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1959 Triumph TR3A
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1959 Triumph TR3A

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This Triumph TR3a has had a major rebuild in our workshops. The following is the owners' story!

Commission No: TS 37224
Type: TR3
Building Date: Thursday, 9 October 1958.
Bought in 1964 by my father, Laurie North, 874HPK EBJ768 is a 1959 pre 60001 TR3a. Dad bought it from a work colleague, Barry Saggers, after it developed clutch trouble. Bas was convinced that this was the beginning of the end so he decided to sell. It turned out it needed a new clutch master cylinder! Bas was a bit of a speed merchant and a perfectionist - one time he spent a lot of money having the carbs balanced and tuned by a specialist. A short while later he had the car serviced and the greasemonkey who did the service said that he had reset the carbs for him as an extra!

Originally the car was British Racing Green. On first seeing the car, my mother, Helen, announced that she didnt like the colour. It has been various shades of blue for the subsequent 43 years.

Dad used it for commuting for the next 25 years. In the early years it was also frequently pressed into service as a family car - Mum and Dad in the front and my two brothers and me in the back on a rear bench seat Dad made. Mum also drove the car regularly - a bit of a novelty in suburban London in the 60s.

Always the enthusiast, Dad was one of the earlier members of the UK TR Register number 95 current membership about 8500. In those early days the Register was vital as a source of spare parts and as the car was used on a daily basis, maintenance was ongoing. I have many memories of helping him in the garage when I was small. Sometimes Im sure I actually was helpful. Pressing the brake pedal whilst he bled the brakes, passing spanners etc. However as I now have a 5 year old son myself who helps me in the garage I have realised that losing washers, putting my head in the way of the light and playing with sharp knives may not have been quite as helpful as I remembered!

As my fathers career as a biologist wound down, Mum elected to spend more of the year in the sunnier climes of Rome, whilst Dad remained in London. They spent a lot of time together, either in Rome or London, and Dad often drove to Rome in the TR so they could tour around Italy. I went with him one time when I was in my 20s. A little more frenetic than his usual trips as we drove non-stop each way, taking it in turns to drive through the night. About 2000 miles there and back as I recall.

Whilst touring in Italy in 1984 my parents had a serious smash in the TR. Driving in poor weather on the Italian Autostrada several cars ahead were involved in a collision, blocking the main lanes. The hard shoulder was still clear, however the car immediately ahead of them decided to also stop, completely blocking the motorway. The TR aquaplaned and smashed into the back of the stationary car at some 70 miles per hour. Some injuries all round. Mum was briefly knocked out, several teeth were removed by that handy grab handle on the glove box and she broke her ankle. For Dad a jaw broken in several places requiring wiring up for six weeks, a liquid diet alas, not beer, extensive weight loss and silence. People in the other car also shared several injuries such as broken legs etc. Thankfully everyone recovered.

As for the TR however...The insurance company wanted to write it off, however my father successfully argued the case for recovering it back to London. As he said, if it had been a 1925 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost they would have recovered it, and it was his belief that the TR would in future be similarly valued by historians. Perhaps he struck a fellow car enthusiast, anyway the car was put on the back of a truck and brought all the way from Italy to England. His nephew Ron, a mechanic, had a garage in Kent and in conjunction with my father had previously considered restoring a TR. Accordingly they had purchased a TR from a breakers yard, which became the recipient of whatever was useable from the wreck.

It thus became a hybrid - a slightly later body and chassis 1960 with the original earlier engine and gearbox and whatever else could be salvaged from the original car. Who cares - the car was back in action - yet again in a different shade of blue. In fact, some good came out of it. The original chassis was bent and the car pulled to the left - the story was that the first owner had driven it into a wall so a replacement chassis cured that.

A roll over bar was fitted, along with racing seats and a 4 point racing harness does the phrase bolting the stable door etc come to mind?.

It continued in service for a number of years. At one point, one of my brothers, a mechanic, opened a garage with a colleague. As part payment for financial support from my parents they agreed to respray the TR another blue variant, a Jaguar blue I believe and it was stored at the garage for a while after the respray. Business unfortunately did not go well, and my brother turned up to work one morning to find new padlocks fitted to the doors. The business had been declared bankrupt and all stock, including the car, impounded. My brother at the time may not have been the worlds greatest businessman, he was however eminently practical and the judicial application of a jack on the garage door enabled the car to again see the light of day.

Skip forward to 2000. I had been living in New Zealand for 10 years, originally working in IT before being bitten by the aviation bug. Several years and tens of thousands of dollars later I was a qualified NZ commercial pilot working as a flying instructor. Airline jobs in NZ were however few and far between, whilst the talk was that aviation was booming back in the UK. Accordingly I left my fiancee and headed back to get my UK pilots licence. The TR was now leading a quiet life, but garaged and looked after. It needed a bit of work done for the UK MOT WOF and my father had decided that crawling under an oily car was no longer preferable to relaxing with a glass of wine he bought a Triumph Herald instead and got my mechanic brother to maintain it!

I however was still tempted by the TR, wine notwithstanding, and soon had it back on the road. I used it regularly whilst studying at various flying training schools I had to redo all my exams and flight tests in the UK, despite having my NZ licence and to commute to the various IT jobs I had during the 18 months I was in the UK.

