1969 Triumph Spitfire Mk3
By Daniel Vaughan | Oct 2012
In 1962 the British company Triumph introduced a two-seater sports car named the Spitfire. The Austin-Healey Sprite had proven there was a demand for small cars with sporty intentions. Triumph wanted a piece of this market and felt they could produce a better automobile than the Sprite. In September of 1960 construction of a prototype began and was codenamed Bomb. Triumph used the mechanical....
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A Brief History of the Triumph Spitfire – Everything You Need To Know
The Triumph Spitfire – An Introduction
The paradoxical thing about the Triumph Spitfire is that it didn’t spit fire. The original Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft was powered by a huge supercharged Rolls-Royce V12 engine and was fitted with up to eight machine guns so that it truly did spit fire from engine exhausts and guns.
The Triumph Spitfire sports car however had a diminutive four cylinder engine, no machine guns, and only spat fire if the engine was so out of tune that it caused a backfire in the exhaust. It was however much less expensive to buy, a lot cheaper to run, and it was enormous fun.
Triumph and The Blitz
During the “Blitz” of 1940 the industrial city of Coventry had rather a lot of bombs dropped on it by the Nazi Luftwaffe in their efforts to bomb Britain into submission. Although this had worked quite well for the Nazis in other parts of Europe it didn’t in their efforts to conquer Britain: the pesky British just seemed to get more and more determined. Bombing Britain turned out to be about as profitable as poking a stick into a hornet’s nest expecting the frightened hornets to flee away.
Sadly Coventry was a city where many of the classic British cars were made and as a result of the Nazi bombing some were destroyed, notably Triumph, who had a long history of making beautiful motor cars. What was left of Triumph, which wasn’t much more than the name, was purchased by Sir John Black’s Standard Car Company on December 31, 1945.
Sir John Black understood Britain’s dire post-war financial need to export or perish and he looked to the American market as a place where he would really like to sell cars. Other British car makers were seeing this also and Jaguar had debuted their six cylinder XK DOHC engine in a hand built sports car based on their sedan chassis, but fitted with a hand made sports car body.
It was an instant success and although Jaguar had not actually intended to put that car into production they found they had so many customers with open checkbooks that turning away all that lovely money was unthinkable: thus it was that the Jaguar XK120 went into production, with actor Clark Gable taking delivery of one of the first examples.
Earlier pre-war “SS” Jaguar cars had been based on chassis from Sir John Black’s Standard Car Company. So he reasoned that if Sir William Lyons of Jaguar could create sports cars that would sell like hotcakes in the US then he could do that as well. His first effort was the Triumph TRX concept car, which was basically a sleek body built on a Standard Vanguard sedan chassis and engine.
People did not line up with open checkbooks for that one however.
The design team went back to work and so at the London Earls Court Motor Show of 1952 they showed their second effort: the 20TS. This was a car that looked rather more like a beast and not at all like a beauty a socialite might drive.
It was a car that could compete with Donald Healey’s 1951 Austin-Healey 100 and it led to the creation of the Triumph TR2. In fact a 20TS was taken to the Jabbeke motorway in May 1953 fully speed prepared and driver Ken Richardson, sitting on a cushion because they did not want the extra weight of a seat in the car, belted the car down the road to achieve 124.899 mph. Richardson was not belted in coincidentally: no seat, no seat-belt.
Triumph had their sports car that was a direct competitor for the Austin-Healey 100 and sales of the Triumph TR2 and its successors were good, but in 1958 Austin-Healey debuted their sports car for the not so monied masses, the Frogeye/Bugeye Austin-Healey Sprite.
Small, based on the diminutive Austin A30/A35 sedan the Sprite was marketed as “something a chap could keep in his bike shed”: lots of chaps (and chappettes for that matter) decided that having their very own boy racer sports car was too much of a temptation to be sensible about.
The Sprite did not have a boot/trunk, it just had a stash area behind the seats, something like a miniature Aladdin’s Cave for soft luggage. The Sprite had quite minimal weather protection also, side curtains for the soft top rather than heavy and expensive to make wind-up windows with their winding mechanism.
The Sprite did have seats however, unlike Triumph’s 20TS Jabbeke speed car, because not all chaps have the raw courage of a Ken Richardson, and passengers would expect a car to have seats, even a sports car.
In September of 1960 the chaps at Triumph decided they could do rather better than Donald Healey’s little Sprite and so they started work on their own small sports car, naming the project “Bomb”.
The new car was to be based on a shortened version of Triumph’s small sedan, the Triumph Herald, which boasted a body design by Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti. A shortened Herald chassis was sent to Michelotti and he created the body style. Meanwhile the engineering team at Triumph built a test “mule” using a shortened Triumph Herald, basically a two seater Triumph Herald, to get the mechanics and suspension sorted out.
Although other car makers were shifting to unibody construction Standard-Triumph did not have the financial resources to support that transition: and in any event regarded it as unnecessary.
Small production sports car makers were using a chassis rather than a unibody, Lotus, TVR, and Morgan being examples. The Triumph Herald was built on a backbone chassis with the body made as a separate item and this made it an ideal foundation for the Bomb.
Where the Triumph Herald’s chassis had outriggers these were removed for the Bomb so the bucket seats could be set nice and low. This required the fitting of strong sills to provide structural stiffness but was a sound design.
The project was to be short-lived however as Standard-Triumph were in financial trouble as car sales had slumped as a result of the 1956 Suez Crisis. Petrol rationing had been resumed in Britain as a result and people either stopped buying cars or had very small ones, such as the BMW Isetta bubble car.
This was the political situation that led to the creation of the Austin/Morris Mini, and it was also the cause of Standard-Triumph’s financial woes. By December 1960 work on the Bomb was stopped and the Leyland bus and truck company made a takeover bid for Standard-Triumph, which they succeeded in completing in April of 1961.
The Bomb was put into a corner in the factory and covered up with a cloth like a body awaiting burial, but it was not to be forgotten. When a Leyland executive visited the factory he asked what was hidden under the sheet and when the prototype sports car was revealed he was a very happy camper. He could see the potential, and the Bomb was unexpectedly given a new lease of life: on July 13, 1961 the Bomb development project was underway again.
