Gordon Gibbons’ 1958 Triumph TR3A
By Dan Kahn
Muroc dry lake is a lonely, desolate place. Nestled in the high desert an hour north of Los Angeles, the massive expanse of smooth, hard clay has remained unchanged for millennia, the land that time forgot. This was once the birthplace of speed and glory. Young men in rocket-powered planes outran the speed of sound. Spaceships—both massive and tiny—have descended from the heavens here. Home-built contraptions blazed new land speed records across this very dirt. For the mechanically inclined, this is hallowed ground. Muroc is our Mecca.
Standing on the smooth, cracked surface, the place feels alien. The old dog curled at our feet is panting from the heat, attempting to understand the strange, silent landscape. Then we both hear a noise and look up. A dot appears on the horizon, and it’s coming towards us—fast. He whimpers. I grab a camera. The dot blossoms into a blob, then a blur. Suddenly it comes into focus through the telephoto lens, and it’s a car. A silver, bullet-shaped British car, and it cuts through the hot desert wind like a samurai’s blade. The throaty howl of a highly modified 2100cc Triumph at full-bore pierces the silence. In a flash the silver streak is gone, vanished in the distance as it turns around for another pass.
At speed on the lakebed, you can actually see the curvature of the earth. Everything in your peripheral vision blurs away and a tunnel forms, showing you only the gauges on your dash and a narrow strip of dirt that drops off beyond the horizon. These are the moments Gordon Gibbons lives for. After four-wheeling across Malaysia and crossing the South China Sea on a Jet Ski, there is little left that can scare the Carpinteria, California, based custom homebuilder.
Not an adrenaline junkie or a Weekend Warrior, Gibbons describes himself as an adventurous spirit that lives life on his own terms, hence the modified 1958 TR3A on these pages. “When most of my friends started buying Ferraris, Porsches, and classic Jags, I wanted something different,” he explains. “I owned a TR3 in the early ’70s and told myself that l would always get another one. Eventually I did.”
Gibbons put the word out that he was looking for a clean, unmolested Triumph that he could drive and tinker with at the same time. Five years ago he found what he was looking for, a bright red ’58 TR3A that he purchased from the original owner’s son. It had been parked in a garage with a blown head gasket for 27 years. After dragging the car home, his first goal was to get the car running, which he did in short order. However, after driving it in stock condition for a short while, Gibbons decided to tear the car down and give life to his vision of a sleek vintage racer that could still be converted to stock if necessary.
After tearing the Triumph down to bare bones, the body was delivered to Barry Nieson for a complete strip and paint. Modern Mercedes-Benz Brilliant Metallic Silver was applied under a thick coat of clear. Gibbons—a metal fabricator in his spare time—crafted the aluminum tonneau cover and wheel skirts by hand, as well as the spun stainless hubcaps fitted with original Triumph badges. Upon reassembly, the front end was fortified with Koni shocks and slotted disc brakes gripped by carbon ceramic pads, while the stock rear suspension was rebuilt and the brakes were set up with R5 race shoes.
Since the stock Triumph powerplant didn’t have the might Gibbons was looking for, the engine was delivered to Winning Makes in Santa Barbara, California, for a full rebuild. The block was bored and fitted with 10.5:1 JE forged pistons, hung on forged Carillo rods modified with extra oil journals. The crank was nitrated, balanced and relieved for added longevity at high rpm. A Stage 2 Triumph Rally camshaft actuates stainless valves in a ported and polished cylinder head. The result is a dyno-certified 120 horsepower and 133 lb/ft of torque, all channeled through a five-speed Toyota Supra transmission into a Quaife limited-slip rear differential. The result? A lightweight, aerodynamic classic with enough thrust to push past the 120mph barrier, leaving a rooster tail of dust in its wake.
As our photo shoot wound to a close, the sun hung low in the sky, bathing the lakebed in a tangerine glow. The silver streak had come to rest, and Muroc was silent once more. Nothing has changed on this alien landscape for centuries, save for decades-old tire tracks embedded in the dirt, echoes of a high-performance past. Gibbons Triumph is an apparition here, a reminder of the barriers that once fell before steely-eyed drivers in sleek speed machines. The Silver Streak is home.