The story behind the Millers Oils Triumph TR3S - A tribute to a Le Mans Legend.

In 1955 Standard Triumph’s motorsport department, lead by Ken Richardson and Alick Dick entered a full factory team of TR2s to the world’s toughest endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. These cars were raced as prototypes and so were able to use the new technology of disc brakes which were later used on the TR3 road cars, the first ever production car to use Disc Brakes.

The 1955 Le Mans race was marred with tragedy, arguably the worst in motorsport history, when a crash on the start / finish straight killed over 80 spectators and a number of drivers. The repercussions of this and subsequent concerns over safety caused a number of manufacturers, Standard Triumph included to shy away from the race. Standard Triumph returned however in 1959 with the TR3S. The chassis was 6 inches longer than the production TR3A to aid stability on the high-speed Mulsanne straight and to allow for a larger engine bay within which Triumph fitted an in-house developed twin cam engine, (known by the pet name of Sabrina due to its two bulbous front timing covers) - advanced technology for the era. The TR3S project lead to the more successful TRS and Spitfire campaigns of the early 1960s leading to a class win for Triumph in 1965.

Le Mans helped Standard Triumph prove the durability of their new era of Michelotti styled sportscars and helped further cement the already formidable reputation of Triumph sports cars in motorsport. Fast forward to 2016 and the TR Register is once again supporting a return of a UK TR3S entry to Le Mans Classic featuring one of the original drivers from 1959!

2014 was a fantastic year for TRs racing at Le Mans and once again you can follow the action as it happens via our live blog commentary, videos and social media. Just visit www.tr-register.co.uk throughout race weekend to keep up to date. The car’s owner, Paul Hogan talks us through the car and some of its unique features.

Triumph TR3S Le Mans sponsored by Millers Oils

I can only blame Graham Robson for what has almost become an obsession for me. Had I not got a copy of his book Triumph Sports Cars then I might never had seen the photo of a TR3S, surely the best looking and rarest of the first generation of TR sports cars.  When Glen Hewitt, from Protek in Wallingford built his TR3S inspired replica I knew that one-day I would like to own one myself.

That day eventually arrived some years later when I finally obtained the original works blueprints for the TR3S. I had by this time already amassed quite a cache of ex works competition spares and Glen Hewitt was the obvious person to undertake the project. Everything was delivered down to Protek in Wallingford for Glen and Chris to make a start on refurbishing the chassis and bodywork.

The whole process included strengthening the chassis rails along their whole length as the TR3S chassis is not only 6 inches longer (5 and 7/8" to be exact)  but 3/4" deeper.  This gives the chassis greater stiffness and reduces chassis flex considerably.  The addition of a modern roll cage front and rear with bracing struts in between also adds a significant amount of rigidity to the car.

The body shell of the 3S is unique in that the front end of the car has to be made six inches longer to accommodate the extra wheelbase.  This was done in the belief that the Sabrina twin - cam engine would not fit in a standard chassis and body shell. I presume the factory must have tried it in a TR3 and although it would have been a pretty tight fit I'm reasonably sure it would have gone in with a bit of trouble. However, Ken Richardson and his team thought otherwise and so the cars were lengthened and I must say the extra length does give the car better and more flowing lines than the standard offering.

At the rear of the car the spare wheel ' letter box' also differs from standard cars. It is a good 1.1/22 deeper and boot floor is raised as a result of having to fit a wider wheel and 5.50 section Dunlop racing tyres.  It’s also has a boot light fitted inside and clips for a British Army style folding spade, necessary for when you have to dig your way out of a sand trap on the Le Mans circuit! Finally, twin electric fuel pumps are fitted controlled from the dash board.

Disc brakes on all four wheels were of course a feature of the TR3S and these follow the pattern of those used by Dunlop on their experimental set up on the 1955 Le Mans TR2.   When initially testing the car we found the rear brakes to be severely overpowering resulting in some dramatic tank slappers at Mallory Park. Fitting a brake balancer valve under the bonnet in order to comply with modern race regulations so it can’t be altered during a race has cured this. The rear disc brakes themselves are very similar to those used on E-types Jaguars and frankly, with their calliper style hand brake system they are a bit of a pig to keep set up correctly.

