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Ransom
Ransom PowerDork
9/3/18 10:16 p.m.

So... I'd been eyeing a Spitfire a six-hour drive away, and a slightly cheaper, clean, original one popped up locally, so I went to drive it, to decide which Spitfire to buy.

I came away so underwhelmed that my longstanding "buy a Spitfire" plan has been cast into doubt.

It *could* be that it was old bushings, no-name tires... But it was just so far from crisp and direct. I havne't been driving classics lately, but imprinting on BMW 2002s and Rabbits gave me this notion that direct steering feel was implicit, and you got way more NVH than new cars in exchange for great feedback and an electrifyingly direct driving experience.

This Spitfire (freshened and on sale by a local British specialty shop) just sort of trundled along. The brakes were a suggestion, the steering wasn't sloppy, but the car just didn't feel *instant* in the way I was expecting from something with the Spitfire's reputation for great steering and little weight. It was an '80 and sporting an extra hundred pounds of bumpers, sure, but...

So, I find myself a bit adrift and wondering whether to pursue all the Spitfire acquisition-and-development plans, or just chuck it for some other new experience in the classic world... 124 Spider? Alfa? MGB? Kinda wishing I'd looked at the Jensen Healey that popped up a little while ago... Mini? (Yeah, I know it's not a roadster, but it is heading into fall in the PNW anyhow...)

Oh, and back to the post title: I was reminded that there was a big multi-roadster comparison in CM a while back, but I can't find it. I have most of my back issues of GRM, but let go of CM, so I'm hoping it's online somewhere...

Jumper K Balls
Jumper K Balls PowerDork
9/3/18 11:21 p.m.

The article was called "drop top 60's roadsters " but it no longer seems to be on line.

MadScientistMatt
MadScientistMatt PowerDork
9/4/18 11:39 a.m.

There was another article called "Wind Up Sports Cars", but I'm not sure that one ever went online.

Jumper K Balls
Jumper K Balls PowerDork
9/4/18 12:03 p.m.

Thanks wayback machine!

archived version

 

 

Ransom
Ransom PowerDork
9/4/18 12:24 p.m.

In reply to Jumper K Balls :

Awesome, thank you!!

tr8todd
tr8todd Dork
9/19/18 9:59 p.m.

Have you ever driven a TR8?  You won't leave underwhelmed after driving one of those.  Especially one thats had a few performance mods.  The price of Spitfires puts you close to the price of TR8s.  There was a decent white 81 that just sold up your way for less then $5K.  The guy who picked it up has been on the Triumph Experience web site asking questions.

Ransom
Ransom PowerDork
9/19/18 11:11 p.m.

In reply to tr8todd :

I haven't... I confess, I thought TR8s were The Coolest when I was a kid (I tended to draw cars that looked like doorstops, and if they had to taper back down at the rear, they had to have louvers), and even had a plastic model of one. But my aesthetic tastes have shifted, and I just can't get my head around them anymore. I'm much more into something in the "classic roadster" vein. I mean, when I see a TR8 sitting low on a whole lot of Panasport, it gets my attention, but it's just not what I'm after.

I've attempted to test drive a couple of MGBs since the first post; one fouled a plug between idling sweetly and setting off for a test drive, and the other had missed some maintenance and had Herculean steering and brake efforts (it was an early, non-power brake, so still wondering just how far from normal it was in that department).

rdcyclist
rdcyclist Reader
9/21/18 3:53 p.m.

Having had a number of '60s British and Japanese roadsters I can probably shed a little light on your Spitfire experience. If all you drive is a Spit, then there is a difference between different Spits. If, though, you fall off the wagon and drive something more modern, then they all drive like that. Remember, that '80 Spitfire is really a '63 spitfire with some different E36 M3 slapped on it. Think about that: The basic design comes from the late '50s, based on the Herald sedan and like anything else that old (me...) it doesn't run as well when compared with newer designs.

Maybe a little more power and maybe a little better handling. Or not. Floppy frames. Crap brakes. About 50hp at the wheels. Leaky roofs and cardboard body parts. They are light. And you can make them pretty good for autocross by just making the suspension run on the stops. For driving on real roads not so good. The crazy thing is for the cost a decent example now, you can buy really good newer sports car that has its roots from the late '80s. A lot happens in 30 years.

The reason for buying one is not the driving experience but the old car style experience. The TR8 suggestion is pretty good but they have their own quirks and reliability and parts can be ... challenging. Sorry to rain on the Classic Sports Car parade but the entire owning cool looking old British cars has been beaten outta me.

I'll not let the front door slam on my way out. Thanks...

 

Ransom
Ransom PowerDork
9/21/18 10:55 p.m.

