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PHOTOS OF THE WEEK—TRS LE MANS RACE CAR HISTORY—SCROLL DOWN TO SEE UPDATES FROM MICHAEL DELANEY AND DALE WILL

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The Triumph TR2 and TR3 cars were doing well in many road races and rallyes in the 1950s and the Triumph Works team, headed up by Ken Richardson, had their eyes on wining the prestigious Coupe Georges Durand team prize in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.  As part of their marketing strategy, they entered three TR3S cars for the 1959 Le Mans.  These cars were based on the TR3, but their chassis had a 6-inch longer wheelbase.  The outer shell was fibreglass with steel reinforcements, and looked very much like the TR3 body, only longer to accommodate a special engine.  Triumph was working on a special twin overhead camshaft engine for these cars.  The DOHC 2-liter Le Mans engine used in competition from 1959 to 1961 was fed by dual twin-choke SU carburettors and rated at 160 HP.  An unusual feature of the engine was the location of the drives for the camshaft, fuel pump, oil pump, distributor, and tachometer behind a detachable magnesium case on the front of the engine.  The engine was officially known as the 20X but was nicknamed “the Sabrina engine” because the cam covers reminded people of Sabrina (Norma Sykes), a popular (and well-built), movie star. 

 

The Sabrina Engine

Sabrina the actress and model

Sabrina

 

 

During the 1959 Le Mans race, the three TR3S cars managed 130/135mph on the straights.  However the fan blades snapped off and damaged the radiators on cars 25 (XHP939) and 26 (XHP 940).  Car 27 (XHP 938) had its fan removed and ran well until the 22nd hour.  It was in 7th place when its oil pump failed.  Although the cars did not finish, the Sabrina engine showed promise. 

Triumph had plans to not only use this engine for racing but to also use it on their production cars.  However, the Sabrina engine was too difficult to produce and too heavy for street cars, so it was only used for racing.  Unfortunately, Triumph dismantled the TR3S racecars, but kept the Sabrina engines to use for future races. As far as I know, there is one body shell in existence. Dale Will told me about it and said the current owner has posted an update on the restoration at this link:

https://www.thelotusforums.com/forums/topic/58318-triumph-tr3s-le-mans-lotus-elite-project/?fbclid=IwAR3dnB23p6QJ2pyhnE3lje49phGjEaP5zmX9_Ttmr8loHHDAYHVHfbdbN4U

Scroll down this page to see photos of the existing TR3S body shell.

 

TR3S race car

I believe the gentleman on the right is Ken Richardson

Loading up the TR3S race cars

1955 Lemans, TR2

1959 Le Mans, TR3S

TR3S Le Mans cars

The Sabrina cam cover at TRF

 

Meanwhile, back at the factory, Triumph also wanted to design a new car style to replace the TR3 design.  They hired Giovanni Michelotti and he produced two prototypes, the Zest in 1957 and the Zoom in 1959.  These prototypes evolved into the TR4.

The 1960 and 61 TRS racecars were based on the Zoom style.  The body shell was again fibreglass reinforced with steel, the tub was steel, and the TR3S chassis was widened to suit the new wider Zoom shel. The cars were given rack and pinion steering.  Underneath the body shell, the TRS cars used many production parts.  The front suspension was similar to the TR3, and used the same upper and lower wishbones, vertical links, bushes, and hubs.  Some adjustments were evidently done to modify the suspension, and the front road springs are “variable rate” because some of the coils are tighter than others.  They had Girling disc brakes on the front and rear.  The cars had standard TR3 gearboxes and Borg & Beck dual disc clutches. 

 

 

TRS race car with temporary number

Speed trials

TRS 926 HP at the factory

 

In the 1960 Le Mans race, three cars were entered, 926 HP, 927 HP and 928 HP, with 929 HP as the spare.  However, during the race, the engine valve seats became distorted, which affected performance.  All of the cars finished the race, but they did not complete the number of miles required to qualify for a place.

In the 1961 race, Triumph once again entered three cars, this time 926 HP (number 27), 927 HP, and 929 HP (Number 25), with 928 HP as the spare.  They finished 9th, 11th, and 15th in their class, and they captured the Coupe Georges Durand Manufacturer’s Team Trophy.  They were the only team to finish intact. 

Note: I have no idea where these photos came from, someone had sent them to Charles.

