was a small British two-seat sports car, introduced
in 1962. The vehicle was based on a design produced for Standard-Triumph in 1957
by Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti. The codename for the vehicle was the
"Bomb". The car was largely based on the Triumph Herald small saloon.
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Five separate Spitfire models were sold during the production run:
|Triumph Spitfire 4 (Mark I)
|Triumph Spitfire Mark II
|Triumph Spitfire Mark III
|Triumph Spitfire Mark IV
|Triumph Spitfire 1500
Production: - 1962-1964 - 45,753 made
Engine: - 1147 cc Straight-4
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The Triumph Spitfire was originally devised by Standard-Triumph to compete in
the small sports car market which had opened up with the introduction of the
Austin-Healey Sprite. The Sprite had used the basic drive train of the Austin
A30/35 in a light body to make up a fun, budget sports car; Triumph's idea was
to use the mechanics from their small saloon, the Triumph Herald, to
underpin the new project. Triumph had one advantage, however; where the Austin
A30 range was of unitary construction, the Herald featured a separate chassis;
it was Triumph's intention therefore to cut that chassis down and clothe it in a
sports body, saving the costs of developing a completely new chassis/body unit.
The Italian designer Michelotti—who had already penned the Herald—was
commissioned for the new project, and came up with a traditional, swooping body.
Wind-up windows were provided (in contrast to the Sprite/Midget, which still
featured side screens at that time), as well as a single-piece front end which
tilted forwards to offer unrivalled access to the mechanics. At the dawn of the
1960s, however, Standard-Triumph were in deep financial trouble, and unable to
put the new car into production; it was not until the company was taken over by
the Leyland organisation that funds became available and the car was launched.
The mechanics were basically stock Herald components: The engine was a
4-cylinder of 1147 cc, mildly tuned for the Spitfire with twin SU carburettors.
Also from the Herald came the rack and pinion steering and coil-and-wishbone
front suspension up front, and at the rear a single transverse-leaf swing-axle
arrangement. This ended up being the most controversial part of the car: it was
known to "tuck in" and cause violent oversteer if pushed too hard, even in the
staid Herald. In the sportier Spitfire (and later the 6-cylinder Triumph GT6 and
Triumph Vitesse) it led to severe criticism. The body was bolted to a
much-modified Herald chassis, the outer rails and the rear outriggers having
been removed; little of the original Herald chassis design was left, and the
Spitfire used structural outer sills to stiffen its body tub.
The Spitfire was an inexpensive small sports car and as such had very basic
trim, including rubber mats and a large plastic steering wheel. These early cars
were badged as "Spitfire 4", not to be confused with the later Spitfire Mark
From 1964 an overdrive option was added to the four speed gearbox to give
more relaxed cruising. Wire wheels and a hard top were also made available.
Production: - 1965-1967 - 37,409 made
Engine: - 1147 cc Straight-4
In March 1965 the Spitfire Mark II was released and was very similar to the
Mark I but featured a more highly tuned engine, through a revised camshaft
design, a water cooled intake manifold and tubular exhaust manifold, increasing
the power to 67 bhp (50 kW) at 6000 rpm.
This improved the top speed to 92 mph (148 km/h). The coil-spring design clutch
of the Mark I was replaced with a Borg and Beck diaphragm spring clutch. The
exterior trim was modified with a new grille and badges. The interior trim was
improved with redesigned seats and by covering most of the exposed surfaces with
rubber cloth. The original moulded rubber floor coverings were replaced with
It was introduced at a base price of £550 while the Sprite was priced at £505
and the Midget at £515.
Top speed was claimed to be 96 mph (154 km/h) and its 0-60 mph time of 15.5
seconds was considered "lively."
The factory claimed that at highway speeds (70 mph (110 km/h)) this lively car
achieved 38.1 miles per imperial gallon (7.41 L/100 km; 31.7 mpg-US).
Production: - 1967-1971 - 65,320 made
Engine: - 1296 cc Straight-4
The Mk3, introduced in 1966, was the first major facelift to the
Spitfire. The front bumper was raised in response to new crash regulations, and
this entailed a completely different front end and bonnet. The interior was
improved again with a wood-veneer instrument surround. The 1147 cc engine was
replaced with a bored-out 1296 cc unit, as fitted on the new Triumph Herald
13/60 and Triumph 1300 saloons. In twin-carburettor form, the engine put out a
claimed 75 bhp and made the MK3 a comparatively quick car by the standards of
the day. Popular options continued to be wire wheels, a hard top and an
overdrive gearbox, giving five forward gears and far more relaxed cruising at
high speeds. The Mk3 was the fastest of all the 3 spitfires as far as 0-60
times, giving 12.5 seconds to 60 mph. The Mk3 actually continued production into
1971 until half way through the year when the Mk4 took over. A mint condition
Mk3 can set you back £6750 according to book prices, although you can pick up a
good car for £1500/3000.
