After I had sold my beloved Z28 to help fund a down payment on our first house, I was without a ‘fun’ car for the first time ever. In fact our only vehicle for this period of time was a Jeep Cherokee Sport, which I couldn’t even muster enough enthusiasm for to write up its own COAL. As as car guy I found this situation unacceptable, and kept a casual eye on the local classified ads. I’d always wanted a British sports car, and more specifically an MGB roadster, but what I ended up with was something a bit more budget friendly and, to my eyes at least, also better looking.
What I found was a 1974 Triumph Spitfire 1500 that was located in High River, a smaller commuter community about a hundred kilometers away. The car belonged to a sixteen year old girl who’d driven it for the summer, but with winter closing in she’d swapped over to a late model Cavalier. The car ran and drove well enough, although it was equipped with a set of the most ratty tires I’ve ever seen that still held air.
The car had received a modestly-good re-paint in the original French Blue color some number of years ago, and showed a lot of nicks and cracks. The driver’s side had some rust in the rocker panel, but the body was otherwise very solid. The seats and top had been redone fairly recently, which was a nice bonus.
We agreed on $1600, and I proceeded to drive it home, top down of course. It was November if I recall correctly, and as I drove back snow started to fall with big, fluffy flakes. Since this was my first drive in a convertible I was not about to raise the roof, so I just drove a little faster instead. We stopped for dinner at my in-law’s house where I showed off my new purchase. After showing her uncle the engine, I proceeded to incorrectly close the hood and break the prop. D’oh!
The first order of business was to catch up on all the deferred maintenance that goes along with a car-clueless sixteen year-old girl as the previous owner. The Zenith Stromberg carburetor dashpot was bone dry, and once topped up with 3-in-1 oil, the engine ran much better. I tore around the snow covered streets of my neighborhood a little bit, which required one never to come to a full stop due to the poor tires and lack of ground clearance.
I soon made my first car maintenance rookie mistake when replacing the defective thermostat. As I was putting the thermostat cover back on the housing, I managed to put the longer bolt in the shorter hole and when the tightening got really tough, I stupidly tried to power through it instead of stopping to find the reason why. This lead to a large crack down the housing. Over the next six months I came to discover that 1974 was a transition year for Spitfire thermostat housings, and after much frustration and a couple incorrect parts, I was finally able to source a replacement. There are three distinct variations of 1974 thermostat housings for the record.
When it came time to repair the broken hood prop I decided not replace the rather crude factory unit but instead upgrade to gas shocks. It also meant another excuse to hit the local scrapyard to find a suitable donor. A mid 1980s Subaru station wagon hatch looked pretty good with some nice, usable brackets at each end. It actually worked really well except it tended slam down suddenly if it was really windy.
I also entered my little Spitfire into my first car show. There was a group of us who had formed an unofficial car club and we all entered the show together which was held at a local historical village park called Heritage Park. There was my Spitfire, an Austin A40 Devon, first generation Ford Cortina, time capsule Ford Maverick, and a 1959 Cadillac sedan. None of our cars were close to perfect but they attracted a great deal of attention.
The A40 was especially popular with a stream of folks coming over to tell their own A40 stories. I can still recall a near by owner of a perfectly restored Mustang getting a little hot under the collar with the attention our little rag tag group was attracting. Just demonstrates that folks like to see something a little different at car shows.
During the next summer, I drove the wheels off the little Spitfire. It was a fantastic car in town, but was not geared well for extended highway travel. It had an aftermarket Monza exhaust which was rather noisy, making the radio useless even around town. The one and only time I took it on a longer trip was a jaunt out to the The Three Hills car show. Its location between the two major cities in Alberta, Calgary and Edmonton, meant that it had a massive turn out for such a small town. Literally the whole town was transformed into one large car show.
I went strictly as a spectator, but wanted to drive my little collector car. The top was down the whole way there and back, which lead me to the realization that one can get a sun burn through their hair. No cruise control of course, and even at a modest speed there was quite a bit of vibration, so I was a bit shocked to discover that I could not immediately walk after returning home. My leg muscles had seized up from having keep the throttle down for over an hour. Luckily no one was around to see me fall out of my car.
My two-year-old son loved taking rides in it, and his bulky car seat fit in reasonably well. One of the more memorable times was when we got caught in a flash flood with water almost up to the bottom of the doors. British cars don’t have the greatest reputation in terms of keeping the water on the outside, but only a surprisingly small amount of water entered the cabin that day. The memories we made are one of the main reasons I want another British roadster, but they are a tad less practical for me these days with three children.
Despite their reputation for trouble, my little British car was quite reliable. Once I’d cleaned up the grounds, I never had even a hint of electrical problems. The 1.5L four, while not powerful with only 55hp when new, never left me stranded. It was getting a bit tired, however. I would have liked to have done something with the aging paint as well. The total cost of the required and desired work was creeping higher, so I decided it was time to sell when my wife needed some seed money for a home-based business.
Remarkably enough, I sold the Spitfire to a guy bigger in stature than myself, from Cold Lake, Alberta, who wanted it to give it a full restoration. I’ll give you a minute to look up Cold Lake on the map, but it is pretty far north and not exactly stereotypical convertible weather for most of the year. I do hope the Spitfire received the make over it deserved, as it is my personal yard stick for measuring fun cars against, and nothing since has quite stacked up.