1971-1980 Triumph Spitfire

As the 1971-1980 Triumph Spitfire continued its successful run, big changes were afoot. The first round of changes occurred with the 1971-model Spitfire Mark IV -- yes, Triumph mysteriously switched from Arabic to Roman numerals. It was easily spotted via a larger grille opening and front bumper, seamless front-fender tops, and, most of all, a cut-off tail like that of big-brother TR6, all courtesy of Michelotti.

The 1971 Spitfire was a Mark IV with a more angular tail, longer bumpers, and seamless front fenders.
The 1971 Spitfire was a Mark IV with a more angular
tail, longer bumpers, and seamless front fenders.

Shared with the concurrent Mark 3 GT6 were a more orderly dashboard layout (actually continued from late Mark 3 Spitfires) with instruments ahead of the driver instead of centered; fully synchronized gearbox (a belated improvement); and so-called "swing spring" rear suspension. The last looked just like the original pure swing-axle arrangement, but the fixed transverse leaf spring was now free to pivot atop the differential.

It was the same principle that made accessory "camber compensators" so effective on Volkswagen Beetles. In combination with newly double-joined halfshafts, the revised geometry tamed the wanton, large-camber, rear-wheel "jacking" that often had earlier Spitfires making scary tail skids in hard cornering.

The
The "Spitfire 1500" decal on the nose of this 1977
Spitfire indicates the presence of a 1493-cc engine.

Unfortunately for Yanks, increasingly stringent exhaust-emissions standards began sapping their Spitfires' performance. Triumph responded for 1973 with another displacement increase, this time to 1493cc, for the otherwise little-changed Mark IV 1500.

But the larger engine made scant difference, as SAE net horsepower eased from 58 for 1971 to 57 on the 1973s, though that was better than the paltry 48 of "federal" 1972s. Other markets got the 1500 engine in 1975, but with less restrictive tuning and 71 net bhp. The resulting model, simply called Spitfire 1500, was arguably the best of all and certainly the quickest.

Post-1974 U.S. versions were also badged Spitfire 1500, but wore even larger government-required bumpers that added unwanted weight.

From this point on, the Spitfire would see no further change. Indeed, its days were numbered. The reason was not so much its elderly "classic" design as the financial turmoil that had left British Leyland struggling to survive.

The 1978 Spitfire was the most popular ever in the United States, selling 10,231 units.
The 1978 Spitfire was the most popular ever in the
United States, selling 10,231 units.

Then too, the GT6 had expired (after 1973), rendering Spitfire a production orphan sharing no parts with any other British Leyland model. Come 1980, with British Leyland's cash reserves critically low, the Spitfire was retired.

It has not been forgotten, of course. Aside from still having many fans the world over, the Spitfire was a major inspiration for Mazda's MX-5 Miata a decade later. Mazda even used a Spitfire body for stealth development testing of the Miata chassis -- a literal fitting tribute to the TR's endearing little sister.

To learn more about the GT6, an intriguing offshoot of the Spitfire story, continue on to the next page.

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