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.
Such a pretty car, almost bought a red one. Kind of regret not getting it, but practicality won out as it sometimes must.
The only thing that’s kept me out of a Spitfire is the existence of other drivers. Neat car!
Beautiful looking car. I’d buy one if there was one for sale in Tacoma, Washington.
+1 I’d have one if I wasn’t a 6’1 and a half Vanessa Feltz look a like
So, you’d probably look damned good in a TR-6.
I saw a very nice purple one at a show last year,it sounded superb when it accelerated past me on the way home.
Buy it and dye your hair purple.
actually the spitfire has lots of legroom – more legroom than a TR6. spitfire is more narrow… so if you’re a wide guy or gal it can be tight. im 6’4″ and as a fun around town car… i have no issues.
Spitfires are actually quite roomy inside. They have more room than say a Miata. Of course the Miata would actually protect you in a crash though.
You don’t have to worry about its headroom, that’s for sure.
Which reminds me of the movie Gator. A character called “Bones” drove a convertible, his head was above the windshield’s frame.
Long time since I saw Gator.Not a bad film
Actually, I think it was a Lincoln Mark IV, and he was sticking his head through the sunroof, played by the 7ft Richard Kiel, aka Jaws from the 007 movies.
I found a picture, since it’s not a JPEG image here’s the link:
The actor’s name is William Engesser (7’3”). No idea what car it is.
There’s nothing like the ownership of a vintage British sports car to drive home just how much smaller the UK is (physically) compared to either the US or Canada. And how the UK didn’t build their first four lane limited access highway until 1959. Those cars are definitely built for the ‘A’ and ‘B’ roads. The closest American equivalent is two-lane US or state numbered highways for the ‘A’ routes, and either three digit state/county or legislative routes (different states call them by different names) for the ‘B’ routes.
And, as you discovered, the fragility of British (especially Lucas) electrics is very overstated. For their day (an important, usually forgotten, consideration), Lucas electrics were as good as anything else on the market. Nowadays the complainers usually forget that what they’re complaining about are 35-50 years old and still functioning.
And what we consider reliable vehicular electrics didn’t really come on the scene until the Japanese entered the market. Their stuff was a good couple of steps above anything else at the time. As you’ve mentioned, clean your grounds from the inevitable age-related corrosion, ditto the fasteners, and you’re probably good to go.
I spent a few weeks in Cotswolds last year, little roadsters were perfect for the stone and hedge lined roads there. Towns were few miles apart connected by narrow roads with gentle curves. Spitfires and MGs were never designed for high speed long distance touring.
Yes – even at 100km/h the engine is turning almost 3,500 rpms.
There was an overdrive unit available as a factory option which would’ve brought those revs down somewhat. In fact, it seems like most RWD British cars could be ordered that way up until the late 70s. Interesting how common they were, considering what the roads in the UK are like.
I’m not sure how much that would even help in this case, though. Any car this small and delicate just isn’t happy doing long distances at high speed. Fine with me, as I rarely ever do any kind of driving like that!
There was an overdrive unit available as a factory option which would’ve brought those revs down somewhat.
Yup. The Laycock unit. Seemed to show up in every Triumph and MG brochure in the early 70s. Engaged by a switch in the shifter
I had a 1990 Miata for 16 years. There is nothing else like a convertible for fun. I hope to get another one someday.
Wow, I’ve never seen a Spitfire in this color before – looks incredible!! I think almost any color would look good on these, though. And only $1,600? What a steal! This is exactly the kind of “classic” I always have my eyes peeled for: low pricetag, a few dings and dents, maybe some quirks, but solid overall condition – something I could either fix up while driving and enjoying or just maintain as-is until it’s passed on to it’s next custodian. I’ve always felt that it’s more fun to drive slow cars fast than vice-versa, and while I might prefer a little more than 55HP, I’m sure that’s plenty enough to get into trouble with. If I’m remembering correctly, these only weigh about 1,600lbs.
There was a Spitfire I wanted to buy at a local garage for many years. Its red paint was chalky and faded, but there was no rust and I’d seen it run and drive around the lot. I’m not sure what year it was, but it had the SPITFIRE 1500 decal on the hood, which probably narrows that down. The price was right but it didn’t come with a title and the shop didn’t want to do the legwork to get one, so I passed. It was, allegedly, a customer’s car who had never paid his bills and I’m sure getting that piece of paper would have been extremely difficult if not impossible. I would bet it eventually got crushed when the place went out of business (it looked much sadder by then), which kills me.
