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Triumph Dolomite

Triumph Dolomite Published: 1st Apr 2020 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Sprint (MOD)
  • Worst model: Anything rusty
  • Budget buy: 1500/1850 Dolomite
  • OK for unleaded?: Depends on model
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4115 x W1580 (Dolomite)
  • Spares situation: Fair but not TR plentiful
  • DIY ease?: Very good in general
  • Club support: Being a Triumph, good
  • Appreciating asset?: Mixed bag
  • Good buy or good-bye?: It’s not all about Sprints you know
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Varied mix of 1970’s fwd and rwd saloons all with price and pedigree on their side. However most aren’t as good as they look and don’t enjoy the level of club and specialist support other classic Triumphs boast

Think of luxury cars, and over-sized limousines spring to mind. But you don’t have to buy a car the girth of an aircraft carrier to enjoy a bit of luxury. Of course it’s all relative, but Triumph’s mid sized Dolomite family (including the 1300 which started it all) can justifiably claim to be compact luxury classics thanks to their well-stocked interiors, complete with lashings of wood trim. And the best bit? You can buy one for just a few thousand.

History

1965 Triumph 1300 launched as downsized ‘sub 2000’ saloon with front-wheel drive with nippier Spitfire powered TC added in 1967.

1970 The 1300 saloon replaced by similar looking two tier replacements. The entry model is the stripped out two-door 1.3-litre Toledo that’s intended to replace the Herald and is rear-wheel drive but the front-wheel drive 1500 gains a longer bonnet and tail, new rear suspension plus a revised interior.

1971 Four-door Toledo joins range using, effectively the 1300 body flanks. Radial tyres standard on this model to counter 50kg heavier kerbweight. There’s a power boost for the 1500; it was previously 61bhp, but now it’s 65bhp.

1972 Dolomite joins the range; based upon the 1500 shell but is rear-wheel driven and uses an engine that was designed by Triumph for Saab and its new 99 range. In the Dolomite it has a capacity of 1854cc for 91bhp. Front disc brakes now fitted to Toledos (at long last was the general view).

1973 Dolomite Sprint arrives in June, with a standard vinyl roof, chin spoiler, cast alloy wheels and twin exhaust pipes. The first 2000 examples are all Mimosa Yellow with black interior trim. From the autumn an automatic gearbox joins the option list. Its party piece is the innovative 16-valve cylinder head worked by a single overhead camshaft fitted to a bored out Dolly engine to 1998cc for a quoted 127bhp. Also launched is the rear-wheel drive 1500TC; effectively a normal Dolomite but Spitfire 1500 powered.

1975 Refreshed Dolomite range arrives in May, with overdrive and tinted glass now standard; they were previously optional extras. There’s also a driver’s door mirror, along with a side moulding featuring a rubber insert, while front seat headrests join the options list. The two-door Toledo saloon is dropped.

1976 Three years after launch, the third-series Sprint goes on sale in March, with a standard radio, front head rests and laminated windscreen. A limited slip differential became optional (for competition purposes chiefly). Also, for 1977 all models, including Toledo, come under the Dolomite umbrella.

1979 There’s a new chassis number protocol from August (see box out). Special edition 1500TCs are introduced, such as the SE which is arguably better appointed than the Dolomite and Sprint.

1980 The final flourish of Dolomites, including Sprint, is built that August after a ten year production run. Total production runs to a rather meagre 22,941, of which 17,715 were sold in the UK. It’s now reckoned that there are fewer than 300 examples left and even less really good ones.

Driving and what the press thought

The delightful 1300 set the tone. In its day, these Triumphs were considered to be a distinct cut above the rest and the Dolomite and Sprint in particular were seen as genuine BMW and Alfa rivals but at much more affordable prices.

Chief plus is the plush cabins which were streets ahead of a Ford or Vauxhall of the same era. The driving position was one of the most commanding and all models are easy to place on the road, too due to the square cut styling.

Thanks to their above average equipment levels and orthodox make up, these Triumphs make good daily drivers. Overdrive (fi tted to most Dolomites) helps keep the noise levels and fuel usage usefully down (expect around 30mpg on a run) and apart from quite a bit of wind noise, are ideal for long journeys if you can accept that rather choppy ride on less than smooth tarmac. If performance isn’t a major criteria then the 1850 and even the underrated 1500TC make decent and much cheaper classics – but it’s the Sprint that leads by a mile.

That industry award winning 16-valve engine remains a true masterpiece that, if in good tune (sadly, many aren’t) endows the Triumph with splendid performance that’s well up to Capri 3-litre and BMW 2002 Tii levels. As many pundits have remarked over the ensuing decades – it was a great engine always in search of a worthy chassis.

