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Triumph Dolomite

Published: 11th Aug 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

Inner panels, floorpans and outer panels all bubble and blister away. Open the bonnet and make sure the inner wings are sound and that the scuttle isn’t riddled with rot and nor the suspension pick-up points. Pre-1976 cars seem to be the most rust-resistant, those built between 1976- ’78 being the worst.

Areas around the headlamps and the front valance being two of the worst affected but the Triumph Dolomite Club sells repair panels. Check the leading and trailing edges of the sills. Check the jacking points and inner sill; new ones are available from the Triumph Dolomite Club at £100 per side. Doorskins can dissolve with alarming ease, as do wheelarches.

The Sprint features a 16-valve head sitting on top of a 1998cc four-pot. Effectively half of a Stag V8 engine, the engine is generally okay as long as it’s looked after. Head gasket woes are legion and it’s a swine to get at due to slanted nature, and lift off the block.

The most likely problem with the manual gearboxes is worn synchro. The only other likely problem is an overdrive that doesn’t engage, probably because it’s low on oil or suffering from electrical problems such as a blown fuse, duff relay or broken connection somewhere. The steering rack can wear, but if the steering doesn’t feel very precise – and it should –- it’s probably because either the lower column coupling (£20) or the upper column coupling (£30) have called it a day. If the car seems to be wayward it’s because the anti-roll bar mounts at the front of the car have broken away. Both interior and exterior trim are very hard to find now, even second-hand. Door trim panels, dash tops, seats and carpets are all pretty much impossible to get, although the carpet sets have been remanufactured in a choice of colours.

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Hello Dolly.

Triumph’s Dolomite was one of the best value upper crust classic saloons around and as simple as a Morris Minor to own. And it still is

The Dolomite is a curious car in so far it went backwards when the motoring world was moving fast forward.
That was bad news when the car was contemporary but a positive step for those now seeking a quality, yet simple and cheap to own classic.

Its roots are in the front-wheel drive 1300, launched in 1965. Styled by Michelotti, it was in effect a down-sized 2000 but more advanced being front-wheel drive. The decision to swap the driven wheels from one end to the other was taken in the late 1960s because Triumph’s original aim was to take its sub 2000 range upmarket with larger, more powerful engines while a rear-wheel drive Toledo would become the natural replacement for the trusty but rapidly aging Herald.


The first to bear fruit was the Toledo, launched in two-door form in August 1970. Apart from overseas market cars the car was basically a rear-driven version of that front-wheel drive 1300 which later became badged a Dolomite while an up gunned 1300 with a longer body was called the 1500, due to its enlarged Toledo engine, now up to 1.5-litres.

In 1971 the more practical Toledo four- door models surfaced and for 1974 the 1500 reverted to rear-wheel drive to fall in line with the Dolomite 1850 which was launched earlier in 1972. The Dolly featured a new ohc engine that Triumph developed for Saab in the late 1960s.

The Dolomite most know and so love is the Sprint with its unique 127bhp 1995cc 16-valve engine that was a genuine yet cheaper rival to BMW’s respected 2002.

The Dolly remained much the same until their demise in 1980.

That’s a potted history lesson so what’s the right car for you? Well most folks want a Sprint and many a lesser Dolly has been sacrificed at the altar (well, a workshop bench) to save a Sprint. But apart from the added power, there’s not an awful lot to differentiate them. The standard 1850 isn’t a bad performer while the 1500TC, with its Spitfire tune engine, is a good cruiser and one of the few sub 2-litre saloons where overdrive was available. Also the later SE models were very luxurious for their era.

The Toldeo/Dolomite 1300 have their merits, especially the top spec models but we prefer the larger versions.
Only the ‘real’ Dolomites were available with a three-speed automatic transmission option but it never suited the car and stifled the Sprint’s performance considerably.

Prices refuse to go skyward. A reasonable runner is £1500 and we’ve seen concours Sprints for around £6000 so there’s little doubt that a Sprint is still an exceptional bargain. Prices for the 1850 is a bit less while 1500s are buys for a couple of grand, although having said that condition counts for almost everything and to be honest, we’d sooner have a delightful Dolly than a scrappy, sorry old Sprint!


Before we start talking about individual models, let’s round up the Triumph’s good points across the range. Chief plus is the plush interior which was streets ahead of say a Ford or Vauxhall of the same era and if in good order, still a nice place to be. The driving position is one of the most commanding and all are easy to place on the road.

The Sprint was something else 41 years ago and still this 16-valve sports saloon still has a lot to offer. As well as plenty of power at the top end (red-lined at 6500rpm – long after the eight valve gave up the ghost) there’s no shortage of low-down torque either, giving you vivid acceleration for modern traffic.

Thanks to some long gearing (23.7mph/1000rpm) the Sprint is also a relaxed cruiser spinning at just 3000prm at 70mph. The 1850 is also good at this too and if pace isn’t a criteria is more than acceptable; it’s a smoother unit than the somewhat thrashier 16V, as well.

Actually, Autocar was quite impressed with the 1500TC. “If your requirement is for a luxury small-sized handy package, the Triumph 1500TC has few serious rivals… For those who can’t quite run to the price of the Dolomite, the 1500TC offers a good alternative”. It still does.

Despite winning saloon car championships during the 1970s, the Sprint’s chassis was always heavily taxed. Drivers more used to modern machinery will find the handling and roadholding and ride from another era that even when new, the suspension could rattle and crashed around except on smooth surfaces.
Thanks to their decent equipment levels and orthodox make up Dolomites make good daily drivers. Overdrive helps keep the noise levels and fuel usage down (expect around 30mpg on a run) and apart from wind noise, are ideal for long journeys.
Even if the engine is kept in standard tune, electronic ignition (Sprints eat c.b points for breakfast and if the ignition timing is incorrect, it kills power) is essential.

A better radiator is another must fit replacement on Sprints as like the Stag, cooling on this engine is critical.

Uprated dampers and springs to replace the short-lived standard set up are wise as are replacing the standard suspension bushes (which will probably be shot by now anyway) with harder types to improve feel and stability although the ride will be made even harsher. Brakes can be uprated in various ways, from simple, harder pads to bigger four-pot calipers.

As the cars were of a similar design, there’s considerable parts interchange- ability but this can have a negative effect; for example Sprints used a special rear axle and gearbox.


It’s the Sprint that needs looking after the most, the cylinder head in particular. Torquing down the head periodically is critical; we know of some owners who do this job once a year as the head typically ‘loses’ 20lbft of tightness. It’s also done by the time-honoured way rather than Triumph’s rather odd tightening sequence. You can’t fit a Sprint head on an 1850 block and no Saab parts fit and this includes complete engines – which is a real shame as what a car that would make!

These engines suffer from crank-related problems, generally caused by the fitment of cheap oil filters that allow the lube to drain into the sump when the engine is switched off, leading to oil starvation of the crankshaft bearings when the powerplant is fired up. 3000-mile oil changes help prolong engine life.

Be careful not to buy a standard 1850 radiator that looks identical – better still go for an uprated unit from the likes of Radtec and an electric cooling fan to replace the stock viscous design.

The ohv Herald-derived 1300 and 1500 engines hold few worries for the home mechanic other than the usual Triumph foible of excessive crankshaft float due to thrust washer wear.

We Reckon...

If we can leave the Sprint out of this for a moment, the Toledo/Dolomite makes a good little classic saloon that’s ideal as a starter classic due to their simple design and economical running and repair costs. The Sprint is a legend but don’t overlook a less powerful Dolomite 1850 and nor the capable 1500TC if it comes with overdrive.

Classic Motoring

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