The Austin Healey Sprite proved there was a market for small British sports ears and the bandwagon springs were soon creaking as first the MG Midget and then the Triumph Spitfire climbed aboard — both would outlast their inspiration with the late-arriving Spitfire doing best with nearly 315,000 sold in 18 years. It evolved considerably during that run, but it all began with the Mk I sometimes called the Spitfire 4) in 1962.
In fact, Standard-Triumph had been planning their baby sports car for some time, having commissioned a design in the late 1950s. It was based on the Triumph Herald saloon, which had a separate chassis that was easily modified to carry a sports body without the need for expensive retooling. Even so, the company couldn’t afford the launch the Spitfire until Leyland took over.
The new owner discovered the traditionally styled prototype with its pleasing lines lurking in the Standard-Triumph factory and promptly sanctioned production. This basic sports car had advantages — like a tilt-forward front end that offered excellent access to the 1.1 litre engine — and disadvantages like swing-axle rear suspension that was liable to cause violent oversteer. Trim was basic, though the Spitfire had wind-up windows (unlike contemporary Sprites and Midgets) whilst wire wheels and a hard top were options.
The Triumph Spitfire went through several evolutions. There was a GT6 coupe from 1966 to 1973. The Spitfire Mk II (1965-1967) saw a relatively minor interim upgrade. The Mk III (1967-1970) had a serious facelift with a bigger engine. The Mk IV (1970-74) saw a major upgrade with significant style changes. The last version was the Spitfire 1500, with the largest engine of all, which ran from 1974 to 1980, though not without problems — completing a series that offered fun-packed open-top motoring on an affordable budget.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1962 (until 1980)
1,147 cc Straight Four
Top speed of 92 mph (148 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 17.3 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The final demise of the Triumph Spitfire in 1980 ended an era, as Standard-Triumph’s historic works at Canley, Coventry, was closed shortly afterwards – and after passing through various hands the Triumph name finished up being owned by BMW, which kept the name after selling on the Rover Group.