Despite winning saloon car championships during the 1970s, the Sprint’s chassis was always heavily taxed even on the road. Drivers who are more used to modern machinery will find the handling, road holding and ride from another era and, even when new, the suspension could rattle and crash around except on smooth surfaces.

“Quality in small package” hailed Motor in 1966, remarking that the 1300’s “roadholding, steering and braking reach a very high standard”. The same weekly thought just as highly about the cheapened Toledo and if anything reckoned that the entry level newcomer almost eclipsed the larger, plusher 1500 which was only marginally faster as the new simpler Toledo was one cwt lighter than the old 1300. However the 1500’s handling was excellent (did you know the rear anti-roll bar was a no cost option? Motor thought that so attired the 1500’s roadholding was like a big Mini but we wonder how many are still fitted).

The rear-wheel drive Dolomite 1850 saw Triumph take on BMW with a true compact sporting saloon that was rightly acclaimed in its day as a car with undeniable “British appeal” and ideal for those who had outgrown their TRs “without being at all loudmouthed about it”. Autocar, tested an automatic and despite having the edge taken off the performance thought it a superb long distance car as – quite against the norm with automatics – the gearing was raised although Classic Motoring’s own experience of a self-shifting Sprint is that it spoils most of the fun and manual with overdrive is a must.

When Motor first put a Sprint through its paces in 1973, its summary was that the saloon was already “a mite old-fashioned with its chunky lines, but the Dolomite Sprint doesn’t have a rival in sight”. The critical monthly CAR wondered, “Is this the start of something good”. Alas not. Within 18 months, Motor pitted the Sprint against the Alfa Romeo Alfetta, Lancia Beta and Saab 99 EMS where it now emphasised the now ageing Brit’s design faults and judged that the car’s failings “weigh all the more heavily against it, especially ride comfort… Furthermore, the ride sounds as bad as it feels” although the weekly still reckoned, even as late as 1978, that the Sprint “is still fun with sparkling performance and good smooth road handling”.

CAR regarded that the Triumph’s biggest shame was that “it’s engine behaviour isn’t matched by the chassis”. However, in complete contrast, Autocar was quite impressed with the sedate (rear-wheel drive) 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”.

Values and specialist view

According to David Aspinall from Anglian Triumph Services, who has been a marque expert for some 40 years, demand is increasing but finding good ones is difficult. A fairly loud Sprint example will relieve you of around £6000 but something special will be double this; overdrive is deemed almost essential and while history and colour isn’t too critical – what affects a Sprint’s value is its condition, and many of the cars that come onto the market are quite tatty – but may not look it, especially on the internet. Regular Dolomites sell for half this and like-for-like Toledos and 1300/1500s aren’t much cheaper due to their rarity.

Because many of the downmarket Dollies had been sacrificed on the Sprint alter there’s even less around. Howmanyleft.co.uk suggests that there’s 247 Sprints but only 24 are autos. There’s 145 Dolomites and 105 1300s with a similar amount of 1500s (only six SEs).

Improvements

A better radiator is must fit replacement on ohc Dolomites and especially Sprints as, like the Stag, cooling on this engine (which is closely related to the ill-fated V8) is critical.

Uprated dampers and springs 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 even though the ride will be made even harsher but adjustable dampers which you can adjust to suit your tastes may negate some of this. Brakes, always marginal on Sprints, can be uprated in various ways

The much slated engine is quite muscular in standard 127bhp form, but few produce this output now because they are out of tune. It can be boosted to around 160bhp through the fitment of a fast-road cam, gas-fl owed head and electronic ignition if desired. You’ll also need to fit a more free-breathing exhaust system, increase the fuelling (48DHLA sidedraught carbs are best) and to help feed those you’ll need to convert to an electric fuel pump.

To improve the upgraded engine’s longevity, high-capacity oil pump and oil cooler should ideally also be fitted. The 1850 is said to respond quite well to similar uprating and if the 2-litre TR7 engine is substituted can produce practically Sprint power without the need for 16 valves or the hassle. The Spitfire-based 1300 and 1500 engine is highly tunable and can match the 1850 easily enough.

Dissolving dolomites

Bodged and poorly restored examples are common. Pre-1976 cars seem to be the most rust-resistant, those built between 1976-’78 being the worst, it’s said. The floorpans are some of the most rot-prone areas. Remove the battery and make sure its tray is intact, as well as the subframe mountings; major corrosion problems are commonplace. Subframes crack and corrode at the wishbones. Corrosion sometimes spreads into the base of the windscreen pillars and goes deep. Once a car is this rotten it may not be worth saving. Lifting the carpets is essential to get a good handle on the state of the car.

