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Which Triumph TR3 Project?


Every once in a while I get the itch to experience a new car. But instead of asking around and just borrowing one for the afternoon, I hunt until I find an example that needs a little work. My logic may be flawed, but there is just something exciting about the whole process. The Triumph TR3 has been on my mind lately so I have been keeping tabs on local offerings and have even found a few in various states of disrepair. One of them is in a similar dismantled state as this 1959 TR3 that is listed here craigslist for $4,500 in Panonia, Colorado. What do you think? Is it ever smart to buy a disassembled project? Thanks goes to Dustyn for the tip!

Unfortunately, the seller does not provide any other photos so it is hard to determine what all is left to do here. They do mention that machine work has been done to the engine and that many new parts are included in the sale. New sheet metal has already been sourced for the rusted areas as well as a full interior kit. The bodywork needed here intimidates me a bit, but having the paint stripped and all the rust exposed does make it easier to determine what you are getting yourself into. The asking price may make this project tempting, but I can’t help but wonder if the cost to finish this one would exceed the restored value.


Here is a shot of the project I have been considering for myself. It may look about the same as the car above, but the seller has already repaired all the rust and painted it. The frame and suspension look they have also been gone through as well, so all that’s left is reassembly. That almost makes it sound like a simple task, but there is still a lot of work to do here. Gathering up all the old parts from the owner’s place is going to be a challenge and then there is the job of locating and purchasing all the missing trim pieces and hardware. Just figuring out what size of screw goes where could be a frustrating experience. The price is little higher on this one ($6.5k), but it would be nice to not have to deal with any rust or paint. So, from the information you have, which project would you go for and why? Or would you just hold out for something a little more put-together?


  1. Don Sicura

    In regards to your question “Is it ever smart to buy a disassembled project?” Only if you have lots of time, money, patience & experience!

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    • Jorda

      It’s basically the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat with this approach

      I can say from my own experience that doing it this way may cost you more than what the car is worth when it’s done (but is that really why we do it…)but you can throw money at it as you can afford it over any length of time you want !
      Again,for me ,that’s the approach to take because I would never cough up a lung to buy one “all done”.
      Having said that,finding the rare driver that has had dough spent on it at the RIGHT price is kinda the best of both worlds.
      difficult to do though.one mans opinion

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  2. SoCal Car Guy

    I (almost) always try to buy the best (most complete, best running condition, least rust and/or other metal work needed) car I can afford, even if my intent is to strip and rebuild from a bare frame and shell. It generally will cost a lot less in the long run and cause a helluva lot less aggravation. And for what it’s worth I’ve owned and enjoyed a couple TR3s, a 1960 3A and a ’62 3b. The only project car I still have that’s a “do it regardless of labor and dollar cost” is my high school car, which I’ve saved — and protected in a dry garage — for several decades.

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  3. Dave Wright

    I have done very well on disassembled projects. They usually sell cheeper than assembled ones. You can see all the problems and the work of disassembly is already done.

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  4. S.S. McDonald

    $4,500?? Without seeing the rest of the car, $450 is a better price.

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  5. sunbeamdon

    These are both tempting on so many fronts; very few surprises – I’d want to know just how badly the tin worm ate into the $4,500.00 car before rejecting it for the $6,500.00 one

    By the way, my first rally as a navigator in B.C. was in a 1955 TR2 – the ride was bone-jarring; the driver was scary (nodding-off at the wheel at midnight in a snow storm will do that to us navigators); we survived and traded off as best man at each other’s wedding. Surprisingly, the TR did not survive, but the marriages did!

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  6. Gary C

    1966. I bought a 58 TR3 for around $350. Ran real nice but I had to put a little bondo in the rear fenders. Had it painted Mustang Orange for $10 and a case (24) of beer (under $5 back then) Great car for picking up girls. (Note: When you have a two seater, always take a blanket and if possible a picnic lunch) I drove the hell outa it and it stood up well. However, I found out later that British cars do not like to be “backed off” from 100 MPH with no “feathering.” The engine went bang! Tremendous bright light and I thought that we were dead. So I let go of the wheel and let it coast to a stop. To our surprise we could eventually see again and came to the conclusion that we were not dead, but stupid. I put the largest Triumph engine in it but could never get it to run properly. I sold it for $100 to a friend who sold it because he could not fix it either. Two months later we saw it zipping down the highway. Great fun! Great little car.

