TRIUMPH SPITFIRE 1500 REVIEW

The last of the classic open-top Triumphs was also one of the best.

A long-running and bitterly fought automotive battle was finally drawing to a close by the end of the 1970s. For years previously, anyone looking to buy a small British open-top two-seater sports car bought either an MG Midget or a Triumph Spitfire, and die-hard fans frowned upon anyone who defected from one marque camp to the other. How ironic, then, that the final incarnations of each car should share the same 1500 engine. 

The Spitfire arguably had the last laugh, though: where the Midget latterly sprouted federal-spec plastic bumpers and a raised ride height, the Spitfire 1500 retained most of the earlier mark IV’s svelte chrome bumper good looks and would go on to last a year longer.

VITAL STATISTICS

Engine                                    1493cc/4-cyl/OHV

Power (bhp@rpm)                  71bhp@5500rpm

Torque (lb ft@rpm)                 82lb ft@3000rpm

Top speed                                101mph

0-60mph                                  13.2sec

Consumption                            28mpg

Gearbox                                    4-speed manual + opt OD

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK & CHASSIS
 

The main thing to bear in mind with the Spitfire is that it retains a separate chassis, so the sills are actually a key aspect of car’s structural integrity. Rusty sills, then, are not just a nuisance – they can write them off altogether. Check that the areas where the sills meet the floor are rot-free, and if possible, lift the carpets to check the state of the floor itself. Uneven panel gaps around the doors are a further clue to dangerously frilly sills – they can be indicative of a dangerously flexing body.

Elsewhere, the one-piece bonnet obviously comprises the front wings and wheelarches, and while aftermarket examples (in either steel or GRP) are readily available, they’re certainly not cheap. Blocked drain holes can also spell the end for the doors if they haven’t been routinely cleared by previous owners.

rtq_500x375.jpg

ENGINE

The Triumph 1500 engine hasn’t received the best press over the years, mainly owning to repeated dark mutterings over fragile bottom ends (worn crankshaft and main bearings in the main), but it’s a torquey little motor that responds well to sympathetic modernisation.

Aside from all the usual checks (blue exhaust smoke, ominous rattles and clonks), try to run the car up to full operating temperature. A steadily rising temperature gauge can be symptomatic of a water pump that’s about to expire or a blocked or damaged radiator. It’s wise to replace or refurb either of these on an unrestored car, but resist the urge to fit an electric fan – expert opinion suggests that it’s better to fit a larger radiator instead.

Poor hot-starting can often be resolved by binning the points and condenser in favour of electronic ignition, too, while returning later cars’ Waxstat-type SU carbs to standard specification often improves starting and running. Make sure the carb heat-shield is in good order, too.

RUNNING GEAR

If the Spitfire has an Achilles Heel, it concerns the front suspension. Cursed with notoriously fiddly and unforgiving brass trunnions, failure to oil these on a regular basis (every 3000 miles) can have dire and potentially spectacular ultimate consequences – left unlubricated long enough, the suspension will quite literally fall apart.

The news is little better out back, where there are more trunnions to lubricate and wheel bearings that were designed to incorporate grease nipples, but apparently left the factory with them blanked over. If greasing is neglected as a result, the bearing cages will fail, with replacements costing a couple of hundred pounds a side.

  INTERIOR

If the Spitfire has an Achilles Heel, it concerns the front suspension. Cursed with notoriously fiddly and unforgiving brass trunnions, failure to oil these on a regular basis (every 3000 miles) can have dire and potentially spectacular ultimate consequences – left unlubricated long enough, the suspension will quite literally fall apart.

The news is little better out back, where there are more trunnions to lubricate and wheel bearings that were designed to incorporate grease nipples, but apparently left the factory with them blanked over. If greasing is neglected as a result, the bearing cages will fail, with replacements costing a couple of hundred pounds a side.

OUR VERDICT

It seems frankly unfathomable that Spitfires, for whatever reason, have never quite fired the imagination of people looking to invest in their first classics as much as other marques. These are handsome cars that are great fun to drive, straightforward to work on and blessed with excellent spares and specialist back-up. Factor in an active and friendly owner’s club, and the case for choosing one is clear-cut.

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