The sills are likely to have corroded along their front and rear edges, with rot spreading into the rear wheelarches and A-posts, the latter then rusting badly to the point where the doors waggle around. Front valance panel and the surrounding areas rot out. Inner panels, fl oorpans 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. Areas around the headlamps and the front valance being two of the worst affected but the Triumph Dolomite Club sells certain panels although supply is nowhere near TR standards.

Dolomite details

1. There was a new chassis number protocol from August 1979. Where the earlier cars are concerned, if it’s a genuine Sprint, its number will start VA, but from this point a 17-digit VIN for each car took over. Manual-gearbox cars have a VIN starting with TWTLD5AT while automatics begin with TWTLD3AT. Sprint featured unique rear axle with larger brakes, some later cars even had a limited-slip differential although it’s expensive to repair. Some owners fit larger Rover SD1 axle.

2. Most came with a four-speed manual usually with overdrive, but after April ’75 all Sprints featured it as standard. A TR6 ’box, but doesn’t wear well but any overdrive problems are only usually down to a duff relay, poor connections in the wiring or a low oil level in the gearbox. FWD gearboxes on 1300/1500 (with exposed starter ring) are very dear to repair and lever develops slop.

3.Play in the steering is usually down to perished bushes in the rack mounts; they get soaked in engine oil but they’re easily and cheaply fixed. It’s worth fitting polyurethane items while you’re at it. A rattling steering column is a known Dolomite trait. The dampers and springs may need to be replaced by now, best to upgrade. The brakes are straightforward with few particular faults.

Dolly mixtures

STUART MARSDEN has a special affection for these saloons because he lived near the factory and his mother used to own a special edition SE and is on his fourth Sprint although admits the first three weren’t that good and disappointed him. As membership secretary of The Dolomite Club, if Stuart has one piece of advice to potential Sprint buyers it’s the old cliché of “buy the best you can afford – even if it’s a non runner”.

ANDREW BURFORD runs his own car hire business and has a Mercedes SLK and a Maserati Bi Turbo to play around with but his life long affection is for these Triumphs of which he has a couple, including a Dolomite. His totally original four-door Toledo (pictured) was one of the star exhibits at last year’s Festival of the Unexceptional and the period show bunting he adorned the car with resulted in many offers on the day.

What To Look For

Powerplant problems

Dolomite is really a V8 Stag split in two – so has half the problems! Actually, there’s no reason why any engine should now give hassle, as long as the correct fluid levels are maintained and the oil changed every 3000 miles. It’s also essential that decent anti-freeze concentration is maintained; a 50:50 mix is ideal and should be changed every few years.

The Sprint’s alloy head warps if it’s allowed to get too hot. Head gasket woes are legion and it’s a swine to get at due to slanted nature, and lift off the block. Some owners torque down the head annually as it can work loose in service by as much as 20lbft and do it the time honoured way rather than Triumph’s odd sequence of events. You can’t fit a Sprint head on an 1850 block and no Saab parts fit and this includes the complete engines. Sticky throttles or poor carb-to-manifold sealing aren’t unknown. The trusty 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.

Trim traumas

Look throughly for delaminating veneer on the dashboard and door cappings. Trim is reasonably hard wearing, but you need to check for splits, tears and repairs – especially along the top edge of the back seat. Because of their marked desirability, Sprints have the most staying power and many lesser models have been unfairly cannibalised simply to save a Sprint.

Three Of A Kind

2000/2500
2000/2500
Big brother to Dolomite the 2000 /2500 may not be as sporty but offers six-cylinder smoothness and more refinement as well as space – with BMW-like estates – for less money. 2.5PI or 2500TC go well and the ride (thanks to TR5 IRS) is more comfortable plus power steering is available on Mk2 versions. In common with Dolomite, spares are less prevalent compared to TRs.
BMW 1500-2000
BMW 1500-2000
Dolomites are usually compared to the 02 but if you need a fourdoor then it has to be bigger 1500- 2000 strain which is just as accomplished, a lot roomier, rarer and – compared to the 02 anyway – less expensive although values for certain models, such as the sportier ti and tii versions can sell for over double that of a normal car. Very expensive body/ trim parts so be warned.
Alfa Romeo Alfetta
Alfa Romeo Alfetta
Big brother to the Alfasud, the rwd Alfetta has the gearbox mounted at the stern by the axle for near perfect weight distribution. Has earlier Giulialike character about it with same twin cam engines, although gearchange is poor (due to gearbox location) and the car became more understeer-prone due to the grippier ‘rear end’. Strong value but finding a good one is tricky. Also consider later Alfetta-based Giulietta.


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