1965 Triumph TR4

I suppose that a rite of passage when it comes to owning vintage foreign cars is to eventually have a 2-seater, convertable, British car. I didn't start out thinking about this 1965 Triumph TR4 although I did want a convertable at some point, but at the time, I bought this in May 2015 I was actually on the hunt for a Saab Sonett 2. I'd been interested in that model for quite a while and every time I got close to getting one, I thought about all the reasons not to: parts availability, that dang rear window, etc. But, like the Saab 96 wagon, it's quirky, and I like quirky. After all, I have a 1959 Volvo PV544.

I knew of a Saab that was probably for sale that had been sitting for a decade in backyard and I sort of knew the owner. While I was thinking about it, a friend texted me and asked "Why would you want a Sonett when you could have a TR4?" He included a link to a local Craiglist ad. I looked at the ad and it was only a short description, a price, but no pictures. I asked my wife if she was interested in lookiing at TR4 with me and she said she was so I called. The owner said that he couldn't figure out how to upload pictures but I was welcome to come take a look.

The TR4 isn't that common in our area and I only knew of a few. One was in our Car Club and another was under a tarp near Pioneer Park. There had been another one, black in color, about a mile east of where I live but I hadn't seen it in a while. It had been parked on the street alongside a house and looked liked no one was driving it much if at all. At one point I had Googled the address to see who lived there and from that discovered the obituary of the owner. I wondered about the propriety of knocking on the door and asking about it since, at the time, the passing was fairly recent. I put it off and, eventually, the car went away.

We drove over to the place where this TR4 was for sale and when we pulled up I could see it the open garage. It looked like that black one. We chatted with the owner and, sure enough, he'd seen that car, contacted the widow, and bought it about 2 years previously. His plan was to do a father/son restoration project but, in the meantime, they had acquired a Ford Model T and were involved in that, deciding they needed the floor space more than the TR4. I took it out for a test drive and all I can say was that the car was a mess. It ran very poorly, wanting to die without the choke out all the way and the brakes, what there were of them, were scary. I took it around the block and it did feel pretty solid other than these issues. I looked it over and didn't find that it was rusted out, which was surprising for one of these cars. It had damage to the hood which the owner told me that the widow told him came from when their lawn guy had hit when unloading a lawn mower. The interior was plenty tired too. So, cosmetically, it had issues but I felt that the mechanics were nothing I couldn't handle so I made an offer which he accepted.

We left a deposit and went to the back for the cash. When we returned and did the paperwork it turned out that he had never titled or registered it in his name. I wondered if that would be an issue since it would look like we were buying it from the widow instead of him. We decided to head down to the county office with the paperwork and see what they had to say. Surprisingly, especially for late on a Friday afternoon, we walked right up to a service window without a wait and, 15-20 minutes later, we had the title, registration, and, because it's older, a set of permanent plates. We drove back to the now, previous owner's place and drove the car home. It was a slow drive with one hand ready to pull the parking brake. The photo at the top of this page was taken after I pulled it tinto the driveway.

The following months were all about getting this car drivable. I went through all the usual systems: rebuilt the carburetors, new brake lines, flush the brake fluid, check the pads, and installed all new ignition parts. I flushed the coolant system and during that process noticed that the radiator fins were a mess. When I pulled the radiator out I noticed that the front side was coated with grime. The car has an added on oil cooler and it appeared that at some point this had leaked and oil coated the radiator fins. This became an effective way to collect dirt and I'd say about 1/3 of the airflow was blocked. I cleaned that all up and straightened out all the bent fins. By this time it was running well and I'd taken it out on a few drives, such as the one to Molt, MT where the photo at the left was taken.

When I worked on the parking brake adjustment I had removed the carpeting on that side and it was so degraded and oily I decided not to put it back. I went to one of our home improvement stores and bought some gray, indoor-outdoor carpeting. I have an industrial sewing maching so, working from paper patterns I made, I cut out replacement carpet and bound the edges in vinyl. It really turned out well but so well that it made the rest of the interior look even worse. Using my 50%-off coupon, I bought the required yardage of marine vinyl from a local fabric store and started on the front seats. Since I'd done some upholstery work on my other cars, I felt that I was ready to tackle the whole interior of the TR4. I also ramped up the challenge by using white vinyl piping to trim it all out. I finished the seats and then did the back "seat" area and then the door cards and kick panels for the front. I had enough carpeting left over to do the trunk interior as well. Overall, I'd give myself a B+. I am very satisfied with how it turned out, especially since it only cost $200 in materials.

Since then the car has received a few upgrades over the years. I removed the wooden dashboard, reglued the section that had started to delaminate, then sanded and refinished it. I installed a new carboard air scoop between the radiator and the engine. I installed a mechanical fuel pump which eventually leaked so I went back to the electric one. I replaced the brake master cylinder. I tweaked the fuel lines a couple of times. I replaced the steering column coupling which led to the ties I used getting caught in the speedometer and tach cables so I had to replace those. I switched to a different style of air cleaner. The tires were replaced. The soft top was old and had started to fall apart so I bought a replacement for that. The fuel hose between the tank and the metal hose that runs to the front of the car was replaced. Looking for an electrical problem I replaced the ignition switch and the started solenoid.

The most recent big job was to fabricate and install a towing hitch. A friend with a TR4 had put one on his car to carry the load of his bicycle rack and I thought it would be cool to have one to tow my 1964 Grumman sailboat. I went over to his shop where he has a lift, a welder, and everything else we needed to build it. It really turned out well and gets some looks when pulling the boat to a nearby lake. Photos showing the fabrication are in the gallery link at the bottom of this page.

Another upgrade was to give the car some tunes. I actually like just listening to the engine but because I have this other passion about Magnetic Recording, I had this Pioneer KP-500 ready to be installed somewhere and the TR4 seemed like a good candidate. Wanting to protect that player, I installed it in the glove box. For speakers I borrowed a pair from another car while I tried to decided what to do about that. The speakers were loose on the back seat so leaving the car parked unsecured meant putting the speakers in and out of the trunk. Eventually I installed speakers in the back seat panel. To add to the vintage nature, I found a Bowman Astrosonic 8-track player that fit well under the dash. I rigged up a switch that selects which player the speakers are connected to. Now the car is FM/Cassette/8-track. No AM.

It's a fun car to drive and relatively easy to work on. Parts are readily available and I'm pretty glad I went with this than that Saab Sonett.

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Updated April 2021.