Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: Triumph Vitesse 2 Litre – The Smallest Post-War Six Cylinder Engine Gets A Displacement Boost

Here’s another of the ever-shrinking number of cars yet to enjoy their 15 minutes of CC fame. The Triumph Vitesse is a somewhat curious car, one that has fascinated me since childhood. It encompasses some good qualities, such as a smooth and lusty little inline six, as well as a rather vile one, in the form of a particularly nasty swing axle rear suspension.

I was rather hoping this Vitesse shot and posted by Nathan Williams might be the original version (1962-1965) which had a 1596 cc engine, the smallest new postwar six ever mass produced. But this is a 2 Litre (1966-1968), which had the larger 1998 cc version of the Standard Six as also used in the GT6 and Triumph 2000 saloon. Shoe-horned into the little Herald, it gave sparkling performance, as well as making its swing axle rear end even more thrilling at the limit.

Here’s how it looked under the flip-up front end of the Vitesse, which made for unbeatable access. This was possible on the Herald, Vitesse, Spitfire and GT6 because they all had a separate frame, hence the front end of the body—like the rest of it—was not needed for structural duty. And these all had a superlative 25′ turning circle (not radius).

As mentioned in the leader, the original Vitesse had a 70 hp 1.6 L six. Seems silly from an American perspective, but compared to the Herald’s original 34.5 hp 948 cc four, it was a huge improvement, actually doubling its power (the later Herald 1200 had 39 hp). And of course, it was superbly smooth, being an inline six with such a small displacement.

The Vitesse was a success form day one, as there was nothing that competed directly against it, offering an elevated level of performance and refinement, seating for four and all at a relatively affordable price.

In 1966, that was upped to a full 2 liters, and a whopping 95 hp. That put it in a league pretty much by itself, as sporty four seater that could take on or beat the two-seater sports cars of the time.

“The 2-Seater Beater” became an advertising tag line for the Mk.2, which arrived in 1968 with the improved rear suspension shared with the Spitfire and GT6 from that year forward. It still had a bit of camber change: 5 degrees max., but that was significantly better than the 15 degrees of the original swing axle design.

The MkII also had an improved engine with revised cylinder head and more power (104 hp).

This one still sports the swing axle, as it’s MkI Vitesse 2-Litre.

Here’s a shot of a Vitesse interior from the web, which shows off all the traditional English trimmings of leather, wood, Smith instruments and a traditionally-spoked steering wheel. The perfect sports car for the family man.

I’d like to do the Vitesse more justice, but time doesn’t allow right now. Consider this the vitesse version of a proper write-up.


More on related subject matter:

CC 1962Triumph Herald: Tempest In A Tea Pot  PN

1966 Triumph Herald: The First Aspirational Compact  R.Carr