1959 Triumph TR3In Fia Racing Specs
Year of manufacture1959
Car typeConvertible / Roadster
Directly derived from the 1953 TR2, the Triumph TR3 took the success of the British roadster to its peak by conquering America. The TR3 truly established the Triumph roadster dynasty that would last for over 20 years and is still a staple of the category today.
In 1952, the 20TS type (better known as the TR1) was unveiled at the Earl's Court Motor Show. Hastily built on a pre-war Standard Nine chassis, this rough prototype was to set the foundations of the future Triumph TR2 roadster with which the company was to achieve its American dream. Various and frequent evolutions, both technical and aesthetic, will naturally lead the TR2 to evolve towards the TR3 in 1956, then the TR3A in 1958. In 7 years, the small British roadster was to become a real best-seller in the USA: a winning bet for Triumph!
Perhaps alerted to the imminent release of the MGA and Austin Healey 100 BN2, John Black, then boss of the Standard Group and the Triumph Motor Company, brought forward the release of the TR3 by several months. Production of the new Triumph TR3 began in October 1955 with the commission number TS 8637. Technically it was not a new model but a slightly reworked TR2.
Externally, the front end evolved with a forward radiator grille called "egg-box" and stainless steel fender seals (instead of being painted) distinguish the TR3 from a TR2. A new badge on the engine cover completes the identification. At the back, the trunk hinges are chromed instead of painted.
New features include the possibility of adding an occasional rear seat for a third person, as well as a hard top made of fiberglass. Despite the lack of new features, the American public, already accustomed to these minor changes to the models each year, confirms the success of the little Triumph roadster. The production rate of the TR3 is almost double that of its predecessor!
Thanks to its two larger SU H6 carburetors and an enlarged intake manifold, the 2.0 Standard 4-cylinder with "low port" cylinder head gains 5 hp to reach 95 hp.
This being said, the engine remains the same as on the Triumph TR2, with its advantages (suppleness and liveliness at low revs, evocative sound) and its drawbacks (lack of power at high revs, delicate carburetor settings, high consumption).
The same goes for the running gear, which retains the rigid axle at the rear and the drum brakes on all four wheels. Logically, the driving sensation is very close to the TR2 and the TR3 is no slouch in this respect.
The performance is sufficient to take a maximum of pleasure, sitting at ground level, but we have to admit that the comfort as well as the road holding are very rudimentary!
The racing experiences of Triumph's young competition department led the riders to suggest a number of improvements to the TR2. These changes soon found their way into the TR3. In 1956, the Triumph roadster received a second exhaust silencer which significantly lowered the noise level, and in August, Girling front disc brakes (no. TS 13046) and the reinforced rear axle of the Standard Vanguard were fitted. This was the first British production car to be fitted with this type of brake, succeeding the Citroën DS which had introduced this world first the previous year. A GT kit was offered as an option, including exterior door handles and a steel hardtop.
But the biggest change came in September 1957, when the Triumph roadster's front end was modified with a new full-width grille incorporating indicators and parking lights. The headlights are moved back 5cm on the bonnet and the rear lights and bumpers are new. Under the bonnet, once again the alterations are minimal: the modified cylinder head (high port) brings 5 very symbolic hp allowing to reach the 100 hp mark (SAE) at 5000 rpm. Called "wide mouth", this evolution was later named TR3A by the "TRists", with an A for America. The whole production of the Canley factories was indeed sent exclusively to the USA where this version was to seduce the buyers like no other Triumph before it. It was not until January 1958 that a Triumph TR3A could be purchased in Europe. From TS number 22014 onwards, exterior door handles and boot handles were fitted as standard.
The TR3A was produced until October 1961, 90% for the USA. But while Standard-Triumph stopped production of the TR3A in October 1961, following the launch of its replacement, the TR4, the sharp drop in sales forced the company to restart TR3A production in March 1962! Indeed, many American buyers did not like the TR4, which they considered too comfortable and modernized. The TR3A was unofficially renamed TR3B (after the model and not official) for a first series of 500 cars (chassis number beginning with TSF). A second series of TR3Bs was produced until October 1962 (commission number starting with TCF), while the TR4 was already in production for 9 months. This Triumph TR3B series 2, the ultimate evolution of the TR3, received the 2138cc engine of the TR4 offering 105hp and a fully synchronized gearbox. Externally there is no difference between the TR3A and TR3B.
Several 'factory' cars were prepared by the Triumph racing department from the TR2 onwards. For the TR3, the racing program became very busy, starting in June 1956. At the Midnight Sun Rally, the official competition model inaugurated front disc brakes, before the prestigious Jaguars. The TR3 then finished 8th in the 1956 Coupe des Alpes and Standard-Triumph won its first manufacturer's title. 3rd overall in the 1957 Liège-Rome-Liège, the TR3 continued its good results. At the 1958 Monte Carlo Rally, Triumph achieved its best performance with a class victory. A new double overhead cam engine was developed to overcome the TR3's main defect, its lack of power. This led Triumph to develop increasingly specific factory cars to compete in major events such as the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Mille Miglia and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. An evolution of the 2.0 Standard engine was started after the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hours. If Triumph had succeeded in a nice media coup by putting its TR2 with disc brakes, the small English roadster had to lose in pure power against Porsche and Bristol in particular. Called 20X, a competition version of the engine was designed in-house by Harry Webster. The bore and stroke were 90 x 78 mm, giving an exact displacement of 1,985 cc. Unlike the block, which remained cast steel, the cylinder head was made of cast light alloy with hemispherical combustion chambers and two valves per cylinder. But it was distinguished above all by its chain-driven double overhead camshafts. For ease of factory assembly and maintenance, the drive for the camshafts, oil pump, fuel pump, distributor and rev counter was protected under a magnesium cover on the front of the engine with two pre-mounted parts protruding from the engine. This part was soon nicknamed "Sabrina" because it was irresistibly reminiscent of the generous breasts of Norma Sykes, alias Sabrina, an English starlet of the time. With its two SU twin carburetors, the power reached 150 hp at 6,500 rpm in the reliable version but could climb to 200 hp. Thus, the Triumph TR3 S entered at Le Mans in 1959 inaugurated the Sabrina engine. Four TRSs were then built and made their mark on the sporting history of the Triumph brand by crossing the finish line of the 1960 and 1961 Le Mans 24 Hours as a trio. However, due to a lack of success on the podiums and declining sales, the competition department was finally closed in 1961 by the Leyland Group, which bought Standard-Triumph. And unfortunately, the Sabrina engine was never introduced on the production model.
Our TR3 with chassis number TS 44221L is no longer counting the years spent on circuits and rallies. The two previous owners have been racing in the Tour Auto and the 60's for many years. It changed hands in February 2021 to become the property of a WEC track engineer. After a track accident, he undertook a complete rebuild of the car before entering it at Le Mans Classic. Since then, the car has been completely overhauled, both in terms of running gear and engine, and has just obtained its HTP in period E which makes it eligible for the next 10 years, both in the 50's and for the Tour Auto or Le Mans Classic, not forgetting numerous other series (GTSCC, Masters, etc.). The car will be delivered with the safety up to date and a nice set of parts : 8 wheels, an engine to be revised, a gearbox and the usual set to take on the races : clutch, shock absorber coils, brake drums, etc. The TR3 is an easy to drive car eligible for many championships and its reasonable maintenance and racing costs makes it the ideal car to start with.