The Triumph TR3 may be the last real bargain among English sports cars. For reasons Triumph lovers can't understand but don't complain much about, these cars never caught the tide that swelled prices of Austin-Healeys and Jaguars. Nevertheless, the TR3 offers all the quirky touches so dear to an Anglophile's heart, is capable of hearty performance on secondary roads and interstate speed when necessary, and attracts a large and loyal following of enthusiastic owners.

The prototype Triumph was introduced in 1952 at the same show that introduced the Austin-Healey. It was produced by the stodgy Standard-Triumph Company, known primarily for its dependable family sedans. Sir John Black's Standard Company had rescued the Triumph name from bankruptcy in 1944. Many believe that Black produced the Triumph sports car just to spite William Lyons and Jaguar, which had partnered with Standard to produce the SS sports cars of the 1930s, but went its own way after the war.

Unfortunately, the Triumph attracted decidedly mixed reviews. Not unattractive in the front, the prototype had a plug-ugly rear end festooned with a spare tire. Unlike the smoothly curved Healey, efforts to reduce tooling costs had pushed Triumph stylists to a slab-sided look. Even the fenders were made in two pieces to avoid costly compound curves. Just as bad, when development engineer Ken Richardson first took it out on the road, the handling was so bad he feared for his life.

Nevertheless, aggressive development of the TR2s gradually improved the marque, and when the TR3 was introduced in October 1955 it had much to offer the enthusiast who craved an English sports car but was still concerned about his budget. Starting in 1957 the TR3 offered disc brakes on the front wheels-MGAs and Austin-Healeys didn't follow suit until 1959. The TR2's grille opening, giving the car the look of an open-mouthed guppy, was not much improved on the TR3. It was finally replaced on the TR3A in 1958 by a full-width grille that dramatically improved front-end styling.

The four-cylinder, 100-horsepower Vanguard-based engine, more of a step-brother than a descendent of the fabled Vanguard tractor engine, produced sporting performance-the TR3 was capable of 0 to 60 mph in less than 12 seconds and a top speed of 105 mph. Not bad for a car that sold for $2,675.

Today, a very good example of the TR3 or TR3A can be found for less than $15,000. That amount buys a distinctive body style with cut-down doors, a very English interior, a full complement of large, round instruments spread across a flat dash, and the pride of enduring top-down motoring in all weather. The multi-part folding top is only useful to keep the sun off on hot days, and the side curtains only seem to appear as part of the boot equipment at car shows.

Like most classic cars in this price range, restoring a project car is a sensible alternative only for a person who gets pleasure out of raising cars from the dead. Instead, join one of the very active Triumph clubs and wait until someone is ready to sell a car on which they've lavished time and attention. Triumphs are susceptible to rust and body work can be very expensive, but mechanical problems are easy to set right and parts are readily available. So buy the best you can afford, emphasizing chassis and panel quality.

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