The Triumph Spitfire 4 (1962-1964)
In getting the Bomb from prototype into production not many changes turned out to be necessary: the Triumph design team had achieved a great deal in the few months they’d had to develop the project and Giovanni Michelotti’s work was brilliant.
This was in part due to the fact that the car could be built on a shortened and modestly modified production Triumph Herald chassis, an advantage the chassis provides that a unibody does not.
The engine was the stock 1,147cc (70 cu. in.) inline four cylinder OHV from the Triumph Herald with a couple of SU carburetors bolted on to improve its breathing ability, the engine then being given a bit of a tweak here and there to make it more sports car like.
The Herald’s front drum brakes were dispensed with and replaced with some nice efficient discs to ensure the little beast could stop as well as go. The suspension was fully independent and originated from the Triumph Herald; at the front were wishbones with coil springs and at the rear were swing axles using a transverse leaf spring bolted to the top of the differential.
The body was made to offer significant advantages over the new car’s main competitors, the greatly re-modeled Austin-Healey Sprite and its twin sibling the MG Midget. The new Spitfire was fitted with a rather awkward to raise soft top, wind-up side windows, exterior door locks, and quite comprehensive instrumentation to give it a hint of an aircraft cockpit look.
The name chosen for the car was not Bomb, but instead took the name of the iconic fighter of the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire. The Bomb had a new identity, reminiscent of the Second World War fighter aircraft which featured in the “Biggles” comic books that so many of the young men and women who would buy a Spitfire would have grown up reading.
This first model was known as the Spitfire 4, simply because it was fitted with a four cylinder engine, unlike its Battle of Britain namesake which had a Merlin V12. The Spitfire 4’s engine produced 63 bhp @ 5,750 rpm and torque of 67 lb/ft @ 3,500 rpm. This gave the little car a standing to 60mph time of 16.4 seconds and a top speed of 92 mph.
While these figures are not particularly impressive they don’t really convey the feeling of the Spitfire. With its seats set very low the car gave the impression it was going rather more quickly than it really was, so low seats, an aircraft like cockpit, and a nice engine warble, all combined to make the little Spitfire a very fun machine. It was also affordable at the petrol pump as it delivered a frugal 31 miles to the Imperial gallon.
The Spitfire 4 had a few optional extras available for it, a heater/demister, removable hard-top, wire wheels, and in its last year of production a Laycock de Normanville electric overdrive. In addition to these were the performance kits available from dealers. These included twin dual throat Weber 40DCOE carburetors, a high compression cylinder head, high lift camshaft, and for the really serious petrol heads such extensive engineering items such as stronger pistons, con rods, crankshafts, clutch and close ratio gearbox kits from the Triumph Vitesse.
This sort of thing had considerable appeal to a generation raised on Biggles comics and Meccano sets.
The Triumph Spitfire Mark II (1965-1967)
The Mark 2 version of the Triumph Spitfire was introduced in 1965 and provided some relatively minor improvements over the original Spitfire 4, which was now often referred to as the “Mark 1”.
The engine power was increased to 67 bhp @ 6,000 rpm and British models were treated to a diaphragm spring clutch while North American market models retained the original coil spring one, and were also fitted with ACDelco distributors as opposed to the British which stayed with Lucas.
The interior trim of the Mark 2 was upgraded to include carpet in place of the original rubber mats, redesigned seats, and the covering of exposed metal panels with trim. There were of course the obligatory new badges and grill to give the car a “new” look.
The Triumph Spitfire Mark III (1967-1970)
The Mark 3 was a major upgrade, the Spitfire was subject to some significant competition from its Austin-Healey and MG Midget rivals and it needed to pull some rabbits out of the hat to keep up with the opposition.
The car also had to comply with new bumper height regulations and this was accomplished by a two fold strategy of raising the bumper on the bodywork and by raising the front springs. This combined effect imparted a quite different look to the car and it was referred to as the “bone in the teeth” model.
In their efforts to beat the competition Triumph greatly improved the folding soft top so it was much easier to deploy. The dashboard was done in wood veneer to significantly bring the look of the interior upmarket. The engine of the Spitfire was increased in capacity to 1,296cc which was the same as on the Triumph Herald 13/60 and 1300 models.
The Spitfire engine with its twin SU carburetors delivered 75 bhp @ 6,000 rpm with 75 lb/ft torque @ 4,000 rpm. The car’s performance benefited from the increase in power with its standing to 60 mph time down to 13.4 seconds and its top speed up to 95 mph. The car’s electrical system was also changed over from traditional British positive earth to the more universal negative earth.
1968 was to produce happy news, and more difficult news for the Triumph Spitfire. The celebratory news was that the 100,000th Spitfire was personally driven off the production line by Standard-Triumph’s General Manager George Turnbull.
The more difficult was the introduction of new vehicle safety standards and exhaust emissions regulations for the US market. Cars exported to the US constituted 45% of Spitfire production and so the cars needed to be able to comply with US standards. In 1968 the Spitfire’s braking system was upgraded to a dual hydraulic circuit with failure warning light: this was also to become a requirement in Australia under the Australian Design Rules (ADR).
1968 was also the year that British Leyland, who owned Standard Triumph, acquired ownership of British Motor Holdings which brought MG, Austin, and Jaguar/Daimler all into the same company. This meant that the Spitfire, Sprite and Midget were all now competing with each other from within the one company.
The Spitfire had to comply with new emissions standards for 1969: this meant that the engine’s compression ratio had to be reduced to 8.5:1, the camshaft was re-profiled, and ignition timing had to be adjusted. So the upshot of these regulations was that the engine had to be made less efficient, which meant less performance and increased fuel consumption.
The cars affected by these changes are nowadays referred to as “Federal Spitfires” and their engine power was down to 68 bhp with torque reduced to 73 lb/ft. The car’s standing to 60 mph time increased to 14 seconds, which was still pretty good by the standards of the time.
Also in 1969 the Spitfire had to provide headrests to guard against occupant neck injury in the event of a rear end collision. This required a redesign of the car’s seats and was a welcome improvement. The car’s dashboard lost its attractive wood veneer which was replaced by a black plastic one for US market cars, and the instrumentation was relocated to be directly in front of the driver.
