Life’s a TRip: Episode 15

By Ojijaak

Did you hear the one about the old fart and the dingo going to the store…in a Triumph?

If there is an upside to the stay at home restrictions, for me it is in driving Sara and Polly more often on errands rather than longer weekend safaris. These cars, like all cars and their aging owners, need to be driven regularly to stay in their best condition. When the world operates as usual, this is not a problem because I can easily put a few hundred miles on either car’s clock on a Saturday or Sunday drive.

There are few weekend day trips worth taking now. No restaurant or pub, no overnight lodging, and no club activities. On the other hand, I do pick up my mail and go to the bank or to the grocery store every week or ten days. If I choose a circuitous route, I can stretch one of these trips to perhaps 100 miles. That is a trip worthy of a Triumph; not a TRip, really, but a drive that the girls find beneficial.

I live about fifteen miles as the crow flies from the nearest real supermarket as well as my mail delivery point. I get little mail, so most often I buy the few grocery items that I absolutely must from a nearby neighborhood market. Unless Nokomis needs dog food, I can shop for the few essentials there rather than to drive “into the city.” I like to take Sara or Polly out for a run through the country and then stop at the grocery on my way home. Shopping trips like this occur more often than the lengthier multi-errand trips to town.

In the Triumphs, I park at the extreme end of the lot because no one else is there, and there is a “grassy” area adjacent where Nokomis can relax outside of the car while I shop. Nowadays, when I shut the car down, I put on my mandatory mask before exiting the car. That was exactly my situation recently when I noticed a man walking purposefully in our direction. These situations invariably result in sphincter-clinching for me.

When I drive any of the girls, I can expect someone at the gas pump or traffic light to ask, “What kind of car is that?” or, “Is that an MG?” I have told you previously about that last question, and if I am driving Annie, I don’t mind it quite as much.

Annie, the red MG. 1967.

It seems not to matter what I answer because I often get something like, “My (dad, brother, cousin, friend) had one just like that, except his was a (Spitfire, Midget, etc.), and it was (green, blue, white, etc.).” I have not been able to construct a response that conveys my disdain while not being perceived as overtly aggressive. Usually, I just look at my inquisitor with my best poker face from behind always-present sunglasses.

Anyway, mask on and Nokomis settled, here is the guy from across the lot. “Hi! I saw you here last week, didn’t I? I remember your dog, but this isn’t the car you were in, is it?”

I am not able to answer the first question. How in the hell can I know when or where someone else has seen me, or thinks that he has? Besides that, he remembers seeing the dog, maybe, and a different car, probably, but not necessarily me. I decide to answer the last question, “Maybe not. I have four cars.”

“I saw you in a yellow car. What was it?”

I agreed that I do indeed have a yellow car. If he saw me, or rather saw Nokomis in a yellow car, it is a TR6.

Polly, the 1975 Triumph TR6

“What’s this one?” I began to wonder just how badly I needed tobuy groceries on this trip; could I drive off and come back tomorrow?

“This is a TR4.”

Sara, the red Triumph TR4 in question

Then he unleashed a basketful of questions. He asked who makes these cars, how old are the cars, how fast are the cars, and so on, and so on. Finally, he asked, “Which one is your favorite? What’s the most fun to drive?”

These are not questions that I can answer. It would be like trying to answer which of your children you prefer. I tried to explain as briefly as possible what I find to be the differences among the girls, and what were the strengths of each. Probably those with more than a nodding acquaintance with LBCs would understand, though they might have other opinions. This gentleman, I felt, had been drawn to Sara, and Polly earlier, simply because they are so different from today’s gray or silver four-door sedans that all look the same.

For the record, here are my findings and feelings about my three girls:

Annie is an MG B. As such, her heritage is much more closely linked to racing than is Triumph. She is low and nimble. Even her batteries were located behind and below the seats to lower the center of gravity. Like most American cars, her fuel tank is located beneath the boot (that’s trunk to you, Yank), and is more horizontal than vertical. Triumph fuel tanks are vertical and are located behind the rear squab and in front of the boot. Annie is relatively comfortable once aboard, but so are the Triumphs. She is not as fast as either Sara or Polly because her engine displacement is smaller, but she can easily out-maneuver either. She is also essentially the same car in which I spent many happy hours years ago, and for that alone, she is special to me.

