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Triumph Dolomite Sprint

Time to Hurry Published: 13th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Triumph Dolomite Sprint

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Anything straight
  • Worst model: Anything tatty
  • Budget buy: Worthy projects
  • OK for unleaded?: Offi cially no, in theory, yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4110 x W1570
  • Spares situation: Generally good
  • DIY ease?: Excellent
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes, but slowly
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Former – they are bargains!
Interior is one of the Sprint’s best features but wood dash can laminate and cloth trim split. Interior is one of the Sprint’s best features but wood dash can laminate and cloth trim split.
Instruments are still a model of clarity Instruments are still a model of clarity
Engine always bane of contention (head and timing chains, mainly) but if looked after not as bad as painted Engine always bane of contention (head and timing chains, mainly) but if looked after not as bad as painted
Corrode prone alloy rims unique. Go for good tyres Corrode prone alloy rims unique. Go for good tyres
A badge of distinction when new, now bargain buys A badge of distinction when new, now bargain buys
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Prices for the underrated Dolomite Sprint can’t stay so low for much longer – so get a move on for one of the best bargain sports saloons around!

Pros & Cons

Great value, performance, Triumph heritage, handy sized
Hard to fi nd good ones, engine woes
£200 – £7500

Sports saloons are ten a penny these days but if you wanted one back in the 1970s then the choice was largely from Alfa Romeo and BMW. However if you were on a tight budget, there was only one company to look to – and that was Midlands-based Triumph. Fast forward over 35 years and not much has changed and if you’re after a classic that’s practical, affordable, fun and can also throw in a dash of luxury you still don’t have that many options. While we wouldn’t steer you away from myriad Alfa Romeos and BMWs, it’s still to the Triumph marque that you should be looking – and in particular the vastly under-rated Dolomite Sprint – if you’re after a cheap sporting saloon. Offered in four-door saloon form only, the Sprint may have already looked a bit dated when it was launched in 1973 and by the time it bowed out in 1980 it was looking pretty ancient. But it still put the cat among the pigeons! With its 127bhp 1998cc four-pot engine and 115mph top speed, this was the car with which to bait all those drivers of German and Italian marques. The car’s credibility was given a boost by becoming Leyland’s most successful competition car of the 1970s – although with a severely curtailed budget from the start of the decade, the Sprint’s racing career was less consistent than it should have been. Now the newest Sprints are nearly three decades old, they make a cracking classic buy - chiefl y because they are worth so little for what they offer. Combining performance with practicality, the Sprint has a lot going for it – but good examples are getting fewer and further between. Mint ones rarely come onto the market, so while you’ll have to look hard to fi nd a corker, the wait will be more than worthwhile and you won’t lose on it in a few years time!

History

The Dolomite Sprint was the culmination of Triumph’s move towards rearwheel drive instigated in 1968 with the standard Dolomite arriving in 1972. The hot Sprint arrived in June 1973, identifi ed by a standard vinyl roof, chin spoiler, cast alloy wheels (fi rst UK car so equipped as standard) and twin exhaust pipes. The engine won an award for its ingenuity. Sixteen valves weren’t new of course but the Triumph unit – an 1850 Dolomite block stretched to 1998cc – was unique as it operated all of them from just a single camshaft, which gave the engine a distinctive note as well as a good torque spread with decent low down muscle. The fi rst 2000 examples were all Mimosa Yellow with black interior trim. From Autumn 1973 an automatic gearbox joined the options list along with a laminated front windscreen. In May 1975 a revamped Dolomite arrived, with overdrive and tinted glass now standard; they were previously optional. There was also a driver’s door mirror, along with a side moulding featuring a rubber insert, while this time round front seat headrests were added to the list of optional extras. From March 1976 the third-series Sprint went on sale, with a standard radio, front head rests and laminated windscreen. A limited-slip differential was optional but rarely specifi ed. For the last year of production, from August 1979, there was a new chassis number protocol; a year later, in August 1980 the fi nal Dolomite Sprint was built after almost 23,000 sales.

Driving

When you consider how lairy some mainstream sporting cars were in the Seventies, the Sprint looks surprisingly restrained – but this is a real Q-car that’s still grossly underrated. One jurno said that the Sprint was a great engine looking for a suitable chassis; that 16-valve engine is a true masterpiece that gives the Sprint low-down torque and top-end shove, so you can drive the car hard if you want, or you can take it easy and just cruise effortlessly albeit noisily - even with overdrive. Indeed, compared with key rivals such as those in the Three of a Kind panel, the Sprint looks rather restrained (perhaps even dull) and is maybe too civilised for its own good. If you’re after a grown-up sporting saloon this is easily the most affordable option out there and a frugal one too; 25-35mpg is on the cards.

