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Triumph Dolomite Sprint

Long Distance Runner Published: 6th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Manual Overdrive
  • Worst model: Automatic
  • Budget buy: Any
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 13’6” x 5’ 1 3/4”
  • Spares situation: Bodywork mainly
  • DIY ease?: Generally quite okay
  • Club support: Good
  • Appreciating asset?: Must be one day…
  • Good buy or good-bye?: The former, buy now!
Upmarket cabin as good as Stag although ride and refi nement sadly lacking. Cramped in rear but okay for most families Upmarket cabin as good as Stag although ride and refi nement sadly lacking. Cramped in rear but okay for most families
Lift carpets to check for rust Lift carpets to check for rust
Rot around screens are common and costly Rot around screens are common and costly
Lovely Sprint in white rather than yellow and original alloys – but most won't be this good due to rampant rot! Lovely Sprint in white rather than yellow and original alloys – but most won't be this good due to rampant rot!
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It was the car to rival BMW when launched back in 1973, and 35 years on the Triumph Dolomite Sprint is now perhaps the best value sports saloon around… if you get a good one!

Pros & Cons

Pace, handy size, value for money, increasing classic status
Durability, engine woes, rust, fake models, sluggish auto option

Triumph’s Dolomite Sprint caused a sensation when it was launched back in the summer of ’73. Here was an up-gunned version of the stately yet sporting Dolomite saloon that boasted 16-valve technology some 25 years before it became commonplace. And yet despite its credentials – and notable success in motorsport – it’s a 35 year old true-blue British classic that’s still very much in the bargain basement sector price-wise. So the message is don’t delay snapping one up! Here’s a car that’s as classy and cultured as any rival BMW or Alfa for a lot less, and values can only increase. Like the Stag, the Dolomite Sprint will have its day!


Car was to be called 135 donating the engine power output

The Sprint’s roots are in the front-wheel drive 1300, launched in 1965 and styled by Michelotti. The decision to swap the driven wheels from one end to the other was taken in the late 1960s because Triumph’s aim was to take the range upmarket with larger, more powerful engines. Front-wheel drive wasn’t going to work with the Dolomite and Sprint’s powerplant, so a radical solution was needed.

The result was the Toledo, launched in two-door form in August 1970. Apart from overseas market cars, all Toledos were equipped with Triumph’s 1296cc four-pot engine, as seen in the Herald and front-wheel drive 1300. The car was basically a simpler rear-driven version of that front-wheel drive 1300.

In August 1971 an extra pair of doors was added to the Toledo’s options list and a year later, it and the front-wheel drive 1500 were cross-bred to produce the 1500TC, a rear-wheel drive version of the earlier front-driven 1500. The 1850cc Dolomite arrived in 1972 and was commended for its taste, spry performance and tipped sporting potential. However nobody could ever guess how far Triumph could go with this statley saloon.

In an age where a quartet of valves for each cylinder is normal, and fi ve isn’t unheard of, a 16-valve head on a four-pot engine is nothing to write home about. But when the Dolomite Sprint was launched in June 1973 it caused a stir. The smaller-engined Triumphs were reasonably torquey lower down the rev range, but pretty gutless up top. The 2.0-litre Sprint engine changed that, with power available at any engine speed. Here was a car which could sprint to 100mph in less than half a minute and was able to max 115mph – on paper it was a genuine rival to BMW’s respected 2002.

Basically the engine was normal 1850 Dolly, which fi rst surfaced in the late 1960s in Saabs. An eight per cent capacity increase saw it to the exact size of the old Standard Vanguard/ Triumph 2000 unit but with a 36 per cent power increase care of an ingenious 16v head which utilised just one single camshaft (care of equally ingenious rockers to operate the exhaust valves to give 127bhp and 122lbft of torque. The was deemed clever enough to be honoured by the Design Council in 1974 although no 16-valver has since followed in its tyre tracks. Harnessing the power was a TR6 transmission and uprated suspension. Overdrive was optional, as was a three-speed automatic.

The fi rst 2000 Sprints were only available in Mimosa (a bright yellow) to contrast with the standard vinyl roof. The Sprint was also the fi rst ever Brit to be fi tted with alloy wheels as standard. At £1740 it was a bargain, undercutting Ford’s RS1600 by £21 (that was half the average weekly wage by the way) and Alfa Romeos or BMW by hundreds. So far so good and the standard spec made it formidable in ‘showroom standard’ Group 1 motorsport during the decade, and yet development of the Dolomite was pretty much nonexistent. Overdrive, driver’s door mirror and tinted ‘Sundym’ glass was made standard in May ’75 with a laminated windscreen three years later. By the dawn of the 1980s it was clear that with only 22,941 made, the Dolomite belonged to another era, and a deal with Honda meant it was phased out in preparation for the Acclaim. Best year for sales was in ’73 before reliability problems surfaced when 5446 left the showroom. By 1980 only 493 were made. Also exports were poor with just 5226 going to abroad and none after 1978.


