One of the longest-standing automotive rivalries is that of the MG Midget versus the Triumph Spitfire. Both were conceived as small, inexpensive alternatives to larger models like the MGA and B and Triumph’s TR series, both elicited very brisk, sprightly performance from diminutive four-cylinder engines and both were produced for almost 20 years. Introduced in 1962, a year after the Midget, the Spitfire was the faster and more luxurious of the two (it boasted wind-down windows and exterior door locks!) although it’s body-on-chassis construction was archaic and its rear swing-axle made it prone to oversteer during fast cornering.
The Spitfire’s origins go back to 1957, when it was styled by Giovanni Michelotti. Perhaps surprisingly, it had more in common mechanically with the Herald saloon than with the TR models, sharing the Herald’s Standard SC engine and running gear and utilising a shortened version of the Herald chassis. On its release, the Spitfire was immediately popular with sports-car enthusiasts, and it proved itself quite capable in competition, with notable victories in the 1964 Tour de France Rally, 1964 Monte Carlo Rally and 1965 Alpine Rally.
It benefitted from regular upgrades and the Mk. III was released in 1967. It marked the first significant facelift for the Spitfire, with the front bumper redesigned and mounted higher to meet new crash regulations. A new hood design made for much easier raising and lowering. Under the bonnet, the old 1147 cc engine was bored out to 1296cc, giving it the same engine as the Herald 13/60 and the Triumph 1300 saloons. With twin SUs, the engine was said to be good for 75 bhp at 6000rpm, and the Mk. III was the best-performing Spitfire yet, with a 0-60mph time of 13.4 seconds and a top speed of 95mph.
Spitfire production passed the 100,000 mark in 1968 and, although the Mk. III was retired in 1970, the Spitfire would remain in demand until the decline of Triumph and the British sports-car generally.
Spitfires sold extremely well when new, typically to people who wanted a quick and moderately thrilling car without having to part with a huge wad of cash. As such, they were used and enjoyed without much thought being given to preserving their history. This Spitfire’s ownership history only goes back to a gentleman from the Huntingdon area who ran it in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the past, it has been painted white and dark green before the eye-catching red it wears now was applied. The vendor acquired it in 2016 from a gentleman in North Yorkshire.
Apart from a V5 and an MoT certificate from 2019, most of the Spitfire’s bulky paperwork file is receipts and invoices. The majority of these were accumulated during the ownership of the Huntingdon gentleman some 15-20 years ago, and by the current vendor, who has spent generously on the car in the five years he’s owned it. Interestingly, a few photographs are included which show the Spitfire in its previous colour schemes.
The Spitfire’s cockpit is quite a pleasant place to be, considering it was never supposed to be much more than Spartan. The upholstery is all in very good condition, and a most attractive colour. The fascia is basic, but it is comprehensively stocked with all the gauges and switches you’re ever likely to need, and again it is in good condition. A new ashtray assembly was fitted very recently.
The interior does deviate somewhat from original specification, two instances of which are the aftermarket Mountney wood-rimmed steering wheel and the mismatched front seatbelts. A more modern modification is the pair of leather straps which have been fitted to the rear seats. As the seats themselves are scarcely suitable for any but the smallest of children, the vendor has used the straps to secure a Bluetooth speaker (not included in the sale), which can make motoring that much more pleasant. Nevertheless, despite the changes, it all still belongs unmistakably to the British sports-car idiom.
We cannot guarantee all the lights and instruments work, and we noted that the generator light did not come on when starting the car, but we do not think it should take much work to have everything functioning as it ought to.
Cosmetically, the Spitfire is not perfect in the sense of being concours-ready, but it is perfect for the sort of owner who wants something to jump straight in and drive without worrying about picking up the odd scratch or stone chip. The attractive red paint does have some cracks and chips here and there, although they don’t show unless you look closely, and they shouldn’t be a cause for concern unless you’re specifically looking to win trophies.
If anything, the chrome is better than the paint, with no obvious blemishes to be seen. The painted wire wheels, an original factory option and one of the most tasteful choices in our opinion, have acquired some patina over time and are none the worse for it. The only things which really require attention are the doors, which appear to have dropped slightly and have to be lifted and closed quite forcefully. This has had a knock-on effect, as the passenger window does not seem to align correctly with the windscreen. It does benefit from an all-new tan hood, which fits very well and can be raised very easily.
Crucially, everything appears to be substantially solid and, despite the paint blemishes, we did not spot any signs of corrosion. Of course, having a body that can be removed from the chassis actually puts the Spitfire at a great advantage over unitary cars when structural repairs are required, but we don’t have any cause to suspect that they will be.
When we saw the Spitfire, it had not been started for a week, but it came to life after a few turns of the ignition and was soon purring away happily. Fed by twin SU carburettors, the compact four-cylinder runs very evenly and is presented cleanly and tidily, with the polished rocker cover adding a showy touch. The deep, throaty exhaust note is really quite euphonious, and is suggestive of a fast and purposeful motor-car. The Spitfire slots into gear and pulls away very smoothly, so we don’t envisage the gearbox or clutch giving trouble any time soon.
It was last MoTed in 2019, passing with the advisory note that one of the coolant hoses was perished and was leaking. That has since been resolved, so there should not be anything to stop the Spitfire being enjoyed on the road.
Like its namesake warbird, the Spitfire is quick, agile and very good-looking. Even as it approaches 60, it still offers everything the motoring enthusiast could want without costing the earth. Joining the ranks of Spitfire owners places you in good company, and with such a strong following, spares availability is excellent and a lively social circle has been built around them.
This one may be showing its age in a few places but, if anything, that should be a reassurance to the driving enthusiast who likes to use cars properly and is aware that they pick up the odd paint chip every now and again. What few faults this car has should be straightforward to put right and, once you’re out on the road beneath the summer sun, all will be right with the world.
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