With its separate-chassis design, multiple body styles and even the option of six-cylinder power in Vitesse guise, the Herald was a car that always stood out from the crowd. We explain what to look for when buying one in the 21st century.
Making its debut at the same 1959 motor show as BMC’s Mini and Ford’s new Anglia 105E was Coventry’s latest compact saloon, the Triumph Herald. Compared with its Standard Eight and Ten predecessors, the newcomer looked bang on trend thanks Michelotti-penned styling that was fresh, modern and really rather pretty. Where the Herald differed from the norm, however, was in its use of a separate chassis at a time when monocoque construction had become the mainstream choice.
This could have been seen as a backward step, and yet it was the rejection of monocoque that made it easier for Triumph to offer an array of different Herald body styles. The inherent strength of the car lay in its chassis rather than its body panels, which meant that swapping the saloon’s roof for a sleeker alternative in order to create a coupe Herald was simplicity itself – as was removing the roof completely in 1960 for the arrival of the Herald convertible. By the time the Herald estate appeared in 1961, the smallest Triumph boasted a total of four different body styles, although the coupe was discontinued as early as 1964.
The Herald offered other advantages over its rivals, of course, including the tightest turning circle in its class (via a precise rack-and-pinion steering set-up), a particularly roomy interior and brilliant engine access thanks to the whole front end tipping forward rather than having a conventional bonnet – another feature made feasible via that separate chassis.
Early Heralds came with Standard-Triumph’s 948cc four-cylinder engine (already familiar to owners of the old Standard Ten), although 1961 saw the launch of the Herald 1200 featuring 1147cc power. The smaller-engined model was dropped in 1963, while the range-topping Herald 12/50 arrived that same year – complete with extra power (up from 39 to 51bhp), a Webasto sunroof and front disc brakes.
Power for the Herald 1200 increased to 48bhp in due course, but the next big announcement was the arrival of the Herald 13/60 in 1967, effectively replacing the 1200 and featuring the same 1296cc engine as the new front-wheel drive Triumph 1300. With 61bhp on tap, the 13/60 was the quickest Herald to date, and was competitive enough to remain in production right through to May 1971.
Prior to that, however, the most exciting development had been the launch of the Triumph Vitesse in 1962, effectively a six-cylinder version of the Herald (initially featuring a 1596cc small-bore version of the engine used in the Standard Vanguard Six, delivering a useful 70bhp) and available in both saloon and convertible guises. Triumph gave the Vitesse a boost in 1966 via the launch of the new 2-Litre, a model that provided 1998cc and 95bhp of healthy performance; but just two years later came a further power hike with the unveiling of the Vitesse 2-Litre MkII, with 104bhp on tap and the potential for more than 100mph flat out.
Herald and Vitesse handling was always ‘interesting’ thanks to rear suspension that comprised a single transversely-mounted leaf spring and a swing-axle set-up. The Vitesse’s chassis was reinforced and its suspension upgraded over the Herald’s, but it wasn’t until the announcement of the MkII that it finally got the kind of handling it deserved, thanks to the adoption – at last – of twin lower wishbone rear suspension. The MkII Vitesse might have lost some of the visual appeal of its predecessors (thanks to a new horizontal-bar front grille), but as a driver’s car it was vastly improved.
Whichever member of the Herald and Vitesse family you opt for nowadays, however, you’ll find it an entertaining and highly usable model; and with four body styles on offer, as well as a wide array of different engine options, there should be a small Triumph here to suit most potential owners. Just bear in mind that models like the Vitesse (only 51,000 of which were produced during its nine-year career) and Herald coupe will almost certainly be harder to find for sale than the regular four-cylinder saloon.
CHASSIS AND BODYWORK
The prime consideration when inspecting any Herald or Vitesse is, of course, the condition of its chassis, so begin by focusing your attention on the outriggers. The front and middle sections are obviously important, but it’s the rears that extend underneath the boot floor that are critical; if these have rotted, the damage might even have spread to the radius arm mounts, thus affecting the stability of the rear axle.
You also need to examine the chassis sections around the suspension mounts, as well as where the body bolts to the chassis, as these areas are crucial to the car’s overall strength. And don’t forget the side rails, which are obscured behind the floorpan and sill, and are therefore difficult to access; but the good news is that the Triumph’s sills aren’t structural thanks to that separate chassis.
