1974 Triumph Spitfire 1500

A Classic British Sports Car

My Triumph Spitfire

The History of Triumph

The Triumph Motor Company was a British company that made automobiles and motorcycles. The marque had its origins in 1885 importing bicycles from continental Europe and selling them in London. England. Triumph was purchased by Leyland Motors Ltd. in 1960. Two years later, Leyland merged with the British Motor Corporation and Jaguar, which resulted in the formation of the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Triumph-badged vehicles continued to be produced until 1984 when the Triumph marque was retired. The rights to the Triumph name and symbology are currently owned by the Bayerische Motoren Werke, AG (BMW).

Features & Performance

Triumph with the bonnet up

 The Single-piece bonnet hinged from the front

Triumph introduced the Spitfire 1500 in 1974. The Spitfire 1500 had the same body styling as the previous Spitfire Mk III (1962-1970) and Mk IV (1970-1974). Due to U.S. crash-safety legislation, the American-market Spitfire had big plastic overriders mounted over the chrome bumpers, and over-sized fender-mounted turn indicators. Mechanically, the new fifth-generation Spitfire had a larger 1493 cubic-centimeter (91 cubic-inch) engine mated to a manual 4-speed gearbox. The larger (relatively speaking) engine produce more torque than the earlier models, which made it much more driveable in daily traffic. The car had semi-independent rear suspension with the rear axles connected to the ends of a single, transverse leaf spring that mounted to the body instead of the chassis. This gave the Spitfire great handling.

Triumph engine

 The 1500 cc inline-four

The Spitfire engine was mounted between the frame rails and covered by a one-piece hinged bonnet. While the rest of the world saw the 1500 with dual carburetors, the American model was fitted with a single Zenith-Stromberg carburetor and the compression ratio reduced to allow it to run on lower octane unleaded fuel. After adding a catalytic converter and exhaust gas recirculating system, the engine delivered only 53 HP. Even though the car was not particularly fast - with a relatively slow 0 - 60 mph time of 16½ seconds - Triumph ads highlighted the Spitfire's sports racing heritage:

 A Triumph ad highlighting the speed and braking ability of the Spitfire 1500.

My Spitfire

Triumph beachside

 The 150 sedan was popular for fleet service

Triumph beachside

 The 235 Cubic Inch Inline-6

I bought my Triumph from friends of the family who had known me since I was 7 years old. He and my dad worked in the same dental office at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and he had a son near my age. A few years later when we moved to Nürnberg, Germany, they were our neighbors again. He had the Spitfire in Germany. Although I was too young to drive, I would sit in the diminutive Triumph and pretend to be burning up the Nürnberging Circuit. By the time I was old enough to drive, they had moved to El Paso, Texas. When their son got married, I went to his wedding. His father still owned the car, but it had been hit on the left front fender. He had it repaired and repainted, but instead of replacing the turn indicators, he had them removed and the body filled. Now he was offering it for sale for $2500. So I bought it. He had two sets of wheels, the common road wheels and a set of factory true wire-spoke wheels. I put new tires on the wire wheels and put the balding tires on the road wheels for spares (and later racing). The car also had a tonneau top which snapped over the passenger compartment to keep the passenger seats cool in Summer and leaves out in the Fall. It could be unzipped down the middle to give the driver access without removing the entire cover. I used the tonneau several times, but it was cumbersome to install and use, especially considering the light-weight folding top went up so easily.

Wire Wheel

 Wire Spoke Wheel

Road Wheel

 Common Road Wheel

My Spitfire included a set of true wire spoke wheels in addition to the common road wheels (left). It also had a tonneau top (right)

 The 150 sedan was popular for fleet service

Tonneau Cover

In addition to the second set of wheels and the tonneau top, the previous owner had installed a Pioneer AM/FM tape deck, a no-brand six-band equalizer/amp and two Jensen 6 x 9 coaxial speakers in big plastic boxes mounted under the dash.

The Interior

The Interior
Dash Badge

 Dash Badge

Dash Badge Close-up

 Dash Badge Close-up

It took me two days to drive the Spitfire home to Tennessee from El Paso. I drove the car to college regularly, alternating between it and my other car, the 1963 Pontiac Bonneville. It was exciting to own two convertibles when most people have never even owned one.

I registered with the University of Tennessee Sports Car Club and ran the little car in several open-road rallies and autocross events. When I joined the military in 1988, I left the car behind at my parent's home in Knoxville. After I was settled in to my first duty station at Cocoa Beach, Florida, I convinced my parents (who were in their late 50's) to drive it down to me. They did, and they said the car was fun to drive and always the center of attention every where they stopped to eat or fuel up. They said the journey made them feel young once again.

Triumph beachside

 My wife and I traveling down a sandy beach road in Florida.

Where Is It Today?

British cars are not known for their reliability. There's an old joke that asks, "Why do the British drink warm beer?" The answer is: their refrigerators are made by Lucas (who makes automotive electronics). Another asks, "How does a Brit find his stolen Triumph?" The answer, "He follows the trail of parts." In the few short years I owned the car, I had to replace the rear shocks and leaf spring, the distributor points, the alternator, the brake lines, and rebuild the clutch and master brake cylinders. After only 15 years, the first-to-second gear synchronizers were shot and second-to-third synchronizer was close behind. The body and paint were succumbing to a rapidly-spreading, flaking rust due to the beach's salt-laden air. Although I hated to, I sold the car in 1990 and bought a new Nissan Pickup.