Triumph TR6 - 50th birthday celebration
The British motor industry did and does come in for a lot of flack. With some justification it has to be said. But out of adversity, just sometimes, came greatness.
Cue the Triumph TR6, which celebrates its 50th birthday at the start of 2019. 42 years after the last car rolled off the production line it remains one of the most popular classic cars and with good cause. A well sorted TR6 is entertaining and exciting to drive in a way that few rivals can match.
The Triumph car company of the late 60s was suffering mixed fortunes. On the plus side there was its takeover by British Leyland, which spelled some new money. On the downside, well, there was British Leyland. While BL provided the impetus for new products, like the Stag, it also introduced confusion - slow decision making and lots of internal competition between models.
So instead of a new model to replace the aging TR5, which could trace its lineage back to the TR2 of 1953, Triumph had to make do with a reheated model. Despite ancient body-on-chassis underpinnings the TR6 of January 1969 managed to look passably modern thanks to new front and rear styling by Germany's Karmann. The rest wasn't new but it was pretty good - grunty 2.5 litre straight six engine with cutting edge fuel injection generating up to 150 bhp.
The TR6's trump card was its great engine and resulting performance. It could hit 60 mph in a shade over 8 seconds and run on to 120 mph. For the price this was scintillating stuff. That it was accompanied by a lovely burbly 6-pot exhaust note could only help.
Hairy Chested Motoring
The TR6 was aimed squarely at the market recently vacated by the Austin Healey 3000: where the E Type was smooth and svelte, the Triumph was basic and brutal, a car that you had to master. Where the MGB was a sports car more in name than reality, the TR6 was the real deal.
This may all sound unreconstructed, and probably is, but it means the TR6 is genuinely fun to drive: quick, with oodles of power and torque, and extremely engaging. When you sneeze, you steer.
Those qualities probably explain why the TR6 lasted so long - when it came to sports cars in the early 70s not everyone wanted cossetting home comforts.
A Car From Over Here That Did Rather Well Over There
Conventional wisdom has it that in the early 70s Americans were falling over themselves to get behind the wheel of land yachts like the Cadillac Eldorado Fleetwood Brougham Coupe. But conventional wisdom would be wrong. While less than 14,000 TR6s found homes in Europe during the car's 7 year production run, nearly 80,000 were scooped up in the Land of the Free. It didn't seem to matter that Americans got the emissions emasculated carburettor version rather than the fuel injected version.
The Triumph TR6 was the last of the plucky post-war sports cars that Americans lapped up. Its sales success shows that it wasn't lack of demand that scuppered the TR7 overseas - it was the car itself.
In 1969 car makers were getting sophisticated. Mass production and monocoque body design meant cars were better built and smoother to drive. Separate chassis cars like the TR6 were a throwback to an era of body shake, noise and less sophistication. All of which is a win for buyers of Ford Cortinas and VW Golfs. For many sports car enthusiasts it was a retrograde step. They wanted engagement, simplicity and a sense that driving fast had to be worked at.
The TR6 succeeded because it did exactly that. It was a 'proper sports car', rather than a converted saloon car like the Capri.
Of the roughly 8,000 TR6s sold in the UK around 5,000 survive. Which is a remarkable survival rate for a car that suffers from serious rot and is expensive to fix.
But less remarkable when you start to consider why. The TR6 may not be the last word in sophistication or practicality but it was the last of a distinctly British breed of car. Germany did sophisticated, France did delicate and distinctive and Italy did stylish, but a British sports car was something very different. And the TR6 defines it - simple, quick and hugely entertaining.
And those qualities still work today. The Triumph is just practical and comfortable enough to work as a weekend car and, just as when it was new, it's priced well too. An Austin Healey is now stratospherically expensive, while a TR6 is just about within reach.
Popular Hire Car
One of the joys of hiring out old cars is that you get to challenge your preconceptions. I was never a big TR6 fan. Until Great Escape Cars got one and I drove it. Now I love them. It's still quick enough to be fun, it sounds great and it's a long way from the cossetted satnav and self-parking world of modern motoring. Put simply, it's all that was great about British cars back when the Beatles were jangling and harmonising.
So, Happy Birthday to the Triumph TR6. We love you.
You can hire the Triumph TR6 frojm £59 with our huge range of driving experiences including road trips, daily hire and classic tasters.