The Sprint was something else 35 years ago and still today that 16-valve engine impresses. 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. Leave it in overdrive top and it’ll crack 30-50mph in around eight seconds – fl ick it out of overdrive and it’s rather more urgent. Thanks to some relatively long gearing (23.7mph/1000rpm) the Sprint is also a relaxed cruiser spinning at just 3000rpm at 70mph. It also explains why you can expect around 30mpg from it, as long as you’re not merciless with the throttle too. In contrast too the non-overdrive cars can be thrashy and fussy.

Despite winning numerous saloon car championships during the 1970s, the Dolomite’s chassis was always taxed to the hilt, even in standard tune and drivers more used to modern machinery will fi nd the handling, roadholding and ride from another era plus even when new the suspension rattled and crashed around except on dead smooth surfaces. Also, despite overdrive and a plush, roomy cabin, excessive wind noise from that old fashioned high stance body and feeble quarter light windows take the edge off this grand tourer. However, if you want an inexpensive lively, cultured classic saloon then you’ll find a good Dolly Sprint takes some beating.


If you fi nd a Sprint that needs lots of work, you can probably have it in return for a decent drink. A reasonable runner is more like £1500, with a really top car costing around double that and we’ve seen concours stuff for around £5000. Anything in between needs to be judged on its merits as there’s an awful lot of rubbish out there full of rot and rotten heads. But there’ little doubt that a sound Sprint is still an exceptional bargain that can’t stay this way for much longer.


In its 1973 road teat, the late lamented Hot Car magazine waxed lyrical over the Sprint’s potential, wonderingwhether the 16v heads would ever be fi tted to the Stag… It’s a tantalising thought that never occurred but there’s much you can do to make a Sprint quicker. As a standard Spr int is adequately quick still, star t with the chassis, treating it to uprated dampers and springs to replace the short-lived standard set up. By far the biggest improvement is replacing the standard suspension bushes (which will probably be shot anyway) with harder types to improve feel and stability although the ride will be even harsher. Brakes can be uprated im many ways, from simple harder pads to bigger four-pot calipers from the likes of the BL Princess and Ford Capri 2.8i with some mods. Ventilated discs were made for the car from 1978 for racing. Triumph was originally going to badge the car the ‘135’ in deference to its power but BL engineers didn’t reckon quality control could consistently reach that figure so the idea was dropped. Nevertheless a good Sprint engine should see 135bhp; in fact in Group 1 racing 174bhp was the ultimate with careful rebui lding and bluepr int ing . More conventional methods involve better breathing (bigger 2in SU, K&N filters) and a superior exhaust manifold before you tackle the head and cam. With twin Weber DCOEs over 200bhp isn’t unknown. Even if the engine is kept standard, electronic ignition (Sprints eat c.b points and if the ignition timing is incorrect it kills power) is essential. A better radiator is another must fi t replacement.

