Window Shopper: Triumph Spitfire

The Triumph Spitfire is an enthusiast’s dream: beautiful Italian lines, perfect driving position and tremendous aftermarket support. Group 44 Inc. and others made the Spitfire a winner on track. Despite all this, the Spitfire still represents a bargain in our world. You can easily find a nice one for $5000 or less.

Spitfire fans know the truth: This is a revolutionary machine. Look back at 1962, the year of its debut. While other sports cars were still relying upon side curtains and solid rear axles, the Spitfire sported windup windows, independent rear suspension and front disc brakes.

What hurt the Spitfire? Some bad press. The early cars were dinged because their swing axle rear suspension could allow the inside tire to tuck underneath. Fortunately a camber compensator solved that issue. It’s an easy aftermarket bolt-on that eventually became standard equipment.

Spitfire production lasted all the way until 1980–the end of the era for British sports cars– and Triumph made plenty of changes along the way. The original Spitfire received a 1147cc engine that produced 63 horsepower, and for 1967 displacement increased to 1296cc.

Engine size didn’t increase for 1970, but the body received a facelift that year. Giovanni Michelotti freshened his original design, removing the seams found atop each front fender and squaring off the body’s rear end.

The next big change came for 1974. By now Triumph and MG were kissing cousins, and the Spitfire would receive the same 1496cc engine found in the MG Midget. Also like the Midget, black plastic bumpers were bolted to both ends of the body. In the Triumph’s case, though, they didn’t appear until 1979.

Despite all of the engine upgrades, emissions regulations always seemed to keep performance in check. The Spitfire never produced gigantic horsepower numbers–engine output was usually closer to 50 horsepower than even 100.

What the Spitfire delivered, both then and now, was open-air fun in a simple, pretty package that has always been within grasp of the average enthusiast.

Shopping Advice

Nigel Cosh owns a company called SpitBits, and they specialize in one thing: Triumph Spitfires.

Thrust washers are a common problem. Pull back and forth on the crank pulley to identify excess movement–0.006 inch is perfect.

Reverse gear teeth get damaged on the single-rail gearboxes (1975-’80) due to previous owners not engaging reverse correctly. This can end up costing quite a bit of money, as the lay gear can get damaged along with the first and second synchro gear. (Luckily, SpitBits had these parts remade.) Rust is probably one of the biggest problems on a Spitfire.

Rust in the front floor pans from water leakage around the brake and clutch master cylinder openings is very common, along with rust in the rockers. Rust in the bottom of the windshield frame on the Mk4 and 1500 cars can be very hard and expensive to repair.

Also check for sagging doors. A sagging door could be due to just worn hinge pins, but it also could indicate severe rot in the lower A-post/bulkhead.

Accident damage, especially on the front, can be a huge problem. Inspect the bonnet for damage and ensure that the gaps between the bonnet and doors/rocker panels are equal and aligned. Also check the bonnet- to-valance alignment. Remember to inspect the frame for damage or kinks, especially in front of the suspension towers. Look for uneven or excessive use of suspension adjusting shims.

Interiors generally rot pretty badly. Check the seats and seat tracks for operation and structural integrity by operating both the forward/aft movement and the recline mechanism. Early Spitfire seats are almost impossible to find in good condition, and seat tracks are getting harder to find for cars of any year.

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Comments
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Gary
Gary HalfDork
3/16/15 1:49 p.m.

Best value of any vintage sports car that's out there.

erohslc
erohslc Dork
3/16/15 2:44 p.m.

'Read the rest of the story' link is 404

bravenrace
bravenrace MegaDork
3/16/15 2:48 p.m.

In reply to erohslc:

Yup.

OFracing
OFracing Reader
3/16/15 8:00 p.m.

Looks like the link is fixed. I love my Spitfire and my Wife and sons love theirs too. It's a real family bonding experience, a great way to spend some time together. (pushing the damn things into the garage so we can fix them again)

mike

Marjorie Suddard
Marjorie Suddard General Manager
3/16/15 8:07 p.m.

