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Triumph Vitesse

Triumph Vitesse Published: 16th Apr 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Mk2
  • Worst model: 1600
  • Budget buy: Converted Heralds
  • OK for unleaded?: No, needs additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L3885 x W1525
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: Couldn’t be any easier
  • Club support: Typically Triumph
  • Appreciating asset?: Showing strong signs
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Fine classic sports saloon
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Big-engined, hotted up Herald that’s now finding favour as a classic sports saloon that’s as easy and inexpensive as a Spitfire to buy and own although prices are expected to rise this year

Compact, generously-sized engined sports saloon are now de-rigueur with virtually every car maker, mainly the Germans – but arguably Britain did it first with the Triumph Vitesse. This hotter Herald doesn’t rely on Spitfire power but instead the old Standard six-cylinder unit that also found its way into the Triumph 2000 and created a super fixhead Spitfire called the GT6.

With a choice of saloon or convertible, the Vitesse was the BMW 3 Series of it day yet strangely has always been a backwater classic, living in the shadow of the Herald and priced similarly.

But, this will change say experts and the vivacious Vitesse will become a stand-alone classic in its own right. Better go with Vitesse and get one quick then.

History

1959 Triumph Herald is launched based upon a new separate chassis featuring independent rear suspension powered by the just 38bhp 948cc four-pot derived from the Standard 8 although rare coupé sported twin carbs.

1962 Spitfire sports car makes its entrance; Herald based with stubbier chassis and extra power from enlarged 1147cc engine. Around the same time the Vitesse is announced – basically a Herald but with the Standard sixcylinder engine fitted albeit reduced from 2-litres to 1596cc for 70bhp. In truth it wasn’t any perkier than the 1147cc Spitfire but benefited from a fabulously smooth engine and rather more torque, making it a honey to drive, ripe for a quality-badged rapid yet relaxing GT, especially with optional overdrive fitted.

1966 The 1.6 is discarded in favour of the stock Triumph 2000 engine albeit uprated 95bhp to create the 2 Litre Vitesse. This unit was also slotted into a Spitfire coupé known as the GT6, both using pretty much a normal Herald suspension.

1968 The resultant touch and go handling on both models saw a new rear suspension devised – it needed to because with a revised camshaft and cylinder head, 104bhp was the order of the day. The Vitesse differed from the GT6 insofar it fitted old style lever arm dampers, the latter retains modern telescopics, bizarrely.

1971 In line with the Herald 13/60 the Vitesse is killed off (perhaps due to Stag’s presence in that market?) after some 32,000 were made. Interestingly, the 1600 outsold the 2 Litre by a decent margin. Saloons were always the best sellers and it’s reckoned that less than a handful of development estates were made.

Driving and press comments

The Vitesse offers the ideal antidote to modern 16-valve engines which have to be thrashed to get the best out of them, the old fashioned six pot preferring to provide its power in a less frenzied manner. In its day this Triumph was pretty quick car, swifter than a Cortina GT and Cooper S and a genuine 100mph bolide yet, thanks to overdrive could eke out up to 29mpg. That’s for 2 Litre; the 1600 is barely any faster than a 13/60 Herald although the engine is super sweet.

In truth, the Vitesse feels little different to the GT6 to drive but offer family-sized accommodation. As a practical classic few can match this Triumph in saloon or convertible guises.

The handling needs watching however. Like the GT6, the Vitesse enjoys three times the power of the original Herald and it reveals itself in a wayward rear end. The rack and pinion steering is great – after all it provides the basis of the Lotus Elan’s top tiller. In contrast the simple transverse rear leaf spring ‘swing axle’ set up is prone to ‘jacking up’ if the throttle is shut off mid corner causing abrupt, messy tail-out antics – pretty wicked stuff on original models as Motor rather aptly remarked: “Early final oversteer can be tricky in an emergency” with rival Autocar further wisely commenting that the odd rear suspension system “needs to be respected”.

The Mark 2 from 1968 dispensed with that cheapskate system, Triumph going to town with a ‘Rotoflex’ (driveshaft) rear suspension set up instead. Go for that with some low-profile tyres and better damping, the car’s handling improves greatly and there can’t be many standard Vitesses around as even new dampers and modern rubber makes a big difference.

Where those extra cylinders come into their own is smoothness and – with overdrive – the Vitesse make a nice tourer but it would be better still if that plush interior didn’t suffer from assorted creaks, groans and rattles due to chassis flex and the ride is bit a wooden.