What To Look For

  • Be wary of cars that are already restored, as there are a lot of cars masquerading aswell-restored when they’re anything but. If a vendor claims the car has been rebuilt, ask for photographic evidence of this and check the handiwork with care.
  • Inner panels, fl oorpans and outer panels all bubble and blister away, although no single car is likely to rot in all the places. Pre-1976 cars seem to be the most rust-resistant, with cars built between 1976 and 1978 being the worst.
  • All outer panels corrode, the areas around the headlamps and the front valance being two of the worst affected. Open the bonnet and make sure the inner wings are sound and that the scuttle isn’t riddled with rot. The subframe mounting points, where the bolt heads are visible, is a favourite rot spot and the battery tray also harbours it. Subframes rarely need replacing as they’re pretty hardy, but they need to be thoroughly checked, where the wishbones are mounted especially.
  • Check the leading and trailing edges of the sills. The centre sections aren’t generally too bad, but the A-posts often are, along with the base of the windscreen pillars. Once these have started to rust you’ll probably fi nd wet carpets.
  • The bulkhead itself needs to be watched closely for corrosion. There’s a series of drain holes below the base of the windscreen – you’ll need to open the bonnet to access them – making sure these aren’t blocked. Get a torch and look behind the dash for evidence of water ingress. At best you’re likely to have damp carpets, at worst you’ll fi nd the car’s structure has been seriously weakened by the bulkhead being in an advanced state of decay, with the steering column mounts also be in danger of breaking away! Next port of call is the footwells…
  • Check to see if the trio of under-wing mudshields fi tted along with the inner wing stiffener, high up in the wheel arch. This is often rotten as a pear and if it’s not there it’s bad news as repairs entail the removal of the welded-on front wings. Often mud is found piled high in the arches. Is it?
  • Doorskins can dissolve with alarming ease, especially along the lower edges. Unfortunately, so can the trailing edge of the bootlid and the rear edge of the roof – which is very tricky to repair. Be very wary of what might be lurking underneath a vinyl roof – the slightest sign of rust bubbles is bad news.
  • If the boot fl oor hasn’t been kept free of water it’ll have holes in it – even well-maintained examples will probably have corrosion starting where the rear quarter panel meets the bottom edge of the inner wheelarch. The whole wheelarch is prone to bad rust – from the rear of the sills right round to the rear quarter valance. Take your time checking!
  • The Sprint features a 16-valve head sitting on top of a 1998cc four-pot. Effectively half of a Stag V8 engine, it’s similar to the unit fi tted to Saabs since 1968. Using the same bottom end as the 1850 engine, this unit is renowned for unreliability. In reality 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 the quirky slanted nature. Torquing down the head is critical – we know of some owners who do it once a year (the head typically ‘loses’ 20lbft of tightness) and do it the time-honoured way rather than Triumph’s rather odd tightening sequence.
  • The Sprint has an alloy cylinder head that’s susceptible to warping if it’s allowed to get too hot. Start the car from cold and see how quickly it takes to warm up – if it stays cold it’s probably because the thermostat has been removed to disguise an overheating problem (shades of Stags…).
  • These engines suffer from crank-related problems, generally caused by the fi tment of oil fi lters that allow the oil to drain into the sump when the engine is switched off, leading to oil starvation of the crankshaft bearings when the powerplant if fi red up. Prompt 3000-mile oil changes help prolong engine life, and unless the car is used every day the chances are that this will equate to a single annual lubricant swap. All the units tend to suffer from oil leaks, which can seep from the rocker cover or the front or rear crankshaft oil seals.
  • Experts reckon replacing the radiator as a matter of course to reduce the chance of overheating; they are a weak point. Be careful not to buy a standard 1850 rad 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.
  • Fitted only to the Sprint is a four-speeder that uses the internals of the big Triumph saloons and feeds a rear axle which is peculiar to it – if a ‘normal’ Dolomite is pretending to be a Sprint it’ll have a standard axle fi tted to it which is much smaller and has the smaller brake backplates fi tted.
  • The most likely problem with the manual gearboxes is worn synchro – if the car jumps out of gear or any of the ratios are hard to engage, you can bank on having to splash out around £200 on a rebuilt unit. 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. Overdrive was standard on the Sprint from spring 1975. Has it been ditched or by-passed? Limited slip diffs are rare fi nds.
  • The steering rack can wear, but if you can feel play in the system it’s more likely to be the bushes which locate the rack. These perish when they get soaked in oil but they’re easily and cheaply replaced with either a set of polyurethane items or steel clamps which are solid and eliminate play altogether.
  • If the steering doesn’t feel very precise – and it should –- it’s probably because either the lower column coupling (£18) or the upper column coupling (£28) have called it a day. Front and rear suspension bushes will probably be worn by now, but everything is obtainable. Thankfully polyurethane items are available to make everything feel a bit more together.

Three Of A Kind

Ford Escort RS2000
Ford Escort RS2000
This humble Cortina GXL-powered Escort gave the Triumph a tough time on the tracks and is also a highly accomplished road car. Big brother to the Mexico, its simplicity ensures ease of running and reliability plus masses of tuning potential. A good one far exceeds Dolomite values yet compared to the civilised cockpit of the Sprint, the Ford’s repmobile interior comes as a shock.
Alfa Romeo Alfetta
Alfa Romeo Alfetta
If you’re looking for a bigger bargain than the Dolly then track down an Alfetta. This car, launched in 1972, featured advanced twin cam engines and a rear-mounted transmission for optimum weight distribution, yet like the Triumph was clothed in a stylish yet sensible saloon body. A good car in its day, but sadly most have rotted away by now… or been bodged to the hilt, so take care when choosing.
BMW 3 Series
BMW 3 Series
By the time the Dolomite Sprint was reaching its mid life, up sprung the fi rst generation of the BMW 3 Series and what a great car it was. Originals were a mite skittish dry or wet, especially the big powered 320 and 323s, but there’s a car to suit all pockets and even the 316 is pleasing, if sedate. After 1983 the 3 Series evolved into yuppie transport, but was still a fi ne car and available in four-doors, too.


The Sprint was like the Stag – it offered so much on paper. Sadly the engine suffered the same bugs as the V8 (it was, after all, half that engine) although they are also not as bad as their reputation suggests. But like the Stag, a Dolomite Sprint offers a lot of classic for the money. Our advice is to get a good one while you can. Soon.

Classic Motoring

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