Triumph TR4: Buying guide and review (1961-1967)
A full buyer's guide for the Triumph TR4 (1961-1967) including specs, common problems and model history...
The Triumph TR4 is arguably the archetypal ‘hairy chested’ British sports car. Introduced primarily to increase Triumph’s success in the US market, over 71,000 were produced over a six year period. Today, approximately 1650 remain in the UK.
Mechanically, it shares much with the earlier TR3. The only major upgrade came in the form of a 2138cc engine, bored out from the TR3’s 1991cc lump. Power jumped up to 104bhp, and performance is still more than sprightly enough to keep up with modern traffic. Today of course many are producing significantly more with 130bhp possible thanks to modern improvements.
The major change relative to older TRs came in the form of the body styled by Giovanni Michelotti. Though it caused some controversy upon its release – it replaced the previous swoopy shapes for a much squarer look – the TR4’s looks have aged very gracefully, with details like the headlamps set inboard of the wings giving it a distinctive face.
An added benefit of the more slab-sided flanks was that wind down windows could be fitted – a big improvement over its predecessor's rather flimsy side curtains. Inside, the dashboard looks charming, and was one of the first production cars to include adjustable air vents on the fascia.
On the road, the ride can be uncompromising thanks to the bouncy leaf-sprung rear axle. This was remedied in later models thanks to a revised setup at the back. The updated trailing arm/coil spring system helped it perform better on the track too – in 1966 TR4s achieved a 1,2,3 class finish at the Sebring 12 Hours.
Which Triumph TR4 to buy?
The only big change mechanically in the TR4’s life was the introduction of independent rear suspension in 1965. This helps to improve the ride considerably over older models, and therefore cars produced after this date are very desirable. Many of these later cars carry ‘TR4 IRS’ badging.
Beyond that, the options were fairly limited. Wire wheels are fairly common now, though standard items were pressed steel discs. Examples equipped with the optional temporary hard top will always be a plus. Triumph offered the TR3’s 1991cc engine as an option, to allow the TR4 to compete in sub-2000cc motorsport categories, though these examples are rare today.
It isn’t uncommon to see some engine upgrades, including – in rare cases – supercharger conversions. Some examples sold abroad have since been imported back to the UK and converted to right hand drive. It is possible to tell which cars have been converted from the chassis number - those which end with ‘L’ signify left-hand drive cars. Whether converted or not, L models tend to command slightly lower values than original rhd cars.
Triumph TR4 performance and specs
2138cc, inline four-cylinder
|Power||104bhp @ 4600rpm|
|Torque||127lb ft @3350rpm|
Four-speed manual with overdrive
|Dimensions and weight|
Triumph TR4 common problems
• Corrosion: rust can develop from almost anywhere you’d care to think. Particularly keep an eye out for rot on the boot lid, rear wings, doors, sills and A and B posts. It’s also worthwhile taking a very thorough look at the inner wings floor pan, too. Body panels and spares are readily available
• Chassis: take a look at the chassis, as the condition of this has a serious effect on the car’s long term viability. Inspect all of the chassis mounts, and get the car on the ramp to check for any serious corrosion issues. Don’t be too afraid to poke holes in anything, but also be careful to look for distortion caused from any recent (or not so recent) accident damage
• Overdrive: while out on a test drive, try out the overdrive function to make sure it works properly (if fitted). Chances are, any problems will be traced back to dodgy electronics, a clogged filter or low oil level, but if not a replacement overdrive unit is not expensive. There are also modern electronic components available to help with reliability
• Shocks: check the condition of shock absorbers. Standard parts are fairly cheap (a front pair can be sourced for around £35) but uprated items can cost a couple of hundred pounds for a pair. This is a great and worthwhile upgrade that can transform the TR4’s handling, so a car that already has these fitted is a huge bonus
• Wiring: electrical wiring can be patchy – check the condition and make sure everything in the cabin works
• Build record: each individual TR4's build record can be requested from the Heritage Motor Centre's archives, allowing any potential restorations to be carried out as faithfully as possible
• Head gasket: check for telltale gunk under the oil filler cap which points towards oil and water mixing – this is a sign that the head gasket has failed
• Compression: if you have a mechanic to help you inspect the car, check to ensure all four cylinders are running at the correct compression
• Oil leaks: leaks are fairly common from both the engine and gearbox, though the less seepage, the better
• Roof: the fabric hood was of a poor quality when it was new, so leaks are likely. Check the interior carpets, as sell as the seats for any signs of damp
Triumph TR4 model history
Jul 1961: Production starts
Jan 1965: Production of TR4 ends to make way for TR4A
Jan 1965: TR4A introduced, gains independent rear suspension
1967: Production ends
Triumph TR4 key clubs and websites
• www.tr-register.co.uk – owners' club for all variants of Triumph TR • www.vintagetriumphregister.org/tr4 – a detailed resource, club and forum • www.club.triumph.org.uk – a Triumph owners’ club • www.trdrivers.com – another TR owners’ club • www.trgb.co.uk – TR specialists based in Cambridgeshire • www.trbitz.com – TR specialist and dealer based in Cheshire
Triumph TR4 summary and prices
Prices for the TR4 are still fairly accessible for most classic car enthusiasts. Values for the most immaculate models top out at about £30,000, though race-prepped versions can be higher still. However, there are just as many very clean examples for closer to £20,000, too.
Good runners with minor niggles are closer to £16,000, and anything significantly cheaper than that will generally require a serious amount of work.
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