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Speed Date: Triumph TR6

Driver's Logbook: Triumph TR6 was a sexy disappointment Add to ...

For a young bachelor looking for female accompaniment back in the mid to late 1970s, the path was eased by certain well-proven accessories: English Leather cologne, Angels Flight disco pants and, ideally, a Triumph TR6 convertible. The TR6 was the power tool of love - when a friend rolled up to a Vancouver club in his Triumph on a hot summer night with the top down, he might as well have been John Travolta himself.

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All eyes were upon him, drawn by the siren call of the TR6's exhaust and the raw appeal of its blocky shape. This was the automotive equivalent of the dance scene in Saturday Night Fever, with my friend playing the Tony Manero role and the TR6 serving as his double-knit white suit.

So of course I wanted one. But the TR6 and I weren't meant to be. I was saving up money to go back to university, so I stuck with my VW Beetle and gnashed my teeth. A few years later, I finally got to drive a TR6 for the first time, only to realize that God had an automotive plan for me.

Within a few minutes on a twisting road, I came to the conclusion that the TR6 wasn't my car. I hated it, in fact. The TR6 reminded me of an Austin Healey (another sexy English disappointment that I had once longed for.) The steering wheel was too close to my chest, the brakes were weak, and the rear suspension crashed over bumps, throwing the car off line.

Like so many other British sports cars of that era, the TR6 was long on style and short on engineering. The rear suspension used short-travel lever shocks that made it ride like an oxcart and killed its handling on anything but the smoothest roads. It had a Lucas electrical system (frustrated enthusiasts referred to the company as "Lucas, Prince of Darkness.")

Then there was the antiquated frame design, which made the TR6 twist over bumps like an 18th century square rigger ship caught in heavy seas. Passing over a railroad track, you could actually watch the dash and windshield move before your very eyes (a phenomenon known as cowl shake.)

Despite its countless flaws, the TR6 had legions of fans. (Two of my friends still own TR6s to this day.) Its success was based on its English charm - the TR6 leveraged the stylistic capital created by a long line of cool British sports cars. Although their lineage can be traced back to the early MG T-series cars, the British sports car's invasion of North America began in the 1960s, when cars like the Austin Healey and the iconic MGB provided an exciting, wind-in-the-hair alternative to Detroit's offerings.

But by the late 1960s, the seeds of the English sports car's destruction were being sown. Triumph was one of ten historic brands that were eventually amalgamated under an umbrella corporation called British Leyland, a company that became a symbol for everything that was wrong with the English car industry: recalcitrant unions, poor build quality, and the cynical presentation of classic designs to mask outdated engineering.

The TR6 embodied the best and the worst of the British car industry. The design was beautiful for its time, and the cockpit had a Battle of Britain ambience, with a wooden dash and rows of toggle switches. But the engineering was twenty years out of date, and the quality was brutal.

I will admit that the TR6 has an undeniable charm. When I see one, I am inevitably reminded of long-lost nights in Vancouver back in the late 1970s, when the TR6 was one of the most coveted cars on the road. But if I were to choose a theme song for the TR6, it would be one from that era, by Trooper: You're Just a Three Dressed Up as a Nine.

Driver's Logbook: The craziest British sports car

Peter Cheney, pictured, loves the Caterham Seven. His wife isn't impressed by the lack of doors, radio, and side windows - or space for the family.
Compared to this tiny, impractical roadster, every other car is an obese compromise

For more from Peter Cheney, go to www.facebook.com/cheneydrive

 

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