Spitfire: the name conjures up images of swooping around the lanes, silk scarf flying. Until, that is, the little car’s engine goes pop and you’re left at the roadside wondering where all that steam’s coming from.
Best we get in that reality check early on. The thing is, a Triumph Spitfire is such a pretty little thing and so darned cheap (you can get a tidy runner from £3500 and probably less) that the temptation to throw down this magazine and buy one right here, right now might be overwhelming. Resist it. Instead, look around and, above all, take a knowledgeable and sceptical mate with you when you’re allowed to go out shopping again.
Based on a shortened version of the Triumph Herald, the little two-seat convertible was launched in 1962 with a 1147cc engine. A more powerful, Mk2 version followed in 1965, itself replaced by the livelier Mk3 with a 1296cc engine in 1967. These 1960s cars are the prettiest and most coveted but rare. Looking around, we found only one: a 1968-reg with 69,000 miles for £10,000.
As the 1970s dawned, the Mk4 arrived with refreshed styling, an all-synchromesh gearbox and revised swing-spring rear suspension that tamed the back end. The dashboard was made full length and the instruments moved from the centre console to the driver’s side.
In 1974, the Spitfire gained the popular 1493cc engine that powered it through to last orders in 1980. It’s torquier than the 1300 but not quite as reliable. More rear suspension tweaks improved the handling still further. As an indication of how light the car was for much of its life, this last version was the heaviest at 851kg.
On your travels, you may encounter the occasional US-spec Spitfire. The Americans loved the car but clobbered it with extra emissions kit, heavy bumpers, lengthened outriggers and one carburettor rather than two. We found a lovely rust-free 1979-reg example with a faithfully recorded service history, up for £8000. It looked very tempting but experts advise against buying US-spec Spitfires, which, they say, are slow and heavy and not at all like Euro-spec cars.
It’s a shame but the fact is you don’t need any more problems when buying a Spitfire. The oldest are 58 but even the youngest are 40 years old, which, incidentally, makes them MOT exempt. Mechanicals can be fixed but rust is the big issue that costs lots of money to put right properly.
Parts are freely available. You can go for remanufactured but we like the idea of original bits from a breaker such as Spitfire Graveyard (spitfiregraveyard.com). Owner Dave Loversidge says he regularly gets one old wreck through his doors each week and has a queue of customers for the best bits. One day, we’ll be appalled that so many Spitfires were disposed of in this way but their parts are at least bringing more promising examples of this lovely car back to life.
How to get one in your garage