Sunday, 11 November 2012


The National Trust is obliged to preserve houses and gardens. It can’t just let them decay. Its dilemma was touched on in a TV documentary about Sissinghurst, when a resident descendant of the donor family woke up one morning, to find the trust replacing a crumbling, antique stone statue with a modern copy.

It’s the same with cars such as Ian Brown's TR3 (right). Triumph TR2s were like first love. Their handling was not very good, but I didn’t know any better in 1955 when I went to the British Grand prix at Aintree in one. A treasured girl friend had another. One of my first published features was a competition history of the TR2 up to about 1956. I knew TR2s, so a chance to drive a restored one was too good to miss. What a disapppointment. It felt good at first. Lovely to drive an open car with your elbow overhanging the low door. What clear round instruments. Great to hear the exhaust crackle at 2,400rpm. I liked the crisp gearshift and roomy cockpit. What a practical car it was, with a decent boot.

TR2s are eminently restorable with a separate chassis and simple body parts and the owner had paid a lot for it. I hadn’t the heart to tell him the steering was terrible. TR2 cam and lever was never great but this was just stiff. It had no feedback at all. The Motor road test of a TR3 in 1956 thought it, “satisfactorily sporting”, which in road test language probably meant no more than “all right”. At two and a third turns lock to lock it was, not surprisingly, “heavy at parking speeds”.

There is a sharp division over restored classics. Some people like patina. Seats sat in by generations of drivers. Paint and chrome dulled and weathered. Exhausts that smoke because the cylinder bores are worn. These enthusiats try not to renew anything. Remaking decaying bodywork is anathema. Like the new Sissinghurst statue it’s no longer original.

I don’t agree. I like originality but not at the expense of practicality. When I drive a classic I want it to feel and behave as it did when new. The best restorations are done using period materials, techniques and workmanship. I’ll allow some liberties in the interests of research. When I did my MGB I took the best features of various ages – chrome wire wheels, chrome grille, leather upholstery but modern paint colour, and equipped it with a Rover 2litre twin-cam 4-valve engine with fuel injection, and a 5-speed gearbox. (TR3A right, at Goodwood)

That restored TR2 was joyless. It looked good but that was the end of it. In that case I’d have gone with the patina, saggy seats, draughty hood, opaque sidescreens…
Bit of both (below) my MGB had a new bodywhell. My A30 behind was all original.

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