If all the 1969-1976 Triumph TR6 had going for it was one of the automotive world’s most alluring six-cylinder exhaust notes, that might be enough to justify purchase. Fortunately, there’s much more to love about one of the last classic British roadsters than its baritone tailpipe tune.
The 1969 TR6 arrived in America in late 1968 near the peak of muscle car mania, when its $3,275 price could have opened the door to any number of big, 300+ horsepower V8 pavement peelers. Small European roadsters, however, were still very much in vogue, and the Triumph TR6 combined some of their best attributes into one of the most attractive designs of the genre.
You Say You Want An Evolution
The TR6 was the product of a steady evolution in a series that began with the 1953 TR2. That model, updated to the TR3 in 1955, offered the cut-down door style of the Jaguar XK120 with a respectable 90-100 horsepower from a 4-cylinder engine.
The 1961 TR4 leapt into modernity with a beautiful Giovanni Michelotti-designed body on the old but proven chassis and featured such amenities as roll-up windows. Then, the 1965 TR4A offered independent rear suspension, absent from other sports cars in the price class.
The next major step came with the 1967 TR5 (called TR250 in America), essentially the TR4A with a 2.5-liter straight six that had been developed from the four it replaced. It was not a sophisticated double overhead-cam design, such as the Jaguar six, but rather an iron block/iron head pushrod unit, with a long-stroke that favored torque over horsepower.
In Britain and other markets, the six had Lucas fuel injection and was rated at 150 horsepower (later, 125 hp). The U.S.-bound TR250 models instead used dual Zenith-Stromberg carburetors and offered 104 horsepower – about the same as the previous four-banger. But the 143 lb-ft of torque at a relatively low 3,000 rpm was substantial for a 2,400-pound roadster. (The Spitfire-based Triumph GT6 coupe used a 2.0-liter version of this engine.)
The TR5/TR250 was an interim model, however, as Triumph was having the body redesigned by Karmann in Germany. The resulting TR6 followed the general outline of the TR5/TR250 and even used its doors, but new squared off front and rear sections gave it a wider, more muscular look.
Nearly everything beneath the TR6 bodywork was carryover from the TR5/TR250, including of course the straight six. The TR6 could do 0-60 mph in 10.5 seconds, though the trailing-arm rear suspension’s tendency to squat under acceleration, coupled with that throaty exhaust note, amplified the sensation of speed.
Remember when sports cars didn’t even offer automatics? The TR6 came only with a 4-speed stick, with optional overdrive operating on third and fourth gears. Notably, the TR6’s 15×5-inch styled steel wheels were large for the day, and the tires positively filled out the wheel wells, a look prized by designers today.
The TR6 cockpit was fairly tight but semi-luxurious in classic British taste, with a genuine wood veneer dash, full set of gauges, cut-pile carpeting and leather-wrapped steering wheel. A removable steel hardtop was optional.
The TR6 was, as the Brits might say, a smashing success. Of the 91,850 built, 76,500 came to America. The arrival of the faster and more modern Datsun 240Z a year after the TR6 didn’t seem to hurt. Sales of the TR6 rose year by year until 1975, even as the price steadily increased, reaching $6,050 in 1976.
The Paul Newman Connection
Like previous Triumph TR models, the TR6 was a racing success. In SCCA road racing, Bob Tullius’ Group 44 racing team successfully campaigned a TR6 that would later take Paul Newman to his first national title. Bill Warner, founder of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, purchased the car in the late 1980s.
The TR6’s power output dropped somewhat in later years, and, although spared the battering-ram U.S.-regulation bumpers that plagued the MGB, the TR6 did sprout large black bumper overriders in 1974. To meet regulations, the front bumper was raised in 1975, which actually had the effect of freshening, not hurting, the design.
Although the TR6 was a notorious ruster, pretty much anything needed for restoration is reproduced today, including new frames and body parts. Immortality is all but assured.
Why you’d want a Triumph TR6
- The last classic six-cylinder British roadster.
- Timeless design.
- Affordable and with excellent parts availability.
- One of the best-sounding six-cylinder exhaust notes ever.