In a parallel universe, this super-rare, hatchback sports coupé might well have been a serious rival to the MGBGT
As the ’50s fizzled out, with war-rationing having ended in 1954, a brave new world beckoned, and Britain’s car makers had little choice but to get with it.
MG had already replaced its traditional T-Series sports car with the more modern MGA, but the Abingdon company wouldn’t really introduce a truly up-to-the-minute sports car until it released the MGB in May, 1962.
MG’s great rival, Standard Triumph, was also aware of the need to update its TR sports car. Originally introduced in 1953, the cars that made up Triumph’s TR2/TR3 range — although extremely popular — were raw and rugged machines which were cramped and noisy. TR drivers also had to put up with fiddly soft-tops and clip-in side curtains. Sunbeam had already shown the way. The Alpine I — first seen in 1959 — featured wind-up windows and a more efficient soft-top. The Hillman Husky–based Alpine wasn’t as good a performer as the MGA or TR3, and was labelled as something of a soft option.
It soon became clear that motoring enthusiasts wanted a more civilized sports car — one that combined the modern touches of the Alpine with the rorty performance of the TR3. In order to achieve this, Triumph would inject some Italian style into the TR, commissioning Giovanni Michelotti to come up with a thoroughly modern design for the new TR4. The car’s stylish body may have been sitting on what was essentially the same chassis as its predecessor, but Michelotti’s design looked fresh and, as well as being larger and more comfortable than previous TRs, it also included niceties such as wind-up windows, an innovative ventilation system, and the option of the ‘Surrey’ hard-top with a removable centre section — predating Porsche’s similar Targa-top by five years.
Power still came from that old slogger, the Vanguard-derived engine, but now with capacity up to 2138cc to help compensate for increased weight. In 1964, Triumph updated the TR4 with the addition of an independent rear suspension set-up — the TR4A.
A special TR
With the introduction of the TR4 in September 1961, Triumph effectively beat MG to the punch, the TR arriving on the market well before the MGB appeared in May 1962.
Interestingly, in 1963 Triumph got another chance to take a march on MG.
To examine that opportunity, we have to look to a Triumph dealer and TR specialist based in Wimbledon, UK. LF Dove & Co must’ve sensed the changing moods and fashions of the ’60s and, perhaps spurred on by the example of the TR2-based Swallow Doretti, it felt there could be a demand for a closed coupé version of the TR4.
LF Dove would sponsor and market the new TR coupé, while the well-established coachbuilding firm, Thomas Harrington & Co – which was already building hard-top conversions on Sunbeam Alpines — would carry out the conversions.
The basis of the conversion was an ex-factory TR4 from which the boot, rear deck, bulkhead and tonneau panels had been removed. Harrington replaced these with a full-length glass-fibre roof and remodelled tail panel, modifying the car’s rear wings to suit. The really interesting part came with the adoption of a top-hinged tailgate that opened to reveal a flat load space — this having been achieved by fitting a custom-built tank, its capacity increased to 82 litres (18 gallons), as Dove saw the new car as being more of a grand tourer. As well, the coupé’s raised roofline meant the inclusion of rear seating was also practicable — and these seats could be folded down to increase the rear load area.
Along with optional items such as wire wheels, overdrive, a wood-rimmed steering wheel and twin reversing light, Dove also offered to gas-flow and balance the car’s engine, this work usually being carried out by Laystall Engineering or Jack Brabham Motors for the princely sum of £35.
Unveiled in spring 1963, the new car was named the Dové GTR4 – the accent meaning the car’s name was pronounced as ‘doe-vay’ — although that pretentious accent was later dropped.
Standard Triumph authorized a full factory warranty on the Dove GTR4. Additionally, its engineers evaluated Dove’s demonstrator with regard to the possibility of producing a factory, steel-bodied version of the GTR4. And, while they eventually decided there was no market for such a car, in October 1965 MG introduced the MGBGT, a fixed head, hatchback version of the MGB. Between 1950 to 1980, MG produced over 125,000 MGBGTs — so, evidently, the market had existed.
One can’t help thinking that, perhaps with a little help from Michelotti, Standard Triumph could have marketed a truly modern hatchback GT a full two years before its chief rival. The opportunity was missed and, alas, the Dove GTR4 was not destined for sales stardom.
