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A sports car classic turns 50: Remembering Triumph’s TR6

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1974 Triumph TR6. Photos by Jeff Koch.

To be clear, the Triumph TR6 — which debuted in late 1968 as a 1969 model — was not in any way groundbreaking or revolutionary. While its bodywork was (mostly) new, its frame, suspension, and engine carried over from earlier Triumph models, yet the TR6 remained in production longer than any other Triumph two-seater (including the more popular TR7). Fifty years later, the TR6 remains an iconic and desirable British sports car, blessed with a surprising degree of ongoing support from third-party suppliers.

Parked next to a Triumph TR4 or TR250 (or TR5, for those across the Atlantic), the TR6 looks familiar. The family lines are unmistakable, but while Giovanni Michelotti gets credit for the design of the earlier Triumphs, it was Karmann in Germany that penned the lines of the TR6 and created the stamping dies necessary to create the body panels. The windscreen and doors carried over from the TR4, but the new front and rear bodywork gave the TR6 a modern look that many have called “timeless,” even 50 years on.

1974 Triumph TR6

Underneath, the TR6 retained the body-on-frame design of earlier Triumph models, instead of adopting the unibody construction used by rival MG in the MGB. The TR6’s independent rear suspension carried over from the TR4A, while the 2.5-liter inline six-cylinder engine was a holdout from the TR250. Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and that was certainly the case with the TR6. Despite changes that cut engine output in 1972 and again in 1974 (not to mention the sales-limiting absence of an available automatic transmission), consumers in North America simply kept buying them. Exports to the United States peaked in 1973, when Triumph sold 11,924 TR6s to buyers here, and from 1969 to ’76 a total of 76,470 were imported.

That’s even more remarkable when one considers that U.S.-specification models were significantly down on power compared to the TR6 offered in Great Britain and Europe, which received a 9.5:1 compression ratio and Lucas fuel injection for an output of 150 horsepower. At launch, U.S. models — fed by a pair of Stromberg carburetors since the fuel injection did not meet emission standards here — received 8.5:1 compression for an output of 104 hp and 143 lb-ft of torque. In 1972, compression for carbureted U.S. models was lowered to 7.75:1, and as a result the torque output fell to 133 lb-ft but horsepower rose (likely due to other changes in tuning) to 106 hp. The last significant engine change came in late 1974, when compression was lowered to 7.5:1, dropping output to 101 hp and 128 lb-ft.

1974 Triumph TR6

Despite the lower horsepower, early U.S. models were still able to run 0-60 mph in under 11 seconds (or under 10 seconds, when driven by Car and Driver staffers) on the way to a top speed of 109 mph. Though not as quick as other sports cars of the day, the TR6s were comfortable and stout, blessed with capable handling and reasonable luggage capacity, adding to their practicality. As Bob Tullius demonstrated with his Group 44 team, the TR6 could be converted into a competitive racing car as well.

The final fuel-injected TR6 was built in February 1975, but carbureted variants left the Coventry assembly line until July 1976. By then, its replacement — the wedge-shaped, four-cylinder TR7 — had arrived in U.S. dealerships, cutting into the TR6’s sales. Just 6,083 TR6s were built for the U.S. in 1976, and by period accounts, many lingered in Triumph dealerships well into 1977.

1974 Triumph TR6

Fifty years after its market debut, the Triumph TR6 remains a popular sports car choice for hobbyists, with good reason. Though body panels and frames were prone to rust, strong aftermarket support for the model means that many parts remain available today, up to and including replacement frames. Mark J. McCourt identified common problem areas in a 2006 article for Hemmings Motor News, and, as with any other classic car purchase, a thorough inspection by a shop well versed in the model is recommended before writing a check to buy one.

As for values, don’t expect to strike it rich in the future with a well-bought TR6. In 2017, NADAguides put the value of an “average” TR6 at $18,200, while Hagerty’s driver-quality, #3 condition estimate was $12,500. Two years later, the NADA value has climbed by $2,500, to $20,700, while the Hagerty estimate has risen by just $700, to $13,200. That hardly makes the TR6 a portfolio-topping automotive investment, but as a classic British sports car that’s affordable to buy and maintain, the TR6 is a wise choice — even five decades after it first hit the market.