Sara is five years older than Annie. By the time that Annie was being built in Abingdon, the Triumph folks up the road in Coventry were already preparing to introduce her replacement in the model lineup, and even that was after a modification changing the designation from TR4 to TR4 A. Sara is lots of fun in ways that differ from either Annie or Polly.

First, Triumph equipped Sara with an all-synchromesh gearbox.Only one who is adept at double clutching can shift Annie to first gear without coming to a stop; even then, it can be an adventure. Do not try this at home! MG introduced synchromesh in 1968 in the B, but not until 1974 in the Midget, when the engine and gearbox from the Triumph Spitfire were incorporated into that moribund model. To be fair, both the Midget and the Spitfire were going away soon.  Both decent less-expensive models from their respective manufacturers, but neither able to withstand the assaults by the geniuses at British Leyland, who had better ideas…they said.

Next, owing to Sara’s greater engine displacement and larger exhaust, she just sounds more aggressive than Annie does. This is a little thing, but it is part of the experience. More than any other LBC that I remember, Triumphs, especially the TR 4 and TR 6 (yes, the 250, too) had a sound that shouted “ATTITUDE!”

Sara’s engine is derived from those fitted to farm tractors and trucks. That is not urban legend, but the key word is derived. Given that ancestry, it should come as no surprise that the TR4 is possessed of a ton of torque, but it takes the better part of a day to reach the 5000 RPM redline. For that reason, it is common to short shift (I routinely shift just above 4000 RPM), and give the throttle a little blip as the next gear is engaged.

Like Annie, Sara is a hell of a lot of fun to drive. I must keep in mind which car I am driving at any given moment and ask of them only what they can deliver.

Now comes Polly. Polly is entirely different from either of the other girls. I think of both the TR 4 and the MG B as “sports cars,” each in their own way, and each with their own strengths. Polly is, to me, more of an open two-seat touring car. I felt the same in the 70s when I was driving Bs and racing Spridgets. Not a criticism or complaint, just my view of the TR6.

Sara will out-accelerate Polly to some point, but Polly takes honors for top speed. Sara, like all TR4s has a solid rear axle. The ride is firm, and a bump of any dimension will be experienced in the buttocks. I thank Sara’s seller for swapping her original seats for TR4 A seats. Looking at this differently, it seems to me that Sara allows me greater input and she responds more readily than Polly does. Either will destroy your (insert your current gray 4-door sedan make here) in terms of nimbleness or maneuverability.

Starting with the TR4 A, and continuing through the TR5/250 and, ultimately, the TR6, Triumph fitted independent rear suspension. I suspect that this might have been done, in part, to “Americanize” the cars and make them more attractive to the North American market. Maybe people older than twenty-five who would consider a midlife crisis Triumph had tender butts or something. The jury is still out on independent rear suspension, and it will always be so.

There is no doubt that for my long range tours, Polly is Option A. She has a big, lazy six-cylinder lump turning over at under 2500 RPM at road speed, and she can do that willingly all day long. Just don’t confuse her with a quarter-mile rocket or challenge an MG B in autocross. Not her thing…

So, back to the dude in the parking lot. Which is my favorite? You don’t have enough money to buy a lug nut from any of them from me. They are all my girls. Besides, my mask is getting hot and choking me, so I had best go on inside to buy the dog treats. “Thanks for telling me about them,” he said, and walked back to get in his car and leave.  His car? A dark gray Nissan of some kind. At least he didn’t ask me if Sara were an MG.

The Rant

Most families have traditions. In some families these include evading military service and supporting the KKK protesting – get this – New York police discrimination toward non-Catholics. Ironic.

Content may not be duplicated in whole or in part or used for any purpose without the written consent of Amos Media and amosmag.com. Unless otherwise noted, photos and videos © ojijaak and may not be used other than in context of this publication with written consent.

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