1971 TR6, Viewed 28/09/14

1971 TR6
Illustrated view of the first TR 6 we viewed.

I found this car on Autotrader. The car was described as a “pristine 1971 TR6 owned by the current owner since 1972” and the asking price was (Cdn) $13,000. It was about an hour’s drive from my place, so Evelyn and I piled into the car on a sunny Sunday morning and headed out to view it. My first sight of it was in the owner’s garage, and I thought “Wow – what luck! My first find  – this is THE ONE.” Sadly, the darkness of the garage hid a plethora of deficiencies.

The body was weak, with the front rockers rusted away from the mounting points, bubbling in the doglegs, and misaligned rockers (under the doors they were inset about 1cm). The engine bay was missing its rad shroud and had been painted with protective paint, but it badly needed detailing. The trunk was rusty and painted in a different colour (white) and had significant surface rust, as well as some holes (which means that the exterior is a repaint – not a surprise as the paint has a slightly “metallic” look which isn’t period). Both bonnet and boot drains were rusted and all visible rubber seals (windshield, doors, boot, bonnet) were badly deteriorated. Very strangely, the door gaps at the top were quite wide (I could stick my finger in), but at the bottom they were very “tight” – made me wonder about the frame…The interior wasn’t too impressive – the wood dash was cracking badly around the glove compartment, the gearshift boot was mashed at the front, the door cards weren’t original and had the owner’s initials sewn into them, and the seats were tired.The odometer didn’t work and the speedometer only worked over 30mph. The engine had been installed only 3000km ago, and was running well, but was also coating its underside with a significant amount of oil. The trailing arms looked good, however…

I’d never driven a TR6 before so this was to be a first… sadly, it wasn’t a positive experience. The steering was very “loose” with a lot of play in the wheel and there was a surprising amount of vibration transmitted through the steering. The first time I hit the brakes I actually thought they had failed because there was so little evidence of retardation of speed (fortunately, I had decided to try them out before a major intersection). The car was surprisingly tiring to drive, made worse by the fact that I am 5’8″ and the owner was about 6’5″, and the seat wouldn’t come forward enough for me – so every stab of the brakes required me to lunge forward and down, like an F1 driver. The clutch was a little tricky with an unpredictable bite point, but the power, once in motion was delivered smoothly, and I had the immediate impression that it wouldn’t be too hard to break the back end loose under acceleration. The sound of the car was quite wonderful, and loud enough that when I got back into my VW Golf and started the engine I thought at first that there must be a problem because I couldn’t hear it!

The parking brake didn’t work and required 1st gear to keep it from rolling, and getting out of the car was complicated by the fact that the interior door handles didn’t really work, requiring one to reach over the door and use the exterior handle. I had hoped that this would be a good experience for Evelyn, but she said that the car had made her feel vulnerable – too low… too small… oh dear. And one of the other cars I want is a Honda S600…! Still, one of the reasons she had been happy to sell the Mercedes was that she considered it “too large”, which somewhat obviates her argument – no?

I talked to the seller later, and he wanted to know my impressions and I was very honest. He agreed with my assertions and admitted that he wasn’t bonkers about selling it anyway, but that his wife had bought a new BMW and she wanted him to sell this as they didn’t need two convertibles. He’s a very nice bloke, but I don’t think that this is the car for me – needs too much work, which in other circumstances I might find invigorating, but with the limitations imposed by my condo and my work… No.

Ratings for this car (from 1 [poor] to 10 [exceptional] )

Value for money: 1
Driving Impression: 3
Body: 4
Interior: 3
Engine: 7
Handling: 5

Evelyn’s impression:

Cool factor: 4
The TR is an attractive looking car when viewed from the exterior. But, once seated in the car, it feels tight, small, and too low to the ground, for my personal preferences. It’s rather intimidating to be on the highways alongside trucks, SUVs or even the modern day sedans when driving the TR6.
Comfort: 2
Price: 1
Likelihood that I’ll join Bruce on a Sunday drive in this: Maybe…if he stayed on country roads.

The Problem

Easy.

$$$$

I remember going to a car meet about a decade ago, and at the time I was talking to a bunch of guys who had various E types, Astons, Austin Healeys and the like, and they all commented upon the fact that they had been involved in their cars, and more importantly, car clubs, since the 1970s… BUT that, in that time, a younger generation of enthusiasts never emerged.

I am ashamed to say that I metaphorically rubbed my hands together with glee at this inference, figuring that I was online for a host of bargain British/German/Japanese classics for sale at low prices based upon the lack of interest.

To my horror, however, classics have simply become more expensive – why?

