A few years ago, I wrote a piece about a 1970 Triumph GT6+ that I bought in the summer of ’76, just after I graduated high school—how it was the first and easily the worst car I’ve ever owned, and how the rust, metal fatigue, and electrical issues (headlights dying at night and wipers dying in the rain) verified that everything bad you’ve ever heard about British cars is true. The experience was so negative that it waved me off British cars for 37 years, until I bought a dead ’74 Lotus Europa Twin Cam Special in 2013, a decision for which I still have no defense.
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Very cool story. I would not be surprised if that is your frame.
In 1976 when I got my driver’s license one of the first cars I looked at while shopping for my first car was a British Racing green TR6. It was already rusty even though it was only three years old so I walked away. Over the next decade I looked at two others, but they weren’t quite right so I didn’t buy either one.
The first car I ended up buying was a 1973 Mercury Capri with a 2600 cc V6 and a 4 speed, a fun car. I owned the Capri until I bought a new 1981 Mazda RX7.
Yes, I too often have dreams about the Capri. The dreams are always about the same, I either get the car out of storage or stumble across it somewhere and get it running again, often to spectacular results.
Going back to the TR6’s. I always had a thing for them and always wanted one. Whenever I actually would go and look at them they were never quite right. One day though, while driving my visiting brother and sister in law around the valley where we built our new house, I stumbled upon one for sale in a front yard. It was a rust free 1976 with 43k miles, original interior, top and paint. The owners had it and their house for sale so they could move to a house boat in Long Island, all the way across the country. After watching it go unsold for a month or two I offered $5,300, a bit more than half his original asking price.
I’ve now owned the car 25 years. Anybody interested in seeing the car can go to YouTube and search for “TR6 wonderful sounds” and the video should come up. It’s the Yellow car.
I had a MK III same problems! It was a rusted heap back in the early 80's. I still think of that car - I'm not really sure of the reason? It was the worst car that I had ever owned!!! But, I did learn a lot about auto mechanics, not by choice, but out of necessity!
Really gotta wonder if that MkII rear suspension wasn't the same thing under my cousin's Spitfire. After a long Memorial Day weekend camping trip where 4 of us (2 guys, 2 girls, my head out the zip out rear window for 3 days) went to the beach, my cousin flipped the car on a freeway ramp. We had "field repaired" the U joints in the middle of the night on a back road when we realized they were coming undone from the differential. It's amazing what you can do with a pair of pliers if you're determined. That was 100 miles from home. After dropping us off Tom had a local garage weld the flanges together. Later that night the windshield was accommodating enough to hold his head (mostly) off of the asphalt when the car went upside down. He bears a scar to this day, 48 years later. Never did decide if it was the U joints or the bottle of Boone's Farm (probably both) which upended that car.
Reminds me of...the 1967 Spitfire I bought in 1974 or so while in college. Paid $145 to a neighbor who just wanted to get rid of it. Red body, wire knock-off wheels! 1147cc/70cu in, 67 HP, and it weighed all of 1500lbs. loved the way the hood tilted up to work on the engine!
Then one day, I heard a ticking, then a knocking, then a loud bang. Piston rod cap had loosened and gave way. I rebuilt the engine, added higher lift cam, rebuilt the twin SUs, installed new transmission synchros, fixed the rusted out floors, replaced broken seat, repaired miscellaneous dents and rusted out rocker panels, and gave it a new coat of red paint (my first and only total car paint job!). A true labor of love!
Went through 3 clutch plates due to a bent back of engine transmission plate (and the trans was pulled from inside the car after removing a fiberglass cover each time).
Best feeling in the world was driving that car late at night, top down, on the Ohio back roads, and just listening to the engine as I shifted. Complete, total feedback from the rack and pinion steering. A pure sports car! (...although it coulda' used about 50 more HP!)
Joined the Navy in '79 and towed the Spitfire, behind my '77 Camaro, to Newport Rhode Island, Philadelphia, and then on to San Diego, and finally sold it to a shipmate.
After also having a Mustang GT, Mercedes E500, and now an E39 M5, that Spitfire will always be a favorite!
As a college student in the early 70s, I wanted to buy a GT6+ but my father was adamant. I ended up with a 1971 Cougar instead. In 1980, no longer subject to my father's will, I bought a '76 Spitfire 1500, which I still own. Later, I bought a 1980 TR7 drop head coupe, also still in my stable. I have come to the conclusion that the marque is well named. It's a triumph if you can keep the car running. My only other British experiences were driving a Ford Cortina from London to the far north of Scotland and back. Two weeks of pure pleasure, and owning a 1982 Jaguar XJ6 which committed suicide by catching fire parked in my driveway. Masochist that I am, I still love British cars.
In 1971 when I was 19, I was determined to buy either an MGB GT or a GT6. I ended up with an MG and it turned out to be the right choice. But I always liked the looks of the Triumph, especially the early ones. Fun fact, I live in San Jose, CA and at the Santa Teresa DMV office mounted on an outside wall are the cut up panels of a yellow Mk II or III GT6 forming a "flattened" car. Very cool, it can be seen on the Google Maps street view, 170 Martindale Ln., San Jose, CA.