The part about the pissy Mustang owner is funny, and isn’t that always the way it goes? A restored Mustang or Camaro is nice enough, but cars like this or an A40 are just so much more interesting when seen up close, even for people who aren’t gearheads.
The colour is French Blue although it looked to have been re-painted (in the same colour) once in its life.
I remember a TV ad for the Spit in the 70s introducint the different colors: British racing green, French racing blue, German racing silver and Italian racing red.
I remember this ad too
After parting with my first car–a TR7–it took fifteen years before I was brave enough to embrace another Triumph. But I’d sold my P1800ES, was looking for another toy and this time fortune smiled. On a sunny July afternoon my Volvo sales manager called me for help with an appraisal. The red ’75 Spitfire was a low miler and had been brought to 95% by a knowledgeable enthusiast owner. Within a mile or so, I’d fallen in love. I gave the manager a figure, told him not to worry about reselling it and that night my first convertible was sitting in my home garage.
Considering that the Spitfire was more than twenty years old at the time, it could not have been a more different experience than the TR7, which had been bought new. Granted it wasn’t a daily driver like that first Triumph, but it never once let me down, never failed to start and the only money I spent on it was for the last 5%, all cosmetics. During the years I kept it as a frequently-driven toy, I had no issues beyond normal maintenance and wear items. Astonishingly, even the electrics were reliable.
But the transition from a closed coupe to a convertible was part of a bigger trend and after a terrific four years, I sold it and bought a sportbike. Although I missed the little Spitfire (as did my dog who loved open air motoring) bikes were an even better bang-for-the-buck pastime for me and I’m still enjoying them.
Yeah they are fun little cars based on the pedestrian Herald, I knew there were 2 different water outlets for that engine having been party to a search but 3 one must be for the Midget only as they share engines, very few left on the road here they are all hidden away under repair and only venture out for shows it seems but it isnt electrical problems that keep them off the streets that urban myth is getting very old, my own British car has had an alternator(lucas) fitted simply because the dynamo doesnt pump out enough voltage for modern calcium batteries the original Lucas system is 55 years old and fault free.
…amazing rear axle set-up .. 🙂
…when the Mk1 GT6 came out my uncle bought one (French blue/black int) ..up front was the familiar ole dual Stromberg T2000 engine ..fly-off hand-brake …nice precise steering.. amazing rear axle set-up .. 🙂
Probably one of the best looking British sports cars ever made.
i would agree .. equal ‘bebe frere’ in the automotive beauty stakes with the first early ’60’s 3.8 E-Type ..also very cool to look at ..very pretty machinery
actually another one in the same family was the early Vitesse 6 cyl convertible …oh boy …what a PRETTY car (in dark navy blue and a black top and black interior)
if i may please, just one more contender suggestion ..the DB7 coupe (yes, i know it is a ‘Ford’ and not a ‘real’ alloy panelled Aston) but whoever designed that body was a styling maestro …and they are such great value for money secondhand) ..just beautiful beautiful lines from start to finish..
The Spitfire really does make a great first classic, though it was not my first (wish it had been). I used my 1977 Spitfire as a daily driver for around four years, and it only left me stranded once when I ran out of gas – the gauge read quarter-full (thanks, Lucas). I liked it so much I’ve kept it around after buying my Miata – I’m only selling it now so I can fund my Rover P5 project.
Not only is the Spitfire roomy inside, as others have mentioned, but it’s also compact and has an amazingly tight turning circle. It also has the most accessible engine bay short of a race car I’ve ever seen, with the entire front pivoting out of the way so you can sit on the front tires and do your work.
It’s a great city car, and yet it handles back roads in the countryside with grace – puts a smile on my face every time I drive it. While my Miata is more practical, the Spitfire has the looks and the character. I’ll miss it, that’s for sure.
Fuel gauge is Smith’s, not Lucas.
It is about the easiest car ever to adjust the valves on. Sit on the tire and work away!
That does look like a lot of fun! Im a 6’1 250 pound wall of man meat though….I have to wonder if my chassis could even fit in one of those little roadsters.
