Tips & Tricks for Making Your Triumph Drive as Good as it Looks
By Rob Mullner; photos by Rob Mullner and Les Bidrawn
As a long-time Triumph TR6 owner, I am frequently asked questions concerning what to do with a recently acquired project car and just how much time and money it will take to turn a basket case into a solid runner. I enjoy these conversations for a number of reasons; you can learn a lot about a person and their approach to life when the conversation turns to project cars.
My experiences could be categorized into two distinct schools of thought: There is the “Old-School” approach, “stock is best and unless you are some sort of nutjob you will respect the marque and put it back together the way the factory intended, if a TR6 was meant to have a header, they would have put the starter somewhere else so it wouldn’t get cooked,” say the subscribers to the Old School.
The second school is founded on the “Minor Improvement” method. Its mantra of upgrades revolves around selected components with the goal of improving stock operation without major changes. An upgraded clutch release bearing/pressure plate package is an example of the M.I. train of thought.
If I polled people in my local club, the Southern California Triumph Owners Association, the results would be evenly split between the two philosophies. I respect the club members’ opinions since there are a number of accomplished vintage racers in the club and their theories have been proven on the track. On the other hand, some of the nicest TR6’s I have ever ridden in are representatives of the Minor Improvement movement, with uprated bushings and related bits combined to typify the “good as new” approach. It’s difficult to find fault with the tactic as a passenger in a well-sorted TR blasting past other drivers on the back straight at Buttonwillow.
There is a third school that I espouse. Emanating from the Hot Rod world, this movement is called Resto-Mod (restoration/modification), drawing inspiration from the past with input from modern tuners taking advantage of the latest materials and technology to make even the most basic grocery-getter a high performance machine. I like the ability to keep the critical systems and improve upon them for enhanced performance, style and safety.
1. Modernized Suspension
This really is the best modification you can make to your TR6, hands down. Dump the lever shocks flopping around in an attempt to dampen your ride. Armstrong levers were ubiquitous on Austin Healey, MG, Triumph and domestics like Chevy, Olds, Ford, etc. Somehow this technology persisted well into the Seventies, besmirching the full run of our beloved TR6. Just a few leisurely hours spent under your TR6 will make a huge difference in handling, give it a try; the procedure is completely reversible. Like most of the upgrades covered here, a casual observer will not be able to tell that you have tinkered or tampered with new-fangled tube shocks. Take a look at the Moss Motors Koni-based tube shock conversion seen here.
Hallmarks of this kit are very progressive (adjustable) damping with much less “chatter” from the rear. The Koni shocks do a great job of keeping the rear trailing arms perpendicular to the road surface inspiring confidence and providing a very smooth ride. While the Moss kit will have you drilling a few holes through the trunk floor and inner wheel well, I see it as a small price to pay for a sturdy bracket system to anchor the Koni shock. For maximum benefit from the tube shock conversion I strongly recommend rear “competition” springs (also available from Moss) which will eliminate the dreaded squat that plagued many a TR6.
Having tried uprated springs with new freshly rebuilt levers and with the tube shock conversion I’m an advocate of the tube shock and rear competition spring set-up. While you are at it, have a good look at all your bushings, slop in the trailing arms or front suspension will definitely kill the fun. Moss has many flavors of bushing materials to choose from.
2. New Rolling Stock = Performance
Your Dunlop steelies and stainless beauty rings look great after a Saturday morning soap and sponge therapy session in the driveway. I think they look cool too; it’s just that they are pushing 35 years of age. Upgrading your wheels and tires will improve handling and safety. I’m not advocating changing out wheels and tires just for the sake of new versus old, but on the freeway at 60-plus miles an hour you start to think about the potholes, grooves and related road scars that you don’t consider while you pilot your “modern” car. Have a gander at my solution, the Panasport FS wheel. The FS offers classic good looks with a proper offset that looks correct on any TR6.
With modern materials and construction, what’s not to like? If you go “plus one” with the FS16 you open a new realm of tire sizes accommodating a bigger contact patch for improved traction coupled with a shorter sidewall for quicker response while retaining a comfortable ride. As an additional benefit, the 16s fill in those big wheel wells and just look cool. I run 205/55-16 and have found them to be a great fit with the Panasports. You might have already guessed that I store my Michelin Redline X radials in a cool dry place. Expensive and not sticky, in my humble opinion inner tubes are for sledding or dragging behind powerboats. I’m sure that if you are a concours guy, your Redlines see action on the show circuit. For my needs, the Pirelli P6 Four Seasons is just right. I figure if it’s good enough for a new BMW 3 series, it’s good enough for my old roadster.
3. Regular Blood Transfusions
Oil is your motor’s best friend; add a spin-on filter adaptor and oil cooler if you live in a warm climate. We don’t have room to analyze the petroleum vs. synthetic debate here, but if you have the spare coin, springing for full synthetic or a blend has been proven to extend engine life and decrease wear.
If engine life is a priority, a readily available $2.99 oil filter does a better job than the original equipment filter. Plus, it’s so much easier and cleaner to spin off a Fram and pop a new one on. I don’t miss the hot oil running down my contorted arm. Since I live in Southern California, my TR6 operates in near summer conditions during the entire driving season. I like the Moss oil cooler kit options, as they offer all of the parts required from spin-on adaptor to oil cooler thermostat with your choice of stainless or rubber hoses and a choice of 13 or 16 row coolers. This is one of those modifications that doesn’t add aesthetic value or a palpable performance increase, but your engine will reap the rewards.
4. Bigger Binders
This is another “rebuilt versus new” shootout easily settled. One panic stop will turn you into a true believer for this modification. Compare the original two-piston Girling and pad on the right with the four-piston caliper and pad on the left.
The conversion maintains front/rear brake balance without modification to the dual circuit master cylinder, and pedal travel is reduced since it takes less brake fluid to move four smaller pistons than two larger pistons. Trimming the dust shield is the only permanent change required to fit this kit. The increase in swept area and mechanical brake torque is apparent. These rotors fit behind your stock 15-inch wheels and aren’t really noticeable unless you point them out, or in my case paint them red. Couldn’t help myself.
Using freshly rebuilt calipers from a Japanese application loaded with modern, semi-metallic pads, these four piston calipers bolt directly to the suspension uprights without adaptors. The Moss kit also includes four Goodridge braided stainless brake lines. I also upgraded my iron rotors with Moss’s cadmium plated, drilled and relieved rotors (which look extremely cool behind the Panasports spokes).
5. Keep The Sun Out
In a nod to motoring style, change your top. I didn’t realize the effect a new convertible top would have—it makes a beater look good. Even if you don’t use your top much—which was always my excuse—a new top transforms your Triumph into a sharper, cleaner ride. As an added benefit the interior is quieter and a bit more hospitable on longer freeway rides. In a nod to the old school contingent, I chose a Robbins reflective stripe top from Moss. I figured that anything that makes my little car more visible to cell phone/latte/surround-sound-DVD-watching drivers is a good thing.
6. Light a Brighter Fire
There will be a day in the not so distant future when a mechanic who speaks “points and condenser” language will be a rarity. Since I was never very good at setting gaps and I always lost that little condenser screw, it should come as no surprise that I am a big fan of the breakerless ignition conversion kits. Most classic British cars can benefit from hotter spark with less scatter and worry free operation. While I have an older “outboard’ system, I plan to replace it with one of the “invisible” systems like the Ignitor. Moss handles a couple of different ignition and coil options. All of them will keep you on the road without worry.