I've always had a soft spot for Triumph's two-seater sportscar of 1962. My uncle owned a dark green Mk2 in the 1960s, which ended up being written-off, and in the 1980s I had a 1967 Mk3 Spitfire, followed later by a much-modified 2.5 litre Spitfire fitted with a 2500cc straight six engine and GT6 suspension.
The Spitfire shown below though is the daddy to all of them, being the first of its type - the Spitfire 4, retrospectively known as the Mk1, introduced in 1962.
(Please click the thumbnail to view full-size image.)
Background to the Triumph Spitfire 4.
In 1959 Triumph launched the 2-door Herald saloon range, powered by a 948cc engine lifted from the last of the Standard Pennant saloons and Companion estates (themselves just mild updates of the earlier Standard 8 (803cc) and 10 (948cc)). Whereas the Standards featured up-to-date monocoque construction, ie without a separate chassis, the Herald reverted back to featuring a separate frame, onto which the body tub and panels were bolted. This compromise was forced upon Standard-Triumph due to issues with securing reliable supplies of completely assembled bodyshells from outside suppliers.
The big upside to building cars in this way, was the relative ease in which the Herald's basic underpinnings could be adapted to suit other variants, both of Heralds, and also cars in very different markets. Convertible versions of the Herald, along with estate and van variations, would soon follow, as would the six-cylinder Vitesse.
S-T needed an affordable sportscar to fit in the range below the TR series, and it was to the Herald's running gear that the designers focussed their attentions. The 948cc four cylinder engine had plenty of scope for enlargement, and was soon stretched to 1147cc for the 1200 Heralds. This platform would form the basis of the new Spitfire model, with some key differences. The Herald chassis featured outriggers that extended rearwards beneath the boot floor, and also extending from the central chassis rails, out and running below the outer extremities of the bodywork. Screw-on sills would leave a neat appearance below the doors, but didn't add anything to the vehicle's strength. The Spitfire though was different. No rear or underfloor chassis outriggers would feature, instead the outer sill structure on the main body would become a key part of the structure's overall rigidity.
The original design for the Spitfire 4's bodywork was by Michelotti, following on from his work on the Herald. The Spitfire would be a strict two-seater, with a handy ledge behind the seats capable of holding odds and ends, plus the occasional passenger if they were happy to sit cross-wise, and quickly lose any feeling in their legs. A removable steel hardtop would be offered as an option, and can be seen fitted to the car above. Carrying on from the design of the Herald, the Spitfire featured a one-piece bonnet that incorporated the front wings, giving excellent accessibility to the twin-carb 1147cc engine and front chassis area.
In 1965 the revised Spitfire 4 Mk2 would be introduced. Visually there was little to tell the Mk1 and Mk2 apart, although the door handles moved higher up the skins. Mild tweaks to the engine improved power a little, the front grille was altered, and interior appointments were improved in some areas. It wouldn't be until the launch of the Mk3 in 1967 that the engine's capacity would be increased to 1296cc, in-line with modifications to the Herald and the introduction of the revised 13/60.
Production of the Triumph Spitfire would soldier on until 1980 amazingly, by which time the design was in its fifth variation, the engine by now enlarged to 1500cc.
2. A Spitfire Mk1 ends up in a monsoon drain near RAF Tengah.
Roger is a regular on the Old Classic Car forum, and agreed to me sharing some of his photographs in this section of the site. The red Spitfire shown below belonged to a friend of his, during their time serving in Singapore. The first shot shows the 1147cc car in a "normal" pose, ie on all four wheels, bearing a few battle scars to its front corner but otherwise more or less as it left the Canley factory.
Now an interior shot of the Spitfire, being given some revs but with no forward progress registering on the speedometer. Note the white colour of the metal dashboard surround.
One evening in 1965 Roger borrowed his friend's car. Alas, on the return trip from an evening of merriment, the Spitfire's twitchy handling caught out its pilot and the car, with passengers, ended up wedged in a monsoon drain close to RAF Tengah. Roger adds:
"When we came back the next morning we realised how lucky we had been. I am stood on a concrete foot bridge, about 2 foot wide, to take the shot of the front, there was a nice red paint mark across it, if we had dropped a couple of feet sooner it would have split the car in two."
Two more shots of the distressed Triumph. Note the RAF Land Rover in the background, an elderly bicycle, and a real rarity in the shape of a Morris J Type pickup truck. Despite such excitement, it didn't put Roger off from driving around in small two-seaters, as evidenced by a thread running on the forum relating to his current two-seater "DLM" special.
I wonder whether fitting the Speedwell Camber Compensator, as described on this page within the period tuning company section here at OCC, would have prevented this from happening?
Spitfires appear in various places across the site - this page for instance features a cracking Mk3 Spit which belongs to an enthusiast in the Czech Republic.
A magazine, dating to 1962 and produced by the Standard-Triumph factory titled Standard-Triumph Review, can be found in the car magazine section. Below is a flick-through of a 1967 brochure for the slightly later, 1967, Mk3 variant.
Old Classic Car (C) R. Jones 2023. Content not to be reproduced elsewhere.