“Compared with Herald, the Vitesse feels like a dragster” gushed Autocar in 1967 although added that because the tail could flick out with little provocation “a full understanding of the car is essential for safety” as “some degree of skill is necessary and this Triumph is not for the spirited novice”.

Earlier in 1966 Motor called the 2 Litre a ‘Sportsman’s Saloon’, and while it criticised the roadholding said “the Vitesse is perfectly safe as long as the flat handling doesn’t inspire over confidence”. Fast forward two years and the same weekly said the handling was now “extremely controllable…with much higher safe cornering speeds… merely a gentle, progressive breakaway at the back”.

The writer said the car could be thrown around and “didn’t appear to be great deal slower from point-to-point than the new GT6”.

Just a few months later, in early 1969, Car pitched the Mk2 against the all new Capri (1600GT) which it favoured although said the handling improvement was so great against the Mk1 that “You could do things with the Mk2 which would have turned over the original car” adding that a quick-witted driver could have fun in the Triumph. “It would be interesting to see what British Leyland can produce to succeed the Vitesse” was its footnote; the company never did unless you include the Stag?

Values and marketplace

The 2-Litre Mark 2 is the best version of all the models while the convertible is the most valued and desired bodystyle, along with converted Herald estates. Parts specific to the 1600 are getting hard to find and they’re not as torquey or as fast as the later cars, so consequently they were the runt of the litter. That’s not entirely the case now and their rarity are causing a hardening of values.

David Aspinall at Anglian Triumph Services (http://www.angliantriumphservices. co.uk) is probably the UK premier expert on the Vitesse and has seen interest rocket of late for a variety of reasons, such as enthusiasts outgrowing their Spitfires and GT6s and now wanting a more comfortable alternative – for four.

Predictably, the Norfolk specialist says the Rotoflex convertibles are the most wanted and prices for vivacious Vitesses can exceed £12,000 with the saloons perhaps a 30 per cent less. Converted Heralds won’t command anything like the same values plus it all hinges on the standard of build.

Although a fair number are modified Aspinall doesn’t see the need – apart from electronic ignition – and this extends to the notorious rear suspension, even in Mk1 2 Litres. David says he’s never had problems driving them properly and warns wannabe buyers that if they’re expecting modern foolproof manners and grip then this Triumph (along with many other 60’s classics-ed) is not for them. Try a Stag instead he suggests!

Improvements

In common with the Spitfire and GT6, just about every aspect of the Vitesse can be upgraded, from converting the Mk2 models to rear telescopic damping (earlier cars already featured these), making one a Stag hunter with more power to simply fitting a Kenlowe fan to improve the cooling

Recommended on all though is a spin-on oil filter conversion along with some halogen headlights to replace the dismal quartet of sealed beam units originally fitted. If not fitted, an overdrive gearbox is well worthwhile. 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 addressed before any such conversion is made. That’s when things can get a bit costly and complicated but the results are certainly encouraging if that’s what you are trying to achieve…

I bought one

When Bev Gittins bought a Herald 1200 convertible in 1971, as his everyday family transport, little did he think that almost half a century later he’d still be running around in a drop-top Triumph. He comments: “That car was great to own as it was easy to work on and cheap to run, but when I sold it I didn’t think I’d go back to owning a similar car again. However, in 1989 I saw a magazine feature on the Herald and I was reminded of how much I enjoyed that 1200 all those years ago, so I put an advert in a local shop window and on the same day I got a response, which resulted in me buying a Herald 13/60 convertible.

“I sold the car on and bought my Vitesse 2-litre Mk1 convertible instead. Initially I enjoyed using this, but after a few years it failed its MoT because the chassis was rotten. I acquired a 2-litre Mk2 chassis and set about rebuilding the car around it. A tip that I picked up from the Triumph Sports Six Club magazine was to modify the chassis outriggers by turning them into box sections instead of the regular C-section to increase rigidity.

“It’s been to Spa and I’ve also taken it on the Laon Historic weekend three times. It’s been on the North Coast 500 and I’ve also taken it to Lindisfarne where the car had its only breakdown so far, with the differential failing.

“Years ago I bought an Ansfold folding caravan which goes really well with the Vitesse; the very similar Portafold is even better with its fins at the same height as the Vitesse’s fins. When the caravan is folded it’s at the same height as the Triumph’s boot lid so visibility isn’t a problem, and the Vitesse has plenty of torque to pull such a lightweight trailer.

