Often described as ‘the poor man’s E-type’, Triumph’s handsome GT6 is so much more than just a hardtop Spitfire
Often described as 'the poor man's E-type', Triumph's handsome GT6 is so much more than just a hardtop Spitfire. Some feel the earliest MkI looks a little over-fussy from the rear, while others were disappointed that the MkII lost the MkI's Aston Martin DB4-alike frontal styling. There are those who prefer the MkIII for its suggestion of what the tragically stillborn Stag coupé might have looked like, too. These are, however, merely degrees of separation, they're all extremely good-looking cars. Potent, too – slotting a big engine into a small car is always guaranteed to up the performance ante, but the Triumph 'six' brings with it a delicious soundtrack, too.
The GT6 ticks many boxes on the practicality front, too the tailgate lifts to reveal a good-sized luggage area; the MkIII in particular has decent interior headroom; and there's substantial parts back-up from specialists. They're easy to work on thanks to the tilt front end, too, and you don’t need to have deep pockets to buy or run one.
Style, performance, handling and practicality allied to low costs – could the Triumph GT6 be the ultimate classic?
The GT6 goes up in weight as you go through the versions, but so does the bhp, so each one feels as nippy and powerful as the others. The main difference is in the handling, the MKI handling fairly poorly whilst the suspension changes on the MKII and III ensure things are better in those reincarnations.
In terms of comfort being tall may be an issue with the MKI and II. We’re discussing a rather small vehicle in the Triumph GT6 which, although is made slightly more accommodating in the MKIII, isn’t perfect for those on the taller side. If you can bend your frame into the car into the first place the GT6 has a simple but beautiful interior which should only add to your glee as you spark up the engine.
Power (bhp@rpm) 104bhp@5300rp
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 117lb ft@3000rpm
Top speed 110mph
Gearbox 4-spd manual + Overdrive
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
As with any classic car, only the foolish fail to check for rust in all the usual places (wheelarches, bonnet/boot lip, sills, around/behind chrome trim etc.), but be particularly attentive around the bottom of the windscreen. If you’re looking at buying a MkI or MkII, the windscreen surround can be removed separately in its entirety if it has rotted through to the point where it cannot be saved, whereas on the MkIII, it’s an integral part of the front bulkhead pressing to allow a two-inch deeper screen and steeper rake (two elements that combine to open up much-needed interior headroom). Replacement, as such, is a much more involved job.
Staying with the rust theme, extensive corrosion in the front firewall is bad news, as this is essential to the car’s structural rigidity. While you’re on the hunt for rust, check also the transmission cover (if it’s not secured, it can allow exhaust fumes to leak dangerously into the cabin), battery box (you’ll need to remove the battery to get at it properly) and rear upper suspension mounts.
Sticking with the MkI, it’s worth making doubly sure that the cooling system is fighting fit. In order to get the six-cylinder engine to fit into the GT6’s engine bay, the radiator had to pushed as far forward as was physically possible, and dropped between the chassis rails, which in turn created a rather convoluted and complex cooling system. Any minor pressure loss or leaks will, therefore, be magnified ten-fold.
A test-drive is a must on any MkI GT6, as the handling is compromised significantly by the swing-axle rear suspension. This was lifted, lock stock and barrel from the Herald, and unless the car you’re looking at has been suitably modified by a previous owner, you need to be ready for snap lift-off oversteer in the corners. Which, depending on your point of view as a driver, is either great fun or utterly terrifying.
If the GT6 has an Achille’s Heel, it concerns the transmission. Persistent loud noises, worn synchromesh and reluctance to engage gear are all symptons that require immediate attention. One of the most common failings concerns the output shaft bearing, and while the optional Laycock overdrive is pretty bullet-proof, replacement of even just the O-rings can entail removal of the entire gearbox.
If you’re anything over average height, then it’s imperative that you try before you buy. It’s not a spacious car inside by any means, so many taller owners resort to replacing the standard 15-inch steering wheel with something smaller in diameter, as well as reclining the seat much further than they usually would. Obviously, it’s best to discover that you can’t live with this sort of compromise before you part with your cash. The optional rear seats, meanwhile, are best viewed as nothing more than an additional storage area.
Often overlooked thanks to the Spitfire’s wind-in-the-hair promise, the GT6 still has a strong following thanks to its six-pot engine and greater practicality. It’s probably also the better handling car of the two, thanks to its more rigid bodyshell.
Interestingly, too, the GT6 never really had any direct mainstream competition: the much bigger MGB GT was only ever available with a four-cylinder engine until the arrival of the short-lived and dynamically inferior MGC, and the later-still V8.
In truth, it’s hard to think of a good reason for not choosing a GT6 as a classic. Some argue that you’d have to be dead-set on a convertible to choose the Spitfire instead for similar money, since the GT6 is faster, more powerful, more practical and makes a better noise. It’s a rarer sight on the roads, too.
Still want that E-type?