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Triumph Spitfire: Buying guide and review (1962-1980)

Triumph Spitfire: Buying guide and review (1962-1980) Classic and Performance Car
Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics) Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics) Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics) Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics) Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics) Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics) Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics)
The Triumph Spitfire was launched in 1962, and aimed to compete with the Austin-Healey Sprite, but in the same year another rival also surfaced – the MGB. Thanks to its separate-chassis construction, Triumph’s Herald provided the perfect platform from which to develop a new two-seater open-topped sportscar, even if the mechanicals were derived from the 1953 Standard Eight. 
The Triumph doesn’t have a huge amount of power on offer, but with just 670kg to haul along, performance is better than you might think – especially as the 1147cc four-pot was fitted with twin carbs, a spicier camshaft and a more free-breathing exhaust manifold. 
Which one to buy? 
During nearly two decades of production the engine grew, the bodywork was restyled and the suspension honed to make the car’s handling more predictable. However, none of these cars are really fast and none will ever provide the élan of an Elan, but then you’re not paying Lotus prices either.
There are plenty of project Spitfires about, but if you want to restore the car properly, even at home, you’ll be doing well to break even if you buy something that needs a complete overhaul. However, you’re better off buying one of these or a really good car - rather than something in the middle. There’s a good chance that you’ll pay over the odds for a car that needs plenty of work.
There’s not much difference in values between the various Spitfire incarnations; the later cars are more usable but the earlier ones offer greater design purity. As a result, they’re all equally sought after – although the Mk3 is a particular favourite as it has nicer lines than the MkIV and 1500 yet it’s relatively usable. 
There were three different engines fitted throughout the life of the Spitfire, with each one also fitted to other models in the Triumph range. Because the Spitfire was generally the most highly tuned of the lot, you need to make sure the engine fitted is the one that belongs there, as less powerful units are often substituted from other Triumph models. All Spitfire engine numbers start with an F: FC in the case of the MkI/MkII, FD for the MkIII, FH for the MkIV (but FK for US cars) and FH for the 1500 (FM for US cars). However, there’s a good chance that something else will be fitted, such as an engine starting G (Herald), D (Dolomite) or Y (1500 saloon).
MkI and MkII Spitfires were fitted with an 1147cc engine, but because these early cars are rare, you’re unlikely to find a car with one of these rather gutless powerplants. Even if you do find a first or second-generation car, the chances are the engine will have been swapped for a later unit by now. The MkIII featured a 1296cc powerplant, which was carried over to the MkIV, but with less power because of emissions control equipment.
The first three generations of Spitfire featured the same four-speed manual gearbox, with synchromesh on all gears except first. The MkIV was fitted with the same transmission, but with synchromesh on all ratios, while the 1500 received a Marina-derived unit, which is the most durable of all the gearboxes.
Performance and specs
Triumph Spitfire 1500
Engine 1493cc, in-line four-cylinder OHV
Power 71bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque 82lb ft @ 3000rpm
Top speed 101mph 
0-60mph 12.9secs 
Fuel consumption 29.8mpg 
Gearbox Four-speed manual (optional overdrive)
Dimensions and weight
Wheelbase 2108mm
Length 3683mm
Width 1448mm
Height 1207mm
Kerb weight 712 kg
Common problems
• The 1147cc and 1296cc engines are very durable, but all Spitfire engines must have the correct oil filter fitted if they’re not to expire prematurely. This filter features a non-return valve to stop the oil draining back into the sump when the car is left; if there’s much rattling when the car is started up, it’s because the crankshaft’s big-end bearings have had it, probably because the correct type of filter hasn’t been fitted. Once this has happened, a bottom-end rebuild is necessary.

• These two smaller engines will usually clock up 100,000 miles without problems, with the first sign of wear usually being a chattering top end because of erosion of the rocker shaft and rockers. Budget for a top end rebuild.