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  7. jim s

    buy them both and you might have enought parts to build 1 complete car. just don’t spent to long looking at the steering shaft that runs from the very front of car to just few inches from your chest. and what is that in red behind the tr3 in second photo?

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  8. Pete Member

    If You can go and check through the parts yourself, Yes. After sharp dickering
    and a buddy checking for missing parts( other eyes ).

    It may be the only way to obtain some cars becoming more rare.

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  9. John M

    A couple of ways to look at this. If your original desire is to have a ground up restored TR3 then this may be a way to go. A lot of the work has been done, although a very lot of work is left. And keep in mind, there is a reason these folks got to this point and now are throwing in the towel. If what you want to have is simply a nice running and nice looking TR3 then you could likely go find one for 18-22K. I have a 60 TR3 that I have about 17K into and it is a head turner. If you have never done this kind of restoration before I would tread cautiously. This project will take many months of work peppered with a lot of frustration. If you have a nice shop and this is your thing, then go for it. If you have to hire people to do a lot of the work, forget it. Just go buy one already done and save the headaches.

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  10. Dolphin Member

    On buying a disassembled car….

    I’d guess that most people who start with an assembled car that they were not already very familiar with, and then disassembled it for restoration without taking lots of photographs and without bagging and labeling all those disassembled parts along the way would have some advice about buying one that’s already disassembled: Don’t!

    I don’t have an unlimited photographic memory that never fades, and I learned a long time ago the hard way how easy it is to forget how a component goes back together and where every little part goes. It’s likely that someone buying an unfamiliar disassembled car would be spending a lot of time just trying to figure that out. That, and the risk of putting it back together incorrectly and trying to sell it down the road to someone who knows the model well.

    OTOH, if someone on here does buy a disassembled TR3 and gets it back together properly, please let us know because I want to be the first to congratulate him.

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    • Dave Wright

      With that logic, a jigsaw puzzle would never get assembled if the person had not taken it apart first. With all the available information today and the experts that specialize in a particular make……….anyone with any sort of mechanical knowledge and the interest should have little trouble assembling something this simple. There are people that are simply investors and should not be allowed near a vehicle with a wrench. It is slow work and takes a brain unlike someone that just writes a check………………

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      • Dolphin Member

        Well Dave, if your logic works for you that’s good. I don’t think it would work for me.

        A puzzle can go together properly in only one way, and the pieces give you the 2 kinds of certain information you need to put it together— shape and printed image, and no 2 pieces are the same.

        Compare that with a wiring loom, which neither of the cars in this entry seem to have installed. Maybe the dash wiring is closest to your puzzle example. There’s some information from the sizes and placement of the connectors on the loom, but it’s not unambiguous. On all of the vintage looms I’ve seen some connectors could go on one or a few instrument or switch posts or clips in the vicinity. What if you get some wrong? Maybe a guy would find out when he powers up the first time and some of the connections are incorrect and some thing(s) blow.

        I don’t want that guy to be me and have to replace instruments or other components or risk melted wires. And if things are wrong how do you know which connection or connections they are? Trial & error? Maybe blow some more components?

        So how does the guy get it right the first time? By referring to detailed notes & photos of the back of the dash, which is the thing I said a person should do when disassembling a car, but which you might, or might not, get a complete set of off the internet for the exact year & model of your car. Most wiring diagrams I have seen and used aren’t good enough for this because they are conceptual and don’t show how the wires actually hook up. Helpful, but often not good enough for a reassembly with no errors.

        That’s why most restorers take lots of photos and bag & label their parts as they disassemble. Much of that’s unnecessary on modern cars because they have modules and printed circuit boards and unique multi-conductor connectors, but the TR3 in this listing doesn’t have those.

