- Best model: Mk3
- Worst model: Mk1
- Budget buy: Mk2
- OK for unleaded?: No
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L3937 x W1470mm
- Spares situation: Excellent
- DIY ease?: Couldn’t be easier
- Club support: Superb
- Appreciating asset?: Very gradually
- Good buy or good-bye?: Good buy
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Not for nothing was Triumph’s GT6 dubbed the beginner’s E-type. And in many ways, this ‘super Spitfire’ enjoys advantages over the Jag
Pros & Cons
The Triumph GT6 was a pioneer, yet few realise just what a mould-breaking car this was. This wasn’t the fi rst car that could claim to be compact, sporty, powerful and fast, but until the GT6 came along there wasn’t anything that could also claim to be properly practical. And, that’s exactly what the baby Triumph was, thanks to its then novel E-type hatchback confi guration.
In the years since its arrival, many have compared the GT6 to the seminal Jaguar, on account of its smooth straight-six, ample performance and lithe coupé silhouette. But, unlike the Jaguar, for which prices have gone stratospheric, the Triumph has remained utterly attainable, with no sign of prices rising sharply any time soon. But, despite value having remained largely static for several years, the standard of GT6s out there has steadily risen over the past decade, thanks to brilliant club and specialist support. As a result, you can get into one of the very best GT6s available for the same sort of money as a basket-case E-type will cost you. Yet, you’ll be able to enjoy most – if not all – of the same thrills.
The foundations were laid for the GT6 when the Triumph Herald was launched in 1959; its separate-chassis modular construction meant that developing further models was simplicityitself. First came the two-seater open-topped Spitfi re in 1962, followed by the six-cylinder Herald – the Vitesse – in 1963. Triumph’s next move was to create a fastback Spitfi re that was not dissimilar to the Le Mans racers, but the extra weight of the body meant that car’s four-cylinder engines didn’t endow the closed car with enough power for the road. A Vitesse engine was initially fi tted instead, but at 1596cc that didn’t have much more urge than the pleasantly perky 1296cc Spitfi re unit, although it was a lot smoother. No, the real answer lay in the fi tment of the proper Triumph straight six engine from the 2000.
Displacing 1998cc, and giving 95bhp instead of the 70bhp of its predecessor, the upgraded Vitesse’s 2-litre straight-six and four-speed manual gearbox with optional overdrive gave the GT6 the turn of speed it really needed. Externally, the front and rear ends were pure Spitfi re Mk1 & 2, using the same lighting and bumper arrangements; 15,818 Mk1s were made, and a hairy beast it was too, thanks to a largely untouched rear suspension layout…
Two years later the Mk2 arrived, with a higher performance TR5 cylinder head, to give a nonetoo- shabby 104bhp. The biggest change on Mk2 models was the adoption of Rotofl ex rear suspension, in place of the swing-axle layout of Mk1s, to tame that wagging tail.
Styling changes included the higher bumper of the Mk3 Spitfi re, to appease US safety regs (which improved the looks of the car no end) along with louvres in the top of the bonnet and the front wings. Rostyle wheel trims replaced the disc wheels of the Mk1 and louvres were incorporated into the C-pillar behind the rear side windows. Interior ventilation was also greatly improved and a heated rear window was fi tted as standard. American versions of the Mk2 were badged GT6 Plus. A further revised Mk2 was launched in October 1969, to stave off the in-house BL rival, better known as MGB GT. Featuring upgraded interior trim, there was also a beefed up structure to meet the new American crash test regulations. 12,066 Mk2s (of both types) rolled off the line.
The Mk3 debuted in October 1970, featuring styling cues shared with the Spitfi re Mk4, introduced at the same time. A sleeker bodyshell was the biggest change with a de-seamed bonnet and revised rear end styling. February 1973 saw a revised Mk3 with swing-spring rear suspension, new instrumentation and cloth seats. But a lack of publicity meant sales continued to slide, leading to the GT6’s demise in November 1973, after 13,042 Mk3s had been produced.
With its hatchbacked fastback lines, and that long masculine-styled bonnet, the GT6 could certainly be likened, if not mistaken, for a Jag – but what about driving one? Well yes, in a diluted way.