One of the unique features of the 3S are the ducts fitted on the ¼ panel just in front of the rear wings. Contrary to what some think these are not cooling ducts for the rear brakes but feed air to the differential. How effective they are would be difficult to tell as there is no positive ‘scoop action’ to force air into them. A small differential oil cooler might be a better solution but modern day experience shows you can cool oil too much.

The centre section of the car differs from a standard TR3 in detail only. Provision is made for two seats but only one is used in race trim. It differs from a standard seat in as much as it has an upholstered restraining side panel fitted from new. I’ve found it necessary to lower the seat cushion considerably and I’ve also fitted a slot for a crotch strap on the five-point harness that’s now required for racing. In period there were no seat belts fitted.

Triumph TR3S Le Mans interior

Dashboard instrumentation differs significantly in that the car has never had a Speedometer fitted - which can make driving on public roads somewhat difficult! However, a plug in digital speedo is discreetly fitted to help with speed cameras, as this car remains fully street legal!

In the centre cluster the two left hand dials were omitted and blanked off. I have used these two spaces to install the circuit breaker required for racing and a remote horn push. The original Fuel gauge has been replaced with an Oil temperature gauge because with foam filled racing tank the swing arm sender makes it redundant. Fuel is subsequently measured by using nothing more sophisticated than a cut down broom handle as a dipstick!

The Ammeter is kept in its usual place but the Oil and Water temperature gauges are fitted where the speedometer would normally go. To the right of the Rev counter are three switches, the Overdrive, the Outside marker light/rain light and the electric fuel pump switch. The Tonneau cover is also interesting in that it has a vertical skirt fitted around the driver’s seat to stop it billowing up.

One of the biggest visual clues to the TR3S is its racing windscreen. It’s made of 10mm acrylic and is mounted in purpose made alloy castings. The six securing bolts are mounted higher up the bulkhead than a normal TR screen and it has Tennax fasteners along its bottom edge. Fortunately I own the moulds for both the screen and the stanchions and so I have recently had a new screen made as the old one was getting scratched. I’ve not fitted a screen wiper to it as although the TR3S did mount a single wiper in 1959, it was actually removed for the race.   The side screens are 5mm thick and are secured at their bottom edge to the top of the door. Additional support is given by using side screen struts, the forward one being drilled to take the side mirrors. The outsides of the doors by the way are rounded at the bottom rear corners. These mirror the inner skin of late TR3A doors but pre date them by some years. One wonders why that was done.

Back in 1959 the cars had to have a proper hood fitted. This was an amazing Heath Robinson affair based upon a standard hood but fitted with a clear plastic front panel that draped over the short racing screen and fixed at the bottom with the Tennax studs. Similarly, they fitted an upper side screen section too. I obviously haven’t replicated these, as they would be quite useless.

Moving to the front section of the car the wings, bonnet and front panel are unique to the car. The bonnet has seven holes drilled into the rear of the panel on the passenger side. One would have thought they would be on the driver’s side in order to let some hot air out. The bonnet hinges are painted body colour whereas the boot hinges are chrome. A leather strap secures the bonnet in place. The front apron has a lower grille fitted for the oil cooler. I mentioned earlier that you can cool oil too much and it’s now noticeable with the new Oil Temperature gauge fitted that the oil has been running too cold - making it thicker and less viscous. We may be blanking this grill off for the night-time sector of Le Mans Classic as night-time temperatures can drop significantly, but we will work closely with Millers Oil’s to monitor the performance of the oil.

Millers Oils will be alongside us during the race weekend and samples of the oil from throughout the race will be sent to their labs for analysis back in the UK. As Millers Oils are re-launching their oils for classic cars later this summer, Le Mans Classic will provide an invaluable research and development opportunity and it will be interesting to see the effect of their Nano-technology which has been designed especially for heritage engines.

Not being able to get hold of a Sabrina twin cam engine, under the bonnet the car uses a tuned 4 cylinder TR unit. However, it does now use an original set of the famous twin choke S.U. carburettors on specially made manifold. When I first got the car on the road in 2010 I used 40 DCOE Weber carburettors, which were very satisfactory, but dyno testing showed the S.U. carburettors to give another 7-8 bhp across all the rev range. Burlen Fuel Systems who own the rights to SU are in the process of remanufacturing these carbs and they will incorporate a cold start choke; something that is missing from the original carburettors.

