Vintage R&T Road Test: 1967 Triumph GT6 – “Handling…Could Not Be Faulted” Despite Its Swing Axles

The GT6 reminds me a bit of the Porsche Cayman. Both started out as roadsters, and the addition of a fastback hard roof was something of a mixed bag, stylistically. But they both benefited from improved performance and better handling, the GT6 relatively even more so. It got a bigger boost in the engine compartment, thanks to the two liter inline six from the Triumph 2000 sedan instead of the little 1.3L four in the Spitfire.

The Spitfire’s rear swing axles—which had cultivated a bit of a rep for being tricky at the limit—were kept, and somewhat surprisingly (or not) the handling with them on the GT6 was noticeably improved. There was a good reason for that, and the answer is under the hood—and in the article.

The GT6’s formula was a bit unusual, at least for a European manufacturer. On the other hand, it wasn’t all that new, as Triumph had already implanted the same basic six, in 1.6L form, into the Herald, resulting in the Vitesse.

The 95 hp 1998 cc ohv six had already developed a reputation as being a sweet-running unit, with a wide torque band yet willing to rev to 6000 rpm if need be. In the tested car, its nicely-shifting four speed transmission was teamed with the optional Laycock-De Normanville overdrive unit, which in this application was deemed to be somewhat superfluous, as top speed gearing in the non-OD version was already fairly leisurely. With the OD, the final drive ration was lowered (increased numerically) from 3.27:1 to 3.89:1, which almost negated the need for its first gear. What’s the point, then?

Performance was decent, but hardly outstanding, with a 12.3 second 0-60 and the quarter mile taking 18.8 @75 mph. But the torquey little six made it effortless to drive briskly, and it certainly was in a class or two above the basic Spitfire in that regard.

Regarding its handling Road and Track wisely said “we approach any car with conventional swing axles with a little apprehension, but we found the GT6 could not be faulted in its handling”. Why was it less tricky than the Spitfire? Because the larger engine placed more of the car’s weight in the front, to 56%, “which is probably a good thing with swing axles”.  True that. Swing axles intrinsically became more problematic as the percentage of any given car’s weight increased over them. There were many front engine RWD cars built in Germany and other countries in the 1930s, 1940s and later that did not exhibit the issues that cars like the Tatra V8 and such did.

“For ordinary to brisk driving, the car steer neutrally and simply goes where it’s steered with great apparent stability” Of course the tail of the Gt6 could be brought out at will either with the throttle or by tweaking the steering wheel. But breakaway was deemed to be smooth, resulting in a bit of oversteer that “can be enjoyed and utilized by a moderately skilled driver while never crossing up an unskilled one”.  And the benefit of course was that its rear axle didn’t hop and skip over uneven surfaces, especially during cornering, precisely the vice that independent rear suspensions like swing axles were designed to eliminate.

There were some ergonomic shortcomings, most egregiously the lack of headroom for drivers six feet or taller. No wonder I never had the desire to get in one.  Braking was good, and the quality of the interior finish and materials was better than average.

Stylistically, the GT6 was a mixed bag. One either liked or didn’t like the grafted-on fastback, undoubtedly an effort to catch some of the excitement about the XK-E. But a number of elements of the GT6’s exterior design were flawed and compromised, like the clumsy multiple light units and the chrome beading on the top of the fenders, covering up the otherwise exposed seam. It may have been a poor man’s XK-E, but certain obvious differences in what one got for the money were a bit glaring. But R&T summed it up by saying “it’s worth the money”.