• A problem that affects the 1296cc engine all too often is worn thrust washers, given away by excessive fore-aft movement of the crankshaft. The easiest way to check this is to push and pull on the front pulley; any detectable movement means possible disaster as the crankshaft and block could ultimately be wrecked. MkIV Spitfires are especially prone to these problems; listen for rumbling from the bottom end as the engine ticks over.

• The 1493cc engine fitted to the Spitfire 1500 has problems of its own, as the crankshaft can wear badly, along with the pistons and rings. Listen out for rattling and blue smoke.

• All of the gearboxes are reasonably long-lived, but big mileages will lead to rebuilds being necessary.

• Synchromesh is usually the first thing to go, so check if there’s any baulking as you go up and down the gears. Also listen for whining, indicating that the gears have worn, or rumbling, which signifies the bearings are on their way out. 

• Many Spitfires have overdrive, which can also give problems. The first thing to check in the event of non-engagement is that the electrics are working okay; they’re often the main cause of problems. If not, the oil level has probably fallen below the minimum. The worst case scenario is a rebuilt overdrive for around £250. 

• If the propshaft needs balancing, there’ll be a vibration at a certain road speed, which disappears once you accelerate. Worn universal joints are given away by clonks as the drive is taken up when moving off in forward or reverse. 

• Clutches don’t give any particular problems, so just check for slipping as you accelerate, or juddering as you let the clutch out. 

• The differential will whine when it’s worn. Even when things sound really bad the rear axle will just keep going, but it’s obviously something to sort.

• Thanks to the flip-up bonnet, the Spitfire’s front suspension is simplicity itself to work on. That’s just as well because there are various bits that can give trouble – but it’s all very cheap and beautifully simple to put right.

• The nylon bushes in the brass trunnions can wear, so feel for play with a crowbar. The main problem with the trunnions is wear of the threaded brass at the bottom, if EP90 oil hasn’t been pumped in every six months or so. 

• There are various other rubber bushes throughout the suspension, all of which will perish at some point – but they’re cheap to buy if somewhat involved to replace if you want to fit a complete new set

• The anti-roll bar links can also break, but at just £8 each that’s nothing to worry about. The same goes for the rest of the front suspension; there are all sorts of potential weak spots but they’re all quickly and cheaply fixed.

• The wheelbearings can wear, as can the track rods end, steering rack and upper ball joints that locate the top wishbone. The rubber steering rack mounts can also perish, usually after they’ve been marinaded in leaked engine oil. Your best bet is to feel for play by getting underneath.

• The rear suspension can also give problems, but it’s generally easy to overhaul, with one key exception; the wheel bearings. These wear out and are a pain to remove as a press is needed. 

• The only other likely problem, apart from worn or leaking shock absorbers, which are easy to replace, is a sagging leaf spring. If the top of the wheel has disappeared above the wheelarch, the spring needs to be renewed. 

• The rack-and-pinion steering is unlikely to have any problems, as it isn’t under much strain, despite the Spitfire’s fabulously tight turning circle.

• It’s a similar story for the brakes; they’re completely conventional so you just need to be on the lookout for leaking rear wheel cylinder, sticking caliper pistons and seized handbrakes. All parts are available.

• Corrosion is the Spitfire’s main enemy; it can strike in the bodyshell as well as the chassis, and the sills are essential to the car’s strength. 

• Many owners restore their Spitfires at home and don’t brace the bodyshell when the three-piece sills are replaced, twisting the bodyshell.

• Start by looking at the integrity of the sills; the area where they meet the rear wings is where corrosion is the most likely, and once rot takes a hold, long-lasting repairs will require skill. 

• Also take a look at the leading edge of each sill; there’s a good chance of holes here. Water will get in, wreaking havoc throughout the sill.

• There are plenty more rot spots to inspect too: the rear quarter panels, door bottoms, boot floor and the windscreen frame can all corrode badly.

• So too can the A-posts, wheelarches (inner and outer) plus the headlamp surrounds and front valance. 