Of particular note is that the transverse leaf spring with swing axles rear suspension was kept all through to the Mark III. This system produced much the same effect as it did on the Volkswagen Type 1 and the early Chevrolet Corvair, although on those two the effects were more exaggerated because of the rear engine causing the weight distribution to be very rear heavy.
The Spitfire had much more even weight distribution, but the vice of the swing axles was still able to rear its ugly little head. This problem occurs most markedly if the driver lifts off the throttle in a corner or brakes. The weight transfers to the front outside wheel and as it does so the rear outside wheel is lifted and as the swing axle forces a shift to positive camber it “tucks under” which can cause a switch to dramatic oversteer or a roll-over.
This suspension was widely criticized and drivers who wanted to get the best from the handling of their cars installed camber compensator rear suspension kits to fix the problem, just as more technically minded Corvair and Volkswagen owners did.
The Triumph Spitfire Mark IV (1970-1974)
The Mark IV was a major revision of the Triumph Spitfire. The bodywork was redesigned by Giovanni Michelotti and among the changes the weld line on the top of the front wings/fenders was eliminated along with the chrome finisher strips that covered them.
By this stage rather old school chrome headlight surrounds were removed and replaced by body color ones, the grill became black plastic and was complimented by black plastic bumper under-riders. The wheel-arches were stylishly flared and the door handles became neatly flush fitted. The windscreen height was increased by two inches.
At the rear of the Spitfire was perhaps the most dramatic change with the rear end being given a cut-off style which brought it into line with the rear end styling of its stablemates the Triumph Stag and the restyled Triumph 2000. This would be the same sort of style that the Triumph Dolomite of 1972 would also be given so the Triumph cars looked like a part of a coordinated family.
For the Mark IV the instrumentation was moved from the center of the dashboard to being directly in front of the driver for all markets. Many features that had previously been optional extras became standard fittings on the Mark IV Spitfires. These cars had a heater/demister as standard, black sun visors, and three-point seat belts.
The hardtop was greatly improved and included opening rear quarter-lights while the folding soft top was treated to a plastic cover to keep it neatly packed away. The switch for the optional electric overdrive was relocated to the top of the gear lever, perhaps inspired by the red button for the passenger ejector seat fitted to James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 in “Goldfinger”.
The Mark IV also finally got synchromesh on first gear, something that British car makers seem to have had a near religious aversion to in the same way that British motorcycle manufacturers resisted installing electric starters.
The engine of the Mark IV was mostly the same as used in the Mark III but due to the desire by British Leyland to rationalize component parts and spare parts inventory the Mark IV engine used the heavier con-rods from Triumph’s six cylinder engines. These heavier con-rods affected the engine’s free revving characteristics but did not reduce power. Engine power remained at 75 hp (SAE) but was now quoted in published material as 63 hp (DIN). So all that actually changed was the measurement method for published data, not the engine’s actual power output.
The Mark IV was a tad heavier than the Mark III however, which contributed to the car feeling a bit less spritely, and added to that the final drive ratio was changed from 4.11:1 to 3.89:1 which helped with motorway cruising, but not with standing start acceleration should you want to race a guy in a Porsche away from the traffic lights.
The big fix on the Mark IV was to finally cure the swing axle vice, something that arguably have been done much earlier. The fix was remarkably simple, instead of the whole rear suspension leaf spring assembly being bolted to the top of the differential casing only the bottom-most leaf was, leaving the others free to move around the central axis. The rear suspension was further improved late in production by the widening of the track, improving stability.
The performance of the Mark IV was lively for European specification cars: standing to 60 mph time was 12.5 seconds and top speed was 97 mph. In 1972 however the engine was detuned which brought the top speed down by a couple of miles per hour but, more tellingly, increased the standing to 60 mph time to 14.5 seconds.
In 1972 for the US market Triumph began fitting a larger 1,493cc engine which was created by lengthening the stroke of the older 1,296cc engine. This US version was fitted with a single Zenith Stromberg carburetor and had the necessary anti-emissions control equipment installed on it.
The Triumph Spitfire 1500 (1974-1980)
In 1972 Triumph rationalized production by using the US market 1,493cc engine in all markets, but only applying the emissions controls to the US market engines, and tuning up the engine for British and European markets thus creating the fastest Spitfire yet, other than the car’s fighter aircraft namesake of World War II.
The car fitted with this new engine was called the Spitfire 1500 and its engine produced 71 bhp (DIN) @ 5,500 rpm and torque of 82 lb/ft. This engine was mated to a Morris Marina gearbox with the result that the car could now actually “do the ton”, i.e. 100 mph and boasted a standing to 60 mph time of 13.4 seconds. The British and European market engine had a compression ratio of 9:1 and breathed its leaded petrol through twin SU HS4 carburetors.
The US market Spitfire 1500’s engine was given a compression ratio of 7.5:1 so it could run on the unleaded gasoline that was being phased in. It breathed through the single Zenith Stromberg carburetor and had an exhaust gas recirculating system and catalytic converter. This engine produced 53 hp (DIN) giving the car a standing to 60 mph time of 16.3 seconds.
The Spitfire 1500 had the longer swing axles and resulting wider rear track, and also had its rear suspension a little lowered to induce some negative camber, which all contributed to the car’s improved stability.
The car’s interior trim was substantially upgraded with “chequered brushed nylon centre panels” in the reclining seats and also got steering column stalk mounted controls in the 1977 upgrade. The final model had the features expected by that time including an electric windscreen washer and hazard warning lights. Wire wheels ceased to be available as an option however as the world moved on to accessory alloy wheels.
The Triumph Spitfire was built to be a small, inexpensive fun machine and it delivered an elegant sufficiency of enjoyment of driving and exploring wherever you fancied going. It was a car that did not attempt to deliver the terrifying levels of raw performance of such cars as the AC Shelby Cobra, it wasn’t in the same price league, nor would those who purchased a Triumph Spitfire have been looking for that from it. They were looking for a car that delivered affordable enjoyment, and it delivered that wonderfully.