Road testing the GTR4 in 1963, Autocar magazine was largely positive about the Dove though noting that, while having an aerodynamically enhanced top speed, acceleration was blunted in comparison to the standard TR4. As well, even with its rather ungainly, raised roofline, headroom for back-seat passengers was severely limited — probably not that much of a problem as rear leg-room, or rather, lack of it, effectively meant the seats were only suitable for small children.
The biggest drawback, however, was the GTR4’s price. In 1963 it was
listed at £1250 including purchase tax — at that time a TR4 with ‘Surrey’ top retailed for £949.
Sadly the Dove GTR4s would soon become simply another page in motoring history, its untimely demise maybe down to the car’s rather ungainly looks allied to a high price as compared to the standard TR4. As well, there is some speculation that Rootes may have applied pressure on Harrington to drop the Dove project once it became part of the Rootes Group.
Whatever the reason, the majority of Doves were converted between 1963 and 1964, and with the TR4A becoming available in 1964, Dove also converted a handful of these later, fully independently sprung cars — the later versions being designated, as you’d expect, the Dove GTR4A. Dove continued to convert cars until the mid ’60s, as evidenced by our featured GTR4A.
Final production figures for the GTR4 and GTR4A tend to vary, as not all conversions were undertaken on new cars, so Standard Triumph production records can’t be relied upon. Clive Harrington reckoned his family’s firm built 49 cars in total, 41 GTR4s and eight GTR4As. The UK TR Register agrees with those numbers for the GTR4A, but ups GTR4 numbers to 43.
Although never officially listed by LF Dove & Co, it also believed that at least one TR5 was also converted.
Frank Cleary, an Auckland-based architect, admits to a lifelong passion for classic cars and vintage aircraft. And while classic flying machines are beyond his budget, classic cars aren’t — especially when they carry Triumph’s ‘TR’ badge.
Frank traces his enduring love of TRs back to his teenage years in Papatoetoe during the mid ’60s, and the red TR4A he frequently saw parked on his road.
That TR4A set the seal on Frank’s future motoring ambitions. From the first time he clapped eyes on the Triumph he fell in love with the car’s style and quickly made up his mind that, one day, he’d own a TR4 for himself. It would be 36 years before Frank realized that childhood dream.
Moving forward a few decades, around 10 years ago Frank came to the conclusion that he needed an outside interest and, as he had always repaired, repainted and maintained his own cars during his early motoring years, he decided it was time to call upon that teenage desire to own a Triumph sports car.
So with the support of his wife, Ann, he sourced a 1962 TR4 from the US — at the time he couldn’t find a suitable TR project in New Zealand. This TR4 is still under restoration, and is now almost complete.
As well, four years ago Frank joined the TR Register and, in his own words, “was too slow to react, and found myself elected national president.” That he has taken this new role seriously is witnessed by the number of TRs currently in the Cleary stable — a TR2, TR4, three TR6s and a TR8. The TR2 is a factory replica of the Jabbeke TR2 prototype that ran at 125mph (201kph) over the measured mile with a standard 2.0-litre engine back in 1952. The UK TR Register believes only three of these Jabbeke replicas were built to order. Non-TR classics include an MG Midget and an Austin-Healey Sprite.
All his cars are works in progress, except for the TR8 and the special TR4A you see on these pages, and the history behind this car, and the tale of how Frank discovered, acquired and restored his refugee from the Swinging Sixties, is well worth a read.
The Dove’s tale
Our featured car can trace its origins back to the time when, in early 1966, Gerald Davies traded in his Mini Cooper at LF Dove & Co of Wimbledon, and ordered one of its special Dove GTR4A models under the Personal Export Programme. An order was then placed with Standard Triumph for a TR4A in white with black upholstery, heater and wire wheels.
Subsequently, TR4A CTC 67126 was built on May 13, 1966, and delivered to Harrington, the coachbuilder responsible for handling the Dove conversions. At this time Harrington closed down, and it is not clear whether it started work on this car’s conversion to Dove configuration. However, Frank has been in touch with the Dove’s first owner, Gerald Davies, and he confirmed the conversion was completed by Rolls-Royce coachbuilder, Hooper of London. As a result, the conversion programme took longer than usual.
