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Triumph Vitesse buying guide (1962-1971)

Triumph Vitesse buying guide (1962-1971) We take compact, sporty family cars for granted nowadays, but in the 1960s you had to buy a large car if you wanted decent poke. Triumph changed that with the Vitesse; it took the demure four-cylinder Herald and stuffed in a six-cylinder engine to create a car that initially wasn’t much faster than its four-pot sibling, but it was much smoother, more torquey and hence more relaxing to drive.

Offered in two-door saloon or convertible forms, there was never a Vitesse estate officially offered, although a dozen examples were built. However, the compact Triumph’s Meccano-like construction, thanks to the use of a separate chassis, ensures it’s easy enough to create your own Vitesse load lugger if you want to. All you need to do is to mate a Herald estate bodyshell with a Vitesse bonnet, chassis and running gear.

The Vitesse is much like a big Meccano set – a box of imperial spanners and some screwdrivers is all you need to do just about everything on the car from a general maintenance point of view. You can also track everything down without having to try very hard – service items are still available from high street motor factors and even new trim is available.

Then there’s the accessibility – after working on a Vitesse you won’t want to tinker with anything else. Lift the bonnet and you can access the engine and steering along with the front brakes and suspension. Even the gearbox is easy to get to, as you can access it just by removing its cover inside the cabin. So for affordability, ease of maintenance, fun (especially in convertible form) and performance, there’s little that can touch the Vitesse for the money.

Which one to buy

The 2-Litre Mark 2 is the most sought after Vitesse, while the convertible is the most valuable bodystyle. Parts specific to the 1600 are scarce and this engine isn’t as torquey as the 2-litre cars, so it’s the runt of the litter. But because it’s so easy to mix and match with mechanicals as well as body styles (swapping from saloon to convertible or even estate is just a question of changing the rear body tub), it’s best to buy on condition rather than bodystyle.

Saloons converted to convertibles are common, as are overdrive conversions – the latter is worth having, while a raised final drive ratio will also provide more relaxed cruising. If done properly drophead conversions are no problem; a genuine factory overdrive-equipped convertible will have a commission number starting CVO. Also, factory convertibles feature anti-burst door catches on the B-pillar – they can be added but few people bother.

It’s worth buying a car that’s had a few upgrades, such as telescopic dampers at the rear of Mk2 models (earlier cars already featured these), a Kenlowe fan, a spin-on oil filter and halogen headlights to replace the dismal sealed beam units originally fitted.

Don’t be afraid of a car with a 2.5-litre engine installed; it’s a long-stroke version of the 2.0-litre unit, as seen in the 2500 saloon and estate, plus the TR5/TR6 in fuel-injected or carburetted forms. But the Vitesse transmission is fairly weak and the brakes marginal, so these should have been uprated at the same time.

Tech spec - Vitesse 2-litre Mk2

Engine 1998cc, six-cylinder
Power 104bhp @ 5300rpm
Torque 117lb ft @ 3000rpm
Top speed 103mph
0-60mph 11.3sec
Consumption 32mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual/overdrive

What to look for

• The bodywork is essentially cosmetic, so tatty cars can be safe and strong if the chassis is sound. The main chassis rails rot below the diff as do the outriggers; replacing the latter properly means removing the bodyshell.

• Other rot spots include the door bottoms, floorpans, rain gutters and the front lower corners of the bonnet along with the spare wheel well and front valance.

• Don’t be alarmed if panel fit is poor, especially if the car has seen a body-off rebuild. Getting everything properly lined up from scratch is a nightmare.

• Engine and gearbox oil leaks are to be expected – any car that isn’t dripping from the front is probably devoid of lubricant.

• Any discernible play in the thrust washers means the engine is fit for scrap – get someone to depress the clutch while you look for movement in the front crankshaft pulley.

• Listen for rattling on start up, which indicates the main bearings are starved of oil. Switching from a canister-type filter to one with a non-return valve will fix this.

• On the 2-litre Mk2, make sure the rotoflex couplings in the rear suspension are intact – they last no more than 35,000 miles.

• If overdrive is fitted, make sure it engages and disengages smoothly – sometimes the wiring shorts out or the internal filter gets blocked up.

• Transmissions are a weak spot; the gearbox and diff break if the car is driven too hard.

• Make sure the front trunnions have been kept well oiled with EP90 – they’re often fed a diet of grease or neglected altogether. The result is snapped vertical links where water has got in and corroded the metal – they’re cheap enough to replace, but the car is immobile until fixed.

• The rubber suspension bushes perish, the anti-roll bar links can break while the wheelbearings wear along with the track rod ends, plus the steering rack and upper ball joints – but they’re all eaqsily and cheaply replaced. The rubber steering rack mounts also perish after being marinaded in leaked engine oil. Feel for play by getting underneath, but when driving the car it’ll be obvious if things are really bad.

• The rear wheelbearings wear out and are a pain to remove as a press is needed. The bearings act directly on the driveshaft, so if left, the half-shaft can be scrapped as well as the bearings.

Model history

1962: The Vitesse is introduced with a 1596cc straight-six that develops 70bhp. It’s not much more powerful than the Herald 13/60, but the Vitesse has a fabulously smooth engine and noticeably more torque. On offer are a saloon or convertible, but there’s no coupe or estate.
1966: The Vitesse 2-Litre Mk1 arrives with a 1998cc straight-six. The extra displacement boosts power to 95bhp. There’s still no coupe or option, although around 17 Vitesse estates were built unofficially.
1968: The Vitesse 2-litre Mk2 goes on sale, with revised cam and head, to give more power and torque. With 104bhp the car can finally crack the ton. Redesigned rear suspension (with rotoflex couplings) also help tame the handling.

Words: Richard Dredge
Triumph Vitesse buying guide (1962-1971)
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  • Interested in this vehicle? Please email us at info@auto-invest.co.uk or contact us directly by telephone on 01363 83909 A Devon car from new, it has been fully recommissioned following three years storage and after a very comprehensive programme of maintenance and refurbishement now has a current Mot, Historic road tax 'exempt'. It has been fitted with brand new Minilite 14" wheels and 185x14 tyres in place of the standard 13" steel wheels and tyres which give it considerably higher gearing for modern day motoring as well as much improved fuel economy. It has the added benefit of the factory sliding sunroof. Superb mechanicals and very original albeit a bit time-worn interior, the paintwork is delightfully scruffy in the tradition of the true rally car. it was driven from the UK to Switzerland in March performing the 1000km trip faultlessly and is now being used there by our Swiss colleague for classic Regularity Rallying and promotional purposes The Auto-Invest team completed the 2012 Alpine Challenge in the Snotter in June, in the exhalted company of such classic icons as a 1955 Mercdes Benz 300SL Gullwing covering some 800 miles on some of the highest passes in Europe finishing

    • Year: 1969

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