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Triumph Vitesse

Hark The Hot Herald Published: 20th Aug 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Triumph Vitesse Low key badging, later 2-litre cars wore a nice alloy boot plinth and and GT6 wheel trims

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 2-litre Mk2 convertible
  • Worst model: 1600
  • Budget buy: Any saloon
  • OK for unleaded?: No, you’ll need an additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L3885 x W1525mm
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: Couldn’t be simpler
  • Club support: Superb
  • Appreciating asset?: Not really but real value
  • Good buy or good-bye?: It’s a GT6 for familes
Straight six 2000 gives Vitesse surprising poke and smoothness. Generally durable Straight six 2000 gives Vitesse surprising poke and smoothness. Generally durable
Interior was stock Herald with not even a sportier wheel fitted. Replacement trim freely available Interior was stock Herald with not even a sportier wheel fitted. Replacement trim freely available
Quad headlights were always a Vitesse feature Quad headlights were always a Vitesse feature
Stylish Bond Equipe gave the Vitesse something Triumph didn’t – distinction! Stylish Bond Equipe gave the Vitesse something Triumph didn’t – distinction!
Period ad made a virtue of the Triumph's Q Car looks, disguising its sports car performance Period ad made a virtue of the Triumph's Q Car looks, disguising its sports car performance
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Was this tuned Triumph the blueprint for the modern sports saloon? Well, why not?

Pros & Cons

Smooth, quick, cheap, easy to maintain, great parts availability, easy to upgrade
Weak transmissions, crankshafts fail, hard-driven cars need handling upgrades
£500-£8000

As a hotter Herald, the TriumphVitesse is a performance derivative of one of the most usable classics around. So if you’re on a budget but you don’t get out of bed for less than six cylinders, the Vitesse is the car for you. All versions of this eminently practical Triumph came with straight-six power and as a result the cars are smooth and torquey. Best of all, the convertible will carry four people comfortably (as long as they’re not too big), in Italian designed style – and all for pennies. But really, the Vitesse is more than just a hairier Herald. A light small sporting saloon packing six pot power is a fi ne blueprint for upmarket motoring and one that a certain prestigious German carmaker has made its name on over the years. But Triumph got their fi rst almost 50 years ago! Although only saloon and convertible Vitesses were offered offi cially, there were a few estates built unoffi cially, which can fetch up to £6000 or so if in good condition. But making your own by mating a Herald estate bodyshell with a Vitesse bonnet, chassis and running gear will give you the same effect for less cash.
It’s the convertible that everyone wants though, especially as they’re so cheap. But even if you can’t afford cheap, for very cheap you can buy a saloon and unbolt the roof – which is held on by eight bolts. Thanks to the separate-chassis construction the car will take it quite happily as there’s no difference between a saloon chassis and its convertible equivalent. The model we’re concentrating most on is the 2-litre model; the original 1600 did all the groundwork and now has rarity on its side but those added 400ccs genuinely make all the difference.

History

The Vitesse grew out of the Herald, which was fi rst seen in 1959. With just 38bhp from a 948cc four-pot, more power was desperately needed. While an 1147cc (and later a 1296cc) powerplant helped to make the car less sluggish, what was really needed was a much bigger engine. Clever engineering by Triumph tacked on two extra cylinders to produce a 1596cc six-pot that developed 70bhp. The engine was actually a downgraded Triumph 2000 unit that also grew out of the Herald design, and although the 1600 wasn’t much more powerful than the later 1.3-litre Herald 13/60, the Vitesse gained a fabulously smooth engine and rather more torque, making it a honey to drive. From 1966 there was the fuller fat 1998cc engine, which was fi tted to the Vitesse 2 Litre Mk1. The extra displacement gave an extra dose of power of course (now up to a sizzling 95bhp), but it was the post-October 1968 Mk2, complete with revised cam and cylinder head, which offers the most power and torque. Using the same engine as the GT6 with 104bhp on tap, the car could fi nally crack the ton which was good going for the time. But the car was to live for just three more years, with the fi nal examples being built in May 1971 after almost 20,000 examples, beating the sexier GT6 by a massive margin. Interestingly the 1600 outsold the 2-litres by a decent margin when contemporary, fi nding over 31,000 buyers, although they are much rare sights today. Saloons were always the best sellers across the ranges; by double for the 2 Litre range and almost a third for the 1600. It’s reckoned that less than a handful of development estates were made – why it never went into production remains a mystery as it would have had the market to itself.