After delivery, Gerald used the car around London until later that same year, when the Dove was shipped to Montreal, Canada, as personal baggage on the Empress of Canada. Gerald toured around Canada and the northern states of the US. In June of 1968, the Dove took a train ride across Canada to Vancouver, where it was shipped to Auckland on the P&O Orsova, and registered here as DG6090 on July 15, 1968.
Gerald used the Dove regularly, but finally tarted it up for sale, treating the car to a repaint and new wings.
The car remained in Auckland, with six successive owners racking up 50,890 miles (81,900km) before it was acquired by Roger Whetton in 1977. Roger had been looking for a Surrey-top TR4, and when he acquired the Dove his intention was to convert the fixed-head car. Fortunately, a member of the TR Register was able to convince Roger not to sacrifice such a rare vehicle, and he dropped the idea and simply drove it until, with 71,218 miles (114,614km) on the odometer, he stripped the Dove for restoration. However, marriage and children intervened, and the car slowly became part of the scenery as it sat forlorn and forgotten for the next 32 years.
Long-time TR Register man, Kevin Tinkler, also knew of the Dove. He didn’t know too many details, but what he did know was enough to intrigue Frank.
Subsequently, having already been in touch with the Dove’s owner, Frank ventured out to Clevedon, east of Auckland, to check out the car. Given the Dove had spent many years stored outdoors and then in a barn, the level of rust evident wasn’t too surprising.
However, all the original Dove conversion components were present and correct, and the body tag and engine numbers all matched those on the car’s Heritage Certificate — and with only a handful of TR4As believed to have been converted to Dove specifications, the car Frank had discovered was, indeed, very rare.
The chassis appeared to be in excellent condition, the outer body panels were good but the roof was very damaged, and it was touch and go as to whether the tub would be salvageable. For Frank, buying the Dove wasn’t a difficult decision. The tricky part would come when he had to explain that Ann now ‘owned’ a Dove GTR4A.
Dove of pieces
With the aid of Kevin Tinkler, Frank collected the remains of the Dove in May 2009 and, subsequently, the car’s body and chassis were delivered to David Hayward in Waihi for his expert ministrations. In the meantime, Frank decided to put the Dove’s restoration ahead of his TR4 project due to the car’s rarity.
With a restoration plan drawn up, new panels were ordered through the TR register, and Frank began researching the Dove GTR4 to ensure his car could be restored authentically. Two Dove owners who were also UK TR Register members, Jon Marshall and Paul Hogan, proved helpful by providing detail photographs, drawings, advice and parts.
In the meantime, while David began work on the body, Frank made a start on stripping the Dove’s running gear. The GTR4A’s engine was fully reconditioned, and mildly tweaked in line with the modifications that could have been handled by Jack Brabham Motors as a purchase option.
Frank’s Dove had originally been ordered without an overdrive — an omission that was rectified during the rebuild.
With the Dove’s body approaching completion, it was determined that the car’s original white paint did little for its overall style. The final decision was left to Ann, who chose an Alfa Romeo colour — Russo — a shade dating back to 1966. The car’s interior was completed with grey upholstery trimmed with burgundy.
Body reassembly commenced in January 2011, with the intention of completing the Dove in order to drive it down country for the TR National Weekend in Christchurch. However, that proved an optimistic goal and, despite Frank spending most evenings in his workshop slaving away, the car was not ready for compliancing until December 2011. As he’d been careful to leave nothing to chance, the Dove sailed through the compliance check.
The car’s first journey of any significance was to Auckland for the Intermarque Ellerslie Concours in February 2012. Frank got a bit of a surprise at Ellerslie when Gerald Davies, the Dove’s original owner, turned up. The two men have since remained in contact, and Gerald’s memories have been a big help to Frank, further enhancing his ownership of an important part of Triumph TR history — and we’re fortunate to have an example of this very rare GT car here in New Zealand.
Coachbuilt Triumph TRs
In addition to the Dove GTR4/4A, several other Triumph TR sports car have received bespoke treatment by coachbuilders.