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    • Dave Wright

      You are deffinatly an investor………if that……..these are not uncommon cars and the British collector trade is the most anal group on the planet. An afternoon at a British car event looking and talking to other enthusiasts would answer most of your questions and probably enlist more volunteer experienced help that you would want. There are volumes written and published to TR3 restoration. I have not bought a wiring harnes in 20 years that was not very well marked. This is a hobby that is about learning, it is always a voyage of discovery, always takes nore time in study than in wrench turning. Most serious people in the car hobby have much less respect for anyone that can simply write a check and drive to a show……..that takes no skill or talent. The reason it is so social ( IE this web site) is because of the shared experiance and information exchanges that occur whenever gear heads get together. Not because you share your bank account balances.

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      • Dolphin Member

        An investor? No, nor do I recall sharing my bank account balance. I made a bit of money a couple of times but almost always sold too soon, before a runup in values. Except for two, I always sold for less than I paid for the cars.

        I always bought cars because I liked them, and them drove them for years—27 years in one case, and I still regret selling that car and would buy it back if I could. So I don’t think that’s being an investor.

        I’m glad the TR3 community is plentiful and so well organized. I’ve never owned one, but owned most of its main competitors back in the day. If there are a lot TR3 resto guides and willing TR3 fans to call upon, and if you’re near them, then with that help the dash certainly can be wired properly. I own resto guides for the 2 cars that I’m restoring now, and neither of them have a wiring loom or dash map, and except for a tag with a string of numbers/letters to identify the part number, neither wiring loom is marked. Not on the internet either.

        So my experience is different from yours, and it wasn’t with cars that have lots of anal people owning them—I’d say just the opposite. But I guess I shouldn’t have generalized from my experience to the TR3, where the information is much more available and organized in multiple volumes.

        But that doesn’t change the fact that most restorers recommend that people should photograph and bag & label when disassembling. But you can’t do that if you buy a car that’s already disassembled, which is why I think it’s better to buy an assembled car and disassemble it yourself.

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  11. pursang

    Never mind the TR3, is the Classic SAAB 900 in the driveway for sale?

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    • Jimbosidecar

      I was thinking the same about the BMW motorcycle in the background.

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      • TuckerTorpedo

        Yup- I was about to say instead of the Triumph, I’d go for the /5 Beemer at half the price!

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  12. Dan h

    If you know these cars really well (every nut bolt & bracket) , then you might come out ahead on either car. Personally, I wouldn’t even consider putting someone else’s project back together if I were unfamiliar with the make/model. Besides, half the fun is stripping a complete car down and having a fresh palate to work with.
    The best feeling in the world is driving your finished car for the first time, knowing that YOU built it from A to Z.

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  13. Doug M. (West Coast) Member

    I tend to favor the lower dollar entry point. Assuming it needs paint, upholstery, etc., why pay extra for one that looks really good, but still needs repainting and new upholstery, etc. anyway? A new interior kit costs the same whether or not the old take-offs are shot, or are torn, but not too badly. Although I agree with Dolphin, and the others avoiding caution, TR-3s are pretty simple. And if you find a local one to look at for reference, you can get there. But, if its really hard to find time to work on a car, and/or you have to hire everything done, then all bets are off… As for the choice of TR-3 for your next project, Seems like the really nice ones are spiking in value. Two have sold recently on “that other website” (not ebay) for in the mid-thirties!! Seems their time has come! Done nicely, they are an awesome looking car!

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  14. Brian

    You’d better know this make and model inside-out and blindfolded before attempting to put this thing back together! It will also require at least one parts car and/or access to a junkyard that has many of them onhand and located very close to your home, both for spares and to check how things go together and to discover what pieces your missing – there will be alot of them! By the time your finished (if you don’t surrender first), your going to be VERY tired of this car! It can be done, but why not just locate a nice, complete driver or restored car, you’ll be spending the money either way, but your hair won’t have turned gray and fallen out before your on the road!

    I’ve done a car like this before – 62 VW Beetle – which was even simpler and easier to get parts for. Been there – done that – never again!

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  15. MikeH

    I agree with Brian above–you had better know a car very, very well before you buy it disassembled. I had a ’46 Hudson that I took apart and didn’t get back to for 5 years [divorce, retirement, move, etc–a very busy 5 years]. I ended up having to buy another ’46 Hudson so I would have a template to put the first one back together. Wasn’t a bad deal though–I kept the template a couple of years and made some money when I sold it.