Performance is still very good with 60mph in under nine seconds and just under 120mph although the auto models felt appreciably slower. It seems that Triumph wanted to call the car the Dolomite 135 but couldn’t guarantee 135bhp on the production line so Sprint it was. The key areas where the Dolly always fell short were the handling and overall refi nement. That 1300-derived chassis was always at the limit in the Sprint and why the Triumph quickly fell from grace during the late 70s against more modern rivals while the ride was always jiggly on less than smooth roads. That said the press was always positive about this trendy Triumph – which was welcome as the Stag was going through a hard time. Monthly Hot Car had the car sussed says it was a “highly desirable and luxurious car with plenty of power and tame enough to let granny out in it” while the more acerbic Car said there was “little to touch it for the price” although didn’t quite understand the need for a 16 valve engine at the time. It had a point because as the Sprint was in effect two slant four Dolomite engines joined together would a 250bhp 32 valve Stag also be on the cards? No was the answer, and apart from a handful of TR7s the engine was never used in any other BL model although Saab kept faith with the basic design and used, albeit in highly modifi ed form, right up to this day.

Improvements

The Sprint was a formidable racer in the 70s and some of those tweaks work well for modern road use. For example, even discs at the front (and drums at the rear,) the Sprint’s braking system struggles to haul the car down if you make the most of the available power. There’s a servo fi tted, but some grooved discs at £162 the pair are worthwhile; it’s also worth fi tting harder pads while you’re at it such as EBC Green Stuff. Harder springs and dampers along with polly bushing will certainly make the Dolomite handle like a sporty Sprint should but don’t over so it as the hardly cosetting ride will suffer as a result. With twin Weber carbs some 200bhp used to be the norm in race tune but for many just a session on a rolling road plus electronic ignition will suffi ce (this engine eats c.b. points and performance really suffers) for easy 135-140bhp. For the more adventurous then a Saab unit can be shoe-horned it as it’s pretty much the same unit although much more durable – of course – thanks to ongoing development; that’s something the Triumph unit always lacked. We know of some Sprints fi tted with Stag engines - so could a Saab unit be fi tted with ease we wonder?

Prices

Unless fi t for parts only, projects start from £200 – but these will need everything doing. Runners start at £1500 but you’re better buying something that’s reasonably sound for upwards of £2500-£3000, although it’ll still need plenty of TLC. Superb examples change hands for at least £5000 – but those are what everyone wants. The best cars are now changing hands for upwards of £6500. Incidentally, there are now just 300-400 Sprints left, with really good ones coming onto the market relatively infrequently – so don’t expect to just drop onto a minter. Good luck though!

