A Professor’s Triumph runs wide-open and opens wide
By Tom Morr
No joke: Dr. J.S. “Noble” Eisenlauer’s Triumph was built on April Fool’s Day, 1959. Thanks to painstaking maintenance and many performance modifications, the car runs better today than at any point in its lifetime: Intelligent “resto-mod” upgrades successfully improve drivability and reliability without compromising the British sportscar motoring experience.
An archaeology professor at a Los Angeles college, Noble approached his 3A’s history and documentation as if it were a hands-on research project. The story begins and ends in college. In 1969, Noble’s dad offered to buy him a car to take to college. Not afraid to look a gift-horse in the mouth, Noble lobbied for an XK140. Dad nixed that idea, saying that a Jag was too high-maintenance for a college kid.
Plan B: Still in a British mindset, Noble lobbied Dad to look at Triumphs, “the poor man’s Jaguar.” He’d seen an attractive TR3 in a used car lot. As Noble remembers, “In 1969, you could drive from San Jose to San Mateo on El Camino Real and find eight or ten nice TR3s for sale.” Unfortunately, the one he’d eyeballed had already sold when they went to look at it.
Noble’s dad owned a 330GT and wanted to stop at a Ferrari garage on the way home from the used car lot. Suffering from Triumph withdrawal, Noble poked around the shop while his dad talked pasta-performance with a Ferrari mechanic. “I wandered around back, and there, sitting quietly in the shade of the back wall, was a nicely restored TR3 with loads of options,” Noble says. “It was love at first sight!”
Upon further investigation, Noble learned that the Triumph was a bank repo that was being prepped for sale by the Ferrari shop. Its original owner was a Vice President of Mohawk Oil Company in San Francisco. He’d won several show awards with the car before selling it to a kid in Washington, who eventually defaulted on the payments. Two weeks after seeing the car at the Ferrari shop, Noble’s dad paid the bank $900 and TS46893L was sitting in the Eisenlauers’ driveway.
For a decade, this 3A served as Noble’s daily driver. Then, he retired it for most of the eighties and nineties. Following a 22-year hiatus, Noble decided to dust off his TR and once again make it daily-drivable, by today’s standards.
Under the hood, Noble injected extra life into the 2.2L engine. The powerplant now has a 10:1 compression ratio, oversized intake and exhaust valves, and an Isky “D” camshaft. Fueling was improved with 42DCOE8 Weber carburetors.
DC-wise, Noble improved spark and starting with a high-output oil-filled coil and a high-torque reduction-gear starter.
Gearing improvements were also attended to. Noble swapped in a TR4 all-syncho 4-speed gearbox with overdrive and heavy-duty clutch as well as a TR4 rear end, complete with 4.11:1 gears and a Detroit Locker NO-SPIN posi-traction.
With enhanced power and better ways to get it to the ground, Noble next modified the car’s handling accordingly. He routinely drives twisty canyon roads to and from his Fillmore, California, home, so front and rear swaybars were welcomed additions. The front suspension has been converted to porous bronze and polyurethane bushings. Koni shocks control the front and Traction Master struts tame the rear. Wheels are triple-laced 60-spoke Boranis, and the steering is rack-and-pinion.Inside, Noble fine-tuned the TR’s comforts and conveniences. The original blue leather interior was replaced with red vinyl and red carpet; they will eventually be replaced. He also rewired a modern CD and stereo system to work with the car’s positive-earth electrics. A Nardi-signed wood steering wheel improves the feel of the road. The chrome rollbar is a custom piece.
Vintage Triumph Register records showed that Noble’s car was originally white. In the seventies, it got a coat of American Motors Iridescent Diamond Blue lacquer. Other exterior features include hood louvers, original 1959-issue license plates, Lucas fog and driving lights, a badge bar, rear bumperettes, and a repro luggage rack. Although Noble has a tonneau cover and a soft top for the car, he prefers the rare pressed-steel factory “GT” hardtop. Incidentally, Noble also has all the original tools, owner’s manual, mechanic’s repair manual, and assorted pieces of 1959 Triumph sales literature.
The car’s signature modification is Noble’s clamshell hood conversion. He’d always admired “Frogeye” Healey and E-Type engine compartment access and decided to emulate this in preparation for a radiator swap. After much contemplation, he crafted an apron hinge bracket that also allows the assembly to be removed entirely. The inner fender brackets were modified to hold the apron securely in place in the closed position. Detail work included creating a new inner apron shelf, cutting the fender beads and then riveting them to the apron sides, extending the headlight wires, and repainting the apron to conceal the requisite metalwork.
In summary, Noble says, “It seems when you own a car like this, there is always something to fix, modify, or add. Next on the conversion list is the installation of an alternator and a switch to rear tube shocks. After twenty-nine years, I guess I should change those Veith radials, too (good tires!). The fun never stops, as I am sure readers of this publication know.”