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.
Do I see this correctly? The starter and the “flywheel” are at the front of the motor?
Saab was similar. Here is a 900 in the scrapyard with the transmission removed.
I can think of other car that went the same route: Rover 75 V8 that switched to RWD when fitted with Ford Modular 4.6-litre V8 engine for 2004 model year. About 900 were produced before the Rover 75 production ended for good in 2005.
Same with Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 and Renault R5 Turbo (1980–1986), which were homologated for Group B racing. Both had the entire drivetrains in the middle, driving the rear wheels.
Of course, none of the aforementioned cars were “traditional” family cars for volume production per se.
The Pug 205T16 was AWD, not RWD, but by that dint you could also include the Lancia Delta S4 as well as the Rover Metro 6R4 although all are only (very) tangentially related to their original road car brethren, quite different than the posted car’s story.
In Iran, the Peugeot 405 got a RWD version inherited from the Iran Khodro drivetrain and was called 405 RD.
I’ll just drop this link here, if anyone wants to read a post on the subject…
Quite interesting, and that red one is in marvelous condition!
Taking it a step further, if Triumph had thought forward a bit more and also kept the front wheels driven, they’d have a Subaru competitor (as well as Audi several years before Quattro). Who knows what might have occurred if they’d been the ones to lobby the FIA instead of Audi to allow AWD into Group 4 Rallying and run a 4WD Dolly Sprint instead of the TR8…
I still see one or two of these on the road though without getting close its hard to tell which model youre looking at, Dolomites usually led hard driven lives tghe workshop supervisor in the power station I worked at had one bought new it was quite a quick car and it cut some 20 minutes off the sprint to his favourite ski field over the warmed up VW Beetle it replaced, it wasnt the sprint which only had a horsepower advantage above the regular 1850 model,time getting to cruising speed is neither here nor there staying at it by being able to steer around the bends in the road is where driving is at
“[T]he larger 2000, which was sold in the US, unlike the 1300.”
Was the 2000 sold in the US for its entire lifespan?
Undoubtedly not, as the 2000 (and its derivatives) was built until 1977. I know it was sold in around 1963 to maybe 1966 or so, or maybe another year or two longer. It sold poorly. I can’t readily find any info on the exact years it was sold here.
There was a fellow student at my high school that drove one to school. And I would obsessionally see one in the Baltimore area.
If other imports are any indication, the early ’70s would’ve been its cue to leave, either because of stricter emissions laws or 5 MPH bumpers (or both).
I’ve never seen a Triumph 2000 in the metal, and I wasn’t aware until a few years ago that they were ever sold in the States.
The Triumph 2000 and Rover 2000 were going head to head in the market, and neither sold in great volume in the US. I don’t know if both marques coming under the British Leyland roof had a bearing on the Triumph 2000 being withdrawn in the US, but it would make sense.
It’s a cute little car. The forward leaning 4 headlight front looks SO much better, this would have to be a rare case of the MCE looking far more ‘right’ than the original. I never cared for the vinyl top on the later ones, though.
Nobody’d ever have dubbed it a Dolly in the US, MF.
181 Triumph 1300 are left.
On a visit to England in the mid 70s, I had a very fast ride on very narrow roads in a Dolomite Sprint. As I remember the Sprint managed to work all 16 valves from a single overhead cam.
I did a bit of internet research. I had forgotten that it was by running both the intake and exhaust valves from the same cam. It must have put some limits on the valve timing.
You’re both right. It was via single cam, and the same lobes on both intake and exhaust. It seems to have worked well enough.
The Jeep Tornado SOHC hemi six as used originally in the Wagoneer and then in Argentina in the Torino also used the same lobes for both intakes and exhausts. And there were others too.
Didn’t the Neon have a 16V SOHC in base models, and a DOHC in performance models ?
Correct, I believe it was the first 16 valve SOHC. I had three yellow Sprints, only colour sold in Oz. They weren’t all that reliable, but I was young then, so wrenched on it myself.
Actually prefer the styling of the Triumph 1300 over the larger mk1 Triumph 2000, the front of the latter looks too unresolved.
In retrospect would Triumph have been better off unwittingly discovering and adopting the universal transverse engined and gearbox layout that appeared in the FWD Autobianchi Primula, instead of a longitudinal engine with gearbox mounted below the engine or sticking with a conventional front-engined RWD layout from the beginning (albeit with a bit sophisticated suspension)?
Nice find and looks well cared for. And as I learned to drive on Mum’s Toledo, nice memories too.
One nit pick – the Dolomite Sprint had a 16v head but only one camshaft.
The picture shows a cross section of the head, showing how it was done.
The related Saab 16V wasa DOHC though.
Great to read a feature about such a curious and forgotten car, living in the shadow of the Dolomites.
One slight correction – the Sprint’s engine was a 16 valve SOHC. Guess twin cams would be too logical, or something. I remember them making a big thing of this in their advertising back then.
I own one of these 1300’s. Or two, actually, so I really enjoyed seeing it here. There’s more to the car than the switch to rear wheel drive, I actually think of it as a mini-Jaguar! Inside, you’ll find lots of real walnut panels and – an industry first, I think – foldable window crank handles in the doors. The steering wheel is adjustable for length and rake and the driver’s seat kan be adjusted in height. Underneath you’ll find an individual rear wheel suspension, contained in a separate frame – among other details. This in a small English car from 1965! There were only 16 Triumph 1300 in Sweden the last time I checked some ten years ago, four of them approved for traffic. I have owned the one in the picture since 2003 – and it was saved from the scrapyard in the last minute! Thanks for a very entertaining site. Best regards from Sweden, Calle Carlquist
Another car I remember well from growing up in Israel in the 60s-70s. Ours were assembled by Autocars whose main claim to fame was for making Israel’s only true (and awful) homegrown car, the Sussita/Rom. I cannot remember how they came to be assembled by Autocars given that the Triumph would have competed with the native product. I suppose they were a bit more upmarket. They did sell quite a few in both engine sizes but shoddy build quality made certain that by the 80s they were a dying breed. The few remaining examples are in safe hands having been recognized as legitimate collectors cars long ago.
I’m wondering where the pictures of the red 1300 were taken. The “almost British” plates intrigue me.
This is actually my car (the red one) ! I just landed here by chance, looking for parts for it, what are the odds. The pictures have been taken in Clamart, near Paris, in front of a classic car garage. The plates are indeed “British looking” but with French registration, it came with the car so I didn’t change them. That, the GB letters in the back and the RHD, no wonder why people sometimes talk to me in English, although I’m French !
It’s not in perfect condition, but it’s a pretty cool car. Its major flaw, in my opinion, is the gearbox ratio. It’s getting very noisy around 55 mph / 90 kph (no rev counter, so I can’t tell exactly what rpm it’s at). My kids still love it 😉