The bent front bumper support lends credence that this frame is very possibly that of the author. Be that as it may, my story is about a 1965 Spitfire 4 (AKA Mk1). The little red sports roadster was actually my wife's car; she loved it till the "end". The beginning of the end came when the Spitfire was rear-ended at an intersection by a 1970 Pontiac LeMans. That pointy grill/bumper was jammed directly into the center of the Spitfire's rear end. Damage was substantial, but the driver of the other car worked for the Pontiac dealer and made an arrangement with his employer to have the TR repaired and resprayed at the dealer's body shop. They did a great job and we had the car back in no time. After a while, we noticed something wasn't quite right about the little roadster. We passed it off as a "British Car Quirk" and drove the car for a couple more years. Later, during a routine car service, the technician told us that the car had a bent rear axle. We thought he was kidding until he showed us that the right rear tire "wobbled" when it rotated, however very slightly. It had been a couple of years since the collision, but the bent axle likely was a result of that fender bender. We decided to keep driving the car until it started using oil. The Spitfire's engine breather was insufficient to support the "blow-by" created by the aging engine; so, oil began to dribble out of the dip stick tube. Unfortunately, the dipstick tube was directly above the exhaust pipe and oill started dripping onto the hot exhaust pipe. Living in California, it was just a matter of time before a CHP Officer "wrote us up" for a smoky vehicle. We were given the choice of repairing the aging engine or parking the car. Personal finances prohibited rebuilding the engine; so; we sold the car, as-is, to a gentleman who would repair the engine and keep the car on the road. The body and interior were perfect, the near-new tires were mounted on Lotus Elan wheels and everything else on the car was perfect. We accepted $100 cash for the car and watched it drive off into the sunset. Oh, if we only still had that cute, little car...
I had a Spitfire Mark III, later 60's era, that burdened my life for some years in the later 70's. It had no power, no room, no decent weather protection. It was useless in the Winter. I somehow destroyed several clutch disks, probably putting them in wrong. It mostly started and ran. Mostly. I loved it.
But then life interfered and I sold it. Like most of my vehicles I was happy when I bought it and happy when I sold it. I do not miss it, ever. My Miata takes care of what the Spitfire tried to do, and it does it without endless failure.
I had to laugh about the "Crowbar to the head" method of auto repair. On my 1976 Triumph Spitfire 1500 I had to replace the leaf spring that travels across the back of the car to the wheels. It had to be carefully lowered by hand onto four bolts under a removable cover behind the seats. My fingers still hurt from that experience but I got it done and the car is still on the road (for now).
Someone needs to do some research, as the information presented in this article about model names, rear suspension configurations, and the "VIN stamped into the frame" is well separated from reality!
It's interesting to research the value curve of our cars, they drop drastically the first years than slowly continue their gradual descent to a point determined by their innate desirability, after some time they appreciate in value depending upon several factors such as that type of car having appeared in movies or their success in vintage road racing, etc. The collector auctions show us that any restored car will be able to find a buyer, the question is how much money and energy will be required to bring a vehicle to it's best.
Ah yes, I had a Triumph Vitesse Convertible in England in the late 60's - kind of a TR4/GT6 Mk2 (depending on the year) but with a modified Herald body. The transverse rear spring was so weak the rear tires wore out in under 10K miles due to extreme negative camber, except in a sharp corner when the outside wheel went to extreme positive to make for interesting handling characteristics. So, I replaced the rear spring by myself and can attest to the fun of that knuckle bruising operation (tho' my forehead didn't come into play), which at best added a huge 2K to my rear tire life.
As for rust!?! The paint pealed off in chunks - perhaps because Triumph produced too many cars for the available engines which, rumor has it, resulted in the bodies being set on a grass field sans wheels with the incessant English drizzle keeping everything nice and wet. I also went thru two gearboxes and one clutch in less than 5 years, finally selling it as part of my wedding vows imposed by my new wife who thought a Jag would be more appropriate.
Triumph also made farm tractors, in two colors - blue or orange I believe. As another example of Triumph's quality control, during a job interview a friend of mine witnessed tractors rolling off the production line with different color wheels on either side . He declined the position!
The seller is correct - it's a Mk1 GT6 chassis as it has the simple swing axle rear suspension with all the camber change and lift-off oversteer that comes with it.
Mk2s added reversed lower wishbones to the transverse leaf spring and Rotoflex joints (also used on Lotus Elans), so this is definitely not one of those. Camber change was much less as it effectively gave an upper/lower wishbone geometry and cars with this rear end (including the Vitesse (Sports 6) Mk2s handled pretty well. Spitfires never used this rear end, but the Mk4 Spit did share the Mk3 GT6's setup which went back to swing axles, but with a "swing spring" which cured the tuck under tendencies of the Mk1. No GT6 or Spitfire ever had a live rear axle or two leaf springs.
My first cars were Triumphs of this chassis type, so I became very familiar with them - they were great cars when well maintained, especially the Vitesse convertibles. Many Spitfires have received the GT6 Mk2 rear suspension and 6 cyl motors to make quick little open cars. The sound of those little straight 6s was also intoxicating, even if the smallest of them at 1600cc with tiny pistons and only around 70hp wasn't very fast....
Seeing that pile of rust reminded me of the “just too good to throw away” piece of Triumph rust sitting on the side of my house. A third member for a Triumph waiting for somebody to need it.
No quote was ever more apt: "it was the first and easily the worst car I’ve ever owned, and how the rust, metal fatigue, and electrical issues (headlights dying at night and wipers dying in the rain) verified that everything bad you’ve ever heard about British cars is true." My first car, and last British-built car was a 1964 MGB. So soured was I on that vehicle, that I have resisted all the Jaguar and Bentley temptations that have crossed my path from the day I could afford them.