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1973 Triumph Dolomite Sprint Group 1 Touring Car For Sale

This ex-works Group 1 Triumph Dolomite Sprint flew the flag for British Leyland in the Belgian Touring Car Championships of the 1970s. Among those who drove it in period was BL’s motorsport legend Tony Pond

YEAR 1973?ENGINE 1998cc/4-cyl/OHC/twin-Weber 48 DCOEs?POWER 230-250bhp (est, dependent on cam)?MAXIMUM SPEED 135mph plus
0-60MPH N/A
GEARBOX RWD, 4-speed manual?MILEAGE 23,300 miles?MOT N/A?CHASSIS NUMBER VA/2493-LDLO?COLOUR White with British Leyland racing graphics and black vinyl hood?INTERIOR Black, stripped out
WIDTH 1568mm?LENGTH 4115mm

The range that eventually culminated in the sporty and desirable Dolomite Sprint was so convoluted that probably not even Triumph could explain quite what was going on. Beginning with the Michelotti-designed Triumph 1300 in 1965 - the marque’s very first front-wheel drive car - there followed models such as the 1300TC, 1500, 1500TC, Toledo and Dolomite 1850. Shells fluctuated in length, engines were changed, suspension was altered and, most notably of all, what had been a FWD car switched to being rear-wheel drive.

By the early 1970s though, things were beginning to settle down. In October 1972, Triumph - by then one of the several divisions competing for attention within the British Leyland conglomerate - began building its new compact executive saloon, the Dolomite. It used Triumph’s new 1854cc slant-four overhead-cam engine of 91bhp to give a luxurious, swift and well-equipped car that Triumph hoped compared favourably with its rivals from both home and abroad.

However, as good as the Dolomite was, it found itself lagging against European competitors such as the BMW 2002. Triumph’s response was the Sprint in June 1973, which featured a then-innovative 16-valve head that, combined with capacity increased to 1998cc and bigger carburettors, developed 127bhp and gave 119mph. Alloy wheels came as standard - a first on a mainstream British car - along with a full vinyl roof. It should have been a world-beater, but the usual BL maladies of strikes and quality control meant that Sprint gained something of a notorious reputation and never lived up to expectations. A shame, because at heart, it was an excellent car let down by the details. All Dolomites ceased production in 1980, replaced (sort of) by the Anglo-Japanese Triumph Acclaim, but the cars - especially the Sprint - have since become much-loved (and reliable) classics.

Thanks to the tunable nature of the 16-valve engine, Dolomites were also used for competition, with Leyland Special Tuning at Abingdon, the former competitions department, building cars for rallying and Touring Car championships. Which leads us rather nicely onto this particular example…

In 1973, Julien Vernaeve, the BMC works driver turned Belgium’s British Leyland distributor, was quick off the block to order himself a new Dolomite Sprint Group 1 racer, to be delivered to him in Belgium. Chassis number 2493 was the result, sponsored and supported by the Butch Tailors Racing Team and Broadspeed, and initially finished in Mimosa Yellow.

After a few years on the Belgian Touring Car scene, including multiple races at Spa, it returned to Abingdon in late 1975 to receive the latest homologation upgrades - including a new thick block engine and Weber DCOE 48s. It was also re-liveried in BL’s racing colours. It had more success in Belgian Touring Car events this time around, with podium finishes, class wins and lap records, but never managed to win a Championship. Among those who drove it in anger, in addition to Julien Vernaeve, were Tony Pond, Guy Pirenne and Rene Metge. According to Vernaeve, it was the one car he raced that ‘had everything thrown at it, it wanted for nothing, but as racing can be sometimes - it just didn't happen as we had hoped’.

The car retired in 1978 and went on static display at Vernaeve’s BL dealership in Ghent. After being sold in 1998, it briefly returned to racing again, before finding itself as an exhibit at the Abbaye de Stavelot Museum. It re-entered motorsport in 2011 and has attended Goodwood Members’ Meetings since 2014. Had the COVID-19 situation not so badly affected things during 2020, it would have competed there again this year; its invite had been received. However, with full FIA papers and nothing needing to be done, it will easily be able to return to the fray when normality returns. You could spend a small fortune preparing a classic race car… or buy this, where all the hard work and cash has already been spent, and the vehicle has a fantastic provenance.