“The Vitesse is wonderful to own as it’s nice to drive. What makes the ownership really enjoyable though is my membership of the Triumph Sports Six Club, through which I’ve made lots of great friends. We’ve enjoyed some fantastic adventures together and it’s been an invaluable source of information as well as parts. I’d always hankered after a Vitesse estate but just 17 or so were made in period.

“Since then a few have been converted and in 2009 I bought an estate that started out as a Vitesse saloon. It was fitted with a 2.5-litre engine and I loved driving that all over the place. But I sold it in 2017 to concentrate on my convertible, which I still adore 25 years after I first bought it”.

Forming a bond with a Vitesse variation

Bond is better known for its threewheelers and of course the cheesewedged Bug but also did novel takes on Triumph’s Herald and Vitesse, substituting the standard heavy metal body for a lighter fibreglass one.

The Equipe was born more than 50 years ago when three-wheeler carmaker Lawrie Bond put an 1147cc Spitfire engine into a Herald chassis, then wrapped it all in his own bodywork to form the GT 2+2. The GT4S was a revamp for 1967 when the car gained the Mk3 Spitfire engine while another difference with the GT4S was its better quad headlamp design. It stayed in production until 1970 until Reliant’s take over of Bond helped kill the car off. The six-cylinder Vitesse engine only made its appearance in the 2-litre Equipe GT when launched in August 1967, a year after this ‘big’ six first saw service in the Vitesse.

Standard Triumph was so impressed with the resulting Equipe GT that it insisted the car was sold exclusively through its main dealer network with a full warranty; not bad for the Bond company’s first ‘proper’ car.

Although the Bond relied upon part GRP in its construction, the weight advantage over the Triumphs were quite minimal (all around 920kg) so performance remained pretty much unchanged. Equipes drive pretty much like the Herald and Vitesse they are based upon and they received similar updates, especially to the rear suspension layout. However, due to the car’s body (which some thought had too much overhang compared to the Triumph) 155 x13 section tyres were about the largest which could be used without fouling the Vitessestyle wheelarches, which limits the Bond’s roadholding somewhat.

Just under 1450 2-litre versions were made against 2949 Spitfirepowered cars and some 130 remain. Much of the car is Triumph-based, but some from other models, such as Herald estate petrol tanks, Triumph 2000 air intake ram, Spitfire exterior door handles, Triumph 1300 rear bumpers and modified GT6 seats. Guy Singleton via .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). org or on 01672 514241 is worth knowing. He told us that brand loyalty is high and good cars don’t come on to the market that often, so if you see one for sale get in quick if it suits you.

What To Look For

Smooth, swift and solid

The straight six is low stressed and so wears well if maintained right. When the engine is started, listen for rattling, which indicates the main bearings are starved of oil. Switching from a canister-type filter to one with a non-return valve will usually fix this – for around £50. Oil leaks are common but it’s the old Triumph trait of wearing thrust washers. You can fit oversize repair replacement but if bad 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 of movement and the washers can drop out of place. Mk2 engines used a better cylinder head, but as heads are known for cracking this may have been swapped with an earlier type, perhaps if hardened valve seats have been fitted or simply to keep roadworthy.

Three Of A Kind

BMW 3 series
BMW 3 series
This German took over from the Vitesse providing a compact six-cylinder four-seater saloon and convertible at affordable prices. There’s a wide range of models (the four-pots are pretty good too) either from the square-shaped E30 to the more popular E36 and the newer E46; all drive extremely nicely and are easy and inexpensive enough to maintain.
Rootes
Rootes
There’s handful of Vitesse-like offering from the Rootes Group wearing Hillman, Singer and Sunbeam badges – all, like the Triumph, sporting distinctive if more dated 50’s finned styling. Choose either the Singer Gazelle or the Sunbeam Rapier and there’s much livelier performance from up to 1725cc in the Series IV model. In common with the Triumph, overdrive is a popular option. Values are steadily rising.
Triumph stag
Triumph stag
Whether or not the Stag was actually a replacement for the Vitesse, it’s a logical alternative offering more modernity, space, refinement, a honey of a V8 and the option of a hard top or convertible. The time honoured bothersome Stag snags have all been addressed although prices have risen as a result. Rover V8 converts are now cheapest.

Verdict

Without question Vitesse was the BMW 3 Series of its day: stylish, classy and big hearted. A hotted up Herald it may well be, but for those after a practical performance car that can cut it on modern roads plus is a cinch to maintain by the kerb for pennies, this forgotten Triumph is well worth a look at.



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