Should you decide to take on a Herald or Vitesse project, you’ll find that chassis repair sections are readily available from companies like Rimmer Bros, including all outriggers, the side rails, suspension mount turrets and so on. Should you find a car that has issues with its A-post, however, you could be looking at a far more serious problem, especially if the doors are sagging; the screen frame panel is fixed to the bulkhead, and a rotten A-post can cause this (and sometimes even the bulkhead) to move, which means major work ahead.
The alignment of all outer panels should obviously be checked, although it has to be said that the Herald and Vitesse never had the neatest of shut lines. If the bonnet seems distorted when opening and closing it, the car may have been in an accident, which means you should check the front of the chassis for any rippling or repairs.
Most classic Triumphs benefit from excellent parts availability and the Herald/Vitesse is no exception. Rimmer Bros can supply most panels and repair sections, including front wings (which form part of the huge flip-forward bonnet), front valances, floorpans, front and rear inner wheelarches and so on. But if you’re buying a car that needs work, make sure you do your own research into the cost of the panels you’re likely to need and haggle accordingly with the vendor.
Look for signs of rust and bubbling paintwork in all of the outer panels, as none are completely immune; and don’t forget to have a good poke around the floorpans, boot floor and spare wheel well, as rot here is quite commonplace. The outer panels are bolt-on, which makes their replacement relatively straightforward; but having to replace floor section or part-panels adds extra complication and potential expense unless you’re handy with the welding torch.
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION
The biggest bonus when it comes to DIY maintenance is the Herald and Vitesse’s unrivalled engine access, which is handy if you end up with a car that’s not in the best of health. Starting the engine from cold, listen out for excessive crankshaft grumbles and ensure the oil pressure warning light goes out almost immediately. Make sure there’s not too much noise from the tappets, and have a good look around for oil leaks – particularly around the sump and rocker cover.
Whichever engine is fitted to the car you’re examining, be on the look-out for blue smoke when accelerating (which suggests worn piston rings) as well as on the over-run (which might be a sign of worn valve guides). A worn engine is relatively straightforward to replace, but you need to budget for the cost of this when deciding how much any car is worth.
Both the four- and six-cylinder Triumph engines are relatively simple in design, but it’s worth checking whether the car you’re buying has its original powerplant in place; upgrades aren’t unusual, particularly the 1296cc engine being retro-fitted into earlier models. If the vendor claims that the engine has been rebuilt, ask for proof of exactly what was done. It’s worth bearing in mind that not everything is interchangeable; MkII 2-Litre Vitesses, for example, came with a different camshaft and a new cylinder head (the same as the MkII GT6’s and TR5’s), both of which must match if you’re to get the right level of engine compression.
Transmission-wise it’s generally good news, although the Herald’s ’box (which lacks synchromesh on first gear) can be prone to wear on high-mileage cars, so listen out for excessive gearbox noise that might suggest worn bearings. The Vitesse transmission (all-synchromesh on the 2-Litre) was an uprated version in order to cope with the extra power, but can also suffer from wear; if the gears crunch (especially when selecting first or second), worn synchromesh is the most likely cause.
The gearchange of any Herald or Vitesse should be reasonably slick and precise; if there seems some resistance when trying to select a gear, the clutch plate could be at fault. If you come across a car that refuses to engage gear at all, however, this could be caused by nothing more complicated than linkage arms that require re-bushing. If you’re buying a Vitesse, it might come with the extra-cost option of overdrive that operates on the top two gears; any issues with this not working is normally down to an electrical problem, such as poor connections.
As with just about any saloon of the ’Sixties, the Herald family requires regular maintenance in order to remain reliable, and that’s certainly true when it comes to its running gear. The trunnions require greasing every 2-3000 miles, for example, in which case the suspension should give little trouble. When buying, however, check that the car sits level, make sure the springs are in good order, and look for obvious issues (such as fluid leaks) with the dampers. All of these cars roll when pushed hard into a corner, but if it feels over-sloppy during your test drive the suspension could be in need of an upgrade.
If the steering of the car you’re testing feels rather vague, this should be curable via nothing more than a new set of column bushes. (While we’re on that subject, there’s an argument for upgrading to polybushes in order to reduce vibration.) You should also turn the wheel lock to lock and check for excessive movement at the top of the steering column bush – although replacing this is a simple and inexpensive job.
The braking system is similarly simple in spec and easy to replace various elements of, whether it’s drum or disc brakes up front (the latter being optional on earlier Heralds and standard on the Vitesse, 12/50 and 13/60). Before you buy the car, you obviously need to check that the brakes operate well, pulling the car up squarely (if not, there may be a problem with the calipers or pistons) and without any grinding noises (which would suggest over-worn pads or shoes). The brake hoses obviously need checking for wear and the brake lines for rust and damage, but otherwise there should be few unpleasant surprises.