• Floorpans also corrode, sometimes because rot spreads from the sills and sometimes because the footwells have been allowed to fill up with water.

• Next check the door shuts, which should be even all the way down. If a car has been badly restored, with the shell twisted in the process, the door won’t be flush all the way down and neither will the shut lines be even.

• Accident damage is also a strong possibility, as these cars often appeal to inexperienced drivers after some cheap fun. If the car has been in a major shunt, the damage will be obvious; any prang big enough to distort the main chassis will have wrecked the car’s delicate panels. 

• It’s the small knocks that are likely to cause you the most problems, as they may be harder to spot. However, if the panel fit is all over the place at the front, there’s a good chance the front chassis rail, to which the valance attaches, has been knocked out of true.

• Although there’s a good chance that some sort of electrical problem will be present, it’s usually only down to poor earths or the failure of some cheap-to-replace component. Everything is available and there isn’t anything that’s a problem to fit.

• Similarly, the trim shouldn’t pose any problems as most of it is being remanufactured. Some bits for early cars are tricky to get hold of however, but if you’re looking at a MkIV or 1500, you can re-trim the car to original spec or upgrade it easily and relatively cheaply.
Model history

1962: Spitfire breaks cover, with 1147cc engine.
1965: MkII edition goes on sale, with more power and a stronger clutch.
1967: The MkIII arrives, with a 1296cc engine, a hood that’s much easier to use and revised styling.
1970: The MkIV bring another facelift, plus an all-synchromesh gearbox and more predictable handling thanks to revised rear suspension.
1971: Seatbelts now fitted as standard.
1973: A 1500 edition makes its entrance, for the US market only. 
The bigger motor is needed because of all the emissions control equipment that has to be fitted. There’s also a wider rare track, to overcome handling issues.
1974: Spitfire 1500 on sale in the UK.
1977: The interior receives minor fettling for greater comfort.
1980: The final Spitfire is made.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• club.triumph.org.uk
• www.tssc.org.uk
Summary and prices 

Thrills don’t come much cheaper than with one of these; even less costly than an equivalent MG Midget or B, the Spitfire is perhaps the cheapest way of enjoying topless motoring. For not a lot of cash, you can buy a Spitfire that’ll keep going; if you’re handy with a socket set you could even pick up a project for just £1000. 
You’re going to struggle to find anything that offers the same amount of fun as the Spitfire, if you’re on a seriously tight budget, but such low values are a double-edged sword because there’s a lot of rubbish available as a result. That’s okay if you buy a project car knowing it needs a lot of work. 
Most cars have been restored by now and originality is hard to find; suspension systems, exhausts, engines and wheels are often upgraded so don’t expect to find a time-warp car. A lack of originality isn’t generally an issue (although it may be to you), but poor restorations are a problem because many home restorers cut their teeth on cars like the Spitfire. The good news though is that it’s easy to spot a duffer from 100 paces, so buy with your eyes open and get set for some cheap fun.
Early cars are certainly the most valuable, with Mk1, Mk2 and Mk3 models all commanding up to around £8000 in top condition. Average cars sell for £3000-£5000, with projects starting from around £1000. Later Mk4 and 1500 models are still the bargain models, maxxing out at around £5500, with decent runners on the market for £2000-£3750. Viable projects can still be found for around £850. 
Words: Richard Dredge // Images: Magic Car Pics
Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics) Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics) Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics) Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics) Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics) Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics) Triumph Spitfire (Photo: Magic Car Pics)
Last updated: 16th Feb 2016
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Triumph Spitfire
7000 18950 GBP
  • Triumph Spitfire

    £7,000 £7,000

    Immaculate 1979 Triumph Spitfire 1500 Overdrive in Pageant Blue. Only 26,000 original miles from new. Recent full body off professional respray in one of the best colours. Tonneau and full waterproof covers included. Reliable enough for daily use. A very reluctant sale. The car has been very well looked after and has spent many years being kept in dry conditions.