In reply to rdcyclist :

Hey, we all get our viewpoints, and there's nothing wrong with being done with a particular type of car, though I think suggesting that there's only one reason to own one, or that others should avoid them because you're done is taking it a bit far... cheeky

I really should've tried fresh shocks, but my Miata left me cold, speaking of more modern sports cars. And I enjoy developing cars. The Spitfire just didn't kindle that desire when I finally tried one on. It's possible that I'll work my way through the British roadsters and discover that I don't care for them after all, but at this point I'm holding out hope that one (crossing my fingers for MGB) will feel like a good platform to start from. It's at least less flimsy than a Spit, even if it's massively wibbly by modern standards.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
9/23/18 4:28 p.m.

Guys, every time I drive my Spitfire, it shocks me how nice it handles, steers and stops, so I think the one you drove needs better shocks (Konis) and an alignmnent and brake bleeding.

And yes, we have done both of those stories. Let me see if Tom can get them on line.

rdcyclist
rdcyclist Reader
9/23/18 10:16 p.m.

In reply to Tim Suddard :

I have been officially put in my place. I drive lotsa cars but not anywhere near the number you drive Tim. The last one I drove was a '67 that had been "restored". I thought for the 8 large my friend had in it, there were about 5 other open cars that were a better driving experience. I guess the "restoration" might not have been as extensive as I was led to believe.

Thanks for chiming in...

rdcyclist
rdcyclist Reader
9/23/18 10:20 p.m.
Ransom said:

In reply to rdcyclist :

Hey, we all get our viewpoints, and there's nothing wrong with being done with a particular type of car, though I think suggesting that there's only one reason to own one, or that others should avoid them because you're done is taking it a bit far... cheeky

I really should've tried fresh shocks, but my Miata left me cold, speaking of more modern sports cars. And I enjoy developing cars. The Spitfire just didn't kindle that desire when I finally tried one on. It's possible that I'll work my way through the British roadsters and discover that I don't care for them after all, but at this point I'm holding out hope that one (crossing my fingers for MGB) will feel like a good platform to start from. It's at least less flimsy than a Spit, even if it's massively wibbly by modern standards.

No, not at all. I'm only sayin' what my experience has led me to believe (and apparently my experience was not all it was cracked up to be). Buy what you want. I just want no part of the '50s-'60s Brit sports car scene. Been there, done that, got way too many dirty t-shirts...

You will find the MGB to be a better car than the Spit, IMHO. That might be damning with faint praise and I might even be full of E36 M3 though...

dherr
dherr HalfDork
9/24/18 4:35 p.m.

Thanks Tim for commenting. With these old cars, there is so much that can be "wrong" with a 40+ year old car, so under the new paint, it is likely to drive like an old car unless someone has gone through everything. I have had the same experience with Spitfires and love the light feel, braking and handling. That is also why I build my own cars and set them up to drive the way I like them. But even on a "restored" car, you can't be sure that everything has been done, so I bet you would find that Tim's car and the car you drove are completely different.  I would also list the tires as another component, as many of these cars running on 13" wheels are using pretty crappy tires due to the limited choices.

dherr
dherr HalfDork
9/25/18 2:42 p.m.

In thinking more about this, it has been a long time since I have driven a "stock" Spitfire. I remember a friend bought a 1979 way back in the early 80's and it was bright red and very pretty, but I remember it being less than impressive as it felt much as you describe. My first Spitfire was a 1980 and was pretty much stock suspension wise, but drove tight and handled really nicely and was quite controllable on an autocross course. I attribute this to it being a pretty low mileage example with slightly oversized tires. Having ridden in friend's Spitfires, they all are lowered, have decent shocks, springs, poly bushes, etc... so while they have lots of NVH characteristics, it is made up for in a light, fun to drive package.

In the case of my current project, while a street car, I have tried to address everything, so it should be one tight package as I have left nothing to chance.  I'll let you know as it is getting very close to the first drive!

Ransom
Ransom PowerDork
9/25/18 4:07 p.m.

In reply to dherr :

I'm really looking forward to seeing your build come to fruition! It's really something else.

I suspect that no cheap platform-to-start-from examples of any of these cars is going to be awesome as-is, and I'm doomed to some amount of leap of faith. The MGBs have seemed a little more my style in terms of scale and what the interior looks and feels like, though since only one of my two sellers actually had a running car, and it had some issues, I'd have to give the nod to the Spitfire. That said, despite a very basic freshening and swap to a Weber (which I don't think I'd have done), the Spitfire had more running problems and even worse brakes than the MGB. The Spitfire had theoretically just had its brakes freshened by a seemingly well-regarded local British car specialist, and they were truly alarming. I can't imagine heel-toeing something where I needed that much pressure to slow.

Dave
Dave Reader
9/25/18 4:47 p.m.

It has been a while but I've owned both a Spitfire and a MG B both of the mid 70s variety. The Spitfire had better steering and felt more connected to the road. More special. The brakes while not powerful were fine. My Spitfire was well (very well) used a felt a bit like a chassis in search of a better engine. The MG B while less raw felt taller and more of a proper car rather than a toy. Even without overdrive felt more comfortable on the highway. The engine was not powerful but felt better than the Triumph.

wspohn
wspohn Dork
9/26/18 10:53 a.m.

