Michael: Dad brought up the idea of getting a TR6 to work on when I was 14. Great idea, I thought, we’d have a car done by the time I got my license. I had no clue of the amount of work it would take. I just thought it would be cool to drive a convertible that my friends had never heard of. Dad had in mind a different plan.
Luis: It all started for me in college. A guy in my dorm had a beautiful TR250. I helped him work on it here and there, picking up little bits of knowledge. I had no car and not a lot of excess cash, so I decided I could find one of these simple little cars to rebuild. Up to that point I hadn’t even changed the oil in a car. But as college taught me—given a book and a night, you can pass the course.
On a Thanksgiving break trip to Griffin, Georgia, I saw what looked to be a TR4 front end sticking out of an old barn. I stopped, knocked on the farmhouse door and asked a man in overalls if I could take a closer look at his car. He looked at me like the crazy not-from-round-here kid I was and said “sure” with a grin.
It was a wreck of a 1961 TR4 spray painted K-Mart gold in places. It had no top, four different size tires, rust holes here and there, and the claim to fame of having carried many deer out of the woods tied to its bonnet. I didn’t even try to start it, but the farmer said it had been running not too long ago. $100, and what felt like a 100 miles tow with a chain, and the car was mine.
Some parts were TR4 and some TR3—we all know how Triumph hated to throw last year’s stuff out. I had sort of a collector’s item, although at the time it was just confusing to get parts for it that would work when you got them home from the part stores and junkyards. I spent all my spare time and money putting her back together. Well, that car went on with me to my first job. A couple of moves and kids later, then fully restored and sporting a Spitfire orange paint job, I decided to sell her since she wasn’t getting the attention she deserved. And we all know how fidgety Brits get when neglected.
Fast-forward twenty years. I had this thought and for some reason I said it out loud in the presence of my son: “Why don’t we look for a TR6 to restore together?” Michael jumped all over it. Whoa, not so fast! You know what it would cost to insure a freshly licensed 16-year-old boy in a classic convertible? Maybe I could get it for ‘us’ and restore it together and ‘one day’ it would be his and he would know how to take care of it. Mom of course thought it was a great idea–quality time together in the garage would keep us both out of trouble.
Michael: We searched for an early model without the smog equipment and rubber overriders on the bumpers. This seemed to take forever. We took a trip up to Tennessee with a car dolly in tow to pick up a “no rust” car. But when Dad got under it and stuck a finger through the frame he pulled me aside and said, “This is not the car.” Frustrated, I made him show me why, and then tried to convince him we could fix it. I just wanted a car. I had no conception of the amount of work a bad frame would have taken to fix. It was sad but I am glad that we passed on that one.
A few months later we found a 72 on eBay. Dad got them to send more pictures and this was the one – it had a good frame and a “recent engine rebuild.” I stayed up and we watched the auction tick away. We won the car by $10 at the bell! The next weekend we made arrangements to go and get it. It was over 500 miles away in North Carolina so we left early on Saturday and drove there and spent the night in a motel. The next morning we rented a tow dolly and brought it home. It started and drove, but it smoked (recent rebuild, you say?) and the gears were hard to shift. We heaved it up on the dolly and headed home. I kept looking back to make sure it was following us through the mountains and twisty roads.
We got home late Sunday night. Some of our neighbor friends heard us come in and came over to help us get it down off the dolly and into the garage. After school on Monday we took pictures and really started to understand what we were getting into—wow, a different car.
Luis: We found a few more rust spots on the body in the usual places, but fixable. Frame/diff mounts were okay, someone had actually rebuilt the suspension not too long ago and the rubber looked good. The engine was burning oil and the dreaded thrust washers were probably in the oil pan from the play when the clutch was pushed in? A few more little surprises but, hey, the frame was good and she was ours! First thing was to get the manuals; the Bentley came with it. Next order of business was to pull the engine, so the interior had to come out—seats, carpet and panels. Top off, bonnet off, rent a lift—the engine came out next weekend—we were under full steam. As Michael figured out quickly, this was hard work. The next several months were devoted to taking the engine apart and finding a machine shop that could work on it, while taking more stuff off the car. Silently all of the unfaithful people around us wondered if Humpty–Dumpty would ever be back together again.