Much practical work had already been done to the car over the years by my father - apart from the roll over bar, seats and seat belts the car boasted electronic ignition, an oil cooler and a Kenlowe fan. I however couldn't keep my hands off it. I removed the engine and gearbox and despatched them to Darryl Uprichard at Racetorations where they were overhauled and upgraded to fast road/race spec. The work included boring out the cylinders to 87mm giving about 2180cc, up from 1991cc, adapting the head for unleaded fuel, fitting a mildly hot cam, and a lightened 8 bolt flywheel and TR6 ring gear. A high power lightweight starter motor was fitted, along with a spin on oil filter, electric fuel pump and a more modern fan belt and alternator. After refitting the engine and gearbox I had it tested on a rolling road in September 2000, producing at peak output 124 bhp at 5383 rpm, up from the original 100 bhp. Darryl did a great job with the modifications, and as the car was intended to be used on a daily basis, not polished and stored, practicality was favoured over strict originality.

My fiancee now wife, Ali, came over for a while and I had the pleasure of driving her around the UK in the car.

After spending 18 months in the UK I was still unable to find airline employment so I headed back to NZ, leaving the car in the UK with strict instructions to my Dad that my grasping brothers were not to take posession of it. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between NZ and UK I was finally offered a job in NZ flying freight out of Christchurch for those aviation buffs, in a Fairchild Metroliner, which shares many of the characteristics of the TR - small, noisy, fast and lots of fun. I came back to NZ, got married, had kids etc all the while keeping my beady eyes firmly on the prize. Finally, Christmas 2006. Not the right time to ship the car over as I was contemplating flying jobs overseas, but by this time I realised that, like having kids, there would never be a right time.

Prior to shipping it over I had one last fling with the pounds in my UK account, and Racetorations replaced all the suspension bushes, shocks etc and carried out a steering rack conversion. The car was MOTd and reregistered in the UK as a friend of Dads wanted the number plate, then it was shipped out on a roll on/roll off ferry. Bit of a mistake - definitely put it in a container next time. At some point on the voyage it was towed by the sway bar at the front damaging the steering, and the radio was also stolen. By all accounts however I got off lightly - I later heard stories of cars being lifted onto ships using forklifts! Never mind - that is what insurance is for and they came to the party.

The next step was to get the car registered for use on NZ roads. What can I say? The number of trees felled to produce the reams of paperwork listing the defects on a car that had been warranted in the UK will have a significant negative impact on NZ carbon credits. The bottom line is that the authorities want any car registered for the first time in NZ to be in the same state as when it left the factory. The TR is 47 years old!

I was however put onto a great local garage here in Nelson, Autofocus ex Fix-It Shop, run by a classic car enthusiast, Gordon Dacombe. As various inspectors assessed the car the amount of work required grew more and more extensive much of it stripping down so that welds, repairs etc done over the years could be inspected and after much soul searching the decision was made to go back to basics. Gordon was quite happy for me to come into his garage and do the monkey work dismantling, cleaning, stripping etc and his team could do the more complicated stuff. A combination of holiday, sick leave legacy of racing motorbikes and unpaid leave saw me putting in on average about three days a week at the garage for four months, thereby saving myself many thousands of dollars, as well as feeling that I had had genuine input into the restoration of the car. During that time, the body was removed, the chassis was sandblasted, patched in a couple of small areas and repainted, some rust around the body mounts was cut out and new metal fitted, and all the panels repaired where necessary and rust treated.

The inspectors then added their contribution to the safety of the car. After inspecting all welds, repairs etc and passing them, they decided that they were unable to certify the brand new braided steel brake hoses fitted by Racetorations. They were therefore replaced with local items. The after market seats were not mounted sufficiently robustly so new mounts had to be made and fitted notwithstanding the original TR seats were held in place by two bolts each. The four point racing harnesses could not be certified so they were replaced by lap belts!, and the roll over bar was deemed to require extensive reinforcing at the mounting points - by this time I had had enough so I simply removed it. Finally I had to fit a high mounted stop light. A red bicycle light was duly purchased and bolted on and wires were pushed into the brake connectors - this set up requiring approximately 30 seconds to remove and fling into the back of the garage after the car had been inspected and certified.

Since the car was already in so many pieces I decided to have it repainted blue again!. Gordon had warned me at the start that when you smarten up one part of the car, another part looks tatty and you can end up on a never ending cycle of improvements. How right he was. After repainting the car, the wheels looked out of place. They were repainted. Then the interior looked decidedly tatty so that was the next step including cutting the bucket seats down and recovering them. Then the chrome wasnt up to scratch. At this point I could see where we were headed so I stopped after having a couple of the worst pieces redone. To date I have resisted having the rest of the chrome done but who knows what Santa Claus may bring!

The car has been back on the road for a couple of months now. I havent done any long distance drives in it yet but it is used regularly to commute to work Im now flying for an Air New Zealand regional airline, originally on SAAB 340s, now on Bombardier Dash 8 aeroplanes.

My parents are coming to NZ next year whilst the TR Register annual bash is on in Napier, so the plan is for all three generations to go. Ill drive with Dad, while my son George flies with his Grandma. We can decide later who gets to drive back! I love the driving in New Zealand - not much traffic, many twisty but well maintained roads, and, despite the universal overzealous policing, still plenty of opportunity to drive the TR as it was meant to be driven.

I now have a fun, solid, reliable, classic car that has great sentimental value to me. It is perfect for Nelson and will be available for my son to drive in some 30 years time he may have to prise my cold, dead hands from it first though!

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