There are iconic products that we admire for high concept, gorgeous design, inspired innovation, quality craftsmanship, and mechanical prowess. The very first one of these products introduced to the public is the one possessing the magic…the one that made the breakthrough and got the accolades. TS1, the first TR2, is the breakthrough Triumph sports car with magnetic appeal.
This special car fueled the passions of two men deeply involved in British cars. For enthusiasts, TS1 illustrated what is possible with perseverance, showcased Triumph’s proud legacy, made headlines, and reminded us why we love these cars.
Joe Richards and TS1
Joe Richards got involved with Triumphs when looking for a project car for his oldest son, Nino, who was turning 15. He bought a barely running 1963 TR3B without a top, and of course halfway home it started raining. But he still fell in love with it.
The red convertible was done a year later just as Nino got his license. (Note: Nino still has TR3s and is head judge for Triumph Register of America.)
Richards bought another TR3 for himself, but it was beyond repair, so he put an ad in the paper for parts. He was bombarded: 50 people called in two weeks.
Richards realized that people working with old cars needed to network with one another. With the list of 50 owners, he started the Triumph Register of America. Richards was the first president, a position he held for 25 years. In the meantime, he restored a powder blue 1960 TR3A, which he still drives. And he started fixing up TR3s to sell.
At the second TRA meet in 1975, a registration came in from Toronto with commission number TS1-LO. “I thought it was a wrong number,” Richards says. “When the owner showed up and I realized what he had, I asked him if he wanted to sell it. He had big plans but promised that if he changed his mind, he’d give me first crack.”
Eventually Richards got his chance. But when he went to see it, he found the condition far worse than he expected. The motor was out, the body separated from the frame, the frame rusted through, and there were boxes of parts.
“I had mixed emotions,” Richards says. “It was so bad and the price was so high, a year’s salary. But I had imagined what it would be like to own it for so long, I just had to have it.”
Once home, Richards sent the body out to a stripper and it came back looking like lace. “There were more holes than metal on the lower part of the body,” he explains. “I’ve never seen a car as bad as TS1 that was repaired and put on the road again.”
Still, Richards thought the restoration was possible because there were plenty of TR2 parts available. He soon found out that his assumption was wrong—since TS1 was hand-built, the production body panels didn’t fit so he’d have to get them custom made. And many of the parts were different, requiring painstaking research to sort out what was on TS1 when it left the factory.
He tracked down previous owners to solve some mysteries, and John Saunders from the Triumph TR Register in England helped sort out others. Saunders was involved in restoring sister car TS2 for the club. Comparing notes, they figured out the anomalies. For instance, the front suspension was made of parts off a Mayflower model. The front TR2 badge was a larger, re-worked Triumph Standard 8 badge.
“Finding original parts was the hardest part of the project,” says Richards. But as word got out about the car, enthusiasts contacted him with parts they thought he could use. For example, the early cars had a different radiator cap that Triumph changed because the car was overheating, and Richards wanted the original type. Out of the blue someone called and offered him a brand new early radiator with cap.
Richards did the repair and assembly work himself in periods between raising a family, work, and illnesses. “The most fun was watching it finally come together,” he says. His goal was to take it to the 2003 TRA National Meet in Auburn, Indiana, for the 50-year celebration of the car’s birth. He was still painting the spare tire door the night before departure. “It was finally happening, after 23 years, we were going to be there,” he says.
Richards got behind the wheel to drive the 200 miles to the event with other Triumphs, but only made it halfway. The spring inside the oil filter that regulates oil pressure fractured, the oil pressure dropped, and the engine started knocking from a bad connecting rod, he recalls. He got a trailer to complete the journey. “It wasn’t the grand entry I imagined, but I was still proud to have it there.”
The following year, car and owner went to England for a reunion of TS1 and TS2 at Triumph TR Register’s UK annual meet. “It was a great experience to have the two cars together,” says Richards. After the event the pair led a road tour with author Graham Robson.
Richards logged about 3,000 miles driving to events. “I always sat on the edge of my seat in fear someone would run into me,” he admits. He says he thought TS1 would go to the grave with him, but he had medical problems and other cars needing attention. So when Robert Smith, owner of a British car museum in Hawaii, was looking for an early TR2, he offered it to him. They set the transfer for the 2008 Vintage Grand Prix at Watkins Glen; Triumph was the featured marque.
Would he do it all again? “Absolutely,” Richards answers. “Sure there were problems and headaches and financial hardships, but it was worth it. Knowing I was able to take a car from what it was to what it could be—it’s one of the highlights of my life.”
TS1 and Robert Smith
Robert Smith grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and lied about his age to get a job sacking groceries so he could buy his first sports car on his 16th birthday—a 1959 Austin-Healey Bugeye. He drove British sports cars over the years and after he retired on the island of Hawaii, he opened his collection of British cars as a museum.
When Smith started looking for an early TR2, he found a list of owners online and sent out inquiries. Six months later he got a response from Joe Richards. “I knew the car from magazine articles and was stunned to see it for sale,” he says. “I read the e-mail several times.”
The ownership transfer at the Watkins Glen event was epic. “I got to drive TS1 around the old, historic course several times, as well as serve as pace car for the historic Triumph race on the new speedway with Kas Kastner, the famous Triumph racer, riding along,” Smith says. “It was a sports car enthusiast’s dream come true—the best experience of my life with sports cars,” he adds.
“The TR2 was a sports car that most enthusiasts could afford, and it started the cascade of British sports cars coming to North America,” explains Smith. “It was sleek and capable of 100 mph. I love this car for its historical significance.” He welcomes visitors to come and pay their respects; e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment.
May 14, 2013 @ 7:58 pm Phillip C. Hoopes, MD
I purchased TS1 from Robert Smith in 2011 and showed the car at the Utah Concours d’elegance 2011 and at the TRA meet in Little Switzerland, NC in 2012. Joe Richards was with me and we decided it needed some restoring. Mark Macy is restoring TS1 at Macy’s Garage in Tipp City, OH. It is turning into a major full restoration with the intent of maintaining its originality. Joe Richards lives close by and is supervising its restoration. I would estimate another 6 months before finished.
Phillip C. Hoopes, MD