|2,947 (1,161 RHD)
|Original List Price:
|£1,212 ($3,175) for TR250
|Tune Up Cost:
|$30 (Lucas), $12 (pattern)
|Chassis Number Location:
|On plate riveted to left inner wing
|Engine Number Location:
|Left of block on small ledge under No. 6 spark plug
|1959–67 Austin-Healey 3000, 1967-68 MGC, 1969–74 Triumph TR6
This car, Lot 101, sold for $28,016, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ annual sale at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, U.K., on September 5, 2015.
I have to confess that nobody knows much about this car. Taking a flyer that SCM would ask me to write about the very original saloon-bodied 4½ Litre Bentley that fetched a staggering $1.1m (£693k, Lot 171), I passed this sad white relic by as a rusty old shed that was too far gone to be of any economic value.
This TR came to the sale as a job lot from the same estate as another massive restoration project, the super-rare Bristol 402 cabriolet (Lot 111). As it happened, both sold for twice what was expected, and certainly in the Triumph’s case, that puts restoring it within its market value out of the question. So what’s going on?
To save or scrap
It’s likely another case of the market waking up to the fact that in many cases there are only limited numbers of rare cars still left. As their values rise, even the roughest cars are worth saving rather than scrapping or parting out. We’ve seen this phenomenon with the Aston Martin DBS, where a few brave souls have been prepared to invest more than the cars were worth to save them, in the hope that the economics would catch up later. They almost have, with the best approaching $200k, and even rough cars now selling for $100k, which five years before was territory occupied only by just-restored cars.
Part of that is down to the DBS being pulled up by its more valuable cousins the DB5, 4 and 6 (ranked in order of price inflation), in the same way that big-bumper Porsches have been boosted by the inexorable rise of the pre-’74 cars.
But in Triumphworld, the TR5 PI (for Petrol Injection) has no peers; it’s the most valuable of all the Michelotti/Karmann TRs, being the most powerful (150 hp, along with the early versions of its replacement, the TR6), the rarest (under 3,000 made, of which only 1,161 were right-hand-drive British-market cars), and arguably the best looking. So the best PIs have been steady at about $60k for the past couple of years (with a perfect restored car asking $90k in the Channel Islands as this was written) — still not quite into Big Healey territory, but why not?
Let’s look at what’s needed here. The car has been off the road for the past 25 years, and although it was largely complete, the body was rust-holed in places, with crude patches pop-riveted over the yawning gaps in the rear wing tops (which means the rear deck is rotten too) and behind the door shuts.
The front wings had gone through top and bottom, and the front edge of the bonnet was crumbly. It’s almost too depressing to go on, but you get the idea. If the body was this bad, then it’s likely the chassis had suffered badly too; certainly the rear crossmember will have dissolved into ferrous oxide and the outriggers were probably toast. The massive main chassis rails usually survive well on these, but it’s a body-off job to get at them properly. And lifting the body would probably render what was left of it unusable.
Luckily, new panels are available from the likes of Rimmer Bros., Moss Europe, SC Parts, TR Bitz, and Revington TR. Even complete shells can be had, but the $54k (£36k) cost for a new body is approaching the value of a decent restored car.
All the interior was complete and much of it would probably clean up. Although the seats were torn and there appeared to be a doormat masquerading as a driver’s-side carpet, repro parts are available.
Under that crumbly hood, which someone had vainly had a go at with Kurust, the intake trunking and plenum box were missing from the fuel-injection system, but the injectors, pipes and pump were still there. The inner wings were rust-speckled rather than actually perforated and the scuttle didn’t look too bad.
As the car has not run for almost three decades, it’s likely the original Lucas lift/pressure pump remains in the trunk, rather than the more reliable Bosch or other modern replacement that has grown in popularity over the past two decades. The Lucas pump motor wears and struggles in hot temperatures, so a modern replacement makes sense — it’s a drop in the ocean compared with the rest of the cost of restoring this car.
The waiting game
Certainly there was a lot of interest in this car (except from lazy journalists), with several phones battling bidders in the room, and it sold for twice the expected price. This is often a feature of a no-reserve sale, as that attracts bidders who think they might be on to a bargain, especially if it’s the first lot before the crowd has woken up properly. If that was Bonhams’ strategy, then it worked, getting the sale off to a bang. The price paid was getting on for half of the value of a decent restored car, and I can’t see any way of making it nice again for under $80k (£50k), meaning it’ll be another decade or so before prices catch up.
I think this is another case of the buyer taking the long view to save a rare car, and we must applaud him for that. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)