The Triumph Spitfire has acquired for itself a quite dedicated enthusiast following over the years but there are also a lot of people out there for whom this was the car of their young years: a car that carries with it many memories.
It’s a car that those who were privileged to own one look back on with fondness. We can imagine a young Triumph Spitfire owner having a secret “Snoopy Moment” as he drives thinking “Here’s the World War II flying ace in his Spitfire…” – hopefully there is a little bit of Walter Mitty in all of us.
Picture Credits: Standard-Triumph, Leyland.
Jon Branch has written countless official automobile Buying Guides for eBay Motors over the years, he’s also written for Hagerty, he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome and the official SSAA Magazine, and he’s the founder and senior editor of Revivaler.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine, and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China, and Hong Kong. The fastest thing he’s ever driven was a Bolwell Nagari, the slowest was a Caterpillar D9, and the most challenging was a 1950’s MAN semi-trailer with unexpected brake failure.
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Triumph Spitfire Mk 3, 1969
|Model||Spitfire Mk 3|
|Year of production||1969|
|Start of production||1967|
|End of production||1970|
|Number of doors||2|
|Number of seats||2|
|Number of cylinders||inline 4|
|Capacity||1296 ccm, 78.7 cu-in|
|Bore||73.7 mm, 2.902 in|
|Stroke||76.0 mm, 2.992 in|
|Valves per cylinder||2|
|Fuel system||carburator, 2 x SU|
|Max power [kW / PS / hp]||56 / 76 / 75 at 6000 rpm|
|Max torque [Nm / ft-lb]||120 / 89 at 4000 rpm|
|Total power (hybrid)|
|Total torque (hybrid)|
|Wheelbase||2110 mm, 83.1 in|
|Front track||1245 mm, 49 in|
|Rear track||1220 mm, 48 in|
|Length||3730 mm, 146.9 in|
|Width||1450 mm, 57.1 in|
|Height||1125 mm, 44.3 in|
|Weight||750 kg, 1653 lb|
|Maximum speed||160 km/h, 99 mph|
|0-100 km/h||12.5 s|
|Foto: Z.Patera Auta5P, Sraz HV Chomutov 2016 + 2014 + 2013|
Buyer’s guide: Triumph Spitfire
By Malcolm McKay
Why you’d want a Triumph Spitfire
There was a feel of ‘enthusiastic amateurs’ about Triumph in the 1950s, as keen young men such as Harry Webster and Giovanni Michelotti followed the ‘make do and mend’ wartime philosophy to save the beleaguered firm.
All except bespoke car builders had moved to monocoques, yet Standard-Triumph made a virtue out of the separate chassis, basing numerous variants on the same design and trumpeting benefits such as strength, safety and turning circle.
The Spitfire used a shortened Herald chassis, with many outriggers cut off and stiffening built into the sills instead to give it a low floor. Michelotti made the prototype in 1960; two years later Triumph found the funds to produce it.
The car was an instant hit and outsold BMC’s Spridget rivals, ultimately sharing its 1500 engine with the last Midgets. Always slightly dearer than the MG, the Spitfire offered more space and refinement, even a wood-veneer dash on some models.
It was progressively improved from the charming 1147cc Spitfire 4 and MkII to the livelier 1296cc MkIII. Michelotti’s clever MkIV restyle for the ’70s helped the car last to late 1980 with the long-stroke 1493cc unit, kept in production like the Midget due to BL’s inability to replace it. Optional overdrive was a big plus over Spridgets.
(l-r) Neat Hardtop featured bolted-on steel roof and no hood; Spits did well on rallies and circuits, here at Le Mans in ’64
It was possible to buy a Spitfire as a Hardtop, with bolt-on roof and no soft-top. Second-hand hoods and frames are readily available, so don’t reject a car if it doesn’t have a hood – the chances are that such cars will have been better looked after and stayed drier inside.
Hardtops rust, so check around the front lip and side/rear windows. Rot is the main problem with these cars, but the body is largely single-skin and the chassis is easy to inspect on a ramp. Assess sills, bulkhead and rear radius-arm mounts with care. These are among the easiest cars to rebuild at home, but buying a restored one is more cost-effective.
Far more Spitfires were sold in the US than the UK (80%), though few have come back; emissions equipment took the MkIV 1300 down to 48bhp and US cars used a detuned 1500 from ’73.
Later American-spec models are even more hampered, with 5mph bumpers, extra rear outriggers and a single carb; the speedo only goes up to 80mph.
Beware 2-litre conversions unless based entirely on a GT6 chassis – Spitfire running gear can’t handle the weight and power.
Triumph Spitfire: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
Four-cylinder engine is simple, reliable and incredibly easy to work on. Inspect for signs of careful maintenance, listen for unwanted rumbling or tinkling, look for oil leaks, water in oil or vice versa and check that the oil light doesn’t flicker at tickover – showing a worn engine, or a faulty sender. A rebuilt engine costs £1340.
Swing-axle rear suspension works better than most think, especially in swing-spring form. Longer-ratio diffs are desirable for non-overdrive cars.
Lower trunnions need regular lubrication with heavy oil – they will seize and snap the kingpin if neglected or if grease dries and goes hard inside.
Front valance rots fast on MkIV/1500. GRP is a good remedy but it is hard to fit the top lip seals that help to support bonnet; they’re often omitted, as here.
Hoods are simple and cheap (£181 for a PVC 1500), but getting them to fit properly and not let in too much water is a skill and requires a good-quality top.
Check for weak synchros and dip the clutch in neutral to listen for layshaft noise. Overdrive is a highly desirable extra; if not fitted, budget to convert.
Simple and reasonably comfortable, especially in reclining form (from ’73), Spitfire seats get scruffy but are not that costly to restore and re-cover.
Triumph Spitfire: on the road
The Spitfire’s four-cylinder engine will do around 100,000 miles between rebuilds, if well maintained
Always raise the top before your test drive – it will help you to hear noises from the drivetrain (especially the differential) and to assess the fit of the hood. Draughts are inevitable, but many soft-tops could be better fitted.
The four-cylinder engine originates from the Standard Eight of the early 1950s, but is lively enough and can be tuned for more performance. It’ll do around 100,000 miles between rebuilds if well maintained, but is likely to need hardened valve seats after about 20k miles on unleaded.
