By Bill Piggot
During the winter of 1952/53, from the ashes of the hastily assembled and ill-received 20TS prototype came Triumph’s successful TR2. As is well known, the first two production cars, commission numbers TS1 and TS2, were built in July 1953. TS1 was dispatched to Montreal for display at the forthcoming Canadian Motor Show, while TS2 went to the Irish Republic for the Dublin Show. These two TRs were hand assembled, as the production line had yet to start.
Production finally staggered into action on August 10th, 1953, when TS3 was built. Though, in truth, it could as yet hardly be called a production line, as only eight cars were completed during the remainder of the month of August. An assembly worker at Triumph during the period, whom I encountered some years ago, told me there was quality control problems on the first cars, mostly with poor body panel fit, as well as shortages of many vital components. Triumph had originally planned to build 1,000 cars by the end of 1953, but by the end of that year only 301 were made—with nearly half of these completed in the month of December, by which time they had finally got things right.
Triumph’s priority to the American market (particularly the sunny, movie star rich state of California) was demonstrated in the fall of 1953 by the arrival of the first production TRs (numbers 3, 4, 5, and 7) to Los Angeles. All four cars were received by Dorothy Dene’s Cal Sales organization. On or about the same time, a pair of the early Swallow Dorettis were delivered to Cal-Sales—as Dorothy Dene was instrumental in the creation of this hand-built, TR2-based sports car. Indeed, the very name Doretti was a kind of pun on her name, with the added Italian flavor.
One assumes that Cal-Sales held onto the first few for several weeks, as they were used as demonstrators and showroom exhibits. With the production difficulties back in Coventry, the US versions of the TR2 were to be in short supply.
A big launch for both these new British sports cars was planned for early January 1954, a joint promotion between Cal-Sales Inc. and Standard-Triumph’s export division. An exhibition featuring the cars was set up at the Embassy Hall of the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, opening on January 7th, 1954. A lavish display was mounted under the impressive crystal chandeliers, with floral displays, a black TR3 on a turntable, four other TR2s, two Dorettis and even an exhibition TR2 rolling chassis/engine provided by Standard-Triumphs. Giant TR2 and Doretti medallions, woven from flowers, hung above the cars. The entire assembly made for a most impressive sight.
A considerable number of orders were taken during this event, more in fact, than Triumph would likely be able to fulfill. The Doretti suffered similar success. As to the actual identities of the cars on display, to some extent it must be conjecture. But, bearing in mind the actual shipping time from Coventry to Los Angeles, it is doubtful the cars were airfreighted out, and there was only a pool of a very few vehicles from which the exhibition cars could be drawn.
I have been told and have previously written that numbers 3, 4, and 5 were all present; if so, the Geranium red car in the foreground in the accompanying photograph could be TS3, although the trim looks the wrong color, laying some doubt to my mind. Note that sun visors have been added to this vehicle. This was never a production option. The photograph of the exhibition reproduced here, unfortunately, does not posses the most faithful of color rendition. The car on the extreme left is uncertain. It looks to be a sort of beige, yet this was not a listed color. It may be white, with the color rendition showing it with a beige tint. Either way, it is unlikely to TS4, which was white, as TS4 had a Geranium soft-top, and this car clearly has a white one.
The first white car with a white hood that went to the US was TS17, but then if the white hood shows up as white in the photo, why doesn’t the white paint do likewise? Maybe the car really was a beige color, and had simply been repainted by Cal-Sales? Possibly Dorothy Dene could enlighten us? Similarly, I now doubt that the Ice Blue TR2 on view is TS5, for this had Geranium trim, and the tonneau cover on this car is clearly also Ice Blue. The first Ice Blue cars with Ice Blue weather equipment that came to the US were three identical vehicles built on the 3rd and 4th November 1953, numbers TS70 to TS72. There would just have been time for these to reach Los Angeles by sea prior to the exhibition, making one of these the most likely candidate.
The first TR2 to be finished in black was TS49, sent to Hong Kong at the end of October 1953. The first black cars with Geranium Red trim to come to the US were TS53, 55 and 57; so again, the car on view is likely to have been drawn from this batch. As to the remaining TR in the picture (the one to the right and rear of the black car), this looks to be finished in the infamous Olive Yellow color with dark trim, probably Blackberry. Fewer than 50 TR2s were ever made in this color, which was always unpopular, but the first two cars in yellow with Blackberry trim were TS43 and 44, both of which were dispatched to California in late October 1953. No further cars to this specification were built in time to have reached California by the start of 1954, so the car photographed must logically be one of these two.
