Peter Pickering - Words and Worlds Interwoven

From Cooper to Spitfire

A Journey of Classic British Cars

Still in England, just before I bought my beloved MGB, I had a brief yet memorable stint with a Triumph Spitfire. This was a period following my ownership of a Mini Cooper, a car that had already won me over with its sporty, nimble handling. Eager to step up my motoring game, I sought a "real" sports car, and the visual allure of the Triumph Spitfire promised the adrenaline rush I craved. I was also drawn to the Spitfire as it bore a similarity to the Volvo P1800 driven by Simon Templar in "The Saint," a hero of mine in the sixties. The Volvo was clearly the more desirable car but way beyond my humble budget. The Spitfire, with its sleek design, seemed like a feasible dream though it was a rather selfish and totally impractical indulgence as I was already married, with one daughter, and a second on the way.

The Spitfire's sleek, sporty lines stirred excitement when I first laid eyes on it. Its design suggested speed and agility, qualities I hoped would translate into an exhilarating driving experience. However, the reality of owning and driving the Spitfire was somewhat lacking, especially compared to the Mini Cooper. I was underwhelmed.

Driving the Spitfire felt more like pointing it in the general direction of where I wanted to go and hoping it would track there. The steering was far from precise, making winding country lanes a nerve-wracking challenge. The car had a tendency to wander, requiring constant corrections to keep it on course. Speed-induced sweaty palms were a common occurrence, not because of the thrill, but due to the sheer effort of managing the vehicle's unpredictable handling. In hindsight, and in fairness, perhaps the steering and suspension components were worn.

Reaching 0-60mph in 14-16 seconds in the 1147cc Spitfire was quite laughable when we consider today's Tesla with a 0-60 time of 3 seconds! It felt sluggish and underpowered in comparison to the Mini Cooper, despite having a similar power to weight ratio. However, the driving dynamics and the way each car delivered its power were different. The brakes were another disappointment, despite front discs, failing to inspire confidence when it came time to slow down or stop. This was especially concerning on the twisty, narrow roads where quick, responsive braking was often necessary. Maybe I just had a poor example.

Despite these drawbacks, there was one notable advantage to the Spitfire: its fuel efficiency. I once undertook a long journey from Warwickshire to Norfolk, a significant trek in those days. To my surprise and delight, the Spitfire managed an impressive 50 miles to the gallon. This level of economy was remarkable and at least gave the car one redeeming quality.

The Spitfire was white with a striking red interior, a classic colour combination that added to its visual appeal. It was a two-seater, but the cabin was cramped, requiring a shoehorn-like effort to get in and out. While this wasn't too much of an issue back then, in my svelte days, I can't help but think that if I were to attempt the same feat today, I might fall into it but I'd need considerable assistance to extricate myself from the tiny confines of the car.

My time with the Triumph Spitfire was relatively short-lived. While it had its moments, the overall experience left me yearning for something more substantial and 'manly'. I decided to sell the Spitfire and buy an MGB, drawn by its undeniable appeal. The MGB had more testosterone—more of a man's car. Its robust build and commanding presence made it the perfect choice for my next motoring adventure, embodying a sense of strength and power that the Spitfire simply couldn't match. The MGB was not just a car; it was a statement, a bold declaration of my automotive passion.

Specifications of the Triumph Spitfire

The Triumph Spitfire was a small British sports car produced by Standard-Triumph from 1962 to 1980. It was designed by the renowned Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti and featured a sleek, compact body that promised an exciting driving experience.

Engine and Performance

  • Engine: The Spitfire initially came with a 1,147 cc (1.1 L) inline-four engine, producing around 63 bhp.

  • Later Models: Later versions, such as the Spitfire Mk III, featured a 1,296 cc (1.3 L) engine, while the Mk IV and 1500 models were equipped with a 1,493 cc (1.5 L) engine producing up to 71 bhp.

  • Transmission: It had a 4-speed manual transmission, with optional overdrive available in later models.

  • Top Speed: The top speed ranged from 90 mph (145 km/h) for the early models to about 100 mph (160 km/h) for the later 1500 models.

  • Acceleration: 0-60 mph times varied between 14-16 seconds, depending on the model and engine size.

Design and Features

  • Body: The Spitfire had a distinctive, streamlined body with a front-hinged bonnet (hood) that allowed easy access to the engine and front suspension.

  • Chassis: It was built on a modified version of the Triumph Herald chassis, featuring a backbone-type frame.

  • Suspension: The car had independent front suspension with coil springs and an independent rear suspension with transverse leaf springs.

  • Brakes: It came with front disc brakes and rear drum brakes, providing adequate stopping power for the lightweight vehicle.