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.
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.
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!