When Karmann face-lifted the Triumph TR4 in 1968, there were still some arthritic old bones behind the TR6's wide smile and smooth skin
The age of the biplane fighter lasted from roughly 1915 to 1941, by which time the last of the fabric-covered, fixed-gear aircraft like the Gloster Gladiator and Fiat CR42 were looking quite antique. The Triumph TR6 was the Gloster Gladiator of sports cars: If not absolutely the last traditional British sports car to be produced, it was the last one designed by a major manufacturer- the true end of an era.
The "Six" was the culmination of a long and proud line of sports cars designed by the old Standard-Triumph Company, starting with the TR2 in 1953. Triumphs were known generally for their ruggedness rather than technical innovation (save being an early pioneer of disc brakes), and time always seemed to advance faster than the company was able to update its products.
By the time the TR4A was introduced in 1965, even Triumph's best efforts at adding features such as roll-up windows and a crude independent rear suspension couldn't hide the fact that this was an aging separate body and chassis design with an engine at the end of its development.
The addition of the smooth 2.5-liter straight-6 created the U.S.-only TR250 in 1968, which was a positive step, even if its pitiful 104 carbureted horsepower paled beside the 150 hp fuel-injected TR5 in Europe. But by the late 1960s, the fin-tailed Michelotti body looked ancient and would have been replaced in 1968 had Karmann-which was tasked with designing the TR6-not assumed that Triumph would like the tooling measurements in metric rather than English standards.
Keeping the TR4 doors, windshield, and inner fenders
The resulting flub ensured the TR6 would be launched as a 1969 rather than 1968 model. Triumph-by this time part of the ill-fated British Leyland empire-was so poor at this point that it mandated Karmann keep the doors, inner fenders, and windshield frame of the TR4/250. All things considered, Karmann did a masterful job. The clean and simple body of the TR6 looks fresh and contemporary today.
The TR6, of course, kept the straight-6 of the TR250 and in U.S. twin Zenith-Stromberg form still produced a measly 104 hp. And while not powerful, it was at least smooth and torquey and capable of producing one of the nicest exhaust notes of any 6-cylinder sports car.
The driving experience is textbook vintage British sports car. Although all TR6s have independent rear suspension, they don't really ride or handle any better than a solid-axle TR4. As IRS designs go, it wasn't one of the better ones, with limited suspension travel and ancient Armstrong lever shocks producing a decidedly bouncy ride with distinct changes in pitch on braking and hard acceleration.
Braking is more than adequate under most circumstances, with mild servo assist. Steering is sharp and reasonably light, though the negative camber on lock makes the car impossible to push (and if you own one, be assured that at some point you will have to push it), except for straight ahead.
TR6 interiors changed very little
TR6 interiors changed very little over the seven-year production run, with the same general fully instrumented layout as a TR4. Dash wood always had a matte finish, and over the years, it grew a few additional warning lights and an updated gauge face.
Pre-1973 seats were high backs with integrated headrests, while later seats were low backs with separate headrests. Neither style came in anything but vinyl. Bumper laws affected the car,
although certainly not to the extent of an MG B. Post-1973 cars grew huge rubber rams, and the bumpers were raised a few inches in 1975-76, necessitating the repositioning of the front signals under the bumper.
In all, it wasn't bad. Earlier cars don't carry much of a premium over the later ones, although some collectors prize the 1969 cars with their unique rear fender beading, folding headrests, and Rostyle wheel covers. Nearly every car was delivered with Redline tires and a top with reflective tape on it. Rally-style steel wheels were standard, and painted 72-spoke wires were optional until 1973. Overdrive was optional but uncommon.
Like everything else from the 1970s, TR6s were available in some rather wild period colors like Magenta and Jade Green. These can be tougher to sell, as comparatively few people want a bright purple TR6. The chassis tag indicates the color code of a TR6, so it's relatively easy to tell in what colors any car was born. It's a cinch that any red TR6 with a flat black engine compartment started out in one of these now-unloved colors (originally, the engine bay was painted body color). Likewise, any black car is a personal inspiration.
With its separate body and frame construction, a TR6 is a relatively straightforward car to restore, even for a body-off job. Rust is of course always a problem, especially with the non-rugged TR6 frame. Frames rust at the rear trailing arm mounting point, and the front lower control arm mountings are notoriously weak. Replacement frames are available from several sources, and it's never a bad idea to consider one of the kits to beef up front suspension mountings. Other rust areas are the floors, rockers, behind the headlights, and the very tips of the rear fenders. Parts, including body panels and full interior kits, are both easily available and not very expensive.
As an inexpensive collectible, the TR6 has immense appeal. They're decidedly masculine, good looking, and easy to keep on the road. After Big Healeys took off around 2005, it was widely predicted the TR6 would be next. It didn't happen for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that nearly 100,000 were produced and many survive.
And oddly, Karmann's masterful styling job works against it too-even after nearly 40 years, it still looks contemporary today, particularly when compared to the very vintage-looking TR4. Like most second- and third-tier collectibles, it will continue to appreciate at a modest rate, with the best examples in good colors being the best bets in the long run.