above: Test driver and racer Ken Richards in 1953 with the record breaking MVC 575
I have long been a British car and motorcycle geek. In my youth, I learned to turn wrenches on my ‘67 Austin Healey Sprite that provided many great memories. There were also a couple of derelict sports cars that looked like potential production racers (imagined through the lens of many beers), two BSA motorcycles and a ’76 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle that I still own. My cousin in law Steve Martin in Asheville, NC, recently sent some images of his Triumph TR6, included here (along with my Austin Healey), that was purchased from my friend and beer partner Jim Goodwin around 1979. Also shown are photos of my '67 Austin Healey Sprite, the car that still appears in the occasional dream in the back of the now non-existent family garage. I nearly bought the Triumph from Jim myself but was dissuaded by a potential job offer that would move me from Atlanta to St. Petersburg, Florida.
top left: 1986 photographs of aforementioned six cylinder Triumph TR6 still owned by cousin Steve
above left: 1973 photographs of my 1-liter '67 Austin Healey, small and slow but beloved by a few young ladies
OK, Back to the subject. Several months ago, Steve spiked my interest in Triumphs when he sent me some images of a legendary car named MVC 575. This was the pre-production TR2 that set a world speed record in 1953 for 2-liter production automobiles at 125 miles per hour. This speed, difficult for many 2-liter automobiles today, was accomplished at the motorway at Jabbeke, Belgium, on a highway occasionally closed off in one direction for speed testing.
According to Andrew English in his Missing link: MVC 575 may be the most significant car that Triumph ever built (www.hagerty.com)... “There aren’t many bits of early Triumph TR history left these days. Considering the genesis of the Standard Triumph range of sports cars—from TRs to Spitfires, Stags, and GT6s—we have little to point at and say, “That’s the start of it all.” So the lovely, geranium-green, speed machine known as MVC 575 is an important car merely in its role as a prototype TR2 and speed record breaker.”
However, like the recent discovery of a rare and previously unknown portrait of Mary Queen of Scots beneath a later painting of a Scottish nobleman, there’s more to the 1953 record-breaking prototype TR2 than meets the eye.”
What lurked under the sleek bonnet of this automobile? There was a 90 horsepower Standard Vanguard tractor engine that gave 36 miles per gallon of gas, the same engine that would be installed in the TR2 production cars. It had a small windscreen in place of a windshield (a factory option), a metal tonneau cover over the cockpit except for the driver’s seat and rear wheel spats, all to increase airflow and decrease drag. Otherwise, MVC 575 was a standard TR2. The left-hand drive spoke to Standard Triumph’s hopes in the sports car markets of the United States and Europe.
Test driver Ken Richardson was sent to Jabbeke on May 20, 1953, accompanied by Sir John Black, chairman and majority shareholder of Standard Triumph, timing officials and the press corps. The roadway was reserved for that day only and problems with the car or the weather could have spoiled it all. Despite ice on the road early that morning, and an oil leak under the car caused by a careless breather tube installation, Richardson set the record; with no driver seat in the car.
Richardson’s Jabbeke record run may be his greatest claim to fame, but he was a recognized test driver, and sports car and endurance racer. He did, in fact, compete once at the World Championship level when, as an engineer and the main development driver for the BRM V16 grand prix car, he qualified the car in 10th place for the 1951 Italian Grand Prix. However, he was disqualified for not possessing the appropriate license confirming the experience necessary for World Championship racing.
MVC 575 was sold in 1956, was modified over time and ultimately languished for many years. It was purchased in parts by Glen Hewitt, founder of Protek Engineering in Wallingford, Oxfordshire in 2015. Founded in 1986, Protek is a restoration specialist in TR2 through TR8 and many other makes of sports cars. After an 18-month restoration, the record breaking TR2 was reintroduced to the motoring world and honored in an exhibition at the opulent Royal Automobile Club in London.
top and above; the restored Triumph TR2 MVC 575 honored in the rotunda of the Royal Automobile Museum in London
Sixty-six years ago, MVC 575 and Ken Richardson ignited a successful start to sales of the Triumph TR2 and the popularity of Triumph automobiles for the next quarter century. Considered the poor man’s Jaguar, The TR2 and TR3 became competitive with the MGA’s and big Austin Healey 100’s of the 50’s and early ‘60’s. Truly, the Jabbeke Triumph was maybe the most significant car that Triumph ever built.
If you came this far, you might like British sports cars so see the gallery images at... www.protek-engineering.co.uk.
MVC 575 images above are borrowed from unknown sources. If there is any copyright infringement on any of the images, please let me know and I will remove them.