There’s that same straight six smoothness, that urgent power and restfulness – there’s just not so much of it. All GT6s were fi tted with a 2-litre straight-six, although the long-stroke 2.5-litre unit from the TR5/6 can be slotted in easily enough and many now feature it. Whichever unit is installed, there’s ample torque for seriously relaxed cruising; with a 3.27:1 back axle and overdrive switched in, a GT6 can cross continents without breaking into a sweat. You might break into a sweat though, as the GT6’s cabin is fairly cramped and that six-pot engine throws out a lot of heat.
Anybody used to a Spitfi re will be instantly at home in a GT6 and will appreciate its better quality of trim and comfort, if not the impaired visibility, especially when looking over your shoulder. As the car is essentially a fast-backed Spitfi re, it’s more Midget than MGB-sized, and so a lot more cramped in the cockpit. This is also why the GT6 is a two-seater only.
Comparisons with the MGB GT are inevitable. Fierce in-house rivals they may have been, but in fact the GT6 is an entirely different animal to the MGB GT and appeals to a different type of enthusiast. Devoid of the raffi sh charm of an MG, the Triumph is the smaller, smoother, sweeter and considerably swifter coupe that, in its day, posted an extremely impressive pace (0-60 time of 9.5 -12 seconds, depending on model), and was a true 110mph GT that could keep up with a TR, especially around the corners. The 1966 Autocar report noted, ‘The GT6 is much quieter and faster than the Spitfi re, yet much more refi ned and somehow ‘tamer’ than the TR4A.’
Even back then, the handling needed respect, as that Herald-derived chassis caused the rear wheels to tuck in and cause severe lift-off oversteer if you didn’t watch it. ‘From awful to acceptable’, is how Car put it when pitching the GT6 against the MGB GT, liking the way the abrupt change from understeer to oversteer could be controlled. But that was back in 1971…
That said, there are numerous modifi cations you can carry out to make the rear tyres keep in line, and a GT6 can be transformed into a good, tactile and grippy handler, although the ride will suffer. And, if the GT6 does have a downside, then it’s the rather knobbly ride.
A shame – because this Triumph is at its best as a tourer, where that lazy, lusty engine twinned with tall gearing (especially with overdrive) keep the GT6 well in tune with today’s roads, and fairly frugal with it; 30mpg is well on the cards.
Quite a bit smaller than the MGB GT, the Triumph is a lot more refined and luxurious, although, unlike the B, there’s no rear perch for kids to enjoy the drive. You do get a similar, albeit smaller, just as useful hatch facility, however.
In many ways, the GT6 will cope better as a daily driver than a Spitfi re, thanks to its better performance and refi nement. That straight six, when topped with an overdrive transmission, can make it surprisingly economical if driven considerately. The Triumph’s excellent turning circle makes it a breeze to zip in and out of the back streets and, like the rest of the controls, the steering isn’t too heavy, so long as you don’t go over-wide on the tyre sizes.
With its rear hatch, there’s fair boot space for the usual supermarket shop. Many later cars came with a factory fi t heated rear window – all it needs is an aftermarket rear wash wipe to fi nish it off for the winter. A fabric sunroof tops it off inmore ways than one, as it aids the only-average ventilation system and is useful all the year round.
Those compact dimensions mean the GT6 is easy to place on the road and it’s agile too, as it doesn’t weigh very much – but it is nose heavy, as that engine features a cast-iron head and block. Because you sit right between the axles, the ride, although not good, is better than a TR, while the brakes – with a servo fi tted as standard late in its life – are strong enough too.
Any GT6 with an MoT is worth at least £1500 – even a restoration project is worth no less than half that. There’s little difference in values between the different versions, although the Mk3 is slightly more desirable. The best show-winning cars will fetch £9000, while a really superb example is worth closer to £7000. A decent car that needs no work, but won’t win any prizes either, costs around £3000. Unbelievably, the quirky MK1s seem most in demand but without doubt the Mk3 is the best all rounder – and there are more of them left.
