1963-1970 Triumph Spitfire

After some initial setbacks, the Spitfire debuted for the 1963 model year, and the 1963-1970 Triumph Spitfire evolved into a popular and successful little sports car.

The 1965 Spitfire had moved on to its Mark 2 version, with revised camshaft and upgraded interior.
The 1965 Spitfire had moved on to its Mark 2 version,
with revised camshaft and upgraded interior.

Michelotti's prototype was shipped to Coventry in the autumn of 1960, which suggests the Spitfire could have entered production by the end of 1961. Instead, the car was briefly tested, then stored under a dust sheet until Stanley Markland stumbled across it the following summer.

The delay, as Webster told the boss, stemmed from another of Standard-Triumph's several brushes with bankruptcy, which eventually led to a takeover by Leyland Motors, of British truckbuilding fame. Once fresh funds were in place, and with Maryland's swift, hearty endorsement, Standard-Triumph launched its Bomb.

The Spitfire name didn't come up until 1962, reputedly a brainwave from sales director Donald Stokes (later the chairman of Standard-Triumph and the successor British Leyland combined). Although Triumph always insisted that there was no connection with the renowned Spitfire fighter aircraft of World War II Royal Air Force fame, some later advertisements featured the car and plane together, and at least one U.S. ad depicted the car bearing RAF roundels.

The Spitfire and Herald were produced side-by-side at Canley until the latter was killed off in 1971, but they did not always get new features or improved components at the same time. Though body panels and major chassis stampings were unique to each model, the Spitfire used a good many Herald parts in its early years, including a chassis-mounted rear axle/differential, rack-and-pinion steering, and Girling front-disc/rear-drum brakes.

Spring/damper rates naturally differed, but powertrains were essentially shared too, although Spitfire engines were tuned for more power than in the Herald -- initially 63 bhp versus 51.

Also, starting in late 1963, only the sports car offered center-lock wire wheels and optional overdrive that worked on both third and top gears of the shared four-speed manual gearbox, which lacked first-gear synchromesh.

At that same time, the Spitfire acquired better seats and an extra-cost removable hardtop. Early 1965 introduced a Mark 2 version with a hotter camshaft that added four horsepower, plus floor carpeting instead of rubber mats, and a vinyl covering for the previously painted metal dashboard.

Though you might think otherwise, the Herald's demise didn't threaten the Spitfire. This was partly due to the 1966 introduction of the GT6, essentially a Spitfire fastback coupe powered by Triumph's 2.0-liter inline six. The close similarity enabled tooling costs to be spread over higher volume, thus making each model more financially viable than either would have been alone. Again, these two didn't always evolve in tandem, but each usually benefited from improvements developed for the other.

The 95-bhp GT6 fastback coupe was introduced in 1966.
The 95-bhp GT6 fastback coupe was
introduced in 1966.

­The further revised Spitfire Mark 3 arrived in 1967, wearing a raised front bumper that gave a "bone in mouth" appearance, a change made mostly in deference to anticipated U.S. safety standards; GT6s got this for 1968.

More welcome were a permanently attached soft top, replacing a plug-in frame with separate canvas; a new 1296-cc engine with non-siamesed ports and 75 bhp; wood-veneer dash trim; larger front disc brakes; and beefier clutch. The Mark 3 was the fastest Spitfire yet, capable of some 95 mph.

Follow the Spitfire story through the 1970s and into its final year on the next page.

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