Cohort Classic: Triumph 1300 – Before It Got Converted From FWD To RWD

posted by Monsieur Burns

The Triumph 1300/1500 is one of the very rare historical oddities: designed and built as a FWD car for some years, then converted to RWD. Really. Let’s take a little look at how it started out in life, and just how and why it ended up as RWD, including as one of the more legendary hot cars on the other side of the pond, the Dolomite Sprint.

The FWD Austin and Morris 1100 (ADO16) were the single biggest hit from BMC or any of its later successor companies. It was the top seller for some years, and made everything else on the market look old fashioned. That very much included the Triumph RWD Herald. It was time to follow suit, and create a modern, competitive FWD car.

And so they did, in the form of the Triumph 1300, which arrived in 1965.

But unlike at BMC, they kept the Herald’s 1300 cc four in the longitudinal orientation and put the transmission and differential under, not unlike the Saab 99 and Toronado. The transmission had its own sump too. All of that meant that the engine rode rather high in the engine compartment.

Which gave the 1300 a rather chunky look, out of necessity. The styling was by Michelotti, who was doing all of Triumph’s cars at the time, and it has a decided family similarity to the larger 2000, which was sold in the US, unlike the 1300.

Starting in 1968, there was also a 1300TC, which used the twin carb engine from the Spitfire.

This is such a nicely kept survivor. I imagine there aren’t exactly many 1300s left in the world.

The curious split came in 1970, when a more powerful 1500 replaced the 1300, still with FWD. That was built until 1976.

That same year, a cheaper alternative version with RWD called the Toledo arrived. It obviously wasn’t that hard to re-engineer the body shell to take a conventional drive train, essentially as it had been used in the Herald, and graft in a live rear axle on coil springs. But note how the rear axle is too narrow; the rear wheel track is noticeably less than on the 1300. Later, a 1500 version was also available.

This was done after BMC and Leyland were integrated, and the thinking obviously was to let the former BMC brands carry the FWD banner, and give Triumph the RWD one. Of course Morris was also given the pathetic RWD Marina. BL was desperate to cut costs, as the FWD cars had always been a challenge in terms of profitability. But still…

But Triumph redeemed itself, and turned RWD into an asset, in the form of the Dolomite and Dolomite Sprint. It was given the new 1.9 L SOHC four that would also be used by Saab in the 99. The regular Dolomite had a sprightly 91 hp. And the legendary Sprint, Great Britain’s GTO or 2002tii, upped that to 122 hp with a new 16 valve SOHC head. That was hot stuff in 1974.

Eventually the whole range using this body was rationalized in 1976, resulting the Dolomite series that included a base 1300, a 1500, the 1850, and the Sprint. They were made through 1980, when they were finally replaced by the Triumph Acclaim, a joint venture with Honda. The old 1300 body was retired at last.