well, A-posts, the bulkhead and scuttle, the boot lid, and the battery tray for corrosion. The single-skinned wings don’t tend to rust at the wheel arches, but the points at which they attach to the body vulnerable to serious rot.
Although fundamentally strong, the simple ladder chassis also demands careful attention. Rust is the first thing to look for, particularly around the suspension mounting points. Pay particular attention to the area just behind the front wishbones – if the chassis appears out of true, this is a sure sign of a prang somewhere in the car’s past. A close look at the panel gaps will also reveal any problems in this area. Lastly, watch out for poor quality restorations using cheap, reproduction panels. There are bodged cars around so ask to see the records (photographic if possible) of any refurbishment work.
The Standard engine is a reliable unit, and DIY-friendly too, but age and lack of maintenance will soon take their toll. Excessive exhaust smoke, rumbling main and big-end bearings, and worn tappets all point to an engine in need of a re-build, so factor this in to the asking price. Be wary of cars that have seen very little use as the wet-liner unit has a tendency to sludge-up, while the steel gasket at the bottom of the liners can rot causing oil and water to mix. The twin SU carburettor set-up rarely gives problems and overhauling them is a straightforward and fairly cheap task. Lastly, with a wide range of parts available quite a few owners tune and uprate the engine so make sure you know what’s been done on the car you’re looking at.
The top-model 300SE and 300SEL had air suspension, which was high-tech stuff for the early 1960s. The ride it gives is quite remarkable, but problems can be very expensive indeed to fix, and parts are not plentiful. Buy an air-sprung Fintail with your eyes wide open, and have the phone numbers of a specialist and your bank manager close at hand.
The four-speed manual geabox is a tough little unit but there a few things to watch for. There is no synchromesh on first gear, but it can wear on the other gears so this is something to check on the test drive, as are any odd noises caused by chipped gear teeth. A ‘box that is noisy in the first three gears but quiet in fourth will be in need of new layshaft owing to worn bearings – a chattering in neutral that disappears when the clutch is dipped is another sign. Overdrive was an option when new and worth seeking out for the improved driveability it brings.
The Lockheed back axle has a reputation for fragility and there is a tendency for the TR2 to break half-shafts under enthusiastic use. Oil leaks can be a common problem too. Upgrading to the later Girling unit from the TR3/3A is a worthwhile modification.
The drum brakes aren’t massively effective, and the drums themselves will go oval over time, so ensure the car pulls up straight on the test drive. Fitting the front disc brakes from the TR3/3A is another popular modification, as is the addition of a servo, so don’t be surprised if the car you are looking at has already been upgraded.
An independent front end with coil springs and a live beam axle with semi-elliptic springs takes care of suspension duties. Check that regular greasing has been undertaken every 1000 miles as a lack of attention will cause rapid wear. An overhaul is neither costly nor particularly difficult. Watch for wear in the steering arms and trunnions and excessive play in the worm and peg steering. A conversion to a rack-and-pinion set-up is popular.
1953 1962 Triumph TR2 TR3 front interior
The original plastic trim is easy to replace, just check for any broken switchgear or any unsympathetic modifications that spoil the originality. Wiring that has gone brittle with age can be an issue along with weak dynamos and starter motors.
It was Triumph boss Sir John Black’s desire to emulate the success of MG that led to the rapid design and launch of the TR2. What the company delivered was a simple, but robust little roadster. Based on a pre-WW2 Standard chassis, it borrowed the proven 2.0-litre engine from the Vanguard model, making it a quick car. Few cars are as entertaining as a classic British drop-top and the TR2 is one of the best examples of the breed, while that straightforward and sturdy construction makes it hugely tempting now.
That’s the good news. However, despite that simplicity, there’s plenty to watch out for before taking the plunge. Thanks to the healthy prices on the used market, there is plenty of temptation for untrustworthy vendors to make money from sub-standard cars. Find a good example though, and this old-school roadster will put a huge smile on your face every time you get behind the wheel. And that is surely reason enough to place the TR2 at the top of any buyer’s list.
A variety of badly maintained or poorly restored cars still find their way onto the market. Therefore a professional inspection is money well spent. Find a good one, and you’ll enjoy one of the finest little roadsters on the market.