1954 Triumph TR2 – Graham Bigg


Some of you may remember this car as I have owned it since 1996 and used it regularly including participating in the 1997 “BAY to BIRDWOOD”. Sometime in 2001 the engine started making rattling sounds, which were traced to a worn no. 4 big end bearing. As I was aware of several issues with the body including a door, which did not fit properly, I decided to fix the bodywork while the engine was out. It is only a small car so 6 or 9 months should be plenty of time! WRONG!!! I found a panel shop in Goulburn who agreed to do the panel repairs as a low priority job. This sounded good so home I went, removed the engine & gearbox, the bumpers, front panel & mudguards, all the interior trim, dash, wiring, lights, fuel tank, brake lines etc. The car was then sandblasted inside & out before being trailered to Goulburn. With all the paint off it was apparent that every panel on the car had beendamaged at some time. More later.

OK. Lets get started on the engine! The compression was good so when I removed the cylinder head I clamped the wet sleeves in place before turning the block over to examine the crankshaft. All bearing surfaces and bearings look good except for no. 4 big end. OK out with the crankshaft and measure all the bearing surfaces. Oh #**##* as they say!! Every last bearing surface had been ground to the maximum undersize and there were still grooves in that no. 4. What to do! I thought about having the crank built up and reground to standard size but this is expensive and there were no guarantees on the work as post war forgings were not of a consistent quality. Best look around for another crank. Reproductions were listed as out of stock with the usual suppliers in the UK & USA so I started looking for a good used one locally. To cut a long story short the TR wet sleeve engine is a derivative of the engine first used in the original Vanguard, then the TEA20 Ferguson Tractor and many military & industrial applications. The local coordinator for the TR Register put me in touch with the Victorian Vanguard wizard who just happened to have in his shed a good low miles crank from one of the last 4 Cyl Vanguards sold in Australia. After brief negotiations the crank was purchased at a price much lower than the cost of rebuilding the original and was delivered by his mate to the Yass Truck stop (complete with original bearing shells tied in place) in exchange for a SLAB. The replacement crank had no measurable wear and had the late model oil feed modifications. You Beauty! I bought new STANDARD size bearings & gaskets, reseated the valves and reassembled the engine. I also treated the gearbox to new bearings and a new lay shaft then overhauled the distributor and carburettors. I had fixed the overdrive earlier.

Some time passed before the panel shop owner told me that his staff refused to touch the car and it was delivered back to me. The only visible change was a lot of dust and coffee cup rings on the bonnet. Oh##**#*!! The next step was to separate the body and chassis which was fairly straightforward. The body was then stored on a pair of tall rolling trestles fabricated from square tube to allow work to proceed on the chassis beneath. First step was to roll the chassis outside and pressure clean it several times. A close visual inspection only revealed two small sections in need of repair. This can’t be right I thought considering the large amount of previous body damage. The original Factory Manual I had acquired set out the procedure to check the chassis for bending, twisting or buckling on a bare chassis. So we strip off the front and rear suspension and anything else that was not welded in place. All measurements were in relation to an imaginary line some distance below the chassis top rail so I cobbled together a set of stands to support the chassis with the workshop floor as the imaginary line. So far so good. I measured everything twice, checked the set-up was correct then measured again! It surely can’t be straight!!!! I shut the workshop and went upstairs sure I had done something wrong. Two days later I measured it all again then got a mate from work to come over to show me what I had done wrong. All straight he said but you need to repair a flange where the muffler sits and the right rear body and bumper mounting bracket is twisted badly. This I already knew but it was a relief to be told that all else was straight and solid! I fabricated new sections from plate then cut out the damaged areas and welded in the new. Then the entire chassis was stripped of paint and rust, carefully prepared, etched, primed and painted. The same procedure was followed with the rear axle, suspension, brakes and the many other undamaged components that had been removed while leaving the hardest part (for Me) until last – the body. At about this time the grand sea change plan became a reality and we moved to Carinya, Cooma (another story) and the TR was moved to Carinya in the back of an AVIS van, along with all our other possessions,to take up residence in the woolshed. I had thought early retirement to an historic house on a rundown farm would allow plenty of time to have the TR roadworthy for her 50th birthday. Silly Grandad! In five years all I managed was a last minute rush to convert a bare chassis to a rolling one to make the move back to Canberra slightly easier. The chassis was displayed at WHEELS in this form several years ago. I did get a quote to fix the bodywork for $10,000 but did not have the money.

