By Abram Perry
It was a cool day on the Ohio River. The wind had picked up, and I had to dig in a bit harder with my paddle to keep the bow of the canoe on course. Almost there.
I had been making my way down the river for 110 days. I was filled with mixed emotions rounding the final bend, excitement definitely one of them. This journey began at the headwaters of the Allegheny River, some 1,800 miles upstream. It started as a trickling spring, tucked away in the mountains of Northern Pennsylvania. From there, the river meanders in just about every direction, making its way into the mid-west. It passes through what is known as “the valley that changed the world,” where the first commercial oil well in the world was constructed. Continuing on, it soon grew from a backcountry river into an industrial highway as it evolved into the Ohio River Valley. It touches the banks of large cities, old river towns, and pockets of wilderness.
Next thing I knew, I had paddled down the Ohio and was nearing its end: “The Confluence.” Here it collides with the Upper Mississippi River, and thereon creates the Lower Mississippi. Each river a world of its own, filled with amazing people and places. Passing several barges and towboats on the final stretch, the Confluence came into view.
Surveying the banks, I looked for a suitable landing and decided to aim for where the rivers met. Jumping ashore, I made landfall on the final drop of the Ohio River. The wedge of land between the two rivers stood as a park in remembrance of the Lewis and Clark expedition 200 years before.
Well, the park looked pretty quiet, as it was late in the season. I looked around and saw a truck and backhoe digging in the distance. I secured the canoe as best I could, and crossed the field to ask the somewhat silly question of: “Where’s the park entrance?” The operator throttled back the big diesel and opened the cab door. We got to chatting and he informed me that the gate and roads were closed for park maintenance, but, after hearing where I had just paddled from, he tossed me the keys to the gate and his truck and said, “Close the gate behind you, and bring my keys back.” I thanked him and he went back to digging. I fired up his truck, shifted into first, and took off across the park toward the entrance.
Just as I got the gate unlocked, I heard the purr of a classic roadster come into earshot. I turned to see a dark green Triumph TR3 in river shuttle mode, pulling a trailer. My Dad had made a several hundred-mile journey to pick me up.
Such a machine; what a sound! It downshifted and came to a stop. My Dad looked over grinning and revved the TR3. He passed through the gate and followed as I hopped in the truck, returning it to the operator with my thanks. I quickly loaded the canoe and gear onto the trailer and hopped in the TR3’s “navi-guesser” seat. Alright, let’s go! Dad hit the skinny pedal and we were gone—blasting into the sunset, faster than a speeding canoe! The wind blew round the windscreen and the wheel spinners whirled. The low doors of the TR3 really put you out into the world you are traveling through.
Tinkering in the Studio
My Dad and I had found the TR3 years before. It was in pieces and dust covered in the corner of a storage building. He and I enjoy the art of dreaming and tinkering and, over time, built the ’58 Triumph with a nut and bolt frame-off restoration—adding an assortment of modifications for modern road-ability. It took a number of years but, in the end, it evolved into a vintage contraption that would hold its own in modern-day traffic, as well as long distance, spirited touring—all the while retaining the original character of a true TR.
Earlier in the year, the day had finally come for the first test. Firing up a new engine is both nerve-racking and exciting, especially after years of work! We had been sure to add plenty of Zinc, pre-oil the system, double check fuel, ignition, and everything else we could think of; so, systems were go for launch. The engine turned, firing right up. We revved it, holding it at a couple thousand RPM as the engine came to life. It sounded awesome! We ran it for about 20 minutes or so as everything began to warm up and seat into place. After a bit more tinkering and some road tests, it was cleared for take-off.
With the warming weather, the TR3 hit the road for a couple short trips: 300 to 600-mile loops. It was solid. So, with that round of tinkering winding down, I then took to my canoe craft and drifted toward the river. My dad and brother headed out in the TR3 that summer, undertaking several road trips that had been on their minds. The season seemed to fly by and cool weather soon approached. My dad and brother clocked upwards of 15,000 miles in the reliable and economical TR3. They explored areas throughout the southwest and mid-west states. Not bad for a summer!
Now that I had made it off of the river, another project begged to see fresh air. This one, a Triumph TR6. I found it a couple years ago in a basement, where it sat under cover for 30 years. Though a few mechanical issues were evident, it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. The seller took my offer. I don’t think he had many calls about it, and he seemed to trust that I’d bring this classic back to life. “Have fun!” he kept saying as the TR6 was loaded onto the trailer, heading for the next chapter in its journey.
My work office just so happened to have some extra warehouse space and allowed me to pull in to inspect the brakes and suspension. I kept busy tinkering into the night after work. As it happens, one thing led to the next. New brakes led to suspension, which led to the differential and then into the drivetrain and electrical. It’s a 40-year-old car, of course I was going to look at everything.
As I was finishing up detailing the rear axle compartment, someone wandered out from the office and peered into the engine bay. “You gonna pull the cylinder-head next?” they asked. “Might as well,” I chuckled. They jokingly encouraged it, which I took as permission to do so, and a bit more. I proceeded to pull the engine and transmission from the car.
I managed to get everything put back together and reassembled, transforming a parts car into a super-car! After the rebuild, the engine fired right up. The transmission had been upgraded, and the A type overdrive was gone through and fitted with a 28% gear reduction for touring. A light-weight flywheel was coupled to a limited slip differential to really stick the power to the ground in low gears, while the beefed-up chassis and suspension would take the bumps of back roads and hold speed around corners. New brakes had started it all, and here it was, finally ready to go.
Oftentimes with a car project, the engine is thought of first and most often. And yes, it is the oomph of it all, and fun to dream about. But, in getting a vintage contraption back on the road, it seems best to go through the “flight-safety” checklist before pushing the pedal to the metal. It all has to be done right for safe, reliable enjoyment. With a couple good shop manuals and a few basic tools, just about anyone with some meticulous determination and perseverance can restore a classic. In searching the world for parts. I found Moss and Moss-Europe to be most supportive; both with their parts availability and also in their involvement, encouragement, and commitment to future generations of British motoring diehards like myself.
On the Road
Upon return from the river, it was a relief to uncover the TR6, finding it all there and looking good. With a little work, it was ready to go. This TR was gonna see some miles! I had put time, and thought, and effort into building it into a driver’s machine. So to see the project through, I needed to full-on drive it! With nothing pressing on my calendar, I came to the conclusion that if I was ever going to take an extended road trip in a classic TR6, now was the time. Though on a tight budget, I figured if I carried camping equipment and spent frugally, I could make a worthy trip.
Into the TR6’s boot I gathered some maps, a shop manual, tool roll, and a couple spare parts. Crammed in some clothes, camping gear, and some silliness; then hopped in, and turned the key.
I knew this was the kind of opportunity that, if I put it off, may not come around again. How could I not go? With the exploration of the unknown as my destination, I set out toward the nearest back road, and pointed the roadster West. I was on my way. My road trip, looping through the countryside, changed my perspective and probably the direction of my future, too. Stories from this epic cross country tour, of exploring landscapes and discovering friendships along the way—these stories I will send to this magazine. I know there are readers here who share in my hunger for adventure and the open road. Life with the TR6 wasn’t always easy, the best things in life usually aren’t. But if you want to take a journey that you’ll never forget, do it top down in a British sportscar.
Abram Perry is an expedition coordinator of legendary hiking and paddling adventures, as well as a photographer. His goal is to inspire and, in exploring the wilderness, to teach not just how to survive, but how to “sur-thrive.” Learn about Abram’s adventures and motoring projects at AbramWasHere.com.
September 15, 2016 @ 2:48 pm Eric
Amazing article and person!