By Julius Aballera
We were a part of the Second Great Migration. I was born in Arkansas in 1949 and when I began school my family moved to South Central Los Angeles. 10 years later we moved to Pismo Beach in Central California.
When I wasn’t playing sports, I was running a paper route, pulling weeds for a motel owner, working in produce fields, and cleaning classrooms after school. As a result, I saved enough for a down payment on my first car my Senior year in high school—a 1967 Chevelle 327 Malibu with redline tires and a recessed rear window. The motor culture of the days of my youth was entirely about V8s and horsepower and I was all in. I ordered it brand spanking new from the factory, paid $3,300, and drove the wheels off of it for 13 years, amassing over 300,000 miles. I had that car until I was 30 when for my birthday I gave myself a two-seat sports car. Not long after that, my Malibu got totaled. A coincidence, or was it the hand of the ever mysterious Prince of Darkness?
My first glimpse of British iron I saw through my ears. I was on foot one day in 1969 when an unusual exhaust note turned my head. I stood there taking in the shape of a TR6 quickly zooming by. A year later it was my best friend who broke our trend of driving American behemoths when he bought a Triumph GT6. He let me drive the three hours to the San Fernando Valley on a visit to his Uncle’s place, and I remember feeling impressed by how something so small had so much power. I liked the sound and the feel, and also the ease with which it rushed up San Marcos Pass.
Four years later, my co-worker let me pilot his new Jensen-Healey along the Pacific Coast Highway. It was my second taste of British Iron and my first time topless, leaving a permanent impression.
Employment opportunities took me first to Alaska in pursuit of oil and then to Seattle for a union career. After completing an apprenticeship program, I decided the time had come to get that sports car.
I looked long and hard at the MGB GT, remembering the days in the GT6 and weighing the benefits of a six versus a four cylinder—and it was a hardtop. Back in the 70s, along with private owners there were several car lots in the state of Washington that sold British Iron. While scoping out one of these lots, inquiring about an MGB GT, my memory flashed back to that TR6 in Pismo Beach. The clarity with which I could remember it surprised me. Like my Malibu it was shod with redline tires and had a recessed rear window. The lot manager, a real car guy, said, “You’re describing the hardtop. And it’s removable.”
The look, the legroom, the sound and torque from this British 6-cylinder… I now had a goal in mind. I set off on a hunt visiting car lots and private owners. I took frequent and thorough test drives.
An ad in a Kirkland, Washington, newspaper caught my eye: 1972 TR6, original owner, hardtop, 86,000 miles. Sharp. $2800. A test drive sealed the deal for me, but I still had to sell myself to the owner who had two other offers. I explained how it would be my first sports car and all I wanted was to keep it clean and drive it. The other bidders threatened to modify it and go racing. Two weeks later, on April 9, 1979, he handed me the keys.
The previous owner saw his car all over town. It’s no secret, I’m a driver. The first three years of my ownership I’d even drive to the sellers place of work every so often around noon to show him the car. He’d walk around it, look under the hood, smile and chat. Pride of ownership doesn’t have to end with a bill of sale.
Driving is and always has been my passion. In the ten years I resided in Seattle all but two of those years I drove to California for Triumphest. It was a great excuse to escape the rain. Now I’m a full-time Californian who finds excuses to take long drives to escape the heat. When possible I join other TR owners for multi-state trips. I’ve driven all over the western US and into British Columbia, Canada, too. I’d estimate I average 9-10,000 miles a year, easy.
I’m not shy to say it: I have a half-million mile goal for my TR6. Right now the odometer reads 368,368. I’ve driven 218,368 miles since an engine rebuild in 1990. I’m not making this up.
Seeing the Odometer roll over is an event. It’s like a rebirth in some ways, and worth celebrating. Approaching the 360,000 mark I decided to visit a special place to witness this milestone. I planned a 1,200-mile roundtrip that landed me right at the Avenue of the Giants in Northern California. Surrounded by redwoods, as the clock turned 360,000, I smiled, kissed the tip of my finger and tapped the dash, and yelled “Woohoo!” On the drive home I daydreamed about what adventures were yet to come.
A high mileage car of any kind takes work, and I’ve had an ongoing love-it-when-running-hate-it-when-not affair.
The TR has always been a rolling restoration of varying degrees. When I had the engine rebuilt in 1990, I also tackled the suspension, brakes, carpet and paint. The paint is British Code #54 and it took me a while to come to that conclusion. I had the painter spray sample pieces of sheet metal with varying shades until I saw the one I liked. I call it “Buttascotch.”
Three weeks after the rebuilt engine’s break-in, I drove roundtrip from Seattle to Boulder, Colorado, for VTR. Most miles of long distance touring I peg the speedo needle straight up at 70 mph for several hours. That’s where TR6 shines, getting that cast iron engine block “hot enough long enough” to blow out stop-and-go carbon. No less than half a dozen times I’ve driven non-stop marathons, Washington to California and vice versa, but I know the window for such excursions is closing with age.
Preventive and regular maintenance is crucial, and over the decades it’s been an investment. But then again, I demand a lot from the TR in the driving department, and it has more than delivered. I’ve kept the same mechanic in Seattle. Sure he’s retired, but we made a pact that he’d work on my car as long as I have it. So every few years I take a trip up the coast and leave it with him a few days. I’ve also got a local wrench here in Riverside who makes house calls.
A Triumph TR6 is the best-kept secret in the sports car world. Not only is it a thrill behind the wheel, it is also my direct connection to the places it’s allowed me to visit and the great people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. It’s been with me 39 years now, but I feel like I got it yesterday.