Driving

A sharp gearchange, reasonably light steering and a very comfortable ride all come as standard on the Vitesse’s menu. The brakes aren’t bad either, although if the car has been tweaked in any way they can struggle to haul it down from high speeds repeatedly. The best thing is the low down torque – the Vitesse offers the perfect antidote to modern 16-valve engines which have to be thrashed to get the best out of them. On the move the Vitesse is surprisingly refi ned, with the engine being much quieter than you’d think – unless a stainless sports exhaust has been fi tted. What isn’t so good is the inevitable rattling and creaking as the body fl exes – torsional rigidity was an unknown concept when Triumph was churning out the Vitesse. In terms of performance the car was good for its day Motor, who dubbed the 2 Litre a ‘Sportsman’s Saloon’ got the car to hit 60 in just over 12 seconds and hit the ton which reckoned between 26-30mpg was on the cards, especially if the optional overdrive was fi tted, which it considered essential. Accusations of poor handling aren’t really justifi ed unless the car is driven hard – in real-world use you just don’t notice the limitations of the swing-axle rear end. The Mark 2 from 1968 dispensed with that system anyway, using a rotofl ex rear suspension system instead. Go for that with some low-profi le tyres and a conversion to telescopic dampers, and the car’s handling improves greatly. That said as Motor remarked: “early fi nal oversteer can be tricky in an emergency”. Nevertheless it reckoned that the Triumph was “fast touring quiet and effortless” which still holds true today. As a practical classic few can match this Triumph in saloon or convertible guises.

Prices

The 2-Litre Mark 2 is the most sought after version of all the Vitesses while the convertible is the most valuable bodystyle. Parts specifi c to the 1600 are getting hard to fi nd and they’re not as torquey as the 2000’s cars, so consequently they’re the runt of the litter. But because it’s so easy to mix and match with mechanicals as well as body styles (swapping from saloon to convertible or even estate is just a question of changing the rear body tub), it’s best to buy on condition rather than car type. A tatty but complete restoration project can be bought for a few hundred pounds still while a mint late convertible will fetch up to £8000 if it’s really nice. But the most common cars are decent running examples that might need a bit of occasional TLC to get them through their MoTs. For these you’ll need to pay around £1500 for a saloon or £2500 for a convertible – the latter being the most common variant, which has to be a bit of a bargain. If you can’t fi nd what you want, the monthly classifieds issued to Triumph Sports Six Club members carries the best choice of cars.

Improvements

Just about ever y aspect of the Vitesse can be upgraded, f rom conver t i ng the Mk2 models to telescopic dampers at the rear (earlier cars already featured these) to fi t t ing a Kenlowe fan to improve the cooling. Recommended on all though is a spin-on oil fi lter conversion along with some halogen headlights to replace the dismal sealed beam units originally fitted. An overdrive gearbox is well worthwhile, and many cars were fi tted with one on the production line along with a lower rear axle ratio. If you’re after more power you can slot in the straight-six from a 2500 saloon (or TR6) but the transmission is already fairly weak and the brakes pretty marginal, so these will need to be strengthened before any such conversion is carried out. That’s when things can get a mite costly and complicated…

Buy a bond

Buying a Bond Equipe is no harder than vetting a Vitesse as they are so similar. The chassis is slightly modifi ed to accept the fi breglass body but spares and repairs appear to be little different, save for wooden boot fl oors, windscreen surrounds and those special rare racing style sports seats. Numerous Triumph specialists also deal with the Bond so expect help from these places. In terms of prices, like the Vitesse, it’s a car that’s yet to rocket; between £500-£6000 covers a basket case and concours example. Finding one may prove tough so contact the owners club on 0121 784 4626 or click on http://www.bondownersclub.co.uk.

