The Triumph Spitfire 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, and throughout its life was built at the Standard-Triumph works at Canley, Coventry.
|Model Name||Engine||Year||No's Built|
|Triumph Spitfire 4 (AKA Mk.I)||1147 cc inline 4||1962–1965||45,763|
|Triumph Spitfire Mk.II||1147 cc inline 4||1965–1967||37,409|
|Triumph Spitfire Mk.III||1296 cc inline 4||1967–1970||65,320|
|Triumph Spitfire Mk.IV||1296 cc inline 4||1970–1974||70,021|
|Triumph Spitfire 1500||1493 cc inline 4||1974–1980||95,829|
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 sidescreens 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 was 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 organization that funds became available and the car was launched. Leyland officials, taking stock of their new acquisition, found Michelotti's prototype hiding under a dustsheet in a corner of the factory and rapidly approved it for production.
The production car changed little from the prototype, although the full-width rear bumper was dropped in favour of two part-bumpers curving round each corner, with overriders. 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 over steer 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 referred to both as "Triumph Spitfire Mk I" and "Spitfire 4", not to be confused with the later Spitfire Mark IV.
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.
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 and its 0-60 mph time of 15.5 seconds was considered "lively." The factory claimed that at highway speeds this lively car achieved .
The MK IV brought the most comprehensive changes to the Spitfire. It 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, with a new bonnet pressing losing the weld lines on top of the wings from the older models, 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 to rationalize production with the TR6 2.5 litre engines, which somewhat decreased its "revvy" nature; there was some detuning, to meet new emissions laws, which resulted in the new car being a little tamer than the MK 3. 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.
The Mk IV went on sale in the UK at the end of 1970 with a base price of £735.
In 1973 in the US and 1975 for the rest of the world, the 1500 engine 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 which made it much more drivable in traffic. The reason for the engine problems was due to continued use of three main bearings for the crank shaft.
The US market models were considerably less powerful than the British market cars because they had to meet more stringent US emissions requirements. While the rest of the world saw 1500s with the compression ratio reduced to 8.0:1, the American market model was fitted with a single Zenith-Stromberg carburettor and a compression ratio reduced to 7.5:1 to allow it to run on lower octane unleaded fuel and after adding a catalytic converter and exhaust gas recirculating system, the engine only delivered with a 0-60 time of 14.3 seconds.
The notable exception to this was the 1976 model year, where the compression was raised to 9:1.
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, and chassis extensions were fitted under the boot to support the bumpers. Detail improvements continued to be made throughout the life of the MK IV, 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 available.
The 1980 model was the last and the heaviest of the entire run weighing in at . Base prices for the 1980 model year were $5,995 in the US and £3631 in the UK. The last Spitfire, an Inca Yellow UK-market model with hardtop and overdrive, rolled off the assembly line at Canley in August 1980, shortly before the factory closed.
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