Sooo! We are back in the same Canberra workshop with the still sad body on trestles. A start is made by lowering the body to the floor then rolling it over on to several large plastic bags filled with rags (beanbags could be used) so that I could remove the coat(s) of bitumen from the underside and uncover more surprises. One advantage of restoring a small car is that once it is reduced to bite sized chunks you can actually move these chunks by yourself (sometimes one end at a time) with occasional help to place or remove stands etc under the bit you are holding. Starting from the front we find the bumper has been cut into several parts to roughly straighten it then bronze welded back together with silver paint camouflage. The front apron has had several repairs as there are several shades of lead visible after the plastic filler was removed. Both front mounting points on the inner guards (part of the TUB) have been replaced. Both front guards have had new sections inserted behind the wheel opening in different metal thicknesses on each side and thicker than original. Both “A” pillars have been repaired, the left one appears to have been pushed in as far as the chassis rail at some time, both outer sills have been replaced and home made floors have been fitted. The firewall resembles the surface of the lake on a windy day, the dash is kinked and both door skins have had the lower 8 inches replaced. That’s only the front. Where to start????

One of our life members comes to my rescue with an offer of advice and help! THANK YOU WILLIE! He cheerfully came over for half a day a week for the better part of a year. After much observation, standing back, pursing of lips and discussion it is decided that the left “A” pillar is not where it should be (remember the door issue in Para 1) and we should start by trying to correct this. We make up a large bracket from square tube, unpack the porta-power and proceed to push, pull, heat, wack, tap and curse until we have it close to where we think it should be. Next we attacked the inner guard and sub frame attached to this pillar, the firewall and sill. Wow! We are making progress but there are still ripples in the firewall, mostly on the left side. This starts us on more measuring and head scratching before we get the porta-power out again to widen the opening for the gearbox and move the front of the left sill outwards so that it is parallel to the right hand one (more push, pull, heat, wack etc). Eventually this process is successful and the front of the gearbox opening in the floor and the distance between the sill seams are the same as on another TR. And the kink in the dash has responded to treatment. Move on.

The flanged opening in the (homemade) floors is a somewhat different shape to the metal gearbox cover explaining the difficulty encountered when removing the gearbox earlier to investigate the non-functioning overdrive. As the cover only shows minimal signs of repair it seems to us that the floor requires modification so we put the cover in place and draw a line around the outside. The right side is not too bad, only about 10 mm out on one of the curves but the left side required a much larger section cut off and a new flange fabricated and welded in. Finally we got to the rear panel of the car. The area between the spare wheel compartment and the right tail lamp had been repaired before, still was not the correct shape and had been sanded through in several places. As this was a boxed in section it would be difficult to repair with the tools to hand so I acquired a second hand panel damaged on the left side and we proceeded to cut a good section off this to replace the “holy” right section on the car. This section was cleaned, repaired and made ready for the transplant. Then we drilled out the spot welds and using a thin cut-off wheel on the grinder sliced the damaged section of panel away. LOOK AT THIS! Visible inside the boxed section were THREE welded seams showing that this repair had been undertaken several times previously. The boot floor under the fuel tank was very rough looking with two large odd shaped patches held in place with a random selection of bronze weld, solder and Silastic. These were removed to reveal what appeared to be rust holes in the floor pressing. It looked as if I should cut out a section about 4″ by 3″ on each side and weld in new metal. Out with the grinder again to cut out the rust and prepare new plates.

Murphy strikes again! Before the floor was hot enough to weld to the new plates it would collapse! The fuel tank had been clamped to the floor with cotton underfelt as padding. There were several holes under the tank to allow the engine fuel pipe, drain plug and overflow to pass through. Unfortunately they also allowed the ingress of salt (the car had been delivered new in Adelaide and later lived in Coogee) and road spray along with the odd fuel spill when refuelling which must have kept the felt damp for long periods causing some weird chemical reaction in the steel. To get back to uncontaminated steel in the floor the entire area under the tank had to be replaced.

A number of damaged or missing captive nuts were replaced and a trial fit of all the panels was undertaken. The right front guard needed reshaping where it meets the scuttle and some “fullness” taken out ofthe area behind the wheel. Only about a day to fix. The right door was next and only received minor tweaking where it meets the scuttle. The right rear guard was problematic as it had a twist in it when free, the result of a “professional” repair after some clot backed his company car into it in about 1997. After much fettling it was made to fit. The left rear guard bolted straight on but the door led to much head scratching and realigning of hinges etc. The left front guard was fine along the top but the rear section was nowhere near the door pillar: you guessed it: it has been modified to fit before I had moved the door pillar back to where it should be. Silly Grandad! Out with the grinder again to slice a couple of wedges out of the guard and heat, wack etc again to make it fit again. Next was the bonnet and the same old story. Because the door pillar had been moved and the scuttle was now the right shape the bonnet did not fit along the rear edge and corners. Out with the grinder again etc. The front panel was next and although it did go into the space provided there was about three days of straightening flanges, fettling swage lines and replacing the mounting points for the grille before it was deemed satisfactory. The boot lid also requires some minor repairs to the mountings for the luggage rack. Now that all seems to be coming together I remove all the bolt on panels and hinges and commence preparing each piece in turn for paint. I had many conversations with neighbours, dog walkers and other passers by as I laboured over sanding, etching, sanding, priming, etc, etc on each panel on the front lawn at every available opportunity over the next three months or so.