Crankshaft thrust washers are prone to wear – get someone to press the clutch while you watch the front pulley to see if it moves; the block gets damaged if movement is excessive. Look for signs of overheating: recore the radiator every 10 years and you’ll have no problems. Distributor and camshaft wear take the edge off performance.
Assess the ’box for worn synchros and a noisy layshaft, heard at tickover in neutral; dip the clutch to see if the noise stops. A sloppy gear-change is easily cured with new bushes. Overdrive is desirable – check it doesn’t slip or jump out. Drivetrain vibration or knocking may just be worn universal joints in the prop or driveshafts, or soggy mountings: fairly cheap to repair.
The diff should be quiet and relatively clonk-free; it is prone to leak – especially if the breather is blocked – so topping up may help. If it needs replacing, consider upgrading to a higher ratio.
All Spitfires should have adequate braking for modern traffic; if not, allow for a rebuild. Check the steering for knocks – rack wear is common but usually just a nylon button at one end.
Triumph Spitfire price guide
- Concours: £12,000
- Average: £2850,000
- Restoration: £1000
- Concours: £9000
- Average: £2350
- Restoration: £750
Triumph Spitfire history
1962 OctSpitfire 4 launched (45,753 made)
1963 Oct overdrive optional
1964 Feb optional wires and Hardtop added, also tuning kits giving 70-90bhp, with eight-port cylinder head and twin Weber carbs
1964 MarSpitfire MkII (37,408 made) replaces 4; carpets, vinyl-trimmed dash, 67bhp, tubular exhaust manifold; 0-60mph 14 secs, 94mph
1967 MarSpitfire MkIII (65,320 made); 9in higher front bumper, one-piece hood, wood centre dash panel, bigger brake calipers, 1296cc eight-port ‘four’
1969 Alloy-spoke steering wheel, black plastic grille, 41/2in wheels replace 31/2in, new rear lights
1970 OctSpitfire MkIV (70,021 made); all-synchro gearbox, alternator, higher final-drive ratio
1974 Dec 1500 (95,829 made); stronger, single-rail gearbox, diff ratio raised again
1977 Mar houndstooth-check seat panels
1979 Jan dual-circuit brakes, 5in wheel rims
1980 Aug production ends
Owner Graham Spall’s MkIV has been “extremely reliable”
“I was looking for a Midget 12 years ago,” admits owner Graham Spall, “but I couldn’t find a good one, so I looked at a Spitfire and liked what I saw. My friend went for a Midget, but I’m so glad that I bought the Spitfire – it’s that little bit better for general use and wins hands down on comfort.
“The MkIV had been rebuilt; I’ve done 45,000 miles in it over the years – it’s my general hack in the summer – and it has been extremely reliable. We did the Liège-Brescia-Liège rally in it last year. It overheated when I bought it, but a new oversized radiator cured that. I’ve had the diff and driveshafts rebuilt, but otherwise it’s only needed normal service items. I have no intention of parting with it, but I am planning to fit an overdrive gearbox.”
Fiat 850 Spider (left) and MG Midget are alternative buys
FIAT 850 SPIDER
Boosted to 903cc for ’70, the rear-engined, Bertone-styled soft-top was only built in LHD. It sold well in the US, where it was cheaper than a Midget; some have been imported to the UK. Beware rampant rust and poor parts supply.
Sold 1965-’73 • No. built 124,660 • Mpg 33-43 • 0-60mph 15.6 secs • Top speed 96mph • Price new c£1070 (1971) • Price now £6-8500+
A super little machine that fits like a glove and feels remarkably sporting for its limited pace. It’s great fun, but less practical overall than the more spacious and comfortable Spitfire; rot is also a bit more difficult to repair.
Sold 1961-’79 • No. built 226,526 • Mpg 30-42 • 0-60mph 12.3 secs • Top speed 101mph • Price new £928 (1971) • Price now £3-5000+
Triumph Spitfire: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
Stylish, reliable, simple and cheap to maintain, the Spitfire has a lot to offer if no-frills classic sports car motoring is what you seek and you’re happy to live with its separate-chassis character.
Panelfit is a good guide to the quality of restoration and likelihood of problems: don’t be taken in by shiny paint alone. Buy wisely and you should enjoy many years together.
- Inexpensive to buy and run
- Relatively straightforward to restore
- All parts are available and cheap
- Great fun open-top motoring
- Corrosion can penetrate almost everywhere, so thoroughly inspect the chassis and body
- Tired examples are very rattly/shaky
- Non-overdrive cars are undergeared
Triumph Spitfire specifications
Sold/number built 1962-’80/314,331
Construction steel chassis, steel body
Engine all-iron, ohv 1147/1296/1493cc ‘four’, with twin 11/4/11/2in SU/Stromberg (late US cars) carbs; 63bhp @ 5750rpm-71bhp @ 5500rpm; 67lb ft @ 3500rpm-82lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission four-speed manual, with optional overdrive on third/fourth, driving rear wheels
Suspension: front double wishbones, coils, anti-roll bar rear transverse leaf spring, fixed-length driveshafts, radius arms, swing-spring from 1970; telescopic dampers f/r
Steering rack and pinion
Brakes 9in discs front, 7in drums rear
Length 12ft 1-5in (3680-3785mm)
Width 4ft 9-101/2in (1450-1486mm)
Height 3ft 111/2in (1205mm)
Wheelbase 6ft 11in (2108mm)
Weight 1568-1750lb (711-794kg)
0-60mph 15.5-11.3 secs
Top speed 92-101mph
Price new £982 (1971)
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1969 triumph spitfire
Triumph Spitfire 1500 (European market)
|Manufacturer||Standard Motor Company|
Triumph Motor Company (Leyland Motors)
|Body style||2-seat sports convertible / roadster|
|Related||Triumph Herald, Triumph Vitesse, Triumph GT6|
|Wheelbase||83 in (2,108 mm)|
|Length||145 in (3,683 mm)|
|Width||57 in (1,448 mm)|
|Height||48 in (1,219 mm) hood up.|
|Curb weight||1,568 lb (711 kg) to 1,750 lb (790 kg) (unladen U.K.spec)|
The Triumph Spitfire is a British front-engined, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger convertible sports car introduced at the London Motor Show in 1962 and manufactured between 1962-1980. Styled for Standard-Triumph in 1957 by Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti, the Spitfire was manufactured for the duration of its production at the Standard-Triumph Canley works — and evolved over a series of five production iterations, with a approximately 315,000 manufactured over 18 years.
