Triumph TR-X

Yesterday's Packard Pan American may have been an example of a car that did little to alter the trajectory of its parent company, but the Triumph TR-X correctly predicted the coming decades of the firm's TR-labeled sports cars.

Nicknamed the "Bullet"—these days it sadly looks more like a fat fishing lure—the TR-X was shown at the Paris Motor Show in 1950 after it was decided that the company should refocus itself into a more sporting marque after the end of the Second World War.

I've already taken a look at one Triumph, the Honda Civic-based Avon Acclaim Turbo—and if the designers of the aluminum-bodied TR-X had known what was to become of the marque, I doubt they would have made it look so svelte.

Originally intended to compete with sports cars from Morgan, successors to the aluminum-bodied TR-X would indeed become some of the most sought-after British sports cars for enthusiasts the world over. For this first 'go', the car was based on the Standard Vanguard and was fitted with a mildly reworked 2,088-cc 4-cylinder engine with twin S.U. carburetors and a claimed output of 71 horsepower. Top speed was a warm 135 km/h (85 mph).

Aluminum was chosen because there was a large amount of it left after the Second World War, but apart from a few gee-whiz show car features, the TR-X would not be as advanced as the Rover Jet 1 prototype. 

I don't know what it is about British cars, but even in my youth I learned that their electrical systems aren't exactly the greatest. So it comes as no great shock—har—that the Achilles' Heel of this prototype was its electrical system.

Electrically-controlled hydraulics were used to move the seats, operate the convertible roof, extend its built-in hydraulic jacks, and open the headlight covers. Three prototypes were made—one "caught fire"—but the car went down in infamy when presented to a member of the British Royal Family.

When demonstrated to Princess Margaret, some of its electro-hydraulic systems failed. Worse, British coachbuilders refused to build the car on account of existing contracts with other carmakers, the Italian carrozzeria were too busy, and finally, the aluminum that was so easy to find in the late '40s during development was in short supply once the Korean War ramped up in 1950.

Two TR-X prototypes still survive—a quaint reminder of what once passed for a sports car. I'm happy the production TRs easily eclipsed their namesake.