    • Year: 1979
    • Mileage: 26000 mi
    • Engine size: 1.5
    For sale
    £7,000 £7,000
    Lee Foulser
    Lee Foulser
  • TRIUMPH SPITFIRE 1977 Manual Yellow Petrol 80000

    £11,995 £11,995

    1977 Triumph Spitfire 1500. Inca Yellow with Black Leather upholstery and yellow piping. This is definitely the best Spitfire that we had with over GBP 14500 spent since January 2013. The previous owner wanted the best he could get so started with a very good car then improved the Spitfire to the outstanding example that it is now. There is too much to list but here is some of the work carried out. Lucas Halogen headlamp conversion with new inner bowls. New alternator and voltage stabilizer. Mintex brake pads. Goodridge stainless braided hoses. Rear brake cylinders. Stainless steel big bore single pipe exhaust. K and N filters with aluminium sub stacks. Carburettor heat shield. Brake master cylinder. Clutch master and slave cylinders plus all ancillaries. Stainless braided fuel pipe and petroflex ends.Starter solenoid. Fuel pump plus fittings. Stainless steel door mirrors. Fuel tank, sender and accessories. LED indicator bulbs and rear lamp holders. LED brake lights and stoplights. CSI electronic ignition, HT lead set and sports coil. Moto Lita steering wheel. Full restoration of HS4 carburettors with AAQ needles and yellow springs. New steering rack. Track rod ends, Superflex polybush rack bushes. Hi Torque starter motor. Upgraded steering joint. Pair anti roll bar links. Front suspension Superflex polybush kit, Gaz ride height adjustable dampers and uprated springs. Spring top plates. Retrosound model two radio with ipod plug-in. Trunnion less vertical links, uprated alloy hub set. Camber adjustable top wishbones. Cross drilled vented brake discs. Koni classic adjustable rear dampers. 540 Amp battery. Adjustable rear radius arms plus blue polybushes. Blue superflex bushes for rear dampers. Silicone coolant hoses with stainless clips. In August 2015 the engine was rebuilt to Stage 2 unleaded specification by Triumph specialists Jigsaw, they also fitted a 5 speed gearbox conversion, this invoice alone amounts to GBP 7587.52p. There is a large folder of all the bills and invoices and a valuation certificate from the Triumph Sports Six Club dated October 2015 for GBP 15,000. This is a fantastically well sorted Spitfire that is the best we have driven. Absolutely any inspection is welcome. Viewing is highly recommended and we know you won't be disappointed. All major debit cards accepted. Please contact us for any further information. Delivery can be arranged.

    • Mileage: 80000 mi
    • Engine size: 1.5
    For sale
    £11,995 £11,995
  • Triumph Spitfire MK3 cabriolet 1968

    €9,950(£0) €9,950(£0)

    Triumph Spitfire MK3 cabriolet 1968 This Triumph was originally delivered in Holland in 1968. The Spitfire MK3 has white paint with the original black leatherette interior. The car drives, brakes and shifts gear very well. The car has valid Holland APK. It is a great car for the hobbyist who wants to drive next to giving attention to the car. Car has Holland title and mot/tuv. Easy to register in every EU country. You do not need to pay any import taxes. We can help with transport.

    • Year: 1968
    For sale
    €9,950(£0) €9,950(£0)
  • Triumph Spitfire 1500 TC 1977

    €14,950(£0) €14,950(£0)

    Triumph Spitfire 1500 TC 1977 cabriolet Sebring White This is a 1977 Triumph Spitfire 1500 TC. Original Holland car. Paint in colour Sebring White and in very good condition. This car has a sports exhaust which, in combination with the open air filters, makes the car sound great. The car also has a magnificent wooden Moto-Lita steering wheel. This Spitfire has been serviced in our workshop and is ready for lots of driving fun. Car has Holland title and mot/tuv. Easy to register in every EU country. You do not need to pay any import taxes. We can help with transport.