Finally, on the right of the picture can be seen a further Triumph enigma, the exhibition rolling chassis. Only one such was built (TS20) and it was displayed at the London Motor Show in late October 1953. It was left-hand drive and likely shipped to California after it was no longer required in London. I have heard a rumor that for a period in late ’53, it was displayed at Triumph’s Central London showroom in addition, but no photographic evidence for this has come to light. Following its display in Los Angeles, what happened to this chassis? Was it ever bodied, or did it gather dust in a corner for some time before being cannibalized to provide spare pans? If anyone knows, I’d be glad to hear.
One or two other points that this historic photograph reveals are that several of the cars appear to be wearing polished rim-embellishers, and that none of them have knock-on wire wheels, despite these being listed as an option right from the start of production (the first car known to be fitted from new with these was TS16).
Following the successful West Coast TR launch, in February 1954, the attention headed east. Fergus Motors Inc. of New York handled East Coast sales, and again working in conjunction with the Standard-Triumph’s export division, an exhibition of the new TRs was mounted in Fergus’s own Park Avenue Showroom, commencing on February 4th, 1954. Concurrently, from February 6th to 14th, 1954, the International Motor Sports Show took place in New York, and a major TR2 display was mounted there as well. One US distributor was said to have been ready to take 100 cars a week for the remainder of 1954. This would equate to around 5,000 TRs, more than were actually produced for all the entire worldwide market. Lawrence Pomeroy, a well-respected motoring journalist, wrote in The Motor magazine that the black TR2 mounted on a turntable and surrounded by a white pavilion was possibly the most striking and imaginatively presented car at the show. Unfortunately thus far, I have not discovered any photographs of this display.
Due to time constraints, the TRs used in New York would have been drawn from the pool of 1953-built cars that reached the US. The Heritage Motor Center’s records reveal that 96 of the first 301 cars built prior to December 31st, 1953, went to the US.
However, I have learned to distrust the old Standard-Triumph records to some extent, especially as regards delivery destination. The recorded destination appears to be planned, rather than where the cars actually were delivered. There have been a number of discovered instances of TRs being diverted to other markets (particularly the UK) to satisfy demand. This was done without the recorded destination being amended.
Where necessary, it seems that the steering side was converted; for instance, TS113 is noted as sent to the US, but in fact, it went to Africa. Whereas TS156 is recorded as dispatched to Nigeria, however, in fact, this unit never left England. The figure of 96 TRs shipped to the US must therefore be treated with caution.
Perhaps it is best to reflect this number as a maximum figure. This leads one to wonder how many of first TRs still survive in the US. At present, I have knowledge of 16 such cars, plus another two US cars that now reside in Europe. However, there is likely more, possibly even a totally original one or two hiding in some wealthy owner’s garage in the Hollywood Hills. Rumors were heard for many years that TS5 existed in Los Angeles. This turned out to be true, as the car resurfaced three years ago after many years of storage. It was offered for sale, and has now arrived in Denmark, where it is scheduled to be restored.
In 1991, a friend of mine in the UK claims to have been offered TS7 for purchase. Again, the car is still located in California. Although I have lost contact with the car, it is still presumably stateside. What happened to number 3 and 4, though? Do any publicly available licensing records exist in California that might reveal their fate?
When visiting the West Coast in 1998, I heard a story that another very early TR, possibly TS12, had been converted into a racecar and had led a hard life. It, or at least parts of it, might still survive. Certainly TS22 lives on, and was on display at a Triumph show not too many years ago. This car was built in Ice Blue with Geranium trim and weather equipment. However, a photograph I have shows it to have been yellow in recent years. TS17 may also still be around, and one at least of the batch of five US cars TS41 to TS45 surely still lives on?
TS1, the very first car, is under long-term restoration in Ohio, having passed many years ago into the US from Canada. Of course, its sister car TS2, the Dublin show car and the first right-hand drive TR, now belongs to the TR Register in England, where it has been renovated to its original condition guided by a team fronted by myself. This renovation should be finished by the summer of 2001. A report will be written it up in due course.
Of the other four members of the first 10 TRs, TS6 and TS8 were UK market demonstrators, and are not known to survive. But TS9 was sold new in Sweden, and is still in the care of an enthusiast who is about to commence a full restoration in the original Olive Yellow color. TS10 was sold new to an old friend of Sir John Black’s (Chairman of Standard-Triumph in 1953), and was believed exported to Portugal, and though nothing has been heard of this car in modern times, it is not impossible that it may survive.
TRs are a rugged breed, and with five out of the first 10 production cars still around (plus two of the three original prototypes), high survival rates may be assumed, especially as so many of the earliest cars went to benign, sunny climates such as California. More information of these earliest TRs would be welcomed via contact with the editor.