Like the Spitfi re, there’s a fair amount that can be done to make it better. For starters, if the original canister type of oil fi lter is still fi tted, it’s worth investing around £40 on a spin-on conversion. That will allow you to fi t a modern type of fi lter with a non-return valve on it, meaning the engine’s bearings won’t be starved of vital lubricant when you start it up, eliminating that start-up rattle which leads to excessive wear.
Strange but true, but no GT6 had overdrive fitted as standard and it remained a factory option. Few Mk1 owners ticked the options box but it became increasingly popular as the years rolled on and most Mk3s owners specifi ed it.
A lot of cars, irrespective of their age and model, have it nowadays because it’s easy enough to retro-fi t. Also overdrive is worthwhile because it give a six-speed gearbox although ‘o/d’ cars had a slightly lower axle ratio to counteract the added weight. Unusually, when new, a GT6 with overdrive was little more relaxing to drive than one without. The diff’s ratio was lowered to 3.27:1 from the previous 3.89:1, to improve acceleration rather than aid high-speed cruising so if you opt for the higher ‘non o/d’ ratio it will cruise better.
The engine is quite tuneable and there’s plenty of kit around. Better breathing is where the main gains are made but a popular mod is, of course, to take the engine out to 2.5-litres, ala TR6. There is a stretch to 2.7-litres if required. Potentially there’s around 180bhp for road use.
The suspension is easily uprated to make a GT6 handle well but don’t go above 175/185 tyres because there’s little to be gained.
What To Look For
- The Triumph straight-six engine is famed for its oil leaks, and rattles at start up. But, thankfully, these ‘traits’ can be engineered out without too much diffi culty or expense. All GT6s were fi tted with a 1998cc straight-six and, if looked after, with oil changes every 6000 miles, it’ll last 100,000 miles between rebuilds without any problem.
- If the engine has had it, and you don’t fancy rebuilding it yourself, a running unit can be picked up for around £150 – although you’ll need to pay double for a really good example.
- The universal joints and diff can struggle with the 2.0-litre engine’s torque. If an owner has been over-enthusiastic with the throttle, there may be play in the system; the diff will whine loudly if it’s tired.
- Clonking from the transmission as you take up the drive is worn universal joints. Replacements are only £10 apiece, and replacing them isn’t tricky, but you might have to do all four if things are really bad. If there’s lots of vibration once cruising, all four joints might need replacing.
- The plastic bushes in the remote gearchange mechanism wear out eventually, but fi tting a new set is cheap and easy – expect to pay around £20 for a pack.
- If overdrive is fitted but not working, it’s probably only an electrical connection playing up, or a lack of oil pressure because the unit’s internal fi lter needs a clean. If it’s anything more serious, rebuilds are best left to a specialist, but if it has called it a day you can buy a rebuilt overdrive for £300 on an exchange basis.
- If the car has Rotofl ex suspension, make sure the couplings aren’t disintegrating. Even genuine Metalastik couplings typically last no more than 35,000 miles. If the car doesn’t have Rotofl ex couplings things are simpler as you’ve then only got to be concerned with the bearings, which last well.
- The main thing to check with the rear suspension is the condition of the transverse leaf spring, which sags. Replacing it isn’t especially pricey at around £100, but it’s a devil of a job without the correct spring lifter. Swing spring (late Mk3) cars will probably only need new rubber pads between the leaves. There’s also a rubber bush at each end of the leaf spring, along with bushes in the radius arms which locate the back axle, and in each of the dampers. By the time the damper rubbers have gone, the damper itself will need replacing; they’re £32 for a pair.
- The anti-roll bar drop links can break off; new ones are £19 a pair. Tired springs or dampers might need to be replaced, but the job is easy and the costs are low at £36 and £32 respectively for a pair of each. The wishbones are fi tted with rubber bushes, as are the anti-roll bar mounts and the steering rack mountings. These can all be replaced with polyurethane items and, while you’re checking to see if they’ve perished, have a look at the ball joint at the top of the vertical link, to make sure it hasn’t got a lot of play.