DSCN2735

On the bulkhead I have tried to keep to the original layout as much as possible, retaining the twin circuit brake cylinders, battery and all the other bits and pieces. One modification I have made is to fit a header tank into the recess where the Left Hand Drive braking system would go. Twin HT coils are fitted to the electrical system and a mechanical points distributor is used – electric ones are not permitted in racing and an oil catch tank is fitted to the left hand inner wing. An alternator and quick start starter motor are also used for reliability rather than performance.

I’m often asked what’s inside the engine. Well it does run a steel crank but otherwise it’s just a very well built blueprinted engine using off the shelf parts anyone can buy. It is not though fitted with roller rockers or any other non-legitimate mods that I know some historic racers use. Power output is in the order of 170-brake horsepower at the wheels so yes, it is fast!

Wheels and tyres are tubeless 72 spokes fitted with 5.50 Dunlop racing tyres. Suspension is up rated but nothing special. An anti roll bar is fitted at the front and a Panhard rod at the back.

On the road the car feels taught and well balanced. Steering is precise and with good feedback from the wheels. Acceleration is brisk rather than meteoric but that depends on which gearbox I use. I use a close ration 4-speed box for short UK tracks and a normal long legged overdrive box for Le Mans. You sit down low on the floor with your eyes lower than the screen - with a normal seat cushion your eyes would be in the airstream.   The lack of padding does mean you get numb bum if on a long journey as a 2000-mile trip round France last year proved.

Fuel consumption is eye watering. My first TR2 would easily top 40mpg. The TR3S struggles to do 12mpg in race mode and about 18 mpg when tootling about on the road.

A couple of other bits that are unique to Le Mans cars are the marker lights on the off side front wing and blue identification patch on the rear panel.   As far as I can ascertain the three Le Mans cars had different coloured marker lights on the front wing roundel; blue, red and green. The blue patch on the rear of the car was I’m told for class identification purposes so that over taking cars would know which class of car they were approaching. How true this is I don’t know but while it has a ring of truth about it I’m not sure an overtaking driver would be bothered to know that.

(My belief is that this would be of use to Marshalls and track officials when identifying cars for manual lap timing and blue flag requirements – Editor)

Other identification marks on the three cars were white markings. Each car had a marking on the off side of the car but in different place; one at the top of the front wheel arch, one at the bottom of the door and one on the bottom of the rear wing. Again what these small and relatively insignificant marks were for remains unknown.

Claude Dubois, who drove for the works team in the 1959 race proved to be a mine of information and helped me to get many of the details correct. One area that I will need to change in the future though is the design of the seat trim. I’ve got the pleating wrong! The pleats should be vertical and not horizontal. It’s a minor mistake on my part but by the time I found a shot of the interior the trimmer had already made the seat covers up.

Over the relatively short period of time I have had the car on the road it has given me a great deal of satisfaction and it has inspired others build similar cars. Phil Tucker, our Chairman being the first and now Christian Schmidt’s car is also nearing completion - again built by Glen Hewitt at Protek.

The future

This will probably be my last time competing at Le Mans. Its an incredibly expensive exercise and if it hadn’t been for Millers Oils, Burlen Fuels and the partnership with the TR Register then I wouldn’t be competing this time. So my sincere thanks to them for supporting our entry for without them we wouldn’t have a UK TR presence there this year. I would also like to thank my drivers with whom I entrust the safety of the car during the race. John Sykes and Barry Sidery-Smith have driven the car before with great success and this year they will be joined by Claude Dubois. Claude, who is now in his 84th year, seems to be a fast as he ever was. He impressed me when he drove me through the Brussels rush hour one day and of course he competed in the 24hr race 12 times, driving both for Ferrari and Corvette racing teams.   Barry of course is a youngster by comparison being only 80 years old so it will be interesting to see what laps time these two octogenarians post compared to their much younger stable mates.

Following Le Mans, the car should be going to Spa in September for the 1-hour classic race, but there are no other plans further than that. Although the car has always been road registered it’s not really suitable for use as an everyday car and without a hood you can use it’s not very practical when it rains. You just have to drive faster to keep the rain out which is not always possible. As a race-car it’s not as competitive as some of the other marques that are out there today but it is unique and it does get invited to various events because it looks different.

tr3s hood


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