If the Triumph TR4 was a piece of clothing, it would be a cotton button-down shirt: classic, straightforward design, never out of style, rugged construction, tough to wear out. The TR4 design is an iconic symbol in British motoring the same way the button-down is an iconic fashion symbol.
In fact, the TR4 is basically a TR3 sporting new Italian clothes.
When Standard-Triumph faced replacing the successful TR3A, they had quite a challenge. The new model had to have the spirit of an evolved sports car, yet development was limited due to tight budgets. The company solution: maintain the TR3 mechanicals, but give the model a new sense of style and modern practicality.
Triumph tapped Italian car fashionista Giovanni Michelotti for the project in 1957. After numerous design concepts and diverse prototypes, the first units rolled off the factory floor in August 1961, the same year Leyland Motors took over Standard-Triumph.
TR4 Launches With New Styling
The new design was a complete departure and an instant success. Michelotti eliminated the diagonal lines of the earlier models, and instead made the model square and contemporary. He got rid of the cutaway doors that were often used as convenient arm rests, and ditched the flapping side curtains. Instead he went with modern full doors and roll-up windows, both far better at speed and in poor weather.
Further styling changes featured round headlights peering out from under two curved eyebrows, a wide grille that wrapped around the headlights, a curved windshield, and a teardrop bump in the right side of the hood to accommodate the dashpots for the twin SU carburetors.
Mechanically there were some changes that gave it a performance edge over its predecessor. The TR4 had a wider track, while displacement was bumped from 1991cc to 2138cc; the new engine produced 100 horsepower. New additions included rack-and-pinion steering and synchromesh on all forward gears.
TR4A Debuts With New Suspension
After 40,253 TR4s, the company debuted the TR4A in January 1965. The few external changes included a vertical front grill and different side indicator lights.
But underneath, the stiffer chassis and independent rear suspension (coil springs and trailing arms) gave the car a softer feel. However, due to U.S. dealer resistance, some TR4As were delivered with the old-style live rear axle. The slightly tweaked engine boasted a top speed of 110 mph. Production numbered 28,465 TR4As before the last rolled off the line in August 1967; the similar-looking yet six-cylinder-powered TR250 followed here in the U.S.
Due to the tough, torquey engines that are easy to repair, these cars were in big demand on the racing scene. They served the factory teams well, with Group 44 Inc. driver Bob Tullius winning the 1962 SCCA E Production national championship in a TR4. When the car was moved up to D Production, Tullius won more national championships in 1963 and ’64.
The team also drove TR4s to first and second place finishes in the 2.5-liter GT class at the 1964 Sebring 12-hour race. They’re still stalwart competitors in vintage racing.
Purchase Price & Issues
Prices for the TR4 and TR4A are still quite affordable compared to other ’60s classics. And they’re worth the price, as they are reliable, simple, and served by a strong aftermarket and club support.
Want to work on one? The body unbolts easily off the frame for restoration. Most buyers prefer the independent suspension model, but racers prefer the simpler-to-tune live axle cars.
If you’re in the market for a TR4 or 4A, rust is your prime concern. Areas to inspect: the frame, under the battery, the floor pans, rocker panels, trunk, fenders and rear quarter panels. Components in the independent rear suspension wear out; check the U-joints, splines, differential mounts, lever shocks and control arms. You’ll want to keep an eye on electrical system grounds, and the low tension wire from the coil to the distributor since it cracks with vibration.
Repairs for Reliability
Eric Wilhelm, Moss employee and 1965 Triumph TR4 owner, has a list of must-do repairs. First, he advises adding an electric fan to deal with cooling issues in hot weather and traffic. He also recommends a gear reduction starter that is lightweight, offers high torque, and spins the engine faster on startup. Plus, the original starters are getting hard to find, even rebuilt, he explains.
For enhanced suspension, Wilhelm suggests Koni adjustable front shocks, and for the early TR4s, the rear tube shock conversion kit. To improve handling, he says the Moss 3/4-inch front sway bar kit is a definite for flatter cornering, while the 5/8-inch rear sway bar is helpful but optional. If you drive the car hard, he suggests the upgraded front spindle (stub axle) kit to avoid brake knock back on cornering.
For engine performance, Wilhelm says the Weber dual side-draft conversion kit will provide a better throttle response; the original carburetors lagged a bit, he explains.
For serious added horsepower, enthusiasts are anxiously awaiting the new Moss supercharger currently in development, and it’s expected to increase power by up to 40 percent. Other performance upgrades include a Fast Road camshaft and lightened alloy flywheel. Finally, with more power you need more stopping capability, so he advises cross-drilled and slotted brake kits with braided brake lines.
Kelvin Dodd, Moss technical expert, echoes these recommendations and adds a few to the list. He says the 87mm pistons and liners offer a larger bore engine that provides more torque.
He also advises replacing the TR4′s spring-type clutch with the lighter and more progressive diaphragm-type clutch from the TR4A. Dodd also suggests an electronic ignition.
With performance upgrades, your TR4 will be fashionable on the outside and equally impressive on the underside. Earlier and later Triumph TR models might currently get a bit more attention, but these TR4 and TR4A cars offer a great mix of style, performance and value.
By Kathleen M. Mangan