What To Look For

  • Rust is the Dolomite’s main adversary, with its value reduced to nothing if allowed to corrode significantly. That’s why bodged and poorly restored examples are common; if the car you’re buying isn’t original, ask for photographs to prove that things have been done properly.
  • There isn’t really any part of the Sprint’s bodyshell that’s immune from the tin worm, so inspect everywhere. Pre-1975 cars are the most resistant to rot, while those built between 1975 and 1978 are the worst it is reckoned.
  • The fl oorpans are some of the most rot-prone areas but you also need to check every bit of outer panelling for fi ller. The front valance and headlamp surrounds are especially vulnerable,as are the inner wings and bulkhead.
  • Remove the battery and make sure its tray is intact, as well as the subframe mountings. You’ll see where these bolt into place; major corrosion problems are commonplace. Subframes rarely give trouble, but there can be cracking and corrosion where the wishbones are mounted.
  • 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.
  • Corrosion sometimes spreads into the base of the windscreen pillars and once a car is this rotten it’s likely that the bulkhead will have holes in it. As a result the footwells will be damp, so even if all appears well, peer under the dash with a torch, so you can see if there’s any water getting in. If things are really bad, the steering column mountings could potentially break away so it’s an MOT point.
  • If the footwells have got damp, they may have rotted from the inside out. That’s why lifting the carpets is essential – just looking from underneath doesn’t necessarily provide you with an accurate picture.
  • Next take a look at the undersides of the inner wings, which should have three mudshields in place along with a stiffener. The latter is high up in the wheelarch, and if it has rotted away you’ll have to remove the front wing to replace it. The wings are welded on, so they’re not easy to take off and refi t without paintwork rectifi cation.
  • Door casings have a habit of fi lling up with water, then rotting along their bottom edges. It’s a similar story where the boot lid and roof are concerned; their trailing edges can rot badly and they’re not easy to repair.
  • There’s no reason why any Sprint engine should now give problems, as long as the correct fl uid levels are maintained and the oil changed every 3000 miles. It’s also essential that decent antifreeze concentration is maintained; a 50:50 mix of water and a decent ethylene glycol cocktail is always recommended.
  • The reason why anti-freeze and coolant levels are so crucial is because of the Sprint’s alloy head, which warps if it’s allowed to get too hot. Neat water (or anything close to it) within the cooling system leads to internal corrosion of the waterways, resulting in a restricted fl ow of coolant, then overheating.
  • Head gasket problems are legion and one reason was thought to be Triumph’s odd head tightening procedure which went against the grain. Some owners recommend the more traditional ‘diagonal’ technique and we know one owner who also recommends tightening the head down each year, claiming that he has seen the bolts ‘relax’ tension by as much as 20lbft.
  • If the head has to come off a culmination of corrosion and the angle of the head means that they can be an absolute pig to remove. You have been warned!
  • The bottom end is the same as the 1850’s, and while they’re basically strong they can suffer from poor oil circulation at start up. This is because the standard fi lters don’t have non-return valves; a modern type of fi lter that prevents all the oil draining into the sump a wise move.
  • The chances are that any Sprint you look at will be fi tted with a four-speed manual gearbox. It’s a straightforward transmission, and it’s tough too as the internals were based on those fi tted to the six-cylinder ranges.
  • Any overdrive problems are usually down to a duff relay, poor connection in the wiring or a low oil level in the gearbox. Of more concern is any crunching when you swap cogs, or jumping out of gear. The only cure for this is a rebuilt gearbox, which costs around £200.
  • Only 1634 Sprints were fi tted with an automatic transmission, and so you’re unlikely to stumble across one for sale. However, if you do, and you’re not bothered about swapping cogs yourself, there’s no reason to avoid the Borg- Warner Type 65 unit, which is renowned for its reliability. if not its response.
  • Sprint featured a unique rear axle. Some later cars even had a limited-slip differential; if the car you’re looking at has been reshelled, it’s worth getting an expert to check that it’s got the correct back axle, complete with larger brakes.
  • 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 fi xed with a pair costing just £6. It’s worth fitting polyurethane items while you’re at it (they cost £8 a pair), but if you’re a really hard-core driver you could even fi t solid clamps to eliminate playaltogether. Prepare for serious kickback through the wheel on badly surfaced roads though.
  • Imprecise steering is usually down to the lower column coupling (£25) or the upper column coupling (£38) wearing. Front and rear suspension bushes may be worn, but everything is obtainable. If the car seems to be particularly wayward it’s usually because the anti-roll bar mounts at the front of the car have broken away. Welding back on isn’t a problem and while you’re at it some new bushes will need to be fi tted at £3.60 apiece (or £4.70 for polyurethane).
  • Off-kilter handling could be because the locating bushes for the rear axle have perished. Replacement is easy and new bushes are only around £45 – and while you’re at it the radius arm bushes will probably need doing too.
  • Beware of delaminating veneer on the dash and door cappings. Trim is hardwearing, but you still need to check closely for splits and tears – especially along the top edge of the back seat if it’s been left out in the sun. While it’s possible to buy repro carpets, you’ll be doing well to fi nd any other interior trim new as it’s hard enough to fi nd usable second-hand parts.

Three Of A Kind

BMW 2002 Tii
BMW 2002 Tii
Think compact executive now and you probably think BMW 3-Series – this is a distant relative of the baby Beemer, and it’s the car that really put BMW on the map as a purveyor of beautifully built drivers’ cars. However, this is also the most direct rival to the Sprint thanks to its discreet looks, understated cabin and grown-up driving experience. These cars are now very sought after so you’ll pay heavily for a minter – but check for rust before buying as it can be rampant.
Ford Escort RS2000 Mk2
Ford Escort RS2000 Mk2
In theory the Ford is most readily accessible car of this trio and the Escort is also the most instantly recognisable. That ‘droop snoot’ nose completely changed the Escort’s appearance while the 2-litre Pinto engine offered 110bhp to give 0-60mph in 8.5 secs and superb handling. Thanks to mass of tuning parts, the power can easily be boosted while there’s superb club and specialist support. But be wary of rot, dodgy replicas and crash repairs. 1.6 Mexico not as nice.
Hillman Avenger Tiger
Hillman Avenger Tiger
If there was an unlikely car to receive the sports treatment in the Seventies, it was Hillman’s Avenger. Saloons came no more humdrum than here, yet the bright paint jobs and stripes galore suited the car’s lines. This car wasn’t all mouth and no trousers though; the twin-Weber 1498cc gives the car some go thanks to low gearing and its rev-happy nature. It’s not the most effi cient engine though; you’ll be doing well to get 20mpg if you have some fun.

Verdict

It’s the Sprint’s 16-valve engine that marks it out as something special and we can’t recommend the Sprint highly enough, because it offers so much of everything for so little cash – if you can fi nd a good one. While buying carefully and choosing the best you can afford applies to any classic, this advice is even more important where this Triumph is concerned. Do it badly and you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about; buy well and you’ll be converted for life.



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