Our latest dip into Haynes’ archive of classic cutaways by the talented illustrator Terry Davey has produced the Triumph Spitfire from the cover of the owner’s workshop manual for all variants of this popular small sports car

When it made its debut in 1962, the dinky little Spitfire filled an important gap in Standard-Triumph’s line-up as this marque needed a small two-seater that could go head-to-head with BMC’s Austin-Healey Sprite and MG Midget. Triumph had turned to the Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti to design its new baby roadster and the Spitfire’s smart looking body consisted of bolt-on panels, including a huge, forward-hinged bonnet, attached to a chopped down version of the Herald’s old fashioned but cheap to produce separate chassis.

Power came from a proven 1147cc four-cylinder Herald-sourced engine and it drove the Spitfire’s rear, independently sprung wheels through a slick, four-speed gearbox. A snugly fitting soft-top, disc brakes up front and a big boot made the Spitfire a good, everyday sports car that was fun to drive – until it was pushed too hard into a corner. This was where things started to get interesting because the Spitfire had inherited the Herald’s flawed swing axle suspension set-up that allowed a rear wheel to tuck in when cornering hard.

Despite the handling issues, the Spitfire sold well and in 1965 a revamped MkII version appeared. The biggest improvement was the installation of a new 1296cc engine and this unit gained a bit more power in 1967 in the MkIII, enabling the game little Spitfire to hit 100mph on a dead-straight road. It was all change again in 1970 when Triumph launched the fourth version of its popular sports car with a new and more elegant body. This is the model that Haynes uses to illustrate the cover of the owner’s workshop manual for the Spitfire and as well as seriously restyling the car’s rear end, engineers worked on the rear suspension and tamed its wayward tendencies with what they called a ‘swing spring’ set-up. The final version of the Spitfire came out in 1975 with the introduction of the Spitfire 1500, featuring a 1493cc engine that could be adapted to meet increasing US anti-smog rules. After an exceptional 18-year production run, the final Spitfire rolled off the production line at Canley in March 1980.

As well as attacking the Spitfire’s bodywork, corrosion festers away unnoticed in numerous mud traps in the car’s separate chassis. The main places to check for rust when buying a Spitfire are as follows:
* Pay close attention to the condition of the outer sills where they meet the rear wings as well as the leading edges as repairs here can be difficult
* Carefully inspect the large, forward-hinged bonnet for poor accident repairs as well as corrosion around the headlamps and inner wing seams
* Inspect the front bulkhead carefully, especially around the seams and A-posts
* The scuttle in front of the windscreen can rust around the air box louvers and under the screen rubber
* Lift the carpets and inspect the front floor wells and the area behind the seats
* Rust can take hold in the boot and the door bottoms
* Check the door shuts carefully as uneven gaps can indicate issues with the integrity of the chassis
* Carefully check the condition and operation of the hood. Replacements are reasonably priced but professional fitting is recommended
* Put the car on a ramp and inspect the chassis carefully, especially the rear outriggers around the suspension mounts, side rails and front legs where the valance is attached. To repair the chassis properly and safely the body needs to come off, so be thorough before handing over any cash

There were three different engines fitted to the Spitfire. Check that a lower powered engine from another Triumph hasn’t been fitted (all Spitfire engine numbers start with an ‘F’). A Spitfire should be serviced every 3000 miles or annually, whichever comes soonest. Major items to attend to are as follows:
* Engine oil and filter changes every 3000 miles (ensure the replacement filter has a non-return valve)
* Clean and adjust the contact breakers and renew along with a new condenser if they’re worn
* Inspect the condition of the ignition leads. Clean and adjust the plug gaps. Renew plugs every 12,000 miles
* Check the valve gaps (tappets) and adjust if necessary (don’t forget to renew the rocker cover gasket)
* Drain the coolant system and refill with a fresh anti-freeze mixture every 6000 miles and back flush the radiator every 12,000 miles
* Check the condition of the hoses and fan belt at every service
* Check and adjust the twin carbs’ air/fuel mixture and idle speed. Replace the fuel filter (if fitted)
* Inspect and clean the engine crankcase breather every 24,000 miles
* 1296cc Spitfire engines can suffer from worn thrust bearings – check for excessive crankshaft endfloat by pulling/pushing the fan belt pulley
* 1493cc engines can suffer from premature crankshaft and piston wear, hence the importance of fitting the correct oil filter so oil doesn’t drain back into the sump

Early Spitfire gearboxes only had sychromesh on the top three ratios and the 1500 used a Morris Marina sourced ‘box. Check the following at every 3000-mile service or annually, whichever comes soonest:
* Check the oil level in the gearbox and rear axle
* Drain and replace the fluids in the gearbox and rear axle every 12,000 miles
* Replace the blanking plugs in the propshaft/driveshaft universal joints with grease nipples and apply two or three stokes from grease gun
* Whines and rumbles from the gearbox (worn sychro on second is common) will indicate bearing issues (and the gearbox will need to come out from inside car)
* Early cars have universal joints in the rear driveshaft while later cars use Rotoflex joints. Clunks on taking up drive can indicate worn joints
* A sloppy gearchange can be cured by replacing the nylon bushes in the linkage
* Attend to serious oil leaks from the gearbox or rear axle by replacing the worn seals and gaskets

The Spitfire’s front suspension is very easy to work on and cheap to repair but nylon bushes can wear quickly so check them carefully at every 3000-mile service. Other service items are as follows:
* Lubricate the front trunnions but don’t grease the lower ones. Instead, it’s important to apply a few squirts of EP90 oil every six months to keep moisture out
* Inspect all the suspension and steering joints for wear
* Anti-roll bar links can break, check them regularly and replace if necessary
* Lubricate the steering rack and check the rubber boots and mountings for tears and rips
* Inspect the shock absorbers and replace any that are leaking or worn
* Check the front wheel bearings for play. Adjust and repack with fresh grease every 12,000 miles
* Rear wheel bearings can get noisy and worn ones have to be pressed out of the hub to be replaced
* Inspect the braking system for leaking/rusted pipes, sticking callipers, scored discs/drums and worn pads/shoes
* Regularly inspect the gearbox and engine mounting rubbers for damage or oil contamination
* Check rear brake adjustment and lubricate the handbrake linkage at every 3000-mile service

YEARS MADE:                    1962-1980             
NUMBER BUILT:               314,332
PRICE NEW:                        £8675 (in 1962)
RANGE OF ENGINES:      1147cc, 1296cc & 1493cc 4-cyl
POWER:                               75bhp (1296cc)
TOP SPEED:                         86mph
0-60MPH:                             19 secs
GEARBOX:                           4-spd man
ECONOMY:                         28mpg
WEIGHT:                              890kg

Although the 1296cc MkIII is generally regarded as the enthusiast’s favourite, a well sorted 1500 is quicker and benefits from a re-engineered rear suspension set-up. Most cars will have by now seen some sort of restoration work, so carefully check the standard of any repairs – especially to the chassis. An early Spitfire retaining is 1147cc engine is a rare beast, so expect to pay at least £4500 plus for a good example. There’s currently a good choice of cars for sale on our sister website (www.carandclassic.co.uk) including a MkIII that’s recently undergone a body-off restoration for an eye watering £11,152. Thankfully, not all Spitfires are as expensive and a good looking 1500 on the same website that has had a bare metal respray costs a more affordable £3850. A very tidy looking example can be put on the driveway for around £5000 and usable Spitfires with a current MoT start from around £3000. Projects are plentiful, as are the parts and specialists who can breathe new life into a shabby Spitfire and a £800 non-runner would make a perfect first restoration for a hands-on enthusiast to work on at home.