The Dolomite was the recipient of a full body restoration during 2013, and although raced since, it’s still in very good order. The original doors, boot and bonnet panels, and front and rear screens, were preserved in storage because of their historic significance - the car now has donor panels and glass in place replicating its 1976 livery. However, the original items will be included as part of the sale.

Inevitably, the car has picked up some subsequent campaign scars. There’s a smattering of nose stonechips (most on the front spoiler), a small crack in the paint above the right-hand outer headlamp, some missing paint spots under the wheelarches and a small tear in the vinyl roof, on the left-hand side towards the rear. But the panels are straight and the paint and decals very vibrant. Dunlop Racing 175/550-13 tyres dated 2019 are fitted, enveloping good condition black Minilites. Everything was ready for the 2020 racing season that never happened.

There’s little left of the standard interior - this is a cabin purely for racing and safety. Everything non-essential has been stripped out; even the real timber from the dash has been replaced with stick-on wood effect vinyl. However, real wood remains on the door cappings and glovebox side of the fascia.

Meeting all necessary regulations, a full, very hefty roll-cage has been installed, and the only seat is the Recaro racing item with six-point TRS harness. Additional Racetech gauges are fitted, with a 10k rev counter and vital switches on a stack to the right of the left-hand steering wheel. A Lifeline Electronic fire suppression system has been installed. The boot has been stripped out and is now dominated by a 16-gallon alloy foam-filled fuel tank.

Although there are some areas of wear and tear, everything in general remains very tidy. All modifications have been carried out to a professional standard.

In recent years, the mechanical side of things has been looked after by Ken Clarke Motorsport and Warren Heath Engineering. It was the latter who rebuilt the engine and overhauled the suspension in 2016. Lifting the bonnet reveals an engine that bears only a passing resemblance to that of a standard Triumph Dolomite Sprint - although BL enthusiasts will be pleased to see that the ‘plughole of doom’ oil cap survives.

The rare homologated thick wall block engine from the 1970s remains, with alloy-ported, flowed 16-valve cylinder head and steel crank, steel caps, steel rods, JE custom pistons, steel custom profile camshaft and stainless steel valves. Combined with other mods such as the twin Weber 48 DCOE carburettors, Group 1 exhaust manifold and downpipe, and straight-through exhaust, power is now around 230 to 250bhp. An alloy radiator and oil cooler is fitted.

Cosmetically, the engine bay is clean but is obviously a working environment, so has occasional areas of rust and grime and some paint-cracking at the top of the right-hand suspension strut.

A full technical specification is included with the paperwork, but in brief, the Triumph also features an Abingdon Special Tuning STR53 close ratio gearbox, Salisbury limited slip differential, and Group 1 front brake calipers with vented discs complemented by vented drums at the rear. There’s also a twin pipe master brake cylinder, balance bar and dash mounted bias adjustment. Koni two-way adjustable dampers and coil springs, and a front anti-roll bar, help keep the Sprint in check through the twisty bits.

First things first - this car isn’t road-legal, so you won’t be popping down to Waitrose in it. Neither would you want to. With its side-exit exhaust, it is incredibly, almost brutally loud, and quite the beast. At slow speeds, the racing clutch and Abingdon Special Tuning close ratio gearbox make it a struggle to keep from stalling when changing gear. But this isn’t a car for pottering; it’s a racing weapon and you can feel it begin to come into its own the faster you go. With a top speed, theoretically, in excess of 135mph, its full potential can only be realised on the circuit. Which is where it belongs and should give immense satisfaction and, hopefully, success.

The history file that accompanies the car is a thick one, chronicling all its highs and lows during its 1970s racing career, and what it has achieved since. In addition, there are period pictures, British Leyland correspondence and details of work carried out. It’s a comprehensive folder.

SUMMARY?This Dolomite Sprint is an eye-catching machine in its vibrant and colourful British Leyland racing livery. And you could take it to a circuit tomorrow and it would be highly competitive. All the necessary work has been done for it to race during 2021. Its provenance is excellent, and a new owner will be able to add even more to that.Our Car is competitively priced given its history and the amount and standard of work that has been carried out.

Please contact us for further details, or to arrange a viewing of this Triumph Dolomite Spring Touring Car.
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