 

 

Standard Triumph was purchased by British Leyland and the Triumph Works racing team was disbanded.  Not long after this, the TRS cars were sold and ended up in North America for a while. 

Back in 1979, 929 HP Number 25 was acquired from a Canadian owner by Rod Leach and returned to England.  A gentleman named Bill Clark from Tennessee bought the car, and then in 1986, Charles Runyan purchased it from him.  This car has appeared at various national car shows, including the 2002 Mid-Ohio race meeting.  Charles also purchased 926 HP Number 27 in 1986, and the body has been restored but the Sabrina motor has not been restored.  This car, driven by Peter Bolton and Keith Ballisat, finished ninth overall in the 1961 Le Mans.

The last we had heard of the other two TRS racecars were that they were in Germany.  Arwed Otto and his son, Mike, purchased 928 HP in 1999 from John Ames.  Mike Otto also owns 927 HP, which had been stored in Virginia.

The information in this letter was based on sources from “The Triumph TRs, The Complete Story,” by Graham Robson and “TRIUMPH Sports and Racing Cars,” by G. William Krause, and from various writings by Charles Runyan. 

P.S. The 929 HP and 926 HP Le Mans cars owned by Charles Runyan are for sale. To see a listing for the sale, please use this link.

To see a chronological slide show of the restoration of the 926 HP car use this link to view the slide show.

To read more about what Charles had to say about this restoration compiled from his Photos of the Week, use this link.

 

UPDATE FROM MICHAEL DELANEY

TRS posed outside of the Hotel de France near Le Mans.

 

Michael Delany sent us an email about the photos of the TRS cars outside the Hotel de France. He wrote,

"Hi Karen,
The pictures of the race cars parked outside The Hotel de France.
The Hotel is situated near the Le Mans race track and it is still in business.
I have stayed there quite a few time traveling down to the Dordogne region of France.
All the rooms in the main Hotel building are named after race drivers, Graham Hill, Stirling Moss, Carroll Shelby, Derick Bell are just few.
The full address of the Hotel is
Hotel de France
20 Place de la République
72340
LA Chartre Sur Le Loir
The village is very pretty with river Le Loir running though it.
The Hotel has a garage at the rear where the cars would have been worked on then DRIVEN to the track.
I hope this small part of information helps shed some light on the pictures.
Best Regards
Michael Delany."

 

Behind the Hotel de France by the garages.

I believe that the man on the right is Ken Richardson.

The caption reads: "The 3 Twin Cams Crossing the line 3 abreast and winning the
team prize at Le Mans in 1961", but this was actually a staged photo taken in 1960! Probably
taken for publicity. Charles had told me about how this photo was staged and Dave
Hagenbuch, former TRF Technical Specialist, now retired, reminded me to let people know
about this interesting fact. Notice how there aren't any spectators in the stands!

The Coupe Georges Durand Team cup is the coveted Ken Richardson Challenge cup.
The Roadster Factory is the caretaker of the “Ken Richardson Challenge” trophy
and present it to each year’s winner at VTR. The challenge winner is a TR2 or TR3 participant
who excels in both concours events and driving events with a little bias toward driving events,
particularly autocross. These were Ken Richardson’s dictates when
he gave the trophy to the VTR, the trophy being the actual trophy
won by the Triumph team at LeMans in 1961.

UPDATE FROM DALE WILL

Note from Dale Will: Hi Karen- I just read your piece on the TRS cars.
I have long been fascinated by the TR3S cars. As you mention, Robson
stated that the bodies were fiberglass. While this is true of the exterior panels,
the tub and the inner fenders were steel TR3a items, with extra metal
spliced in the front fenders. One body has survived (the chassis
were recycled into the TRS cars) and that original TR3S body was on eBay a
while ago for a huge sum. The body is now mounted on a lengthened TR3
frame and the owner started prepping it with a Coventry Climax engine as used in the
Lotus Elite. I don't believe it was sold. I captured these photos from the ebay listing. Cheers- Dale
The owner of the TR3S posted this awhile back:
https://www.thelotusforums.com/forums/topic/58318-triumph-tr3s-le-mans-lotus-elite-project/?fbclid=IwAR0xNOfWEjOZqTpzPYtCN8lvkcm5vy1rCFYEr6ma0VMCazlVVRTnWKmuQjQ

Photos below show the surviving TR3S body

The TR3S body