A Crazy Fast V8 Triumph TR3

The red Triumph TR3 jockeys for a place in the line of show cars. As it rumbles in, a handful of guys follow it like kids after an ice cream truck. When the owner finally backs it into position, shuts off the engine and raises the hood, a dozen more eager faces gather around. This car couldn’t draw more attention if the owner set it on fire.

But what is this little roadster doing at a Ford show?

Make no mistake: Bill Lowery is a British-car guy. He’s owned several, including a couple of Triumphs. An Austin-Healey Sprite was his only transportation when he started college. Bill has always loved the classic styling and responsive handling found in British sports cars, along with the most basic reward of sporty, open-air motoring. “These cars are just plain fun,” he says.

Still, Bill is driven to seek fast fun that leaves other British-car guys in the dust. While most owners are perfectly happy with their LBCs as God and the Queen intended them to be driven, Bill wants more. Not a little more, but a lot more. That’s why his TR3 is powered by a 347-cubic-inch Ford V8.

Are we having fun yet? No? Then bolt on a Paxton supercharger. 

Still not enough? Add a 100-horsepower nitrous oxide kit. 

When this baby goes on the bottle, it puts out well north of 500 horses. And consider this: This potent package powers a roadster that now weighs some 100 pounds less than it did when it left the factory. Not only is a stock TR3 heavier than Bill’s car, remember that it makes do with only about a hundred horsepower. 

This thing is a beast; King Kong is on the loose! Grab the kids and lock your doors. Punch up 9-1-1. Call a priest. If sportscaster Keith Jackson were calling this game, he’d be screaming, “Whoa, Nellie!” 

You can blame this overachieving Triumph on Bill’s dad, Bill Lowery Sr. In his younger days, Senior was an aviation designer/mechanic who built air racers from scratch. He was also involved in the motor building side of an Indy car racing team. 

Back in 1963, he dropped a 260-cubic-inch Ford V8 and a top-loader transmission into a TR3. A few years later, he upgraded to a 289 Hi-Po Ford and added a Paxton supercharger. 

As a kid in New Jersey, Bill Jr. very much enjoyed riding in the quick little roadster. Sadly, he never actually got to drive it, since his father sold the car just a couple weeks before Bill got his driver’s license. Could this be a coincidence? “I never could understand that,” Bill says. Still, he never forgot that particular Triumph and vowed that someday he would build one just like it.

Building the Monster

Back in 1984, after he'd moved to Central Florida, Bill Jr. stumbled across a 1960 Triumph TR3 that was languishing in a barn. He promptly bought the car. 

While working in a rented bay, Bill completely disassembled the car and started tinkering, keeping in mind that it was going to be powered by Ford. “There were about six of us Triumph guys who had bays side by side, and we worked every Saturday,” he recalls. “I had a lot of technical support from the Central Florida Triumph Register folks, and I talked to my dad a lot on the phone.” 

The hardworking team started by reinforcing the frame in key places and fortifying the front suspension with competition shocks, springs and bushings, and a TR7 rack and pinion for quicker steering. The rear springs received an extra leaf and reworked shocks.

Fitting the Ford V8 involved weeks of engineering, head scratching and trial-and-error fittings. To mount the front of the engine, Bill and his cohorts took the plates that mounted the Triumph’s original rubber motor mounts, cut off the top halves, and fabricated stainless-steel torsion bars that they welded to the plates’ bottoms. These longitudinal torsion bars, which now mount parallel to the block on either side, allow the engine to be dropped 7 inches and moved back 13 inches. This location prompted modifications to the firewall, transmission tunnel and footwells. The inner fenders remained intact, however.

Modified, cast-iron exhaust manifolds from a Ford Galaxie 500--space was so tight one of the outlets had to be reversed and re-welded--were squeezed between the frame rails. Up front, a large Ford radiator and oil cooler provided appropriate fluid cooling. The exhaust system features 2.5-inch pipes (with a crossover tube) routed through the reinforced frame.

A modified transmission mount also helps keep all the power traveling in the right direction. This mount--bolted to the frame’s center section--was crafted by machining a split aluminum billet to closely fit over the transmission’s tail shaft assembly, which is isolated from the mount by a thin rubber donut. This arrangement works with the torsion bar engine mounts to control torque loads under hard acceleration, and Bill says the car has virtually no wheel hop. 

Bill explains the engine installation this way: “The driveline is on the exact same longitudinal center as the stock setup, but the center of gravity is much lower and moved to the rear. This is helpful in helping to hook up all the horsepower. And since the engine weighs about the same, it didn’t really change the front-end geometry. My dad gets all the credit for engineering this mounting system.” 

Bill’s original transplant engine was a 302 that his dad had built from race-prepared parts. It featured a highly modified 289 crank and warmed-up Hi-Po heads with larger valves. The head modifications and combustion chamber configuration boosted the compression ratio to a hefty 13:1. 

The transmission was a four-speed Ford top-loader. Surprisingly, Bill retained the Triumph rear end, but with mixed results. “For nearly 20 years,” he says, “I ran a TR3 rear end. It would take all the horsepower you wanted going up through the gears, but if you tried to downshift under a lot of power, it would rip the bolts off the pinion gear.”

Adding More Speed

Once the car was finished and sorted out (although Bill admits a car like this is never finished), he simply drove it, entered a show here and there, and jumped on the occasional unsuspecting Porsche driver. He says the car was relatively trouble-free, although he did become adept at changing rear ends, as spirited driving led him to replace the Triumph differential three times.

