Every year during the holidays, I get to hang up my bow tie and tweed jacket for a break from teaching. This gives me three weeks to fill with projects. Time usually spent in the workshop tinkering with the cut-rate classics in our collection. But one particular holiday had an added task. Track down a Triumph Herald.
The Triumph Herald was introduced in 1959, Triumph's first real push to provide an aspirational car to the average folks. With the introduction of the Herald, one could purchase a reasonably priced Triumph and not be reminded of the fact that they could not afford better. It was a stark departure from its predecessor the Triumph/Standard 8, a simple and dour sedan that hated you for being poor. The Herald was styled by Michelotti and oozed that 50’s jet age cool with tail fins and plenty of trim options. Prices today are very modest at around £4,000 around the U.K. Which comes just shy of $5,000. The only downside for us, despite nearly a million of them produced, very few made it to the United States so tracking one down can be a challenge.
Like many enthusiasts, I enjoy checking out an interesting vehicle. Also, due in part to my relentless study of all things mechanical, many friends and family members call on me for automotive advice. A good friend of ours, Leslie, had been enchanted by all the fun excursions Whitney and I have embarked on with our cars. So, after explaining to her that mucking about with old cars can be affordable, she asked us if she could get in on the game. Leslie wanted us to find her a classic of her own. She figured with my knowledge and Whitney’s taste, we could find her a fun little car.
She started by telling us her budget, and what style of car she wanted. She wanted a car that was affordable and easy to maintain, with a drop top, and 50’s styling. My favorite descriptor was the condition. She did not want some pristine trailer queen. Mechanically, it had to be sound. But, she wanted the look and feel of a well-worn pair of leather boots. Worn in but not worn out. We were looking for a “survivor.”
Whitney and I quickly penned a short list. We suggested Fiat 124 Spiders, Alfa Romeo Spiders, Metropolitans, Alpines, MGB’s, Midgets, and Spitfires, all cars that can be had around $3,000-$5,000. Whitney really pushed the Triumph Herald. She had been a fan ever since she saw James May attempt to sail one across the English Channel. It took little convincing Leslie. She was hooked as soon as she was shown a picture of a Herald.
The car ticked all the boxes. One in good nick could be had for under six grand. With a shared platform with the Spitfire, parts were plentiful and affordable. There were many Heralds available in a convertible. It even had that tail finned 50’s school of design.
As the girls set the parameters, I was tasked with the search. I spent the first day of the winter holiday posting wanted ads on the various forums and scouring the internet for sale ads. A few leads quickly popped from the wanted ads. Specialists’ forums are a wonderful tool. Within an hour of posting, I had a good pool to peruse. I picked out the best and forwarded them on to Leslie. There was a red one that had caught her eye. It was located in Pennsylvania. A full day’s drive one way from our home in Illinois. That was considered within our travel range and it was quickly put at the top of the list.
After hearing good things about the list topper from people on the forum who knew the seller well and had seen the car in person, I decided it was a good prospect and contacted the seller. It is a funny thing when gearheads click. What was a call about a car turned into an hour and a half conversation, like old friends catching up, despite only talking for the first time. The car met the requirements, the seller sounded like an honest chap, and I decided this was the car to go for. We set everything up to get the car just after the New Year.
Long distance travel in the winter can, at many times, be quite hair raising. We had a narrow window between a winter storm and myself returning to work in which we could retrieve the car. We opened our window for the first weekend of the year. My 72 year old grandfather offered up his truck as our tow vehicle for the journey. Upon seeing a picture of the car in question, he grinned widely and offered up his company on the trip as well. He is tickled by all sorts of antique motors and he quite fancied this Herald.
We loaded up the truck, hitched the trailer, and set out. The trip was all smooth sailing as we drove through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and a wee bit of West Virginia. Our paced dwindled to a crawl as we hit Pennsylvania. The twisty roads do not bode well for a truck and trailer. As we passed on the southern side of Philadelphia, our gumption was wearing thin and we planned for a rest stop and refuel. It was then I noticed our trip just became much more difficult.
As I was topping off with diesel, steam wafted out from under the hood with the faint, slightly sweet, smell of burnt coolant. Now quite a few have become familiar with this sort of issue on many a car that was half a century old. I was not expecting such a conundrum in a ten year old truck with a barely broke in Cummins engine. I quickly grabbed a flashlight and investigated. We were weeping coolant from the water pump. Lovely, as it was three in the morning, no parts stores would be open, and we still had to travel a bit over a hundred miles to the car and another eight-hundred back home. We stopped and set up for the night.
Grandpa and I were lucky if we even got an hour of sleep that night. He was worried about the state of his truck. I had spent some of the night pursing the internet, finding a store with the pump in stock. I then started going over the whole replacement procedure in my head as I lay in bed, grasping for some much needed sleep. We woke up early to freezing rain. The winter storm we had planned around decided to pop in a bit early. So we set off to the nearest parts store for our replacement pump.
We pulled into the empty parking lot just as they had flipped over the sign on the door. We rushed in and picked up the new pump and everything we needed to perform the operation… in the parking lot… that was covered in a thin sheet of ice… in the rain. I poked my head into the cab and joked with the girls, “I will have it done in 30 minutes, time me!”
I set to work as grandpa held an umbrella over the both of us in an attempt to keep us dry. We were both astonished by how easy it was to replace. I was even more astonished to have found out the whole procedure took exactly 30 minutes. The girls had indeed, timed me. We were now a few hours behind schedule and needed to make up for the lost time. We hurried along as I sat with stern focus behind the wheel, one eye glued to the temperature gauge and the other on the slick surface of the highway.
We finally made the trek to the car with no further issues. Leslie was overjoyed to finally see the car in person. It had been very well represented by the seller. It was easily fired up and loaded on the trailer. After the inspection and all of the paperwork was completed, Leslie was handed the keys and began her tenure as the car’s custodian.
We soldiered on home as the winter weather was tight on our heels. We rolled into town at around 5:00am or so on Sunday. Snow was floating down and the temperature was dropping. We had just missed it. We all retired for a few hours. My grandfather being the first to get some rest, as we dropped him at his house first. He and I were both in desperate need of sleep. We had each gotten an hour of sleep since Friday. However, I was eager to get the car off the trailer.
I slept for only four hours before I bundled up to unload the car. The temperature now having dropped near single digits Fahrenheit. I bombed around my neighborhood in the little car for a few minutes. All the smells, the sounds, and the feelings I was receiving behind the wheel made me forget how tired and chilled I was. I pulled back in the drive and dragged Whitney into the bitter cold. We then delivered the little Herald to Leslie. We took her on a little jaunt around town and lectured her on the nuances of owning an old car. Then we cleaned the Herald up and sheltered it from the weather to wait for convertible season.
Now, I have owned several antique vehicles of many sorts and have yet to have gotten one in a simple matter. Each time, it is a new adventure with different hurdles. Sometimes, there is a breakdown. As was the case with Leslie’s Herald, as well as, when I obtained my Beetle. Or, to have looked at a few cars a hundred miles away to find the right one that was less than a mile from home, like Whitney’s Midget. I would assume that such interesting stories and priceless memories are seldom experienced when purchasing that new Camry.
The chase is but only the first log in the book. With each year, more fun stories are added and more unique adventures are had. The Triumph Herald is but one of many unique and obscure cars that can be had on a budget, so long as one is willing to conduct diligent research and thorough inspection.