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Triumph Spitfire

Published: 10th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Triumph Spitfire

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Fancy owning a motorsport legend? Paul Davies looks at true classics that made their names on rally stages and race tracks, and still provide fine drives today

Back in the Sixties, when motorways were almost non-existent and country roads were sufficiently deserted to allow spirited driving of the sort you only see on a race track nowadays, you were in one camp or the other: Spridget or Spitfire. Austin- Healey and MG owners bragged ‘their’ car was the one blessed with a great motorsport pedigree, Triumph men talked about wind-up windows, tiny turning circle and a decent heater. But the Triumph wasn’t that bad when it got to the track! The works team rallied the little beast, raced and took it to Le Mans, and clubmen all over the world found it a pretty good driving tool once they’d mastered those swing axles at the tail. Based on the Herald saloon, with all-independent suspension and backbone chassis, the Spitfire of 1962 offered more capacity (1147cc/1098cc) and greater power (63bhp/56bhp) than the Sprite/Midget. From then on it was a ‘power race’ all the way, the Spit generally leading until - final indignation - the last of the Midgets ended up with a Triumph engine! Early-sixties Standard Triumph still had its own motorsport department, with Graham Robson as competitions secretary.The TR sports cars had been successful, but then the company turned its attentions to the brand new Spitfire. Development to wring at least 100bhp from the little engine and pare weight from the body took place within the factory, and independent tuner SAH was given the job of marketing the Stage 2 engine kits necessary for homologation of the go-faster goodies. Roy Fidler and John Hopwood took first blood, bagging 2nd overall on the 1964 Welsh Rally. Triumph built a total of 10 competition Spits, four for Le Mans, four rally, one test car and one for the Stirling Moss SMART racing team for the GP ace’s then secretary, Valerie Pirie, to drive. Three went to Le Mans in 1964.Bodies were primarily aluminium, with a glass-fibre fastback hardtop, whilst the engines used a cast iron, eight-port, head (instead of the production six-port), twin DCOE Weber carbs, and racing camshaft to give 98bhp. Down the Mulsanne Straight, the little Triumphs clocked 136mph. David Hobbs and Rob Slotemaker finished 21st overall and 3rd in class, the other cars crashed. Two new race cars were built for 1965, and four went to Le Mans. Two failed to finish, but Jean Jacques Thuner/Simo Lampinen finished 13th and won the class, Claude Dubois/Jean Francois Piot followed one place behind. In rallying, the Spitfire was better on tarmac than gravel. With alloy cylinder head the engines gave five more horsepower than the race cars, but the (mainly) steel bodies were heavier; Terry Hunter, Fidler and Thuner were the first works drivers, Lampinen joining for ’65. High placings came on classic rallies such as the Tour de France, Alpine, Geneva, and Monte Carlo. Main opposition in the GT category was the Renault powered Alpine, until BMC realised it could run the Mini Cooper S in the same class if they fitted non-standard bits! The Spitfire’s third season should have seen the adoption of the 1296cc engine (117bhp) but new Standard-Triumph chairman Donald Stokes was not a motorsport man, and the race and rally programmes were cancelled. With no works cars it was down to the privateers to campaign the Spitfire. Escorts and Minis had the upper hand in rallying, but Peter Cox and Richard Lloyd were the guys to beat in British club racing for several years. The car was also a storming success in its class in SCCA racing in the USA right through into the early ‘70’s, a works team being run by ‘Kas’ Kastner. The Spit’s career was short, but it made its mark. Testimony is that even now a few appear in classic and historic racing, and Mark Field of Triumph specialist Jigsaw Racing has completed a magnificent recreation of one of the original Le Mans cars, ADU 1B. Take a look if you get the opportunity.

Triumph Spitfire Summary


1964-80: 314,342. All models, including 1500 (1975-80).


Engine: Four cylinder, cast iron, with single camshaft and pushrod operated valves. 2 x SU (then Stromberg) carburettors.
Power: 1147cc (1962-67) 63/67bhp; 1296cc (1967-74) 75bhp; 1493cc (1975-80) 71bhp. Eight-port competition engine 100bhp.
Gearbox: Four speed. (Overdrive optional)
Drive: Rear wheels.
Suspension: Independent with coil springs/wishbones front, transverse leaf spring and swing axles rear.
Brakes: Disc front, drum rear.
Steering: Rack and pinion.

Claim to fame

Class leader in GT racing, and on tarmac rallies. 1st-2nd in class at 1965 Le Mans, 2nd-3rd at 1965 Sebring, Championship wins in SCCA racing in the USA. 2nd 1964 Welsh Rally, 2nd Geneva Rally, class awards on RAC, Alpine, Tour de France and Monte Carlo.

Famous names

Roy Fidler, Terry Hunter, Bill Bradley, Simo Lampinen, Claude Dubois, Rob Slotemaker, Jean-Jacques Thuner, David Hobbs, Jean-Francois Piot, Val Pirie, Bob Tullius, Richard Lloyd, Peter Cox, Kas Kastner, Rick Cline, Jon Woolfe.

Where to buy

Almost anywhere. Check out Triumph specialists, club sites, E-Bay and of course Classic Cars for Sale!

What to look for

Rust anywhere, especially in wheel arches, inner sills chassis members, floor, seat belt points and suspension points. Damaged or corroded singlepiece bonnet is expensive to replace. Mechanics easy to mend/replace with parts readily available. Check suspension bushes trunnions, gear synchros and general neglect. Leaking hoods will damage interior - check under carpets.

What to pay

Early (1147cc) cars most sought and rarely available. A good 1300 Mk3 or 4 will set you back £2500- £4000, later 1500s cheaper unless pristine. A couple of hundred quid will bag you a project.


Club Triumph:

Classic sport

Classic Sports Car Club is the place to go racing.

Maintenance, tuning and sport

Modified head, bigger SUs and fast road camshaft will give 85bhp on 1300. Race engines to 130bhp. Negative camber will sort rear swing axles. Jigsaw ( supplies competition and stock re-build parts. Rimmer Bros ( and Moss (www.mosseurope. have comprehensive catalogues. Try Spitbitz ( for second hand parts.

Competitive Rating: 6

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