INTERIOR AND TRIM
Checking the trim of any Herald or Vitesse is a logical process, but you should still take your time and be vigilant. All four seats are prone to wear on high-mileage cars (the front seats often sag), as are the carpets throughout; but don’t despair, as the whole interior is easy enough to rejuvenate via the various kits currently available. Newton Commercial, for example, stocks original-spec seat covers for all models and in a choice of different colours, with a front seat (both seats) re-covering kit for a 13/60 offering good value at just over £306.
Moulded carpet sets are available from the same source, and are again keenly priced at less than £262 per car. And if the door cards and interior rear side panels of your Herald or Vitesse are worn, Newton Commercial has replicas available to suit most models. Meanwhile, if your small Triumph of choice is a convertible version with a worn hood, Rimmer Bros stocks replacements hood covers in a choice of colours, ranging in price from less than £250 for a PVC replacement through to £790 for a top-quality mohair hood that’s fully lined. Again, if you’re thinking of buying a car in need of replacement trim, price up exactly what’s required before agreeing your purchase price.
Many owners of these small Triumphs like to improve on the standard design, and there are certainly plenty of off-the-shelf options available. Again, Rimmer Bros has a wide choice of cost-effective products available, ranging from a K&N custom air filter at £95 through to complete front disc brake conversion kits (containing everything you need, including discs, calipers, bearings, steering arms, aluminium front hubs, copper brake pipes and so on) for an all-in cost of £990.
Koni and GAZ adjustable shock absorbers are also available from Rimmer Bros, while for just £520 Moss Europe can sell you a Spax spring and damper upgrade kit (containing four dampers, two front springs and a new rear leaf) that’s guaranteed to improve your car’s handling as well as give it a lower stance. And to help ensure your Triumph doesn’t overheat next summer, less than £200 buys you a Revotec electric cooling fan conversion kit.
WHAT TO PAY
There’s a member of the Herald family to suit most budgets, with project cars starting at less than £1000 – although at that price you can expect plenty of work ahead. Herald saloons in good, usable condition tend to be priced at £3500-4500 depending on spec, while those that are low-mileage and show-worthy usually top out at around £6-7000. You’ll pay more for a convertible (we’ve seen excellent cars at up to £8500), while a rare example of the early coupe might achieve £10,000 at a push.
The Vitesse is a little dearer, of course, although it’s possible to pick up a solid and roadworthy saloon for £5-7000, with superbly presented examples hitting the £10,000 mark. An MoT’d Vitesse convertible might come your way for around £8000, but immaculate examples have been known to exceed £12,000, particularly in 2-Litre guise.
It might have moved away from the latest trends of 1959 via its separate-chassis layout, but there was little else dated about the Herald when it made its debut. This great looking saloon provided practical, economical family transport and nowadays is still a great choice. With oodles of charm and charisma, it’s a likeable and interesting alternative to an Anglia, A40 and others of that ilk, while the six-cylinder Vitesse is an entertaining and decently quick sports saloon (or four-seater convertible) for keener drivers.
Whether you opt for a Herald or a Vitesse, you’ll enjoy all the usual classic Triumph benefits, including one of the most vibrant club scenes in the UK, as well as superb back-up from a plethora of independent specialists when it comes to parts and upgrades. With values steadily rising, perhaps now is the ideal time to join the Herald-based family?
TECH SPEC: HERALD 12/50
ENGINE: 1147cc 4-cyl
POWER: 51bhp @ 5200rpm
TORQUE: 63lb.ft. @ 2600rpm
TRANSMISSION: 4-sp man
TOP SPEED: 78mph
0-60MPH: 25 secs
SUSPENSION: Coil and double-wishbone front; transverse leaf spring and swing axle rear
BRAKES: Front discs; rear drums
WEIGHT: 842kg (1855lb)
TECH SPEC: VITESSE 1600
ENGINE: 1596cc 4-cyl
POWER: 70bhp @ 5000rpm
TORQUE: 92lb.ft. @ 2800rpm
TRANSMISSION: 4-sp man (optional o/d)
TOP SPEED: 90mph
0-60MPH: 17.5 secs
SUSPENSION: Coil and double-wishbone front; transverse leaf spring and swing axle rear
BRAKES: Front discs; rear drums
WEIGHT: 909kg (2004lb)