You need to step over to the Classic site at classicmotorsports.com and click the link from there to view the story. Sorry, it's a bit of weirdness we are working to debug.

Tom1200
Tom1200 Reader
3/16/15 11:19 p.m.

I love Spitfires but am unlikely to own one. They are a big reason why I run in the race group I do. I enjoy dicing with them and they also seem pretty sturdy with few DNFs........but with all that said I can't see me kicking my old Japanese car habit.

 Tom
bravenrace
bravenrace MegaDork
3/18/15 7:36 a.m.

I've been looking for a vintage race car to run in the PIBRRR, and I've been concentrating on Spridgets. I don't know a ton about any of these older British sports cars. Is there a good reason to choose a Spitfire over a Spridget?

Marty
Marty New Reader
3/18/15 8:08 a.m.

Well yes. All the cool people drive Triumphs! :)

bravenrace
bravenrace MegaDork
3/18/15 8:29 a.m.

In reply to Marty:

I didn't know that. But maybe you could go into a little more detail as to why that would be the case?

erohslc
erohslc Dork
3/18/15 9:18 a.m.

They are very similar in size, weight, performance.
Each has their Achilles Heel.
Both are a ton of fun.
I'm a Spitfire guy because it was the first car I got involved with and raced.

Marty
Marty New Reader
3/18/15 10:41 a.m.

As said, they are all fun. Since you are a fellow Ohio folk come on out to PittRace in July. There are usually a handful of both Spitfires and Sprigits at that event and you can compare and talk to the drivers. If you feel like driving a bit farther come to the Kastner Cup at Summit Point in May. There are already 3 sprigits and 6 spitfires registered for that event and its only mid-March. There are 29 Triumphs total registered for that event so if you are into Triumphs this will be THE race to attend for 2015.

Rupert
Rupert Dork
3/23/15 11:15 a.m.

Timing is everything when buying or selling an open car. Wait till fall when buying. Then you'll typically buy at a much better price and have all winter to fix it up.

bravenrace
bravenrace MegaDork
3/23/15 11:22 a.m.
Marty wrote: As said, they are all fun. Since you are a fellow Ohio folk come on out to PittRace in July. There are usually a handful of both Spitfires and Sprigits at that event and you can compare and talk to the drivers. If you feel like driving a bit farther come to the Kastner Cup at Summit Point in May. There are already 3 sprigits and 6 spitfires registered for that event and its only mid-March. There are 29 Triumphs total registered for that event so if you are into Triumphs this will be THE race to attend for 2015.

What event are you talking about at PittRace? PVGP?

spitfirebill
spitfirebill PowerDork
3/23/15 5:29 p.m.

The Spitfire has the easiest engine in the world to access.

Spitsix
Spitsix HalfDork
3/23/15 8:58 p.m.

“The difference between try and triumph is a little umph.”- Marvin Phillips

bravenrace
bravenrace MegaDork
3/24/15 7:17 a.m.

In reply to spitfirebill:

Well I know from my TVR's that I love flip front ends for access to the engine. That is a plus.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
3/30/15 6:39 a.m.

I was Spitfire free for a couple of years, but have solved that by picking up a restorable 1970 model. I truly love Spitfires. As for Sprite vs. Spitfire, we should do that story again. I now have both, and can tell you that if nothing else, a big guy fits in a Spitfire better. IN SCCA racing Spitfires race against Sprites and I believe Sprites hold an edge. In sales, I believe the Spitfire outsold the Sprite, by a comfortable margin. Starting in 1975, they both had the same 1500 drivetrain, something Sprite owners loathe.

TR8owner
TR8owner HalfDork
3/30/15 8:21 a.m.

In reply to Tim Suddard:

"IN SCCA racing Spitfires race against Sprites and I believe Sprites hold an edge."

Back in the day it was a toss up but Spitfires won more GP and FP titles than did the Spridgets. I used to race a 1296cc Spit back then and was always mixing it up with 1275cc Spridgets (as well as minis). I'm noticing more Spridgets on the track than Spits in vintage racing these days however.

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