The GT6: Spitfire With a Roof Over Its Head
It's easy to think now that the GT6 was an inevitable marriage of Spitfire and Herald Sports Six. But in 1963, when the project began, there was no thought that the fastback would have a six-cylinder engine.
The 1969 GT6 was a Mark 2 with new vents and
higher-mounted front bumper.
The GT6 originated in the so-called Spitfire GT, a one-off prototype shaped by Giovanni Michelotti in Turin. John Lloyd, deputy to technical director Harry Webster, once said that it was not the first attempt: "What really happened was that, having done the Spitfire, Harry decided, with [production head] George Turnbull, to do a fastback mini-Jaguar E-type, and Leslie Moore, our stylist, did one at the factory. That car looked bloody awful...The roof was deep and bulbous. That's when Harry called in Michelotti again, and we shipped out a Spitfire for him to make a four-cylinder GT."
Painted red and completely road-worthy, the prototype arrived in Coventry in the autumn of 1963. Michelotti had neatly melded a sweeping fastback roofline with the Spitfire body, and even incorporated a useful lift-up hatch. But the prototype was slower and potentially much more expensive than the open Spitfire, leading Triumph to conclude that it wouldn't sell very well.
This 1970 GT6 Plus (as the Mark 2 was known in
the U.S.) bears large side-marker lights required
by the U.S. government.
Accordingly, by 1964, the prototype was running a Sports Six 1600 six-cylinder modified to make 77 bhp. But that still wasn't enough, so Triumph soon substituted the 2.0-liter Vitesse/Sports Six engine, plus an all-synchromesh gearbox.
Thus developed, the smart new Spitfire-based coupe went on sale at the end of 1966, and for the next seven years, the GT6 closely imitated its "parents": the Spitfire in chassis and basic body styling, the Herlad-based Vitesse/Sports Six in running gear. Early cars had 95 bhp and swing-axle rear suspension.
In 1969 came the Mark 2 -- GT6 Plus in the United States -- with far more effective lower-wishbone rear suspension, plus a nicer cabin and the 104-bhp engine of the Mark 2 Vitesse. Top speed was up to around 110 mph versus 105.
The final iteration of the GT6 was the Mark 3, which
ran from model years 1971-1973.
Arguably the best of the bunch was the Mark 3 of 1970, identified by a tail reshaped in the fashion of Spitfire Mark IV, plus reprofiled rear side windows and more cockpit fiddles. In early 1973, the GT6 switched to the Spitfire's less sophisticated "swing-spring" rear suspension, purely a cost-cutting move, though handling and roadholding weren't noticeably different.
But because performance was disappointing in the prime United States market -- sales were always lower than expected -- the GT6's demise was hastened. The last ones rolled out at the end of 1973 after total production of only 41,253.
Continue to the next page to find models, prices, and production numbers for the 1963-1980 Triumph Spitfire.
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