Best bet is an early MGB (forget about rubber bumper single carb cars).

The early Spits had compromised handling and in general the quality control on Triumphs was significantly lower than it was on MGs.  Plus the MGBs have a huge support industry simply because they made enough of them to support the after market.

And I say that, not because I adore MGBs - I don't, although I have owned a few and ran an MGC for some years, but I prefer the style of the MGA.  It is just that they were a basically sound design, easily tweaked and amply supported. Want power - order up a supercharger and fit it in a weekend.....

dherr
dherr HalfDork
9/27/18 8:12 a.m.

Having had a 1967 MGB and my father-in-law had a 1972, pretty familiar with them. I agree that due to the unit body construction, the car feels more "solid" and in general, slightly higher quality. The negative side is that while the handling of the early Spitfires was compromised, the later square tail cars, had excellent handling even stock and even better with some relatively inexpensive shocks and spring upgrades. MGB's handle okay, but are not as quick to turn in or as responsive as a Spitfire.

The one area where the MG has the advantage is in the engine and space for a swap... If you want more power, the engine bay is relatively roomy and was offered from the factory with a V8 in the UK, so not hard to do a Rover V8 or a Moss Supercharger on the stock 4 cylinder if you want more speed. The Spitfire 1500 engine is not a strong design and does not offer the option of adding a supercharger. Engine swaps are possible, but I am doing one now and would say that to do one properly is not an easy process.

maseratiguy
maseratiguy Reader
9/28/18 8:53 p.m.

Try an Alfa Spider or a Fiat 124 they may be what you are looking for.

dougie
dougie Reader
9/30/18 12:59 a.m.

A Big Healey is something probably not on your radiar, but I'm clearing some room in the garage and my '65 3000 MKIII is going on the market. SW Portland, Dunthorp neighborhood - Team Healey PDX

 

Ransom
Ransom PowerDork
9/30/18 11:44 a.m.

In reply to dougie :

Immensely cool cars, but you're right; they've gotten too valuable already to approach with an eye toward doing anything too mechanically interesting to them, and I'm too excited about the tinkering and reengineering aspects.

Just found a couple of pics via theVRL; lovely cars, both your racer and the street car!

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
10/8/18 7:26 a.m.

I have a 1971 Alfa Spider and it is a totally different driving eperience than a Spitfire. The Alfa is a comfortable tourer, where the Spitfire is more of a motor bike on four wheels.

200mph
200mph New Reader
10/15/18 8:19 a.m.

Try a 1968-74 MGB, and the Spit's direct competitor, the 1275cc MG Midget from 1968-74.

The Midget is like a street-legal go-kart, and the B is a more refined, longer-legged (in the the cockpit and on the road) version of same.

As you noted with the Spit, the later rubber bumper versions somewhat dull the crisp driving experience, and these years will be more affordable than the earlier steel dash versions.  Best of the lot: 1973-74 MGB (revised grille and dash) and the 1972-74 Midget (rear round wheel arch).

Every time I jump in one of these, I feel like I'm 21 again.

purplepeopleeater
purplepeopleeater Reader
10/15/18 11:27 a.m.

What do you want to do with it? The Spit, properly set up & tired, is a screaming little go-kart- up to 60=65 mph. Roundtails need a camber compensator, swing axles will bite the unwary & over enthusiastic. She'll go faster but that's where she's comfortable & fun. Cross country on the Interstate? No thank you, the motor is screaming, the track is too narrow for the ruts that the semis have dug, & the SUVs don't even see you. MGB's more of a proper car, much better on the highway but not as exciting. Never autocrossed my Spit but my mildly set up B was faster than the few Spits I've run against. Remember the newest of these cars are over 40 years old so the design is archaic & condition is everything. Many are set up for barstool racing but most people that own them are senior citizens & drive like it.

dherr
dherr HalfDork
10/15/18 9:49 p.m.

Agree with all of this, having had an MGB and several Spitfires. Spitfire with a decent suspension and tires is a go-kart and is more exciting to drive than an MGB, but the MG is a nicer ride on the highway.

In my case, I have taken the best of both and combined the go-cart parts of my Spitfire, with the drivetrain from a Miata, so the results should be the best of both worlds. I may be 54 years old but still drive like I am 20, whether I am in my MX5 or one of my Triumphs. This one with a turbo 1.8, 6 speed and 3.54 rear end will be quite relaxed on the highway, but more than capable of keeping up with pretty much anything on the road. I think Tim put it best, with his comment that a Spitfire is like a motorbike with 4 wheels. I drove mine for it's first real test run this past weekend and it is more like a 1000cc crotch rocket.

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