Coachbuilt Triumph TRs: Francorchamps Coupé
In 1954, Imperia — a Belgian firm — was importing and assembling CKD TR2s, and decided it could come up with a more luxuriously-appointed fixed coupé. The resulting car — named after the famous Belgian race-track — featured a good-looking top complete with Perspex sun-roof, longer and deeper doors, wind-up side windows and a neatly re-trimmed cockpit. The cost for all this style and quality was half as much again as the price of the standard car, meaning that few were produced. Many of these handsome coupés have survived and, today, they are the rarest of all TR derivatives.
Production 1954–1955: 22
Coachbuilt Triumph TRs: Swallow Doretti
A thorough transformation of the donor TR2, the Swallow employed standard TR2 mechanicals housed in a custom-built tubular frame, and a hand-built aluminium body that featured a steel inner skin. Much heavier than a TR2 — and £230 more expensive — the Swallow Doretti was more luxuriously appointed, and rather more refined than the TR2 upon which it was based.
Production 1954–1955: 276
Coachbuilt Triumph TRs: Peerless GT
Originally called the Warwick, this British-built sports coupé featured a space-frame chassis enveloped by a glass-fibre body. Under the skin, standard TR3 mechanicals were combined with a de Dion rear end. In 1958, a Peerless GT entered the Le Mans 24 Hour race, finishing 16th. Later Phase 2 cars featured recessed headlights. After a short break, the Peerless returned to its original Warwick model name — 45 examples being built between 1960 and 1963. The Warwick GT could also be fitted with a Buick 3.5-litre V8. Later, the Peerless provided the basis of the Gordon-Keeble.
Production 1957–1960: 290
Coachbuilt Triumph TRs: Italia
Undoubtedly the most glamourous TR of all, the Michelotti-styled Italia coupé was built on a TR3A chassis. Rolling chassis were provided by Standard Triumph, with Vignale building and fitting the all-new steel body. A few of the Italia’s design features later resurfaced with the TR4 — also, of course, styled by Michelotti. Some steps were taken to investigate building the car in the UK but, due to the coast involved, the Italia was only ever sold in Italy.
Production 1959–1963: 329
LF Dove & Co, Wimbledon
Established by LF Dove in 1925, initially in Wimbledon, the company expanded to include premises in Croydon during 1927.
Subsequently the Dove Group expanded across Kent and Hampshire, representing Austin Rover, Jaguar and Ford. The Dove Group was a family-owned company until 1994, when it was acquired by a subsidiary of Sumitomo Corporation of Tokyo.
Although some branches were closed down, the Dove brand continued to be represented in Croydon as a Jaguar, Saab and Jeep dealership — the Saab and Jeep agencies were relinquished in 2003.
Dove also became involved selling Volvo at its Croydon site, running Doves Jaguar alongside the Volvo agency.
In 2008, the Doves Jaguar name was changed to Grange Jaguar and, today, Dove continues to represent Volvo.
1966 Dove GTR4A
- Engine: In-line four
- Capacity: 2138cc
- Bore/stroke: 86x92mm
- Valves: Pushrod OHV
- Comp ratio: 9:1
- Max power: 78kW at 4600rpm
- Max torque: 172Nm at 3350rpm
- Fuel system: Twin SU H6
- Transmission: Four-speed manual/overdrive
- Suspension: Front: independent via coil springs, wishbones and Armstrong telescopic dampers
- Rear: independent via wishbones, coil springs and lever-arm dampers
- Steering: Alford & Alder rack and pinion
- Brakes: Disc/drum
- Wheels: Steel disc (optional centre-lock wire wheels)
- Tyres: 5-90 16-inch Pirelli Cinturato
- Overall length: 3962mm
- Width: 1461mm
- Height: 1321mm
- Wheelbase: 2235mm
- Track F/R: 1270/1245mm
- Kerb weight: 1205kg
- Max speed: 171kph
- 0-60mph: 12 seconds
- Standing quarter-mile: 18.4 seconds
- 1963–1964*: 49–51
- Price new: £1250 (incl Purchase Tax)
- Value today: $30–80,000
* While the majority of the Dove-converted Triumphs were produced between these years, conversions continued to be undertaken until the mid ’60s