Driving Impressions of the Mk3 Spitfire (1969)
Despite the fact that a Mk3 is essentially not that fast compared to today's
vehicles, it has no trouble keeping up with modern traffic conditions and will
happily cruise down the motorway at 70mph, or more (where conditions allow). It
handles better than would be expected, although when pushed to the limit the
swing spring suspension can cause unpredictable handling. Controlled drifting
is quite achievable with practice (although you are not advised to do this with
wire wheels). The car makes a great sound at high revs and is very smooth
through the gear changes, the brakes can be somewhat scary to someone used to
driving a modern vehicle, but once you are used to it, you learn to change your
style using the gearbox to aid braking. Performance is surprising, changing into
second gear will easily give a pleasant pip of the rear tyres without labouring
the engine. All in all it's a surprising car to drive, it performs and handles
much better than many cars of the period in the same price range.
1971 saw the most comprehensive changes to the Spitfire. The new MKIV
featured a completely re-designed cut-off rear end, giving a strong family
resemblance to the Triumph Stag and Triumph 2000 models, both of which were also
Michelotti-designed. The front end was also cleaned up, and the doors were given
recessed handles. The interior was much improved: a proper full-width dashboard
was provided, putting the instruments ahead of the driver rather than over the
centre console. The engine continued at 1296 cc, but was modified with larger
big-end bearings which somewhat decreased its "revvy" nature; there was some
detuning, which resulted in the new car being a little tamer than the MK3. The
gearbox gained synchromesh on its bottom gear.
By far the most significant change, however, was to the rear suspension,
which was de-cambered and redesigned to eliminate the unfortunate tendencies of
the original swing-axle design. The Triumph GT6 and Triumph Vitesse had already
been modified, and the result on all these cars was safe and progressive
handling even at the limit.
Production: - 1974-1981 - 95,829 made
Engine: - 1493 cc Straight-4
In 1975 the 1500 engine (which was a stroked 1300) was used to make the
Spitfire 1500; though in this final incarnation the engine was rather rougher
and more prone to failure than the earlier units, torque was greatly increased
and the new engine at last made the Spitfire capable of the magic "ton". If you
want a good road car or a touring classic a 1500 is by far the best for
this...on the track a revvy 1300 would be better suited.
MG enthusiasts were less than impressed when, from 1974, the Triumph engine
was fitted to all MG Midgets.
The US market models were considerably less powerful than the British market
cars because they had to meet more stringent US emissions requirements. American
market cars also suffered from poorer handling due to the longer front springs
that Triumph fitted to bring the headlights up to the height required by US law.
American market Spitfire 1500s are easily identified by their big plastic
overiders, and wing mounted reflectors on the front and back wings. The US
specification model years of 1978 and previous still have chrome bumpers,
however the 1979 and 1980 models were fitted with black rubber bumpers with
built-in overriders. Detail improvements continued to be made throughout the
life of the MKIV, and included reclining seats with head restraints, wood-veneer
dash, hazard flashers and electric washers (previously these had been operated
by a manual pump on the dashboard). Options such as the hard top, tonneau cover,
map light and overdrive continued to be popular, though wire wheels ceased to be
The last Spitfire 1500, an Inca Yellow specimen with hardtop and overdrive,
rolled off the assembly line in August 1980.
The Spitfire today
The reputation of the Spitfire, which like many types of smaller two-seat
roadsters suffered during the 1980s and early 1990s, has undergone a major
revival through the classic car movement. Throughout the world there are many
British car clubs and Triumph car clubs whose members have many fine examples of
Triumph Spitfires. Despite having sold more than the MG Midget and produced for
longer than any other Triumph car (18 years), the little Triumph often suffered
from the comparison to the MG, due partly at least to the inadequate rear
suspension of the early models, corrected in later models. Today, values remain
relatively low and it is a sought-after classic sports car for the enthusiast on
More Pictures of the Triumph Spitfire
TRIUMPH SPITFIRE 1500 1976 - Rally2 Des Legendes
Nice well kept Spitfire MK4 1973
Summer Project Car - Right Side
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