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  16. Rick Russell

    Boy does that look familiar. I was present at an auto wreckers when they pulled a bunch of cars from a barn. There was a 1959 and a 1961 triumph TR3. The wreckers had no respect for the cars and were going to crush them. I intervened, they gave me both cars for free and towed them to my house. Anyway to make a long story short, 11 years later and over $20,000.00 in parts later the 1959 hit the road. The TR3 ran great but no one would drive it, my wife was afraid of scratching it and I found out it was a leaky, vibrating and hard to drive. Stay away from the basket case as you will lose more than your money, it may also cost you your sanity.

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  17. Chuck

    As a triumph TR owner and aficionado, I can appreciate your desire to own one. However, the asking prices seem a bit high without knowing exactly what work has been done and what parts are included. As for buying a disassembled project, unless you are an expert on the model or the PO has documented the disassembly process with lots of detailed photos and bagged and tagged the parts, I would steer clear.

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  18. Stu @ AGT Member

    We, too, have bought and assembled a number of projects. The jigsaw analogy is appropriate–and fun. Buying another example for a pattern or template is also a technique we’ve sometimes used. The worst thing you can do is buy some stuff here, some other parts there, etc, etc. in order to piece together something from scratch (been there, done that, too!) Buying 2 or 3 ‘parts vehicles’ is way better than just collecting pieces from scratch to build a dream.

    The unfinished projects (disassembled or not) can usually be bought for a small fraction of the seller’s investment. The fun part is figuring out which corner they worked themselves into that caused them to quit.

    One very important concept is to recognize you’ll often have to undo/ scrap/ redo some portion of the previous owner’s work in order to be able to move forward.

    We’ve also bought and resold some unfinished projects (wife: ‘you can’t save them all’). While there’s always a buyer eventually, the process of finding someone to proceed is very time-consuming and humbling. It’s easy to understand why the buyer usually has the better bargaining power.

    It’s still usually cheaper to buy them already done. The only problem is they never did everything exactly the way you would have………

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    • Brian

      Stu, I understand and agree with everything you said, but it sounds like you have the knowledge, facilities, tools, and resources to take on a car like this one and make a go of it. I really just don’t want to see anyone pick up a car like this one as their first ticket to the rodeo! Anyone taking on something like this must have some skill set and realistic expectations. One thing I’ve come to learn is that my idea of a reassembling a simple car is like me trying to reassemble a new Apple computer to someone else! The proof is present in the existence of so many abandoned projects, whose well meaning owners took them apart, blissfully tossing nuts and bolts into coffee cans, later to realize they have no clue (or funds) how to put it back together. Frustrated and disgusted, they give up and sell them, if they can. Unfortunately, for every one that falls in the right hands and gets restored, many, many more get parted out, or worse, sent to the crusher! I just wouldn’t want to encourage anyone to pick up something like this car believing that putting it back together will be simple because they read that the cars themselves are simple. It would be fun to put together, but you have to understand what your getting yourself into. I’m sure alot of jigsaw puzzles get tossed out unfinished by frustrated owners, too!

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  19. AbarthBill

    Seems every car I have bought “Apart” was always missing the Widget Clip that was unobtainable. Remember ” No money better spent on a car than the previous owner’s.”

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  20. Kyle

    To look at the two cars in the pictures and make a decision is difficult at best. I’ve rebuilt a stag that came to me in pieces. I worked on it off and on for 2.5 years. When I got tired of it or something else came along it sat on the back burner. The biggest lesson learned is don’t write on ziplock bags… I wouldn’t be afraid of either as long as I could go thru the boxes before I purchased. Kyle

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  21. Dutch 1960

    If you are going to start with a disassembled car, this is one of the better ones to go with. There is good knowledge out there on how things go together, every RWD British car of the late 50s and early 60s seems to go together in basically the same way, and these are dead simple. There is a quirky logic to how the British did things, but it is logical. Repro parts are also available for many parts and assemblies. As noted above, the likely least appealing element of all is the crudeness and basic utility of a properly assembled result (which is a feature for some drivers and a bug for others). As it looks like you like to move from old projects to new ones over time, driving comfort and features may not be too high on the list.

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