Choosing a colour for the final coats of paint was another exercise that is not as simple as it seems. My thought was to use the 1954 Triumph factory colour “pearl white”. I had several manufacturers colour codes for this shade so I trundled down to my local paint supplier and asked him to mix me up some paint. Silly Grandad! The codes may have valid in 1954 but no computer listing recognised the codes or the English paint manufacturers. I was advised to bring in a sample or find a modernish car in a colour as close as possible to the one I required and get the paint code from the car’s VIN plate. Yeah right. After much cruising of car shows and car parks I hit the phones to other TR owners who offered a number of suggestions, which only succeeded in confusing me further.  Silly Grandad.

Eventually the paint supplier, Auto Paint Supplies in Gladstone Street, and I decided to try a Jaguar shade of “Old English White” from the early 60’s as a starting point. The final colour has 50% of the yellow tint from that formulation. They were very patient and helpful. Back to the painting. The entire under side of the body and guards was given a thick anti-chip coating before the colour coats. The first areas to receive colour coats were the underneath and inside of the body tub and other parts that would not be normally be seen. This was to hone my skills and to check the colour in real life. Too yellow said ?her indoors’. I agreed and as mentioned above the formula was changed. I know it is only a little car but by the time both sides of every square inch is given 3 or 6 coats of paint you suddenly discover that 8 litres have been used and you are not finished. Excuse me Sir I want more. One of the joys of painting in the great outdoors is the surprises like sudden gusts bringing in rust and stuff, a curious bee or moth or falling flower petals. Character building stuff.

Finally I put the body back on the chassis before I start to bolt on all the bits. The body mounting kit I purchased does not have sufficient packing pieces so I fabricate extras. Not a good sign. After much trial and error I think I have it close to right and start bolting panels back in place. The front guards, front panel and bonnet go back without much drama or lost skin. The left rear guard is simple to fit but the right one just will not co-operate. It appears to be too long and full around the taillight. Oh *#&%%$#! Out with the grinder again and cut wedges out of my lovely painted guard then heat, wack, etc until it fits. Then on with more primer, filler, anti-chip and colour. Fitting doors is always fun. I lost count of the number if times I “adjusted” the packing on the left side to get the door to shut properly. It is still not terrific and I think that the “A” and “B” pillars are too close together by about 1/8″. The door over the spare wheel is also a little stretched, the result of too many repairs like the adjacent tail lamp.

During the reassembly I replaced nearly every nut, bolt and washer on the body as it was quicker and cheaper than cleaning and rethreading the miss-matched assortment that came with the car, Most are cadmium plated and all are high tensile. New suspension bushes, shock absorbers, brake rubbers, hoses and linings were fitted as well.

Most of the interior trim has been re-used though I intend to replace the carpets as some pieces are worn and some missing. I fitted an electric fan before the rebuild to cure overheating at traffic lights and fitted an alternator during the rebuild so that I could have headlights and the fan on together; otherwise the car is mechanically original. The exhaust system was replaced with a reproduction of the original from the UK, which has no internal baffles. After another delay due to my eye problems the car was deemed readyfor the road so a booking was made for a Roadworthy Inspection at
Woden Tyres and a permit obtained. On the appointed day I set off at 8.30 am and was home again 15 min later. Murphy strikes again! Two streets from home the Welch plug in the back of the head popped out rapidly followed by a torrent of green stuff and steam. I phoned Woden Tyres and told them why I was delayed then set off to find a new plug as the old one had vanished. $4 purchased a new one then back home to remove the cylinder head and very carefully fit the new plug. The engine was then reassembled and refilled with green stuff and I was back ready for inspection by 1.00 pm. The car passed and I was offered a job as a mechanic. He had not expected me to return that day let alone at lunchtime. The car was registered in August 2010 and driven to Adelaide for the Bay to Birdwood the following month with only two small problems: – the thermo switch for the electric fan failed and both new high tensile bolts securing one of the new shock absorbers broke. The weather was fine and the soft top stayed in the boot for the whole enjoyable 18-day trip.

My aim for this refurbishment was not to present the car as a 100 point restoration better than new, but as a car that has survived earlier misuse, looks good at 10 paces and is reliable and comfortable to use. I feel our trip to Adelaide demonstrates that I have achieved this. Sure there are bits that are not perfect but I do not want a car that is trailered to shows and not driven as its maker intended. Why “BARNSEY” you ask? Well the way I see it the car has its share of big hits and other troubles in life but is back looking good and sounding great again.

Graham Bigg

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