Developed on a shortened variant of the Triumph Herald saloon/sedan's chassis, the Spitfire shared the Herald's running gear and Standard SC engine. The design used body-on-frame construction, augmented by structural components within the bodywork and rear trailing arms attached to the body rather than the chassis. A manually deployable convertible top, substantially improved on later models, provided weather protection and a bespoke hard-top was available as a factory option.
Popular in street and rally racing, Spitfires won numerous SCCA National Sports Car Championships in F and G Production classes; won its class at the 1964 Tour de France rally, coming in second overall, and won the 1964 Geneva Rally. In 1965, a Spitfire won its class in the Alpine Rally.
The Spitfire nameplate refers to the World War II fighter plane of the same name. Assembled at Canley in August 1980 shortly before the factory closed, the last Spitfire was an Inca Yellow UK-model including the factory hardtop and overdrive options. Never sold to the public, it remains on display at the British Motor Museum.
The Spitfire evolved over five iterations:
|Model name||Engine||Year||Number built|
|Triumph Spitfire 4 (Mark I)||1147 cc inline-four||Oct 1962 – Dec 1964||45,753|
|Triumph Spitfire 4 Mark II||Dec 1964 – Jan 1967||37,409|
|Triumph Spitfire Mark III||1296 cc inline-four||Jan 1967– Dec 1970||65,320|
|Triumph Spitfire Mark IV||Nov 1970 – Dec 1974||70,021|
|Triumph Spitfire 1500||1493 cc inline-four||Dec 1974 – Aug 1980||95,829|
The Spitfire was conceived by Standard-Triumph to compete in the small sports car market against the Austin-Healey Sprite. The Sprite had used the drive train of the Austin A30/A35 in a lightweight. The Spitfire used mechanicals from the Herald saloon/sedan. Where the Austin A30 used monocoque construction, the Herald used body-on-frame — a chassis Triumph was able to downsize, saving the cost of developing a completely new chassis-body unit.
Giovanni Michelotti, who had designed the Herald, styled the bodywork, which featured wind-up windows (in contrast to the Sprite and Midget, which used side curtains) and an assembly of the bonnet/hood and wings/fenders that opened forward for engine access. The Spitfire's introduction was delayed by its company's financial troubles in the early 1960's and was subsequently announced shortly after Standard Triumph was taken over by Leyland Motors. When Leyland officials, taking stock of their new acquisition, found Michelotti's prototype under a dust sheet in a factory corner, it was quickly approved it for production.
Spitfire 4 or Mark I (1962–64)
The production design changed little from the prototype: the full-width rear bumper was replaced by two part-bumpers curving around each corner, with overriders. Mechanicals derived from the Herald saloon/sedan, with the notable addition of front disc brakes. Bodywork was bolted to the much-modified Herald chassis, the outer rails and the rear outriggers having been removed; with structural outer sills to stiffen the overall design.
The engine was an 1,147 cc (70.0 cu in) four-cylinder with a pushrod OHVcylinder head and two valves per cylinder, using twin SU carburettors. The Herald's rack and pinion steering and coil-and-wishbone front suspension carried over, having derived from systems used by the former Alford & Alder company that had been acquired by Standard-Triumph in 1959.
Rear suspension was by a single transverse-leaf swing axle, an arrangement, that unless ameliorated by any of several options, can allow rear tires to undergo large camber changes during fast cornering, leading to oversteer – a dynamically unstable condition in which a vehicle can lose control and spin. As did many manufacturers who used a swing axle arrangement (e.g., Mercedes, Renault, Volkswagen]], Triumph would later modify the rear suspension. In 1970, the rear suspension was decambered, by incorporating what Triumph called a "swing spring". One leaf was eliminated from the stack and only the bottom leaf was attached rigidly to the differential. The remaining leaves were mounted to pivot freely — thereby eliminating the worst characteristics of the original swing-axle design.
The Spitfire was an inexpensive small sports car and as such received rather basic trim by today's standards, including rubber mats and a large plastic steering wheel. It was nonetheless considered fairly comfortable at the time, as it had roll-down windows and exterior door locks, as well as relatively full instrumentation. These early cars were referred to both as "Triumph Spitfire Mark Is" and "Spitfire 4s", different from the later Spitfire Mark IV. The "Spitfire 4" name indicated the possibility of the appearance of a six-cylinder version.
In UK specification the in-line four produced 63 bhp (47 kW) at 5,750 rpm, and 67 lb⋅ft (91 N⋅m) of torque at 3,500 rpm. This gave a top speed of 92 mph (148 km/h), and a 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) acceleration in 16.4 seconds. Average fuel consumption was 31 mpg.
For 1964 an overdrive became optional to the four-speed manual gearbox. Wire wheels and a hard top were also available.
An all-monocoque construction derivative of the Spitfire with pop-up headlamps, named the Triumph Fury, was proposed with a single prototype being built.
Spitfire Mark II (1965–67)
|Triumph Spitfire Mark II|
|Engine||1,147 cc (70.0 cu in) Standard SC I4|
|Transmission||4-speed manual with optional overdrive on top and third|
|Curb weight||1,568 lb (711 kg)(unladen U.K.spec)|
In March 1965 the Spitfire Mark II launched with a retuned engine, featuring a revised camshaft profile, water-heated intake manifold, and tubular exhaust manifold, increasing power to 67 bhp (50 kW) at 6,000 rpm. The coil-spring design clutch of the Mark I was replaced with a Borg & Beck diaphragm spring clutch; North American models retained the coil-spring housing and were also equipped with ACDelco distributors. Exterior trim featured a new grille and badges, and the interior featured revised seats, covering most exposed surfaces with rubber cloth. Carpeting replaced the original moulded rubber floor mats.