What To Look For

  • As with all Heralds, Spitfi res and the GT6, the Vitesse’s bodywork is essentially cosmetic, so even really tatty examples are probably safe and strong enough as long as the chassis is sound. However as the car has never been a nailed on classic, expect to fi nd many tired and bodged ones on sale.
  • The main chassis rails can rot away below the diff – the outriggers that sit just behind the screw-on sills might also be history. Always have a crawl underneath and a prod and expect to fi nd patchwork repairs.
  • If you’re going to buy a saloon and remove the roof for the summer it’s especially important that you check the condition of the chassis – that’s where all the car’s strength is.
  • Watch for outriggers that have just been tacked on to tart up the car – without removing the bodyshell it’s tricky to replace these properly and as a result it can compromise the car’s rigidity and geometry. New chassis frames are available but you have to weigh up the real world value of this Triumph.
  • Don’t be too alarmed if panel fi t isn’t great, especially if the car has seen a body-off rebuild. Getting everything properly lined up from scratch is a nightmare, but to rebuild a Vitesse properly, the three sections that make up the bodywork (bonnet/front wings, bulkhead and rear tub) should be separated from the chassis. That way the fl oorpans of the various body sections and the rails of the chassis can be inspected and repaired properly.
  • Engine and gearbox oil leaks are common – any car that isn’t dripping the stuff from the front is probably devoid of lubricant!
  • Ah that old Triumph foible, thrust washers. If there’s discernible play in them, the engine is fit for scrap as the block and crank will need repairing – get someone to depress the clutch while you look for movement in the front crankshaft pulley. Over 1.0mm and the washers can drop out of place.
  • That old straight six is fairly robust. When the engine is started, listen for rattling, which indicates the main bearings are starved of oil. Switching from a canister-type fi lter to one with a non-return valve will usually fi x this – for around £40.
  • MK2 2000 engines used a better cylinder head, but this may have been swapped with an earlier type, perhaps if hardened valve seats have been fi tted. And vice-versa, of course!
  • On cars with rotoflex couplings, make sure they’re intact – 35,000 miles is as much as you can expect from genuine Metalastik items, with some repro ones dying much quicker.
  • If overdrive is fitted, always make sure it engages and disengages smoothly – sometimes the wiring shorts out or the internal fi lter gets blocked up.
  • As with most Triumphs, transmissions are the weak spot of the Vitesse, with a gearbox and diff that can protest if too many emergency starts have been performed. Not only can the gearbox or back axle innards let go but there are also universal joints galore that wear and lead to vibration as you accelerate.
  • Make sure the front trunnions have been kept well oiled with EP90 – they’re often fed a diet of grease or neglected altogether. The result is snapped vertical links where water has got in and corroded the metal – they’re cheap enough to replace, but the car is immobile until fi xed.
  • There’s a multitude of rubber bushes in the front and rear suspension, and they all wear eventually, but they can be swapped for polyurethane or standard rubber items as everything is available.
  • Saloons converted to convertibles are common, as are overdrive conversions. If done properly that’s no problem, but a genuine factory overdriveequipped convertible will have a commission number starting CVO. Also, factory convertibles feature anti-burst door catches on the B-pillar – they can be added but few people bother.
  • The Vitesse is much like a big Meccano set – a box of imperial spanners and some screwdrivers is all you need to do just about everything on the car from a general maintenance point of view. You can also track everything down without having to try very hard – service items are still available from high street motor factors and even new trim is available as it’s being remanufactured by Newton Commercial (01728 832 880).
  • But the best bit is the accessibility – after working on a Vitesse you won’t want to tinker with anything else. Lift the bonnet and you can access the engine and steering along with the front brakes and suspension. Even the gearbox is easy to get to, as you can access it just by removing its cover inside the cabin.

Three Of A Kind

BMW E30
BMW E30
It may not seem like the most obvious rival, but if you’re looking for a compact six-cylinder four-seater convertible at an affordable price, there aren’t many cars to choose from. This is one of the easiest to fi nd, one of the most affordable and also one of the best to drive. However, if you prefer four cylinders instead, or a saloon, neither will pose a problem to the E30 buyer, thanks to a massive range of available models.
MGC
MGC
Something of a sales disaster which is why it was offered just one year, but the MGC makes a lot of sense now there’s a raft of upgrades available to turn the car into something it should have been when it came out of the factory. Offered in fi xedhead or roadster guises, you’ll pay a lot more for one of these than an equivalent Vitesse, and neither bodystyle really offers true family transport – but it’s still a great six-pot British sportster.
Reliant Scimitar
Reliant Scimitar
One of the most usable classics ever made, the Scimitar has it all; practicality, usability, performance, build quality and a plastic bodyshell so you don’t have to worry about rotten bodywork. Even better, purchase costs are low while ease of maintenance and specialist support are both excellent. Pre-1975 cars are the prettiest but later models are more usable and better built; all convertibles were made after 1980 anyway

Verdict

We’re a bit of a fan of the Vitesse at Classic Cars For Sale and believe that it is just as good as any Spitfi re or GT6 – perhaps better because it combines TR6-like performance and behind the wheel thrills with better practicality and DIY potential, not least thanks to super accessibility of most parts. Vitesses are still good value although fi nding a really good caressed model is not that easy as it’s status as a classic has been slow. But if you’re after a 60s sports saloon with a difference then go with Vitesse!



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