For Richard Pickering, his 1955 Triumph TR2 brings him full circle, back to the day when he was a young car nut growing up in Toronto.
At that time, those with a high percentage of gasoline coursing through their veins (leaded of course) were divided into two polarized automotive camps – the ’55 Chevy crowd and the Tea Cuppers.
Still, after 60 years the doors close with the solid click of an antique fridge.
Richard found himself drawn to the latter, embracing the weird, wonderful, oil dripping and oxidizing world of two seat roadsters from ‘Ol Blighty. It was quite a scene back them, with bountiful pickings from the likes of MG, Triumph, Sunbeam, Austin Healy, Jaguar et al.
This fraternity embraced the de rigor string-back driving gloves, tweed caps and even the odd fake British accent. It was all about the adoption of a lifestyle. “Most of the guys didn’t even know what handling meant.”
As with any society, it was hierarchal and certain protocols had to be observed. A Bug-Eye Sprite approaching a Triumph on the road would guarantee a friendly headlight flash and wave from both parties.
However, said lower rung cars would not flash a Jag E-Type unless he flashed first. Which he most likely wouldn’t.
Yes, the time-honoured Upstairs/Downstairs British class system made its way across the pond within the fragile doors of these tiny ragtops.
And tiny they were. Standing next to Richard’s TR2, its cowl line hovers well below the family jewels and every detail is a study is quaint delicacy. The fender mounted rear view mirrors looks as though they could snap off in your hands, and the gloriously thin-rimmed steering wheel with its fine metal spokes is a work of art. Still, after 60 years the doors close with the solid click of an antique fridge.
Since learning to drive at the tender age of thirteen in a Sunbeam Alpine, Richard has spent a life immersed in car culture, from co-hosting automotive TV shows to putting together special exhibits for the Toronto Auto Show (he’s got stories about Carol Shelby) to racing his highly modified ’68 Camaro Z28.
He now owns BHG Media Fleet services in Toronto, where on any given Monday one is guaranteed to find a posse of auto writers sitting around chewing the fat and telling lies.
After selling his Z28 a couple of years ago, Richard decided he wanted something analogue. Primitive was his word. Waving his hand toward the window, he notes “When you’ve got a parking lot full of F-Types, civilized just wasn’t going to cut it.”
Richard found this super clean TR2 in New Hamburg, Ontario. The elderly gent also had a TR6 for sale, but that straight-six sports car from the early 70s was way too sophisticated for Richard’s wants. Primitive, remember.
A couple of hex keys release the hood, revealing the 1991 cc Standard Vanguard four with twin SU carbs that makes about 100 hp. This car’s four-speed is fitted with the optional electronic overdrive, that, via a button on the dash, works with gears two through four. So in theory you’ve got seven forward gears. No synchro in first though.
This TR2 has also been retrofitted with a front sway bar and front disc brakes, a feature that Triumph later introduced on this model.
So, time to drive the old warrior.
Richard takes me for an introductory spin around the block. He turns the key, pushes the starter button and the long-stroke four bursts to life. The seats are quite comfy, but my gawd, I feel vulnerable in this thing. My butt’s a couple inches from the tarmac, and with those wafer-thin low cut doors providing less protection than a Glad Wrap condom, I can file my nails on the road as we pull away.
Soon, it’s my turn. I’ve driven a Lamborghini Aventador and Roll-Royce Drophead Coupe, both worth over half a million, but I’m way more nervous getting ready to take off in this lovely antique Triumph TR2. Richard stands by, giving me last minute instructions and trying not to look concerned.
Okay, here we go. Driving gloves on – and they are not a mere affectation here. It’s the only way to get a purchase on this slippery, pencil thin wheel rim. And with no power steering, a good grip is a necessity. However, cranking the wheel when the car is not moving puts too much strain on the steering mechanism, so one has to be rolling a bit first.
I remember that part. With my feet figuring out the closely spaced pedals, I slot the shifter into first, give the Standard Vanguard a few revolutions and gingerly let out the clutch. Nothing happens.
“Handbrake.” Richard says. Jeeezuz.
I’m soon on my way, find second gear with no disasters and give Richard a reassuring wave, although I don’t think either of us really believe it.
The gearshift works with a surprisingly solid mechanical precision and the torquey four pulls with conviction. Richard says these engines are pretty much indestructible. With a zero to 60 km/h time of 12 seconds, the TR2 is not exactly a slug, and in its day it was the least expensive car in England capable of topping 100 mph.
That, of course, was the last thing on my mind. I was more concerned with getting Richard’s precious roadster back in one piece.
The TR2 has a coil-sprung front independent suspension and a leaf-spring “under sprung” live axle out back. The ride is pretty smooth until you hit some rougher stuff, then you feel all those antiquated bits below doing all kinds of weird things.
The car wanders a bit, so small steering corrections are the modus operndi. If you want cabin heat, a spigot under the hood directs water to a heater coil. This was an option. Air conditioning? Tug on a pull at the base of the windshield and a charming little air scoop pops up, which I assume directs fresh air to the defrost vents.
Soon I’m finding the rhythm of the TR2, blipping the throttle on downshifts, enjoying the smooth clutch, the precision of the shifter and the eager growl of the engine. Everything slows down. How could one be in a hurry piloting this topless sexagenarian that envelopes you with spring air, bird songs and the odd whiff of untreated exhaust?
And one cannot discount that fact that at forty mph this little TR2 feels like it’s doing eighty.
I’m surprised few seem to notice my wide-eyed minnow cruising amongst the sharks. Toronto, I guess. Then: confirmation. While motoring up scenic Mississauga Road, a kindred spirit comes my way. It’s a light green MGB GT with wire wheels.
He waves. I wave. All is right in the world.