by That Car Guy
This is the car I wanted 30+ years ago, so much that I still have this brochure I got from the dealer when it was new. I was 19, full of vinegar (And other things), and needed an "image" car. The Mustang II I had was fun, but I wanted something more sophistimacated and sexy. Still crazy after all these years, I finally got a 2001 Miata a while back, the closest thing to a Spitfire I could find that might run a while before needing any major service or ruining my bank account. Somehow, both of my dream roadsters turned out to be British Racing Green with tan interiors and real wood steering wheels. Brooklands Green is shown in the 1977 brochure here.
Why a Spitfire? What made it different from, say, an MGB, Triumph TR6, MG Midget, or a Fiat X-19? Well, for me, three things: 1) It had a full independent suspension, the only Brit car of this class to do so. Also, a perfect 50/50 front/rear weight ratio for great balance. 2) The bonnet and wings rose together, giving full access for engine, chassis, and electrical service, which was usually a bit too often. 3) The car also had real wood on the dash, quite unique in a car like this. I live in a rural area with small, twisty roads, and a muscle car would be as out of place here as a stretched Escalade limousine in downtown Tokyo.
The car was designed by Giovanni Michelotti and introduced in 1962 to compete with the Austin-Healey Sprite. The $2,199 Triumph Spitfire 4 Mark I (1962-1965) had an 1147cc engine, cranking out 63 horsepower. All Spitfires were 4-speeds, overdrive was first offered in 1964, and the car had front disc brakes from Day One! The Spitfire Mark II (1965-1967) had the same engine, but was upped to 67 ponies with a new camshaft.
The Spitfire Mark III (1967-1970) brought the 1296cc powerplant from the Triumph Herald and 1300 saloons, and the Spitfire Mark IV (1970-1974) kept this engine. Horsepower figures vary (48 to 75) from year to year and country to country. The Mark IV received all-new body panels, also designed by Mr. Michelotti.
The Spitfire 1500 (1974-1980) had a 1493cc mill with a desperate 57 horses. It sold, base price, for $5,995 in its last year (A 1980 Pontiac Firebird was $5,992). These were the heaviest Spitfires... 1,875 pounds, including federally-mandated 5 MPH crash bumpers and reinforcements.
All these cars had the 83-inch wheelbase, and initially had center-mounted gauges to easily facilitate either left- or right-hand-drive. Thankfully, the dash evolved into the pleasant "Federal" (USA) form shown here in 1969. Interior options and comforts were few. Radios, map lights, removable hardtop, tonneau cover, even wire wheels were offered for a while. Air conditioning? No way.
What amazes me about the Miata is that it has things unheard of on these now-vintage Triumphs... cruise control, power windows, power door locks, remote this-and-that, just to name a few, not to mention the respected Japanese reliability. The 2001 and later Miatas also have almost twice the power of any stock Spitfire.
There were three generations of "hardtop" Spitfires (Top to bottom): the GT6, GT6 MK2, and GT6 MK3. Introduced in 1966, the cars had the 2.0-litre 95-hp 6-cylinder from the Triumph Vitesse to power the extra weight of the hardtop.
It was called "The poor man's E-Type" since the GT6 also had a hatch. A small rear seat was optional, it had a longer and taller hood for the larger engine, and the doors had vent windows and square glass corners. Inside, the cars had a real wood dash, instruments, and a heater, all standard.
In 1969, the GT6 MK2 (Called the GT6 Plus in America) had 104 horsepower, a raised front bumper, new dash, a 2-speed heater fan, and a black headliner. Engine cooling vents appeared in the sides of the hood. I have to wonder why this engine wasn't in the lighter, topless Spitfire... it would have been a screamer!
A year later, the GT6 MK3 produced an all-new body shell with a new front face, flush door handles, and a new taillight treatment. This model was also designed by Mr. Michelotti, and similar to the Triumph Stag, which he also designed. Slippery vinyl seat covers were replaced with a classy cloth, and wire wheels were no longer offered. In 1973 the car received power brakes; this was the last year for the GT6 series. 0-60 took 10.1 seconds. In all, 41,253 GT6s were made.
The last Spitfire 1500 was built in August, 1980, even though the 1500 series was their best seller - 95,829 were made, compared to 45,763 for the original Mark I. Sadly, like the MGB and others, efforts to meet bumper and emissions requirements hurt both handling and power.
The car was raised by using taller springs to lift the body to bumper height standards. Buh-bye, low center of gravity. The engine was detuned for cleaner emissions with a lower 7.5:1 compression ratio, a single-barrel carburetor, EGR, and a catalytic converter. Only 53 horses stayed, and the car went from 0-60 in 14.3 seconds. Hang on now! The '79 and '80 models had full black bumpers that increased the car's length by 8.5 inches.
But these changes are not what killed the 1500. After the GT6 was cancelled in 1973, the Spitfire continued, but didn't share any pieces with any other car. This was not cost-effective. British Leyland became cash-strapped, so they decided to save money by dropping the car altogether. 314,342 Spitfires had been made from 1962 to 1980.
So how close does a Miata come to a Spitfire? Well, according to "How Things Work", Mazda used a Spitfire body over the Miata's chassis during development.
I guess, even after 30+ years, you can still come home.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
P.S. If you click these images, they become larger. Details are a lot easier to see, especially in the brochure photos.
The Spitfire brochure is a survivor from the 1970s. The second image is from stormbear+flickr.com. The interior photo is from TriumphSpitfire.com, and the Triumph GT6 photo is from 2000GT.net. Wikipedia provided some of the Spitfire and GT6 history here. "How Stuff Works" gave other Spitfire info.