Remembering my Triumphs of the Shirtless ’70s

by Joel Justin, Member of the Central Coast British Car Club

When I was in high school in the mid-1970s, I was into cars like all my buddies. Most of them had American muscle cars, but my best friend and I were into sports cars. We read Road & Track instead of Hot Rod. We went to sports car races instead of the drag strip.

I wanted a TR6, but they were new at the time and unaffordable for a high school kid, so I convinced my dad to let me buy a fixer upper TR4. I think he thought this would be a good way for me to learn about auto mechanics.

I found one for $700. Since I only had my learner’s permit, my dad drove my mom and I to the dealer, then I drove it home with my mom in the passenger seat.

For the next two years, I completely took over his three-car garage, rebuilding the engine and redoing the wiring. I wonder if my dad regretted his decision? I got a job at the local Union 76 station in town, which gave me access to tools and expertise. Once I got the car running, I drove it through my senior year and on into college.

Even from a distance you could see the body was in poor shape, and I wanted to do something about that. In the summer after my freshman year, I came home and went back to work at the 76 station. One day, a guy came in with a blue TR4. It had a clean body and an overdrive gearbox. He saw my TR4 and we got to talking. Before he left, I told him to let me know if he wanted to sell it.

A few weeks later he came back and said he would. I bought it for $2,500 and spent the rest of the summer swapping all the good bits from my white car to the blue one. Now I had a good running car with a straight body— and an overdrive gearbox! I sold my white car for the same $700 I bought it for.

While driving from home back to school, the engine thrust washers decided to fall out. I didn’t realize it was the thrust washers at the time, but what I did know was that every time I pushed in the clutch, a horrible grinding sound came from the engine. I quick-shifted, kept it in neutral at stops, and made it back to school. I then got to rebuild the engine a second time (after sourcing a new crankshaft and block) in my room in the fraternity house. Sadly, I got in a fender-bender (fortunately with a fraternity brother who wasn’t upset at all as it did no damage to his Mustang). My straight-bodied TR4 wasn’t so straight anymore.

When I met my future wife, I needed to come up with money for an engagement ring. The TR4 wasn’t running well at the time, and I had another car, so I sold it.

I got married, graduated, got a job, and had kids—life, you know? After the kids were off to college, I needed a hobby to keep myself busy. My son had introduced me to the TV show Top Gear, and that got me thinking about my long gone TR4. I started looking—not seriously—and then found a car for sale nearby.

I went and looked at it and fell in love. I had to get my wife on-board, and when I asked her about getting one, her reply was, “I knew when you sold your TR4 in college to get my wedding ring there would be another one in our life one day.” I took that as a yes and purchased it.

Without realizing it, I purchased a very early car (CT254L). It ran decent and the body was very clean. The only non-original items were some very uncomfortable racing seats and a Moto-Lita steering wheel.

While I wanted to maintain the original look to the car from the outside, I was anxious to tear apart the engine and rebuild it like I had in high school (and again in college). Like riding a bicycle, it all came flooding back. Moss Motors was not only instrumental in my engine rebuild, but also in many other rebuilds and upgrades over the years.

I have several Triumphs now. It’s a disease, but something my wife’s fully bought into. “No more than six,” she says. This TR4 is my go-to car. We take it on all our long distance road trips, which are many. In the 11 years I’ve owned it, we’ve gone close to 30,000 miles, and with Moss’ help, I expect that pace to continue.

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