The itch to keep adding power never really went away. In 1990, Bill added a Paxton supercharger. A few years later, he upgraded the four-speed transmission to a World-Class Ford SVO five-speed, a move that dramatically improved drivability and reduced cruising rpm. 

He says the car has always been fun, fast, and required only the occasional tweak to keep it on the road. Of course, having a couple of spare TR3 donor cars on hand always helps. 

A couple of years ago, however, the loss of octane in pump gas—not to mention some 40,000 miles of hard driving--combined to take its toll on the high-compression engine. Eventually, spark detonation led to a piston meltdown. 

Undeterred, Bill built and installed another engine, this one a lower-compression 302. This powerplant did not live up to his expectations and produced what Bill called “disappointing” results. “After having something that was just a rocket, this one just didn’t do it for me,” he says. 

He called in an expert for the next engine, contacting Allen Foyt at the Ford Shop in Maitland, Florida. Allen had a reputation for building small-block Fords that run well and last. 

Bill and Allen put their heads together and came up with a scheme. This plan started with a 1991-vintage 5.0-liter Ford block, stroked from the stock 302 cubic inches up to 347. 

Then Bill went one step beyond insane, installing a 100-horsepower nitrous oxide kit. A dashboard switch arms the solenoids, and linkage on the modified 725 cfm Holley carb actuates a microswitch, opening the solenoids when the throttle hits the floor. An MSD box handles the ignition chores, and another MSD box retards timing under boost to reduce detonation. A firewall-mounted fuse box from a Dodge Neon provides reliable circuit protection (compared to Lucas, that is). The car’s wiring has been upgraded throughout with aircraft connectors.

While the car was down for the engine build, Bill took advantage of the opportunity to upgrade several areas, including the roll bar. The new equipment is a six-point affair that significantly stiffens the entire car.

Bill knew from experience that the Triumph differential could not reliably handle the output of the “normal” 302--let alone the increased power and torque of the stroker--so he installed a narrowed, 8.75-inch Mopar Sure-Grip differential from an AAR ’Cuda. Wider rear drums were used, and the racing axles were redrilled to accept the four-bolt Triumph wheel pattern. The final drive ratio is 3.25:1. It’s a fast ship.

Not Everyone Gets It

Bill realizes that some Triumph purists will never agree with the concept of a TR3 powered by a small-block Ford. However, from the comments he gets, most Triumph enthusiasts (not to mention the street rod crowd) seem to admire this conversion for its tidy engineering and functionality. 

As for the marque elitists, Bill thinks even that climate may be changing. “Twenty years ago, some Triumph people told me I had ruined a perfectly good Triumph. So for a long time I stopped showing it, and just recently started showing again.”

At last year’s Triumph Nationals, he continues, everybody just loved it. The Ford fans also dig the car. Bill recently took a first-place finish in the 1960-’69 Ford-powered class. “Wherever I take it, there’s always a crowd around it, and most of the folks are smiling,” he says.

So, what’s next for Bill’s Triumph? He’s looking for some new wheels to replace his rare magnesium American Racing Silverstones, as they are starting to develop tiny stress cracks. He’s also shopping for a custom steering wheel and planning brake system upgrades. 

Under the hood, he has the tape measure out again. He figures that with a nip here and a tuck there, he may just have enough room to squeeze in a compact air-conditioning unit.

With more than 500 horsepower on tap, he won’t have to worry about this Triumph bogging down when the a/c kicks on.

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View comments on the CMS forums
mrichlen New Reader
2/13/20 7:34 a.m.

It is not that I am purist or I disagree with the concept, and if you think it is important to leave your friends in the dust that is ok too.  The car looks to be very well crafted, but it is not a TR3.  It is what I would call a Rod.  The same as a Bucket T is not a Ford Model T or a 40 Ford with the usual SBC, LS whatever,  MMII front and multi link rear is still a 40 Ford; they are Rods.  I like Rods, especially if they are interesting and don't have a bowtie in them.  I like this one also, but it is not a TR3, probably does not even leak oil. 

Indy-Guy PowerDork
2/13/20 8:35 a.m.

I like it a LOT !


As a matter of fact, I'm building my own V8 powered Triumph.  However, mine's an LS swapped TR4

wspohn Dork
2/13/20 1:31 p.m.

I've never considered that particular car a good candidate for a V8 swap given the handling shortcomings and the fact that the rear end runs over rather than under the rear axle.

We had one guy that installed a Chev 283 in his, but because the suspension cross brace got in the way of the water pump or something, he left it off the car. Took about 6 months for the front suspensuon towers to start slowly folding toward each other.  Triumph generally didn't install unecessary bits on the car.

I had a fast street TR3 with a 87 mm pistons, a head rewoked by a place in the UK that knew the engiens, 10:1 compression and something that approximated the old G cam, and it was about 130 bhp and a ton of fun without compromising anything.

A friend owns this car  http://www.britishv8.org/Articles/Triumph-TR3-Plus-4.htm  that he split down the middle and added 4" to so he could fit a Nissan 240 SX engine to (with IRS rear end) which gave him 140 bhp net (vs. my figure, which was gross) and it is a very nice swap, but  that is a far cry from 500 bhp.

Your fearless leader can probably comment on this thread as he races a TR3.

Unless there was a fair bit of frame strengthening done on that 500 bhp car, I'd love to see what the results of putting it on an alignment rack to measure twist etc. was.

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