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Memories of My British Roadsters

By Forrest Struss

Most of my high school years in Montana were spent driving a customized 1948 Chrysler. In 1960, I graduated, enlisted in the Army, and was soon stationed in Germany. My first appreciation for British sports cars developed in Germany in 1963 when my good Army friend purchased a new Triumph TR4. I remember the red car with its black interior and top, and the overdrive transmission. My friend actually wanted the TR3, but was not able to order one due to Triumph transitioning to the new TR4 design. What fun it was when we would pile in his TR4 and visit small country towns or travel the roads along the Rhine River.

Upon completing my three years of service in the Army, I returned to Montana and worked with my father on a ranch. In 1964, thinking it would only be temporary, I ventured to Southern California. I was fortunate to immediately find a job when I arrived, and then made California my home; only returning to Montana for vacations and to visit family. Shortly after arriving in California, I enrolled at Santa Ana Junior College. I was looking to buy an inexpensive car to drive to school. Although I was married, there were no kids at that time; I just needed enough space to carry my books and supplies.

My first ownership of a British sports car came to be in 1966 when I purchased a 1956 Triumph TR3. It was advertised for sale at $250.00. It is hard to imagine that Triumph was little more than just a 10-year old used car, and not worth very much money.

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My TR3 had been repainted by a previous owner in silver color with “metal flake”, a fairly common paint process at the time. There were quite a few cracks in the clear coat, but I felt proud to be driving around in my sports car. The front bumper had been removed, replaced by an attractive mesh front grille. It needed tires, so I bought white side wall “recaps”. The rear tires were larger than the front tires in order to give it the “California Rake”. The black convertible top and side curtains were far from weatherproof, so I would often have wet seat cushions and wet carpet when it rained. The car always seemed to run well. Although it did develop a starter or generator problem, and it was necessary to always park on a slope so I could start rolling and then “pop” the clutch to start the motor.

It was a fun car to drive and it served my needs very well. One day, after completing my college classes, traveling down 17th street in Santa Ana on my way home, a driver decided to exit from a side street and collided into the side of my car. I lost control upon impact and stopped when the front end hit a cement curb twelve inches high. That was the final trip with my 1966 Triumph. No one was seriously injured in the accident; just some stitches in my forehead from hitting the rear-view mirror.

I continued to attend my classes after my brother-in- law gifted me his 1955 Oldsmobile. I was awarded my Associates Degree in 1968. Then I transferred to Cal State Fullerton to complete my Bachelor Degree, and started a new career in 1970.

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British roadsters did not enter into the picture until 1976 when I purchased a 1967 MG Midget. Then came a 1959 TR3 and several MGAs while living in Southern California; several TR4s and another TR3 after moving to Northern Michigan; and most recently, a TR6, now living in Arizona. All of my cars obtained were in need of total restoration, or at minimum, some refurbishment. When completed, several were displayed in classic car shows and some received awards. All of my cars have gone to new owners to enjoy. Thanks to my Army friend for purchasing his TR4 in 1963, and giving me the appreciation for these beautiful cars. What a rewarding past time it has been!

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'Memories of My British Roadsters' have 2 comments

  1. September 16, 2019 @ 1:34 pm David Williamson

    In the late 1960’s I was 16 when my uncle bought me a used 1957 MGA. I drove it thru high school and raced it against my friends Camaro’s, Mustangs, Roadrunners each day after school. I could pass them on tight curves, it was a blast with full of memories. I blew the engine up, going way to fast, and noticed an add from a Navy midshipmen selling an MGA, he was being relocated over- seas. I bought the car for $400, took out the engine and put that engine in my car, sold the body of the other car for $300.00. I sold my car when I went to college. I missed that car when I sold it, but, that is how I learned to work on cars. Now, fifty years later, I bought a 1956 MGA and completely restored it. Occasionally I take it to cars shows and yes, every time I drive that car I feel my youth all over again, particularly when the breeze is blowing thru my hair (what I have left).

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  2. September 30, 2019 @ 11:46 pm Jim Robison

    If you had a TR 3 or 4 in Santa Ana, you probably bought your parts at Fritz Warrens’ Sports Car Center. I worked there from my junior year at Santa Ana Valley High School through my third and final year at Santa Ana Junior College. I took a finance class at Cal State Fullerton and then moved north to complete my BS at San Jose State University.

    While working at Sports Car Center I purchased a used Fiat 1100, which managed to take my mother, grandmother, brother, any myself to the 1962 Worlds Fair in Seattle, and it made it all the way there and back to Santa Ana! I traded it in on a TR 4 which Fritz had run in the “Baja 500” or something like that. After a week, it died and Fritz gave me full credit on a new MG Midget. When I moved to San Jose, I replaced the MG with a Glas, which I got from Dean Lewis Imports is Costa Mesa.

    I was drafted in 1966 and spent three years in the Army, the last two in Germany, where I bought a BMW 1600 TI. Great car, but not legal in California. When I returned to San Jose, I purchased the first of many used TR 3’s and 4’s. The best of the bunch was a TR 3B, which had the TR 3 body, but with the (soon to be released) TR 4 engine and transmission, with a synchromesh on first gear.

    Since then, I’ve gone through seven Volvo, including a 122 rally car and a 142 rally car. At age 75, I just placed an order for my next car; a Toyota 86 with manual 6-speed and the TRD handling package. My life has been sports cars, and I could not have asked for a better life. I hope you can say the same.

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