    • Year: 1977
    For sale
    €14,950(£0) €14,950(£0)
  • Triumph Spitfire MK3 1970

    €16,950(£0) €16,950(£0)

    Triumph Spitfire MK3 1970 Overdrive In 1970 delivered Triumph Spitfire Mark III. The car is in good condition. He has red paint with black interior. This car is upgradet with overdrive, wooden steering wheel and seats with headrest for more comfort and safety. Technically checked in our workshop and can be regarded as excellent. Car has German title and mot/tuv. Easy to register in every EU country. You do not need to pay any import taxes. We can help with transport.

    • Year: 1970
    For sale
    €16,950(£0) €16,950(£0)
  • Triumph Spitfire MK IV '74

    €10,950(£0) €10,950(£0)

    + hardtop The Triumph Spitfire was a small British two-seat sports car, introduced in October 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 saloon, and throughout its life was built at the Standard-Triumph works at Canley, Coventry. In 1973 in the United States & Canada and 1975 in 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. 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 100 bhp (75 kW) with a fast 0

    • Year: 1974
    For sale
    €10,950(£0) €10,950(£0)
  • Triumph Spitfire MkIV


    1972 Triumph Spitfire MkIV Excellent body and light blue paintwork New exhaust, fitted with hardtop, new softtop in boot Very good interior Good history Pretty Michelotti styled Spit, not dissimilar to the Stag, very well presented in French Blue with excellent body and paint, very good interior, only 3 previous owners, running well with new exhaust, regular work done as evidenced by the large history file, fitted with hardtop for winter motoring, hood frame and new hood, still wrapped, are in the boot. Guide price: £5,950 suitable for printing Mobile: 07711 509600 Email: mark@pioneer-automobiles.co.uk Phone: 01635 248158 Viewing: By appointment only Copyright ©2017 Pioneer Autos Ltd

    • Year: 1972
    For sale
  • Triumph Spitfire Mk4 Cabriolet 1973

    €16,950(£0) €16,950(£0)

    Triumph Spitfire MK4 1973 BRG Overdrive This is a 1973 Triumph Spitfire in colour British Racing Green with new black leather seats. Optically and technically in more than excellent condition. The car also has overdrive, extra oil cooler and chrome luggage rack. Car has Holland title and mot/tuv. Easy to register in every EU country. You do not need to pay any import taxes. We can help with transport.

    • Year: 1973
    For sale
    €16,950(£0) €16,950(£0)
  • Triumph Spitfire 1500 TC 1978

    €8,950(£0) €8,950(£0)

    This is a trade-in car. The car will be sold as seen for wholesale price. Triumph Spitfire 1500 TC cabriolet 1978 This Triumph was delivered in 1978 and provided with an Inca yellow paint with the originel wheels. The interior has the original wooden dashboard and black leatherette. The Triumph drives, brakes and shifts gear very well. The Spitfire has valid Holland APK. This Triumph has Holland title.

    • Year: 1978
    For sale
    €8,950(£0) €8,950(£0)
  • Triumph Spitfire MK3 1968

    €18,950(£0) €18,950(£0)

    Triumph Spitfire MK3 1968, revised engine, Signal Red, in very good condition Since 1967 the Spitfire MK3 was introduced. This beautiful Triumph Spitfire MK3 was delivered in 1968 with Signal Red paint. This red colour with the chrome is a beautiful combination. The interior of the Triumph has black leather with white piping. Dashboard has wooden details. This Triumph has the original and fully revises 1296CC, 4 cyl, 83HP engine. This marvellous Triumph Spitfire MK3 is ready for a lot of driving fun. Car has Holland title and Holland mot/tuv. Easy to register in every EU country. You do not need to pay any importtaxes. We can help with transport.

    • Year: 1968
    For sale
    €18,950(£0) €18,950(£0)