Its base price was £550; the Austin-Healey Sprite's was £505 and the MG Midget's £515. Top speed was claimed to be 96 mph (154 km/h) and its 0–60 mph time of 14.8 seconds was considered "lively". The factory claimed that at highway speeds (70 mph (110 km/h)) the car achieved 38.1 miles per imperial gallon (7.41 L/100 km; 31.7 mpg‑US).
Spitfire Mark III (1967–70)
|Triumph Spitfire Mark III|
|Engine||1,296 cc (79.1 cu in) Standard SC I4|
|Transmission||4-speed manual with optional overdrive on top and third|
|Curb weight||1,568 lb (711 kg)(unladen U.K.spec)|
The Mark III, introduced in March 1967, was the first major facelift to the Spitfire. The front bumper was raised in response to new crash regulations, and the front coil springs were slightly raised. Slightly revised bonnet pressings were carried over. Rear overriders were deleted and bumper mounted reversing lights became standard (initially as two separate lights on either side of the number plate, latterly as a single light in a new unit above the number plate). The interior received a wood-veneer instrument surround and a smaller, 15-inch, wire spoked steering wheel. A folding hood replaced the earlier, more complicated design. For most of the Mark III range, the instrument cluster remained centre-mounted (as in the Mark I and Mark II), easily accommodating right-hand and left-hand drive versions.
The 1,147 cc engine was replaced with a bored-out 1,296 cc unit (the bore increasing from 69.3 mm (2.73 in) to 73.7 mm (2.90 in), stroke retained at 76 mm (3.0 in)), as fitted on the new Triumph Herald 13/60 and Triumph 1300 saloons. A new quieter exhaust gave a sweet distinct note and reduced cabin noise. In SU twin-carburettor form, the engine put out a claimed 75 bhp (56 kW) at 6,000 rpm, and 75 lb⋅ft (102 N⋅m) of torque at 4,000 rpm, and made the Mark III a comparatively quick car by the standards of the day. Options included wire wheels, factory hard top and a Laycock de Normanville overdrive. The Mark III was the fastest Spitfire yet, achieving 60 mph (97 km/h) in 13.4 seconds, and reaching a top speed of 95 mph (153 km/h). Average fuel consumption was 33mpg. The Mark III continued production into 1971, well after introduction of the Mark IV.
On 8 February 1968, Standard-Triumph general manager George Turnbull drove the 100,000th Triumph Spitfire off the Canley production line. More than 75 per cent of this number had been exported outside the UK, including 45 per cent to the US and 25 per cent to mainland European markets.
The 1968 model featured dual system (aka tandem) brakes with a brake failure warning device. The engine used a revised camshaft and a distributor with idle speed ignition timing retarded to address emissions. The twin SU carburettors now included overrun valves in the throttle discs and anti-tampering features on carburettor fuel-air mixture nuts.
Starting in 1969, US-bound models were "federalized" to comply with safety and emissions regulations. A reduced compression ratio of 8.5:1 resulted in a slight decrease in power (68 bhp) and 73 ft-lbs of torque. However, the 0–60 time of 14 seconds was still faster than the Mark II. The instrument panel was moved in front of the driver, and new seats were introduced with integrated headrests to help against whiplash. Cosmetically, the wood dash was replaced with a matte black finished assembly intended to imitate an aircraft cockpit.
The Mk. III's final production year (1970) included an integrated rear reverse and license plate lamp, side lamps at the front and rear and new badging. The separate "Triumph" letters on the front of the bonnet were removed and "Triumph" and "Spitfire" rectangular badges were used in the front, rear sides and rear. A limited number of U.S. market 1970s were adorned with an RAF style "Spitfire" badge (U.K. models had a plain badge without the RAF roundel) that rested in the right corner (car opposing point of view) of the bonnet. Additional exterior changes introduced included a zip up rear window, black radiator grille and a black (vs body colored) windshield surround. Full wheel covers of two styles were used including the 1969 introduced model with "SPITFIRE" circumscribing the hub and a unique derivative without the branding. Interior changes included a steering column mounted ignition switch, a key-in-ignition warning buzzer, driver's side under-dash courtesy lamp and a new black spoked steering wheel. Under the bonnet, some markets had the twin SU carburettors replaced with a single Zenith-Stromberg carburettor.
Spitfire Mark IV (1970–74)
|Triumph Spitfire Mark IV|
Triumph Spitfire Mark IV
|Engine||1,296 cc (79.1 cu in) Standard SC I4|
|Transmission||4-speed manual with optional overdrive on top and third|
|Curb weight||1,717 lb (779 kg)(unladen UK spec)|
The Mark IV featured a redesigned rear design similar to the Triumph Stag and Triumph 2000 models, both also designed by Michelotti. The front end was revised with a new bonnet pressing eliminating the weld lines on top of the wings/fenders, door handles were recessed, the convertible top received squared-off corners. The interior was revised to include a full-width dashboard, with instruments ahead of the driver rather than over the centre console, initially finished in black plastic and beginning in 1973 finished in wood.
The engine was now rated at 63 horsepower for UK market, employing the 9:1 compression ratio and twin SU HS2 carburetors. The less powerful North American version continued to use a single Zenith Stromberg carburetor and an 8.5:1 compression ratio) due to the German DIN system; the output was the same for the early Mark IV. Performance was slower than the Mark III due to its weight increase taller 3.89:1 final drive as opposed to the earlier 4.11:1.
The Mk. IV engine displaced 1,296 cc (79.1 cu in) throughout the production run, and in 1973 received larger big-end bearings to rationalize production with the TR6 2.5-litre engines. The engine was also detuned to meet new emissions regulations. With the overall weight also increasing to 1,717 lb (779 kg) performance dropped, with 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h) now in 15.8 seconds and top speed reduced to 90 mph (140 km/h). Fuel economy was 32 mpg‑imp (8.8 L/100 km; 26.6 mpg‑US). The gearbox gained synchromesh on its bottom gear.
A revised hardtop also became available, with rear quarter-lights and a flatter rear screen.
