Sporting looks and strong performance have long been ‘Dolly’ Sprint hallmarks, but what should you look out for when buying one? We have the answers...
Genuinely sporting saloons have been popular for decades and Triumph got in on the act in 1973 with the launch of the Dolomite Sprint. Its 2.0-litre engine was topped with an alloy 16-valve cylinder head and single overhead camshaft, giving it genuine pace. It still feels decently brisk even by today’s standards with a top speed not far short of 120mph and a 0-60mph sprint time of less than nine seconds. A modest kerbweight makes the most of the 127bhp on offer and the engine thrives on revs and delivers its performance with a satisfying exhaust rasp. Twin SU carburettors deliver terrific throttle response and a car that’s been properly set up feels lively throughout the rev range. Decent torque means it’ll pull cleanly from low revs too, making it as friendly around town as it is on the open road.
A slick-shifting gearbox improves the Sprint’s long-distance cruiser credentials although motorway refinement isn’t a particularly strong suit, even when combined with the optional overdrive. The automatic gearbox is smooth enough in everyday use and blunts performance less than you might think, so it’s well worth considering.
Elsewhere, accurate and well-weighted rack-and-pinion steering boosts driver enjoyment. The brakes deliver plenty of pedal feel and neutral handling and decent ride quality ensure that the Sprint provides plenty of fun on twisty B-roads. The cabin is a good place to be and offers ample room for four with pleasing luxury touches such as wooden dashboard trim and door cappings. A surfeit of dials adds to the sporting flavour and the driving position feels spot-on despite seats that ultimately lack support when you press on in the corners. On balance, though, the Sprint is a beguiling mix of the civil and the sporting.
Torque 124lb ft@4650rpm
Maximum speed 115mph
Fuel consumption 25mpg
Transmission RWD, four-spd manual/three-spd auto
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Rampant corrosion is the Sprint’s biggest enemy so finding a solid one is crucial, as major repairs can prove uneconomic. Pre-1976 cars are generally better-built but bodged restorations can quickly turn a car into a money-pit; a photographic history of a re-build adds peace of mind. A build-up of mud behind the headlights causes the complex front structure to rot, but you should also pay close attention to the wheelarch lips and inner arches and boot and bonnet leading edges. The front bulkhead can only be checked properly from within the engine bay and behind the dashboard. The front valance and A-pillars require close scrutiny, likewise the vinyl roof, which can hide a multitude of sins.
Checking beneath a Sprint is just as important, so make sure you give the inner and outer sills and the floorpan a thorough prod. Footwells rot through so wet carpets should ring alarm bells, and pay particular attention to both the front subframe mountings and the chassis legs as serious corrosion here will be costly to rectify. Ripped or ill-fitting bootlid seals encourages water ingress which, given time, will rot out the floor and fuel tank. Second-hand tanks are harder to find than you might think because Toledo/1300 tanks are different. Body repair sections are available but original panels – and salvageable donor cars – are almost non-existent now. The good news – if you’re not a stickler for originality – is that the Triumph Dolomite Club can supply the front wings and the rust-prone front panel in GRP.
KEEP YOUR COOL
Frequent oil changes and fitting a non-return valve oil filter will help to keep the engine healthy but listen out for a noisy timing chain and look for evidence of oil leaks from tired seals and gaskets. But care is needed with that all-important single-cam, sixteen-valve head. Alloy construction means correct anti-freeze levels are crucial in preventing potentially fatal corrosion so a neglected cooling system will have calamitous consequences sooner or later. A recently replaced radiator is a good sign (note that it differs from the 1850’s radiator) and check that the viscous fan isn’t seized. Ignore any signs of head-gasket leakage or outright failure at your peril because it could have allowed the cylinder head to warp and remember that correct torqueing of the bolts is crucial. Have a look at the spark plugs – stripped threads and oil collecting around them cause misfires. Parts availability from specialists and clubs is decent.
CHECK THE TRANSMISSION
The manual gearbox is tough but watch for crunching synchromeshes or jumping out of gear. The desirable overdrive is broadly reliable as long as the oil is kept topped up and the wiring is sound. The BorgWarner 65 automatic gearbox offered as an option from late 1973 rarely gives trouble and should be reasonably smooth-shifting. Speaking of options, some Sprints were specified with a limited slip differential – check for whines or juddering under load as a re-build isn’t cheap.
A well-sorted Sprint should ride and handle superbly so sloppiness is most likely due to worn steering rack mountings (or the rack itself) or failed track rod ends and suspension bushes. Rot around suspension mounting points can also adversely affect a Sprint’s handling and ride, but – problems with the bias valve at the rear of the floorpan aside – the brakes are usually trouble-free unless neglected or worn out. The standard alloy wheels were a first on a UK production car and are susceptible to corrosion, so budget around £70 each to refurb them.
HUNT FOR TRIM
Sourcing new interior trim is difficult so a car with a particularly decrepit cabin needs to be super-cheap. Damaged wood veneer can be refurbished but check for threadbare seat trim (black trim appears to last the best, beige less so), damaged or drooping headlinings, collapsing door cards and missing knobs and switches. Electrical maladies aren’t uncommon but can usually be traced back to poor earths and damaged wiring. Lastly, scrutinize the history to ensure that the car you’re considering is a genuine Sprint and not a re-shelled and suitably decked-out car with a false identity.
A combination of strong performance and a roomy, comfortable interior makes the Sprint a very appealing ownership proposition that can share classic motoring with family duties. The spectre of rust is never far away and the engine is intolerant of indifferent maintenance, but a good one is a joy to own.