My Theories:

  1. Since the financial collapse of 2008, “truly” wealthy people are seeking better returns on their investment than property (especially in the States) or stock can easily achieve – so – “classic cars”. Porsches were the first, and now a rusted out hulk of a 1980s 911 can be put on sale for $60,000. Will they get that? Who knows. But the price IS OUT THERE.
  2. The internet. It’s not hard to go online and see what the value of things are. In the beginning, this was a great equalizer. Now it is simply silliness. Here’s the problem; a seller puts a dodgy 911 on sale for US$45,000 – it’s a bit of a dog and will need work. Someone selling their car will see that dodgy 911 and think – “HEY! – if he’s asking $45k for that heap, my fairly decent 911 MUST be worth $60,000…!” The problem is that, eventually, someone pays both prices, or close to it. And now we have a new benchmark for Porsche prices.

A high tide floats all boats.

My finances are NOT at high tide.

Thus, “the problem.” Classics are becoming inflated and I want one. In two years the bubble might collapse – and then I’ll be an idiot if I pay US$20k for an Alfa Spider…. Conversely, markets might not retreat, so I might regret the day I failed to shell out US$30k for a pristine manual XJC….

Decisions, Decisions.

So – long story short – I’m looking for the best car I can afford, at the best price, in the best condition with that certain je ne sais quoi that will twig me to buy it.

This is my journey.

The Premise

OK – so I need (“need”) a new (old) car.

What to get?

Well, here are the rules. Ideally, the car should be a convertible. I like smaller cars and am inclined to European models, but my budget (sadly, always an important consideration) is not the sort that would readily allow me to consider E Types, 300SLs or even a Maserati Mistral convertible…. No, I will be limited to searching for cars in the $15,000 to $25,000 category. This is worsened by the fact that the dollars mentioned are “Canadian” dollars, which have taken a beating in the last several months.

The car MUST be manual (there are exceptions, but they are “exceptional”)

The car should be manufactured between 1959 and 1976. Again – for the right car, these dates are malleable, but this is my preferred vintage – and I should be clear that the dollars mentioned are Canadian dollars, which in the current global context makes my task less enviable.

The cars I am primarily interested in are as follows  (and you will note that some of these are not convertibles… well – ttthpbt!):

  • TR6/250/4
  • Datsun 240Z/1600/2000
  • Alfa Romeo Spider (1971 to 1974)
  • Honda S600/S800
  • Toyota Sports 800
  • Jaguar MkII
  • Jaguar XJC
  • Lotus Elan (original)
  • Fiat Spider
  • Porsche 914 or 914/6
  • Porsche 912
  • Mercedes 230/250/280sl
  • Mazda RX7

I know that many of these won’t easily fit into the $25k category, and some of them are not spiders (spyders) – but one must keep an open mind. 🙂

Lastly, and most difficult, any car I purchase must be a good driving example, or better expressed, “the best I can afford”. I live in a condo and it is a wonderful place to live – it even has its own underground car wash bay! It does not, however, allow tenants to put their classics up on blocks and wrench them – so any car I buy will have to be serviced/repaired/recovered offsite by someone other than myself with the financial consequences one would expect.

The background

I should start at the very beginning. I had a car and I sold it. The car you see in the banner is the one I owned, and I gave this sketch to the previous owner.

I bought a 1971 Mercedes 220 manual gasser in 2008, from an older gentleman in Ottawa who was the second owner and had had it since 1984. The first owner had lived on the same street in Ottawa and had sold it to the bloke I purchased it from. At that time, the car was in slightly rough shape, having driven only some 18,000 miles in the previous 22 years. There is a long and tedious story here, but the short version is that after a good deal of engine work (centring around the exhaust manifold, the fuel delivery system and the Stromberg carb) and a certain amount of bodywork and paint (much done by myself), I had what was by and large, a perfect driving example of an early 70s Mercedes. The new paint was period correct, the interior was original and largely perfect, the mechanicals had been fettled to an extent that the car ran reliably and trouble free.

I had something that I had wanted all my young life – a distinct and lovely classic car.

However (and there is always an “however”) I sold the car. My wife and I had decided to move to a condo and amongst many things that were sloughed off in the interest of “space and lightness”, my beloved Meg (the Mercedes) was one. Part of the reason for this was that I had a greater vision – a convertible! Long August afternoons spent with the wind in my diminishing hair and the sun on my increasing bald spot beckoned…

So I sold my car. It went to a Mercedes bloke who ran a Mercedes parts department. He sold the car to Richard Kuchinsky, whom I serendipitously met in a parking lot (I recognized my car). Richard has been good enough to keep in contact with me and to apprise me of developments on the car, which include the addition of European lights (see photograph) and period plates.

The problem is that now I have no classic car – and this MUST be addressed!

Photo credit: Richard Kuchinsky
Photo credit: Richard Kuchinsky

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