Wednesday, May 18, 2016

British Sports Car Madness

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Triumph TR-4s are tough as a truck. As a matter of fact their engine is derived from a truck engine.

For Love of a TR-4

By Skip Sheffield

I have owned more than half a dozen British cars through the years. Mostly they have been MGs, but one of my favorites from the lot was a 1964 TR-4. I spotted the car at shabby used car lot in Pompano Beach, Florida. The price was $500, and the guy was honest enough to admit it was going to need a clutch. I took a chance and plunked down my money. The car ran well and had a solid body with fiberglass hard top, no soft top. I babied the slipping clutch for about six months. When it got to the point I couldn’t merge safely onto I-95, I broke down and paid for new clutch, pressure plate and throw-out bearing. Wow, what a difference. The Triumph was faster and stronger than any of my MGs. I celebrated by having the car painted pale yellow.
The girl I was going with, who eventually became my second wife, was an aspiring model. Since she didn’t have a car of her own, I lent her the TR. To her credit she learned to shift quickly and soon was driving like an ace.
One day I got a call from her telling me the car had been stolen. Oh crap. I reported it to the police with little hope of seeing it again. Lo, in a few days I heard from the cops. We have found your car, they said. It was mired in sugar sand out in the woods. Evidently some kids hot-wired it, which is easy enough to do, and took it for a joy ride. The car was none the worse for wear. I had it hauled out and put back on the road. We married in 1975 and Lynda continued to drive the TR. In 1976 I decided to visit my sister in Chicago. I figured the TR had a better chance of getting there than with my other car, which was a 1948 Willys-Overland Jeepster.
So we took off with high hopes. Up around Daytona and began to smell a strong odor of oil. I pulled off, found a service station, and they discovered oil was leaking from the differential. They topped off the rear axle. In 20-20 hindsight I should have aborted the trip and gone back home. But I was young and impetuous and I wanted to go for it. At Columbus, Ohio, the oil smell had gotten worse. I visited another service station, and they said the rear end was red hot and they couldn’t touch it. After it cooled down they discovered it was nearly dry. Once again they topped it off and I took off again. As I approached LaFayette, Indiana, the car began to shake with terrible vibration. Then bang! There was an explosion like a cannon going off. I looked in my rear view mirror and could see the both rear wheels were coming out from the wheel wells. I tried to brake, but the pedal went to the floor. All I could do was slowly ease the car onto the right shoulder and hope it would stop before I lost one or both rear wheels. We came to a stop and I surveyed the damage. The differential had broken apart and the brake lines had been ripped out when the wheels separated. My first instinct was to say to Lynda let’s collect our stuff and walk to the nearest exit and just leave the car here. Just then a State Trooper stopped to investigate. I explained to him what had happened.
“You weren’t planning on abandoning the car there were you?”
“Oh no sir,” I lied. “I wouldn’t do that.”
The cop said he would arrange to have the car towed, and I would be billed later. He took us into town to the bus station. There we caught the first bus to Chicago.

I had neither the time nor the money to have the TR repaired in Indiana. My sister sold me her beat-up old Toyota so we could get back to Florida. A letter arrived from the tow company in Indiana with the bill. I called them to negotiate. They agreed if I mailed the car title to them, they would dismiss all charges. I didn’t have much choice. Somebody in Indiana got a nice TR-4. I had my pleasant memories of two years or so with that fun little car.


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