The affectionate nickname ‘Dolly Sprint’ is a measure of the respect aficionados have for the car. Triumph’s Dolomite Sprint was a very fast, very clever creation. Its Jekyll was a four-door, traditionally manicured, upmarket saloon calculated to reassure corporate managers of their status, and to persuade them by association of its genteel suitability as an executive-level company fleet vehicle for their colleagues.
Its Hyde was invisible engineering that gave the Sprint blistering acceleration and the high-speed stamina to win the British Saloon Car Championships (in 1975 and 1978). The Sprint was the 2 litre performance version of the Triumph Dolomite luxury saloon — but the Sprint’s engine was technically much more original than the usual upgrade. Len Dawtrey, one of Spen King’s dedicated design team, found a way to actuate 16 valves off a single camshaft.
His method sited the plugs centrally in the cylinder head, the ideal position to create real gains in horsepower from the available engine. Now it sounds simple. Then, it was revolutionary, and the cylinder head won a British Design Council award in 1974. Everything else had to be improved to tame the dramatic increase in power. In overdrive, Sprint Jekyll cruised with smooth refinement; but when push needed a shove, Sprint Hyde responded with brusque urgency and violence that really did seem to belong to a different character.
Otherwise sharp handling was prone to understeer on tight corners — but drivers got used to it, and enjoyed the Sprint’s dual nature. A walnut fascia, thick carpeting, armchair comfort and every conceivable facility added to the pleasure (and distractions) of driving a car which demanded focus and concentration; but the real enemy was British Leyland’s penny-pinching and slapdash quality control, which brutalized the Sprint’s reputation. Happily, surviving Sprints are still terrorizing the world of motor sports.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: UK
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1973 (until 1980)
ENGINE: 1,998 cc Straight Four
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 118 mph (190 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 8.4 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: In 1975, the British specialist car maker Panther created a ‘mini Rolls-Royce’ version of the Triumph Dolomite Sprint. The Panther Rio has hand-beaten panel work and flaunts man interior of sybaritic leather and walnut luxury — at not much more than three times the price.