Q: Greg, I enjoy your columns very much especially on the sports cars in all shapes and sizes. I would appreciate if you could write about the Triumph sports cars as a friend of mine had a nice 1973 Triumph GT6 MK3 when I was in college.
Can you give me some history on the Triumph and some of your memories of the racing Triumphs? Pete S., Arizona.
A: Pete I’d be happy to assist. Your friend’s 1973 Triumph GT6 MK3 was the last year that model was produced by British Leyland, which was the corporate head of all those neat Triumph sports cars. The Spitfire you mention is a hardtop model, conceived from the Spitfire convertible that debuted in 1966. Both ragtop and hardtops received a redesign when the Triumph GT6 arrived at dealers in 1970.
Also beginning in 1970, instead of a four-cylinder the GT6 MK3 arrived with an inline 6-cylinder in 2.0 liter, 122 cubic inch design that put out 95 horsepower. Now I know 95 horses doesn’t sound like much, but with a curb weight of only 1936 lbs., the little Spitfire could run up to a top speed of 113 MPH thanks to its featherweight design. As for drag racing style acceleration, a Spitfire six could arrive at 60-MPH in about 9.5-seconds with a good shifting driver behind the wheel.
To the disappointment of many Triumph enthusiasts, however, the last U.S. models were hampered by government intervention that resulted in lower compression engines because of the mandated use of lower octane unleaded gasoline. Of course, all car manufacturers experienced the same fate, as the years 1973 through 1980 weren’t known as “performance years” by any means.
On the country’s road racing tracks countless Triumphs, including the Spitfire and the TR-style models you mention, competed regularly in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) classes of competition. Many compete to this day in historic races, like the SVRA vintage events that are held coast to coast.
Along with Triumph’s numerous TR-series models, the Spitfires weren’t far behind in popularity. Most of these Triumphs were built to compete head-to-head with the other foreign models, namely Austin Healy Bugeye Sprites, smaller bore Porsches, Austin Healy 3000s, Morgans, and MGA, MGB and MG Midgets. I saw many of the TR2, TR3 and TR4 Triumphs compete from 1958 through 1965 at the Vineland Speedway in New Jersey and they were very competitive and fun to watch.
The early TR models were four-cylinder powered, but then Triumph started putting its inline-6 into some of the TRs in 1961. By the time Triumph TR 5, TR250 and TR6 arrived, the inline-6 was the standard engine.
The first official TR4 with the six-cylinder was built in July of 1961 for you Triumph Trivia fans out there while the last TR4 rolled off the line in January of 1965.
As for racing championships in the United States, Bob Tullius won the E/Production SCCA National Championship for Triumph in 1962. He then doubled up in 1963 and 1964 by winning two more SCCA National Championships in a D/Production TR4. The Tullius Triumphs were all numbered 44 for its corporate racing name, Group 44 Racing. On divisional levels of racing, many Triumphs both TR and Spitfire models won regional events.
On the world-racing scene, perhaps Triumph’s biggest “triumph” was a first in class and 13th overall at the 1965 France LeMans 24-hour race in an underpowered and race only prototype Triumph Spitfire 4 Mk 1. Designed by Giovanni Michelloti, respected worldwide for conception of many great Italian cars like Maserati and Ferrari, this big win led to the development of the consumer production six-cylinder Mark I GT6 in 1966. I always felt Tullius winning here in America coupled with the LeMans Spitfire win really pushed the sales of Triumph sports cars during that period.
As for Spitfire build numbers; from 1966 to 1973 just 41,253 Spitfires were ever produced. That number shrinks to 13,072 for GT6 Spitfire production from 1970 to 1973. By 1974, the GT6 was dropped by Triumph, although Triumph still sold many TR6 and TR7 models, and also its rare V8 powered TR8 through 1981. The V8 TR8, powered by a Buick/Rover design 3.5-V8, had a production run of only 2,750 cars, of which perhaps 750 still remain.
Although it will never be an ultra expensive collector car, Spitfire GT6 MK3s currently are listed by NADA from $5,900 low retail to $17,900 high retail with an average of $10,200. These prices allow for an excellent choice to enter the collector sports car hobby.
Many Triumph clubs exist and I recommend the Vintage Triumph Register at https://vintagetriumphregister.org.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader inquiries and comments on collector cars and auto nostalgia at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org).