Importantly, the heavily criticized rear suspension was decambered, incorporating what Triumph called a "swing spring". One leaf of the suspension "stack" was eliminated and only the bottom leaf was attached rigidly to the differential. The remaining leaves were mounted to pivot freely — eliminating the worst characteristics of the original swing-axle. This was a different approach than that taken with the Triumph GT6 Mk II (GT6+) and Triumph Vitesse Mark 2, both of which received new lower wishbones and Rotoflex half-shaft couplings. The result on all these cars was improved handling.
The Mark IV went on sale in the UK at the end of 1970 with a base price of £735.
Spitfire 1500 (1974–80)
|Triumph Spitfire 1500|
|Engine||1,493 cc (91.1 cu in) Standard SC I4|
|Transmission||4-speed manual with optional overdrive on top and third|
|Curb weight||1,750 lb (790 kg)(unladen U.K.-spec)|
In 1973 in the United States and Canada, and 1975 in the rest of the world, the 1500 engine was used on the MK IV body to make the Spitfire 1500. Although in this final incarnation the engine was rather rough and more prone to failure than the earlier units, torque was greatly increased by increasing the cylinder stroke to 87.5 mm (3.44 in), which made it much more drivable in traffic.
While the rest of the world saw 1500s with the compression ratio reduced to 8.0:1, the American market model was fitted with a single Zenith-Stromberg carburettor and a compression ratio reduced to 7.5:1 to allow it to run on lower octane unleaded fuel. With the addition of a catalytic converter and exhaust gas recirculating system, the engine only delivered 53 bhp (40 kW) (DIN) with a slower 0–60 mph time of 16.3 seconds. The notable exception to this was the 1976 model year, where the compression ratio was raised to 9.1:1. This improvement was short-lived, however, as the ratio was again reduced to 7.5:1 for the remaining years of production.
In the UK the 9:1 compression ratio, less restrictive emissions control equipment, and the Type HS2 SU carburettors now being replaced with larger Type HS4 models, led to the most powerful variant to date. The 1500 Spitfire now produced 71 hp (DIN) at 5,500 rpm, and produced 82 lb⋅ft (111 N⋅m) of torque at 3,000 rpm. Top speed was now at the 100 mph (160 km/h) mark, and 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) was reached in 13.2 seconds. Fuel economy was reduced to 29mpg.
Further improvements to the suspension followed with the 1500 included longer swing axles and a lowered spring mounting point for more negative camber and a wider rear track. The wider, lower stance gave an impressive skid pad result of 0.87g average.
The American market Spitfire 1500 is identified by large plastic over-riders and wing mounted reflectors on the front and back wings/fenders. US specification models up to 1978 featured chrome bumpers, and on the 1979 and 1980 models these were replaced by black rubber bumpers with built-in over-riders, using chassis extensions to support the bumpers.
Detail improvements continued to be made throughout the 1500's production run, including reclining seats with "chequered brushed nylon centre panels" and head restraints, introduced for domestic market cars early in 1977 along with a new set of column stalk operated minor controls (as fitted already in the TR7) replacing the old dashboard mounted knobs and switches. Also added for the model's final years were a wood dash, hazard flashers and an electric screen washer, in place of the previous manual pump operated ones. Options such as the hard top, tonneau cover, map light and overdrive continued to be popular, but wire wheels ceased to be available.
The 1980 model was the last and the heaviest Spitire, weighing 1,875 lb (850.5 kg). Base prices for the 1980 model year were $7,365 in the US and £3,631 in the UK.
- Dinky Toys produced a model of the Spitfire 4 in the 1960s
- Lledo Vanguards produced models of both the Spitfire 4 and the Mark 3 in the 2000s
- Vitesse produced a model of the Mark IV in the 2000s
- Sun Star produced a 1:18 scale die-cast model of a 1970 MkIV Spitfire in the 2000s
- Minichamps produced a 1:43 Spitfire 1500 in both Green and Mimosa Yellow
- A 1:18 scale die-cast model of a MkIV Spitfire has also been produced under the label Chrono.
- ^http://www.motorgraphs.com/heritage/malines-belgium-factory-leyland-triumph-1972_a156434.aspx Malines (Belgium) factory Leyland-Triumph 1972, (c) British Motor Industry Heritage Trust
- ^SPITTY TIPS – 19. Australian Spitfire Colours Retrieved on 30 March 2012
- ^ abc"Used car test: 1970 Triumph Spitfire Mk.3". Autocar. 138 (4022): 26–27. 28 June 1973.
- ^"Spitfire Production Dates". triumphspitire1500.co.uk.
- ^Lentinello, Richard (August 2012). "Triumph's Triumph". Hemmings Motor News.
- ^Triumph advertisement circa 1974: http://www.triumphspitfire.nl/salesliterature/IMG_0051.jpg
- ^ abBlunsden, John (October 1962). "Triumph Spitfire 4". Illustrerad Motor Sport (in Swedish). No. 10. Lerum, Sweden. p. 16.
- ^Blunsden, p. 17
- ^ ab"News and views: 100,000 Triumph Spitfires". Autocar. 128 (3757): 58. 15 February 1968.
- ^Standard-Triumph Sales Ltd (1970). Standard-Triumph Spitfire Mk3 Spare Parts Catalogue. Standard-Triumph Sale Ltd, Spares Division, Coventry, England.
- ^ abThomason, John (2006). Triumph Spitfire and GT6: a guide to originality. Ramsbury: Crowood. ISBN . OCLC 67375471.
- ^"Triumph Spitfire: Still attractive after all these years". Sports & GT Cars. 1980.
- ^ ab"Motorweek:New Models ... Spitfire". Motor: 2. 5 March 1977.
- Robson, Graham (1982). Triumph Spitfire and GT6. Osprey Publishing. ISBN .
- Peter G. Strasman and J.H. Haynes. (1987). Triumph Spitfire owner's workshop manual. Haynes. ISBN .
- Porter, Lindsay; Williams, Peter (1988). Triumph Spitfire, GT6, Herald Vitesse: Guide to Purchase and D.I.Y. Restoration. G T Foulis. ISBN .
- British Leyland (1992). Competition Preparation Manual (reprint ed.). Brooklands Books. ISBN .
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