By Paul Richardson
Touring the warmer climes of Europe while avoiding the English winter is full of surprises. When we arrived in the Marbella area on the southeastern coast of Spain, the nicest surprise was to cast an eye over a beautiful 1954 long-door Triumph TR2.
Francois Van Hoof, a Belgian who now lives in Spain, owns the car. He’s been a Triumph enthusiast since he first drove a TR250 in 1968 while still at school in Belgium. He became an instant Triumph enthusiast and decided he must have a Triumph sports car. He bought his first Triumph, a secondhand TR6, after getting married to his wife Liliane in 1973, and the next year he bought a brand new one, which he still owns today. Thereafter, he built up a complete collection of Triumph sports cars and became so interested in them that he started a Triumph Club in 1977. This club was recognized as the TR Register of Belgium in 1979.
Francois said of this time: “1979 was a very lucky year for me because that was the year I bought my TR2, and I love this car. I also had an amazing opportunity to buy the entire stock of Triumph spares from the main dealer in Antwerp, which was closing down. I had no time to organize convenient storage so I transported all the spares, which completely filled a Bedford van three times, back to my home. I had Triumph spares piled everywhere, in the garage, and in every room of my house—even under the beds. All the factory Triumph parts I’d bought were invaluable for the restoration and maintenance of my growing Triumph collection.”
After enjoying a couple of beers on the patio of Francois’ beautiful house, we strolled over to his immaculate TR2 and I asked him what condition the car was in when he first bought it.
“The car, which was originally built by Imperia S.A. in Belgium, was a complete wreck,” he replied. “It had been parked outside in the open for 10 years with no soft top on, so it was completely rusted through in every panel. I did not start the restoration until 1985 because it was a major project and I did not have time to devote my full attention to it until then. Before starting the restoration, I managed to complete my collection of Triumph sports cars. I bought a TR5 in 1980, followed by a TR4—and in the meantime my father was restoring a TR4A. In 1984 I bought a TR3, a TR3A, and a very rare 1954 Triumph TR2 ‘Francorchamps.’ This car was essentially a TR2 but with a closed coupe roof designed by the Imperia company. Unfortunately, the car was more expensive than a Jaguar XK 120—so only 22 were ever sold.”
As I looked over the TR2, it was easy to tell that the car had been built to concourse standard. The inner and outer wings and body panels had been fitted perfectly, with no unequal spacing between panels, and the finish everywhere was immaculate. I asked Francois how he’d achieved this high standard.
He replied, “I decided right from the start that I wanted to build a TR2 that would win a concourse award at the TR Register convention in England. I had been judging cars since 1981, and I’d noticed many people had spent large amounts of money and effort restoring their Triumphs—but they had made mistakes on researching original, factory specification. I was determined not to make these mistakes myself, so right from putting the first nut and bolt on my car, I researched every detail before I fitted anything.”
“When you started the rebuild, to which areas of detail did you pay the most attention—where mistakes are often made?” I asked.
“I suppose one of the main things concerned the size of the soft top rear window on my TR2. I’d noticed that enthusiasts had restored TR2s by fitting TR3A rear windows. The TR3A window was much larger than the original one fitted to the TR2 on the production line. To get this aspect right, I had a factory photograph of an original TR2 showing the rear window, put it on a computer, and this was then scaled up to full size by calculation to get the original dimensions as near as possible. I was also careful to get the stitching and seams on the new carpets for my car positioned accurately—especially the seams on the carpet over the gearbox tunnel. This was also achieved by referring to original factory photographs. Naturally, people who make carpets for classic cars like to make them the most economical way, but I insisted that mine were made to the specification I wanted with the seams stitched in exactly the right places.”
“As your rebuild was a major, ground-up restoration, did you have any problems obtaining spares?”
“Well, the fact that the car was rusted through everywhere created problems because in the early ’80s there were no reconstructed body panels being made. When I bought the car, it was only fit for the scrap heap and almost every panel was destroyed with rust, including the inner and outer wings, the sills, floor panels, the lower end of the bulkhead, and the trunk and spare wheel compartment. Luckily, I had new factory inner and outer wings and floor panels from the stock I bought from the dealer in Antwerp, but all the rest had to be made by hand, which was very time consuming.
“My car was an early model built at the Imperia S.A. factory in Belgium with chassis number 851, and with cars built in Belgium there were some differences in the choice of colors compared with those available from the factory in Coventry. Cars produced in Belgium were available in almost any color you wanted because Imperia produced cars for several manufacturers. My car, for instance, was produced in Alfa Romeo white, which was not quite the same as the white used in the factory at Coventry.
“For the sake of originality, I decided to have the car sprayed the Alfa Romeo white because this was the original color of my car when it was first built at Imperia.”
As Francois drove the car onto his lawn for a photo session, I noticed how beautifully the engine ticked over—obviously the carburetors and ignition were set up perfectly. I asked him if he’d rebuilt the engine himself.
“Yes, I completely rebuilt the engine, gearbox, and axle. I had some problems with the cylinder block and head because they were both cracked. I had the crack in the engine block repaired by a company who specialized in this type of work on large marine engines, but the cylinder head was beyond repair, so I obtained a new one. I built the engine very carefully to standard specification. You see, I wanted a long-lasting, reliable engine. I fitted an overdrive to the gearbox and rebuilt the original rear axle, which was derived from the Mayflower saloon. As you know, this early unit could give problems, but I decided to keep this axle, rather than use one of the stronger units developed later, to keep my car original. I’ve never had any problems with it. My car was also fitted with a very early thermostat housing, which was corroded beyond repair, so I had a new housing made exactly to the specification of the original one. This was made from a solid block of aluminum at a local technical school in Belgium and took 60 hours to complete.”
I asked Francois if he achieved his ambition to win a concourse award with his car in England.
“Yes,” he replied with a beaming smile. “This was a marvelous moment for me. It was in 1993 at the Triumph Convention in Shepton Mallet soon after I’d finished the restoration. Ten of us from the Belgian Club took our Triumphs to England for the show, and on the morning of the concourse event, all the wives in our group got together and cleaned and polished every inch of my car—even underneath it, which was fantastic. I entered my car in the standard TR2 and TR3 category and won the award for the best car in that category. I also won the best overseas entrant award, and at the end of the show I won the best car in show award.”
Since that show, Francois and Liliane have toured every country in Europe with their treasured TR2, including Sicily, and the TR has reliably negotiated the highest Alpine routes of the French and Italian Alps and the high passes of the Pyrenees. Last year they organized and participated in a 6,700-kilometer tour of Spain for Triumphs. Since the rebuild, the TR has clocked up 80,000 kilometers and is used regularly on weekends for touring the local Spanish country roads.
This justly rewarded, prizewinning TR2 restoration highlights the importance of researching, very accurately, the original specification of classic cars before starting a rebuild. This will avoid enormous disappointment and expense for those interested in building their car to concourse standard.