Michael: Dad’s rule was we worked on it together. When I had baseball or soccer the car sat, when I got home we would work on it if I was not tired. I realized after about two weeks in, when we were pulling the engine and taking off all the body sheet metal, that this was going to be hard work. It took us over a year to get it all done working on weekends and some nights when homework was light and Dad was not traveling.
Luis: The engine pieces were at the machine shop as they measured and checked everything. Not too bad other than the work to be done on the crank and block to rebuild where the lack of thrust washer had taken its toll, apparently it was driven for a while in that condition.
While the machine shop did its thing Michael and I kept on with the demolition – bumpers, boot, bonnet, wings, windshield, exhaust and lights it all came off. Everything we could figure out how to get off, came off. The neighbors were taking bets as to when it would all be sold for scrap after we admitted defeat. Hogwash, we said, she’ll be better than new when we are finished!
We started re-assembly by the book. Actually, three books and the Moss catalog schematics, and many posts on 6PACK—great help offered by lots of very knowledgeable people. Michael would say, “Dad, didn’t you do this before?” Well yes, but that was 30 years ago, this car was almost new then, and besides I’ve slept since then.” Not very amusing to a 15-year old who is looking at a kit for his next car.
Michael: Dad always took pictures and we labeled everything, which was a great help for putting it all back together almost a year later. I really learned a lot about cars and what everything did as Dad explained to me how it worked. Of course I did most of grunt work like sanding and scraping but he was there too. Working on the car gave us time to talk and really taught me about cars.
Luis: Funny how it takes longer and more people to put an engine back in than it does to take one out. The day finally came, the crowds gathered, speculation was high. We got her going! She had an engine that ran and would soon be a car again. We were so happy that we threw in (not bolted) the seats and went driving around the neighborhood in the stripped tub, chassis and engine that looked like a weird and loud dune buggy scaring small children, dogs and old folks. Oh well, back to the garage!
Bodywork began, sanding and some modifications like fiberglass to reinforce some areas, and plenum drain hoses extended to the inside wheel wells even though this car would probably never see rain again. The search for a paint shop continued, as did our sanding. After getting flat out turned down or monetarily insulted by at least six local shops, we were on to a lead. A painter from one shop and a body man from another had this little shop of horrors where they did odd jobs after work. We worked out a deal, and since they were nearby they were going to have to put up with almost daily inspections from Michael and I. Two weeks at the paint shop turn into three when picky owners are involved, but “Lilred” was worth it.
We carefully put everything back together again without scratching the fresh new paint. This took a lot more time and patience than a busy 15-year old was able to give. But this was a father and son project so work would not continue until the team was all there. No excuses.
Michael: After Lilred, I took auto mechanic shop in high school. It was an easy “A” as only three or four of us knew about cars, and we became friends sharing a similar interest. We were given all the hard assignments and brought all our families’ cars in to work on them. Now the group of us all have Ford Mustangs and work on them and tweak them up. Once a month on Saturdays, my friends and I volunteered to do light auto repair and oil changes for people who couldn’t afford it. There we found that we were faster and knew more than most of the adults who came to show us how to do it.
Working on Lilred played a role in my interest in studying Mechanical Engineering. I am now enrolled at Auburn University working on my degree. I know one day that Lilred will pass down to me and I am glad that I was there to see the car all apart. I know that I will be able to keep her running for many years and hopefully someday get my own kids interested in her. Completing Lilred with Dad has given me a feeling of accomplishment; it was hard work but well worth it when we take her to shows and see how she came out as compared to others. She is still a great source of pride for both of us.
Luis: Michael has learned more about cars than he ever would have hoped. But like I told him, when it’s his and his old Dad is not able to get under it, he’ll be able to take good care of her. After all it’s not like you can take her to the Triumph dealer. Michael has taken Lilred out many times, and he treats her with the utmost respect and care as he knows the hard work that went into get her in this condition. You can also bet he is looking after his interest and making sure his Lilred gets pampered along the way.