And David, you have to be the only person on all of earth who would view an XJ Cherokee as a dull daily grinder. Modified, theyre total beasts off road. Even bone stock if you have the 4.0 and 5 speed theyre surprisingly quick for a 4×4. My baby sis had a solid black ’97 Sport…4 door, 4×4 4.0/auto. Even though it wasn’t a 2-door with 5spd, it was a great little rig and I considered buying it from her. But, headroom IS a problem in those. My hair is usually spiky, and it dragged the headliner every time I drove it!
I’ll second you regarding the XJ. I had a 96 Sport for a long while. With the torquey straight 6 and 5 speed it was a fun daily driver. A little trucky and harsh, but it sure was responsive, and it handled better than the Explorer I replaced it with.
Despite having a lot of TR series experience I’ve never so much as sat in a Spitfire. Would I fit in at 6’2″?
I prefer the earlier spits with the TR3 taillights, but the later ones seem more numerous, not sure if they sold more or if they were better built.
I suspect you would as long as it doesn’t have aftermarket seats in it. The Spitfire seats are about the lowest and most compact around.
Bought a new 1974 in NYC for about $3500. Dual Webers and a set of headers made highway travel possible. We kept it for 7 years till our son was born. NYS frowns on baby seats strapped to a luggage rack.
The mostly positive comments about the Spitfire makes one wonder how differently things might have been if British Leyland had stuck with their tried-and-true classics (Spitfire, TR6, MGB, and Midget) rather than jumping off a cliff with the clean-sheet (but abysmal) TR7.
True, the other four were really archaic and getting quite long in the tooth by the seventies. Still, it seems like the newer stuff the TR7 (and others) is what finally brought BLMC down.
Alfa Romeo did OK with the Spider.I wonder if BL had done the same would it have been a different story?I disliked the TR7 on first sight,another nail in BL’s coffin and a Deadly Sin up there with the Allegro,Princess,Ambassador and Maestro
Looking back it seems obvious that BL could have sold an updated MG B at least for many years. The suspension was seriously old fashioned by then and would have required an update. An O-series engine probably would have fit though.
The MG Midget would have been tough. Out dated suspension and engine with not a lot of room to swap anything else in.
The Spitfire is body on frame so likely cost a bit more to make. Seems to me that could have swapped in the TR7/Dolomite engine and five speed gearbox. It would have required a strengthened rear differential.
The real reason is BL (and almost everyone else) thought the American convertible was doomed and it bet big time on the fixed roof TR7.
Trying something new is good, stop trying however is very bad. BL should have make another roadster after the passing of TR7/8. Oh they did, the mid engined MGF, but somehow they decided not to sell it in the biggest market for roadsters.
I always liked Spitfires. When in college, I knew 2 people who owned them. One delivered pizzas in it, so it must have been plenty reliable. The second was a professor who bought one of the later ones with a catcon. After about 20 minutes of driving on a warm day, the car would vapor lock and stall. 10 minutes’ rest and back at it.
I have always gone back and forth over whether I would prefer a Spitfire or a TR-6. Today its a Spitfire.
imo the spitfire is one of the prettier british cars around. prettier than mgb and midget. only the mga is as pretty. independent suspension, wood dash, decent legroom, the worlds most easily accessible car to repair. ladder frame. i cannot believe they are not worth more $. miatas are fun too… but i drove one for a week…. like jeremy clarkson said he didn’t bond with a miata on his mid east trip. same here…. miata was nice, but i didn’t bond with that car. the spitfire is like a member of the family. it’s like a pet. old vw’s have that affect too. i wasn’t sad to give up the miata… i would be heartbroken to give up the spit.
I have had 4 MGB,’s, a rare 62 Fiat, that was broke down more than it ran. ( the side emblem on car was an old time tricycle w/large wheel on front and the 2 tiny rear wheels) I sold it. Austen Healy Sprite was my all time favorite British sports car. A 1963 Triumph Sitfire. I’m now the 2nd current owner of my 2nd Triumph Spitfire, a 1974. She’s a beauty, Bright Yellow w/Black racing stripe off center and about 4″ wide. I love “Baby Bee” she looks great next to my 1963 Chevy Nova 2 Door HT that I’m also 2nd owner of. I love my old cars and needed that Spitfire to complete my set of classics. My Nova belonged to an elderly woman, she’s all otiginal and shines like a new car. The Spitfire is a Beauty as well, doing a few small things to her. Other than that runs like a champ with only 42K original on ofometer.
What pleasant reading, and of good calibre too!
Coupla years ago picked up a 74 Spit for
$C 3k… and smiles wherever we travel! Cheers all…