Without doubt, Mike Hazlewood is a top-notch restorer of Triumph’s ever-popular TR sports car. His first was a 4A acquired in 1974 as a daily driver and his first restoration project - a TR3A, purchased in 1975 to gain full membership of the TR Register at a time when only owners of sidescreen cars were allowed voting rights by the club.
Today, he’s showing PC the latest of his many TR projects, a TR4A. It’s a car with an interesting history, having been first registered to Standard Triumph in Coventry then sent by the factory to the renowned Karmann studio in Osnabrück, Germany, where it was used as a mule for the styling exercise that resulted in the TR6. Mike has researched this phase of his car’s life.
‘The TR Register confirmed from its records this is indeed the TR6 styling car,’ he says. ‘It spent a few months at Karmann, where outer body panels were removed and replaced with the now familiar TR6 shape mocked up in composite materials, though no mechanical development appears to have been done on this car.’
The TR6 was a very crafty restyle of the earlier model; more than a facelift, yet retaining the same doors and body tub as its predecessor. After returning to the Coventry factory, Mike’s TR4A was put back to near-original specification and today, only the Coventry registration number and cut away mountings for the headlight shells – needed to clear the lower TR6 bonnet line – reveal its past.
Five years ago, when the restoration started, the TR belonged to a good friend of Mike’s. Purchased in the late 1980s and used sparingly for a few years, the TR was then stored under a cover outdoors for 18 years. Mike was asked to recommission the car but it soon became clear that the project would be more involved. Years living with minimal weather protection meant paint had blistered and chrome had peeled. Its mechanical condition was unknown, though it had been running well before the long lay-up.
The poor paintwork prompted the biggest decision of the project. In the dim and distant past, the car’s colour had been changed from its original Conifer Green – Triumph’s take on the ubiquitous BRG – to Damson. Given the car’s interesting history, returning to the original shade seemed the right way to go but now the idea of a simple respray and recommission was escalating.
The decision was taken to remove the body from the chassis and begin a ground-up restoration. Mike removed exterior and interior trim before trailering the car to a paint shop, where the shell was lifted from the chassis. The paint problems proved to be only skin deep, as the original panels were still sound. The rolling chassis was delivered home, mechanical condition still uncertain, while the body received its new green finish and the pockmarked bumpers sent for fresh chrome.
Back in his garage, Mike continued the stripdown process and soon had a bare chassis and a pile of past-it parts. ‘The chassis was pretty sound and just needed a couple of welded repairs,’ Mike recalls. ‘I sent it for shot blasting and powder coating then turned to the mechanical bits.’
With a day job running a removals and storage business, Mike’s restoration skills have been acquired during his spare time. ‘I’m self-taught, learning by taking things apart then reading the manual afterwards to discover where I went wrong! A friend who is an expert welder helped me develop my body repairs but I always leave paintwork to a professional.’
Practice makes perfect and by the time he started taking the 4A apart, Mike had much experience. Before the end of 2009 the car was completely stripped down. The next tasks were to prepare the components judged fit to re-use, and write a shopping list of the many new parts needed for the rolling chassis. Suspension arms went off for powder coating with the chassis while the new parts were ordered. The gearbox and differential were sent to Mike’s near-neighbour and long-term TR contact, Peter Cox, co-founder of the Cox and Buckles TR spares business that later evolved into Moss, the well-known international classic parts empire. Peter, though semi-retired, stripped and checked the driveline, finding that only new oil seals and re-shimming of the diff were required. Quite a testament to the toughness of the TR’s mechanical parts and good news for Mike’s restoration.
When Mike refitted the suspension, he chose to use polyurethane bushes: ‘The quality of current rubber bushes isn’t great so although they’re not original, poly bushes seemed the right way to go.’
His pragmatic approach to the old chestnut of originality versus upgrade also manifested itself in other ways, such as using copper for brake and fuel lines plus replacing the dynamo with an alternator (with narrow fan belt conversion), due to the dynamo’s marginal charging capability. While he appreciates originality, he also wanted to build a car intended to be driven.
There was good news about the engine. Refitted in the chassis, a good soak with Redex down the bores had the crank turning over easily. However the clutch and starter motor were incorrect, having come from a TR2. They were replaced with the proper items but the engine had yet to run. Reaching the rolling chassis stage with the engine and gearbox refitted was a big step forward. The complete chassis was loaded onto the trailer again and taken back to the paint shop where Mike cautiously refitted the body. Everything lined up without snags. With the TR looking like a car again, it was back to Mike’s garage.
The build-up continued through 2010 with the heater and electrics replaced and the dash and instruments refitted. Attention turned to the engine. Refurbished SU carbs were bolted on, new fuel lines and an exhaust attached and then finally, in September, a can of fresh fuel was poured into the tank. The engine fired up easily despite its lay-up of two decades.
It ran well with good oil pressure. This was a big relief as it meant a costly rebuild wasn’t necessary. ‘The engine seemed so healthy I didn’t even take the head off,’ Mike remembers. It seems to have been the right choice though, as it’s proved sound since.
The hardest item to find, Mike says, was a correct steering wheel. ‘An aftermarket one had been fitted and I really wanted to get back to original.’ Eventually, he found a fellow member of the TR Register who wanted to swap, so his car now wears the right item. Progress slowed due to other commitments and another six months passed before Mike fitted seats and belts, ready to venture out to the MoT test station. In March 2011, the 4A got its first ticket in over two decades and was officially back on the road, though much of its interior trim remained on the shelf. Another period of inactivity followed while Mike stored the car as its owner decided what to do next.
Eventually, in July 2014, Mike ended up purchasing the car he had just restored, a full five years after starting the project. Work began afresh, with the interior going in and a fresh MoT put on. ‘The 4A was properly sorted and on the road by the end of October, with its inaugural trip to a local show followed by the TR Register AGM at Gaydon.’ The next stop, two weeks later, was the TR Register’s stand at the NEC Classic Motor Show, where the re-appearance of such a significant car pulled in admiring crowds.
There are still jobs to be done however. In particular he needs a cast iron exhaust manifold and pressed steel rocker box to replace the current aftermarket items. A pair of original air filter housings have been recently sourced but need to be painted and fitted. Mike’s looking forward to taking his 4A to as many TR Register events as possible in 2015.
‘I’m sure club members will want to see this little piece of Triumph history,’ he says. ‘It also drives so well after the restoration, I want every opportunity to take it out.’ So speaks a man who is ready to enjoy the well-deserved fruits of his labour.