100-Point Spitfire

Some cars are meant to be perfect–they’re simply born that way. Just look at some of the past winners of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The chrome-plated detail dripping from the rebodied Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A simply demands to be fussed over. Speaking of fussing, Scaglietti labored over every sweeping inch of aluminum while sculpting his one-of-a-kind Ferrari 375 MM body. Even more work went into reviving the Packard 1108 Twelve Dietrich Convertible Victoria; despite its sorry state as a rusted-out taxi, those lines compelled someone to foot the bill for a 10,000-hour restoration.

But soon, these cars may have some unusually humble company on the showfield.

If Barry Connally has his way, it’ll be his Triumph Spitfire rolling onto Pebble’s hallowed green. Barry, whose father bought the car new, has turned this family heirloom into one of the best Spitfires in the country.

Dad’s New Race Car

The year was 1964, and H.C. Connally wanted a new car. He walked into a Triumph dealership in Dallas, Texas, and emerged with brand-new Triumph Spitfire 4. He didn’t skimp, either–options included an AM radio, heater, overdrive, windshield washers, whitewalls, and carpeting instead of the factory rubber mats.

Normally, this is when the story segues into the car’s pampered life, culminating in a rundown of its wins in survivor concours classes. But this isn’t a story like that. Barry’s dad had a different goal for his new car: autocross, specifically the SCCA’s Special A (gymkhana pure stock) class. Fresh off the showroom floor, this Spitfire won the Texas regional championships in 1964 and ’65, along with Carroll Shelby’s Terlingua Challenge in 1967.

Over time, Connally’s new car became his old car, then his spare car, then his parked car. It sat in Texas until 2002, when H.C. decided he would try to get the old Spitfire running again.

At this point Barry was still in the Navy, stationed in San Diego, but he made a few trips east to help his dad with the project. Finally, despite Barry’s distance and H.C.’s health issues, by 2005 the Spitfire was running and driving again. But the car wasn’t the only thing they’d revived. As Barry says, “My father and I were somewhat estranged when I joined the Navy, but working on this car brought us back together.”

Project Creep

Once the car was again drivable, Barry’s father tossed him the keys: He now owned his father’s Spitfire. Barry trailered it home to San Diego, where he planned a mild restoration. “My initial plan was to simply turn it into a nice driver and perhaps do some vintage class autocrossing,” Barry chuckles.

From there, he learned the true meaning of the term “project creep.” Cleaning turned into painting, which turned into replacing. Barry scattered the Spitfire across his garage, then realized he was already most of the way into a concours-level, frame-off restoration. At his friends’ prompting he decided to go all the way, and after a few local shows he was hooked on concours competition.

From there, his mind was made up: He would take his Spitfire to a level of concours preparation few cars–never mind inexpensive, common cars–have ever seen.

The Highest Level

How do you make a Spitfire earn 100 points at a concours? It isn’t easy, says Barry, who has restored a few other cars since this one.

“Restoring the Spit was pretty much the same as any other car,” he explains, though he did face unique challenges when tracking down correct parts. “From little things like knobs and switches,” he says, “to the Lucas headlamps that I located in–of all places–Malta, there’s simply not the parts availability for the early Spits that there is for other Triumphs.”

In a few instances, Barry ordered the same part from four or five different vendors, hoping at least one would be correct for his car. Meanwhile, replacing those optional whitewall tires forced him to get creative: Barry tracked down the correct Dunlop C41 Goldstars, then sent them to Diamond Back Classic Tires to be vulcanized with a 1-inch border of white.

The Spitfire’s odometer had frozen at 98,000 miles before his father parked the car, so Barry didn’t exactly start with an unmolested survivor. He credits “Triumph Spitfire and GT6: A Guide to Originality” by John Thomason for keeping his restoration concours-correct. Judges routinely question the radiator, header tank and copper-painted valve cover, but Barry manages to fend off their doubts.

The Path to Pebble

Though H.C. Connally passed away before the restoration was complete, Barry made good on his promise to not turn his dad’s race car into a trailer queen. He’s put 8000 miles on the car since finishing the project, and he regularly drives it a few hours each way to concours events.

The response has been strong. The Spitfire has won dozens of shows in Texas and California, including last year’s Carmel Concours on the Avenue. Of course, Barry’s aiming even higher: Pebble Beach, the most elegant car show on the planet.

“It may be a bridge too far, but to me and others, my Spit is the best of the best. If there’s ever to be a Spitfire exhibited at those levels, I’m bound and determined that it be my dad’s Spit. Someday.”

Though he hasn’t yet received an invitation to Pebble Beach (he applies every year), he has taken his Triumph to The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering. Plus, the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance has accepted his entry for 2016. Barry’s dream is coming true, one high-profile show at a time.

Who knows, maybe 2017 will see a shiny red Spitfire cruising onto Pebble’s green, its do-it-yourself owner grinning from ear to ear.

“Barry scattered the Spitfire across his garage, then realized he was already most of the way into a concours-level, frame-off restoration.”

“If there’s ever to be a Spitfire exhibited at those levels, I’m bound and determinded that it be my dad’s Spit.”

This story ran in an old issue of Classic Motorsports. Want to make sure you're reading all the latest stories? Subscribe now.

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Comments
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wspohn
wspohn HalfDork
6/3/17 2:07 p.m.

Always nice to see a car that doesn't financially warrant restoration get the treatment. We had an almost perfectly restored Austin Cambridge around here - real nostalgia car.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
6/4/17 6:44 a.m.

The minute I saw that car I fell in love and decided we needed to write about it. The history of it being his dad's car and him autocrossing it in the sixties was so cool.

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA SuperDork
6/7/17 5:33 p.m.
Boy Wonder wrote: Fresh off the showroom floor, this Spitfire won the Texas regional championships in 1964 and ’65, along with Carroll Shelby’s Terlingua Challenge in 1967.

Competitive provenance.

TR8owner
TR8owner HalfDork
6/8/17 9:29 p.m.

In reply to Tom Suddard:

My first car that I paid for myself was a 1968 Triumph Spitfire Mk3 that I purchased used for $1200. as a 19 yr old in 1971. Had to get my dad to co-sign the loan. I think my monthly payment was about $35. or so a month for three years. Quite a hefty sum for a college student back then. The car later became my first race car in F Production. Even if I won the lottery and could afford a Ferrari, there will always be a special place in my heart for Spitfires.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill UltimaDork
6/13/17 8:56 a.m.

I love the car and the story behind it. It looks a lot like mine, but wwwwaaaayyyyyyyy better.

I see its a 100 point car, but if I am not mistaken, it has a later steering wheel. How is that a 100 point car? Not trying to be a dick, just trying to learn something.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
6/13/17 9:32 a.m.

How many points would your typical Spitfire get when it was sitting new on the showroom floor?

<- Owner of several old British cars

dculberson
dculberson PowerDork
6/13/17 9:41 a.m.

That car looks gorgeous.

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