- That irritable trunnion syndrome! It’s only if the car has been neglected that you’re likely to have problems. If they’ve been lubricated as specifi ed in the owner’s manual, they’ll be fi ne. But few owners know that, every 6000 miles, EP90 is supposed to be pumped in and not grease. Most use the latter…
- The trunnions themselves are brass and don’t give problems – it’s the cast iron vertical link which threads into the trunnion which breaks. Replacement links cost £56 and the easiest way of checking to see if they’re about to give is by seeing how heavy the steering is. It shouldn’t be especially heavy, even with the weight of the straight-six.
- Pressed-steel wheels were fitted to all GT6s as standard, but by now many have been swapped for alloys or wires. Because the GT6 has an unusual offset it’s easy to buy wheels that suffer from clearance problems, so check that they’re not rubbing, if aftermarket wheels are fitted.
- If wire wheels have been put on, make sure that the spokes haven’t broken and that the splines haven’t worn. The widest tyres that will comfortably fi t a GT6 are 175s.
- Thanks to engine oil leaks, the front of the chassis is usually well preserved – it’s at the back that you need to inspect closely. Decent used chassis can be found, but not new ones.
- Even if the chassis doesn’t need work, the bodywork probably will, especially the sills, floors and wheelarches. The GT6’s sills are structural and if they, along with the fl oorpans, haven’t been replaced yet, the chances are they’ll need renewing before long. Nearly all panels are available new and are fairly easy to fi t, but if somebody else has already done this, make sure the panels line up – putting right somebody else’s bodge is far harder than starting from scratch.
- Check under the false boot fl oor where the metal fl oor meets the arch – the passenger side is hidden under the petrol tank but the off-side will give a good idea of condition. All versions have a habit of corroding between the rear lights, and as new panels aren’t available you’ll have to be handy with the MiG. Some of the most rot-prone parts of the car are the doors, which can rust very badly, once moisture has got trapped in the seam between the shell and the skin, but thankfully the shells usually remain sound, needing only a new skin.
- Other rot spots include the bottom of the hatch aperture, which fi lls with water then rots out, and the double-skinned leading edge of the roof where it meets the windscreen surround – condensation collects in the seam and rots from the inside out. As if all this wasn’t enough, it’s quite common for the master cylinders on the bulkhead to leak brake fl uid onto the metal panels below. Once this has stripped the paint, corrosion will follow, but the use of a silicone based brake fl uid will avoid this.
- Even if there’s no discernible rust anywhere, the car may have been in an impact at some point. Poor shutlines are common on otherwise well-restored GT6s because aligning the panels can be very tricky. The easiest way of telling if the car has been shunted is to look at the chassis rails in front of the engine, which may be crumpled. Even if the car has been in a fairly big accident, if the chassis has been replaced properly along with the necessary panelwork, there’s no need to worry. That’s the beauty of not using a monocoque – although if you do need to replace the bonnet, you’d better have at least £600 handy.
Three Of A Kind
Datsun 240ZThe fi rst in a long line of driverfocused six-pot coupés, the 240Z is appreciated now more than ever, which is why values have climbed sharply in recent years. That's seen an increasing number of cars restored properly, so you won't have to look quite so hard to fi nd a good one – but you still need check very carefully for rot. Expect to pay at least £5000 for something that isn't a liability.
Ford CapriIt arrived in the same year as the 240Z, it's been a cult classic for years and, like the Datsun, values have been steadily climbing in recent years. Early six-cylinder cars are hugely sought after and they don't have hatchback practicality; that arrived with the MkII of 1974. Best of the lot though is the MkIII from 1978, especially in 2.8i form for £2000+. Again, watch for rot.
MGC GTThe MGB is easier to fi nd and, if you're prepared to settle for a rubber-bumpered edition, you won't need to pay much – but an interesting alternative is the six-cylinder MGC, offered for just two seasons. Quirky, smooth and practical, the C isn't so great dynamically, but a few cheap and simple mods will easily transform the driving experience. Pay £6500+ for something good.
The Triumph GT6 is one of our favourite cars here at Classic Cars For Sale because it offers so much for so little. With low parts prices, strong spares availability and the car’s Meccano-like construction, even the tattiest GT6 can be revived – as long as you’ve got the patience. Even better is the fact that, once restored, the GT6 is great fun to drive – and it’s even more fun if you mate a Spitfi re body with a GT6, to produce the drop-top that Triumph should have built!
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