By Stephen England
In the summer of 2006, George England took his last checkered flag. Mom’s car was mentioned prominently in his will: “The toss of a coin will determine which of my children shall take title to and become owner of my 1960 Triumph TR3A.” The toss landed tails, and after a lengthy estate settlement, in January, 2011, I became the third owner of #TS61474L.
My battle plan for bringing Mom’s TR back to life was to first get it running, then attend to cosmetic issues. The car had sat for 20 years and then suffered significant body damage in 2002. After the tow truck delivered her, I surveyed the carnage; the grill, hood, front bumper, and both fenders were smashed. The driver’s side headlight pointed at the floor, the sway bar was ripped off its mounts, and the bottom half of the radiator was caved in. But for me, it still had the same charm and allure that my father had experienced in 1961.
When I slid behind that big TR3A steering wheel and slammed the door shut, I felt my first “ghost.” A wave of memories flooded my mind with thoughts of when I learned to drive with my father giving instructions, praise and corrections while he white knuckled the panic bar on the dash.
“But why is this here?” I asked myself as my hand fell on a wooden shift knob. I remember there being a large chrome ball with a cloisonné Triumph “World” emblem under glass. A second ghost hovered over me while I unloaded several boxes of spares and used parts that came with Mom’s TR. Inside a large round cookie tin, labeled in my mother’s handwriting: “Triumph Only,” was the knob. The World emblem rattled unattached under the glass top. Several hours later the emblem was secured, the glass re-glued, and the chrome knob twisted back onto its rightful place.
During the following six years, Mom’s TR revived back to life, and reappearing ghosts have made the tedious seem almost normal, the irritating mostly laughable.
While changing the canister oil filter, feeling the warm motor oil running down my arm and puddling in my armpit, I recalled my father’s first oil change episode. After installing the filter, and pouring in five quarts of 10W30, my father proudly started the engine, watched the oil pressure rise to 70 pounds, shut off the engine, stepped out of the car, slipped, fell, and rolled in a massive pool of oil. Needless to say, after that experience, he always triple checked the canister gasket before firing the engine, and checked the floor afterward. I have always done likewise.
As I pulled the SU carburetors for rebuilding, I found to my disbelief, a 1/2″ SAE fine thread bolt inside the rear branch of the intake manifold. It was rounded and polished from banging around the manifold and cylinder head for who knows how long. Miraculously, it never dropped into the valves. I have since found several bolts, screws, washers, and other “now where did that go?” items scattered throughout the cracks and crevices.
The Smoking Ghost
In one of the boxes of spares was a brand new TR3 ashtray, still in the original Standard Triumph carton. Way back in the first year my dad owned Mom’s TR, his insurance agent cut his knee on the ashtray getting into the passenger seat. The black plastic ashtray cover was shattered. My mother found a metal star medallion about the size of the broken cover, drilled two holes, painted the medallion black and bolted it in place. Decades later, I replaced the old ashtray with the new one. Just last month as I was replacing the tattered, duct-tape-covered dash cubby (glove compartment), I hit my knee on the new ashtray, shattering the black plastic cover. The old ashtray went back in.
Just above the ashtray on the dash is a chrome-plated acorn nut. Nowhere in my owner’s manuals, service manuals, or photographs from any source show such a nut. Then the ghost of rallies past jogged my memory. After a few TSD Rallies, my father drilled a hole in the dash and installed a large rally clock with re-settable second hand. The clock is long since gone, the acorn nut covers the mounting hole, but memories of rallies in the Triumph live on. On our very first rally, my father’s pride and glory, a hand-woven English “cheese cutter” cap, blew off his head somewhere near Dover, Oklahoma. No time to stop and retrieve it. On a later rally, my father asked how we were doing on time, and I responded with navigator words straight from hell, “We are either 15 seconds ahead or 30 seconds behind…” This phrase of utter confusion lives forever in England family lore.
Some original items, like the tattered cubby, were too far gone to salvage. The seat belt webbing was decayed and unsafe, although I did salvage the mismatched metal buckles. The leather covered capping on the doors, the floor mats, carpet and padding were mostly in rotten pieces or moldy smelling. While removing the padding under the rear shelf, aka “seat,” the ghost of riding many miles in the back appeared. One trip of note was in July of 1964, when Mom, Dad, best friend Mike, and I rode Mom’s TR to work a corner station at the SCCA National Races at Lake Garnett, Kansas. Four adults, 600-plus miles roundtrip in a TR3A, and two days of flagging in the summer sun was a true adventure.
Not all ghosts have heralded fun and games. When polishing the windshield uprights, I noticed one of the six screws holding the frame in the uprights was missing. I found an exact matching sixth screw in the trusty “Triumph Only” tin, but it was too short for the missing hole. Also, the windshield wiper motor shaft was way off center passing through its rubber grommet on the firewall. Then I remembered one Friday night in 1965 when my sister and I were returning home from college, while negotiating an “S” curve that I had driven perhaps a hundred times, we hit a new dip in the pavement from a sinking utility line and sis, myself, and Mom’s TR ended up in the ditch. We did a slow roll down the bank, but landed shiny side up. No human injuries, but the hardtop and windshield were caved in, all four fenders crunched, and one of the SU carburetors had punched the hood. Amazingly the Triumph four cylinder started, and I drove it out of the ditch and made it home. Luckily for me, my father was in the hospital recovering from sinus surgery, still a bit hazy from anesthesia, when we told him about the accident. My father recovered, Mom’s TR was repaired, and I was kept in the family. Getting back to the odd screw and wiper linkage—even after the body was repaired, the cowl of Mom’s TR was just a bit warped from the roll over.
Polishing the windshield, I noted a small, curved scratch on the inside of the glass. “How could that happen?” I wondered. When I put my hand on the steering wheel, it hit me. The scratch was just above the top of the steering wheel, and my left hand ring finger. “Diamonds scratch glass,” I mused. My mother had left an unintentional mark on her TR.
Initially, I had planned to restore Mom’s TR it to its shining, concours-winning condition. However, two years ago, I was discussing the “England Family TR” with Anatoly “Toly” Arutunoff. Toly had witnessed and even competed against Mom’s TR way back in the early 1960s. He was most adamant about how he liked and respected original vintage cars, even those with dents, scratches, and impromptu repairs. That encouraged and inspired me to keep Mom’s TR as original as possible.
Mom’s TR has been brought back to life as close as possible to how it was in the 1970s. The body damage has not been finished and most of the original paint is untouched. Mechanically, she has a new water pump, hoses, brakes, and u-joints. The radiator, fuel tank, carburetors, steering box, and front suspension have been rebuilt. She starts right up, holds 50+ oil psi, and water temp has not passed 185 F. Most importantly, she is tagged, insured, and has attended meetings of the Hill Country Triumph Club. In fact, she is a participant in the “Moss Motoring Challenge” photo scavenger hunt and is often seen on the streets of Austin, Texas, her current home.