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Triumph Spitfire

Triumph Spitfire Published: 20th Nov 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Triumph Spitfire
Triumph Spitfire
Triumph Spitfire
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Triumph’s Spitfire is one of the best budget starter sports classics you can buy and yet looks a bit like a Ferrari! What more could you wish for?

WHY IT’S A WINNER

Can you see a notable likeness between the iconic Ferrari California and the humble Triumph Spitfire? Celebrity presenter, shock jock and petrol head extraordinaire Chris Evans can – and he should know because he’s owned both! But, the best bit is that you don’t need the millions required to buy the Ferrari, since Spitfires remain one of the cheapest ways to enjoy real classic sports car motoring. They also boast superb DIY potential as well as an equally excellent spares and club support back up. California dreamin’‚ but with Canley common sense!

HISTORY

1962 A clever Michelotti re-skin on a cut down Herald backbone chassis, using a development of the twin-carb Herald S engine with hotter cylinder head, camshaft and manifolds. Launched at the ’62 Earls Court Motor Show, badged as ‘Spitfire 4’; for ’63 overdrive, wire wheels and a hardtop become available.

1965 Greatly improved Mk2 is introduced with a plusher interior and slightly more power from 1147cc engine.

1967 Regarded as the best Spitfire of all, the Mk3 had larger 1296cc engine, better brakes and an improved hood assembly. Style changes included raising the front bumper to appease US crash laws, also giving the car a sleeker look.

1970 A major re-skin saw a Stag-style rear end cleverly moulded on to identify smoother MkIV. The interior was modified while mechanical changes saw (at long last) a heavily revised swing-wing rear suspension to counter those oversteer tendencies. Gearing slightly raised for more relaxed touring at the same time.

1974 Longer-stroke 1493cc engine, first seen in the Triumph 1500 TC saloon, is fitted for 71bhp. After almost 20 years of production the Spitfire was killed off in the summer of 1980.

DRIVING

MG’s Midget was always seen as the more macho choice of the two but the Triumph was the more civilised and refined alternative especially with overdrive fitted; on the MkIV, care of its raised gearing which allows 70mph at 3400rpm. Performance is no better than fairly brisk on all models: 0-60 is 13-17seconds depending upon model and only the 1500 is a true ton-up kid. That said, slower, sweeter Mk3 and MkIV are the preferred picks for purists.

The handling has always been a contentious issue, due to that infamous rear suspension design which allows the rear wheels to tuck in when less loaded. Pre-1970 models could be particularly wicked if handled clumsily and the ride has always been regarded as pretty poor on rougher roads.

There’s no doubt that the Spitfire was usefully improved over the many years. From a practical standpoint, the Spitfire always had the upper hand over the MG and A-H Sprite but Spridgets were always the sportier choice.

BEST MODELS

The Mk1 is a rare find now but valued the most; Mk3s are most liked with the MkIV the best all rounder and by far the most secure handling but earlier cars can be uprated to suit. 1500s have their merits but many like the smaller, sweeter 1.3. Some cars came as a hard top only and lacked a hood but this can be retro fitted.

PRICES

Spitfires remain one of the cheapest cars to buy and run but prices are on the up and five-figure restorations are not that uncommon these days. Top cars break the £5000 barrier, although you can pick nice ones up for around a grand less. In terms of desirability, the Mk3 (1967-70) is seen as the model to have, although the added refinement of the MkIV and the 1500 make them a much better bet for everyday use, especially the latter. Mk1s are for hard-core Spitfire fans only as the later versions, including the 1500, are demonstrably superior all round.

VERDICT

A Ferrari it isn’t, but the Spitfire flies high and is an ideal starter sports classic, thanks to its entirely adequate performance, fun handling (of sorts) and superb ease of ownership. Who needs a flash Ferrari anyway? Dream on!

FIVE TOP FAULTS

1. RUST Having a separate chassis means the car can be stripped to the bone: a very good thing too as welding in new sections and outriggers must be done properly and ideally with the body removed if you want to do it right

2. CHASSIS Carefully check for rust and past repairs. The (three-part) sills are highly critical as well as the outriggers. MkIV models and onwards can hide rust behind the front bumper. New chassis frames are available

3. BODY The rear bulkhead, where the fuel tank resides, is a huge rust area and the first place to check – if bad walk away. Rear arches (very common), seat belt anchorage points and the rear valance panel, rot too

4. ENGINE Usually everlasting if serviced right, look for oil leaks, misfires, overheating and manifold air leaks

5. SUSPENSION Rear needs a careful watch at the transverse rear spring, settling due to age and wear. Watch for worn rear lower trunnions. Front ones fail but are fairly easy to fix



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