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50 years of the Triumph Dolomite Sprint

27 March 2023

This year the Triumph Dolomite Sprint turns 50, read on to find out more about this fantastic car!

During the 1960s, Triumph developed a range of small saloon cars known as ‘Project Ajax’. This versatile little range of cars sold well for Triumph, appealing to young families, professionals, and executives alike – including many driving schools!

It all started in 1965 with a ground-breaking front-wheel drive Triumph 1300. Triumph, and their customers, were a little disappointed with its sluggish engine though, so a Triumph 1500 followed in 1970 together with some updated styling.

It was quite popular, and certainly the 1500 engine gave it far spritelier performance but building a front-wheel drive car proved costly both for Triumph and for their customers in this market.

So, in the same year, a lower-cost version was also introduced to cater for customers wanting a lower price point saloon, it was called the Toledo and it retained Triumph’s traditional rear wheel drive configuration to keep the purchase price down for their customers.

However, what followed in 1972 would become a 1970s icon for Triumph. Unveiled in the October of 1971 at the London Motor Show, their new saloon would replace the pricey front wheel drive Triumph 1500 and in fact the sportier six-cylinder Triumph Vitesse as well.

The new model would also revive a heritage model name for Triumph that had been an icon for their large sporting models before the Second World War, the Dolomite.

Industrial action meant that the car didn’t come on sale until 1972. The 1972 Dolomite used a single – overhead camshaft engine which was a revolutionary for Triumph, combining a new crossflow configuration with an alloy head on a cast iron block. The money for developing this engine came from a deal between British Leyland and Saab to supply engines for the Saab 99.

However, one year later, in 1973 – things took a turn for the exciting for the Triumph Dolomite, when the Sprint version was launched…

The Triumph Dolomite Sprint

The Triumph Dolomite Sprint would use the basic configuration of the slant-four engine but with increased capacity to 2 litres and an ingenious 16-valve cylinder head giving the car nearly 130 BHP. This performance was handled by an improved gearbox as the more robust TR/Stag style gearbox with overdrive was employed. The combination gave the Triumph Dolomite Sprint a formidable performance with a top speed of nearly 120 MPH. This was almost unheard of for a four-door family saloon at the time.

It also spawned a new generation of hot hatches, performance saloons and cars that could carry the family, but had the performance of a sports car.

50 years of the Triumph Dolomite Sprint

It was a timely development for Triumph as well as saloons across the board were getting quicker. In the UK, Ford already had the Capri, launched in 1969 but had since added the Cortina GXL to their range and the Escorts had long been making their name in motorsport.

But the main threat came from Germany, a little-known company (for the UK at least) called BMW were brewing up something special, the BMW 2002. The 2002 was a saloon, well equipped and fast – and it was coming Triumph’s way!

The Sprint engine was Triumph’s first multi valve per cylinder power unit, a configuration we take for granted today. It also offered alloy wheels as standard, the first model to do so in the UK. In fact, it was the first of its kind to be produced by a British Leyland company and was seen as one of the pioneers of the British motor industry line-up.

Dolomites were used in rallying to varying success and Brian Culcheth and Tony Pond, both campaigned them. But it was on the circuits that the Dolomite Sprints proved to be formidable racing cars. During the mid-1970s, they were seen racing in the British Touring car championship prepared by Broadspeed and even in the Spa 24 hours.

Driven by legends such as Tony Dron and Andy Rouse, they won hundreds of saloon car races around the world before production finally ended in 1980.

Owning a Triumph Dolomite Sprint today?

Today, there is a huge following for Triumph’s Dolomite – especially amongst the generation that remember lusting after the first of the hot performance saloons of the 1970s. They are incredibly practical classic cars to own and live with and ideal if you want a classic car with a bit of poke and performance, but also need to take the family with you.

You’ll find the car exhilarating and engaging to drive, especially with the manual gearbox and the involvement and flexibility afforded by the overdrive gives that period driving experience that classic cars are all about. It’s a revvy engine as well, makes a lovely noise and is as happy at being enjoyed at pace along the B-roads as it is pootling through town.

The interior offers you a nice place to be, with many cars of the period opting for swathes of black vinyl or plastic, here you get a wooden dash and door cappings and cosy fabric seats.

It’s frugal as well, easily returning 300 miles to a tank at around 25 miles to the gallon.

What to look for when buying?

Things to look for when buying really relate to body corrosion, like most British cars of this era. It’s a monocoque construction so body repairs can be costly. Check the sills, door bottoms and suspension turrets for sign of the dreaded tin worm and check the floor pans and suspension mounting points underneath.

The engine is robust, but water pumps can leak so check for the tell-tale dribble of coolant down the side of the engine block. If the cooling system has been neglected the corrosion can build up in the waterways and cause overheating. If the engine overheats, chances are it will have blown the head gasket. Furthermore, due to the different properties of the alloy in the cylinder head and the cast iron block, cylinder heads then warp and often require a rebuild after a skim.

Poor running can often be traced to degraded rubber mounts holding the carburettors to the inlet manifold and modern replacements are short lived. Look for tell-tale cracks and lean running. Whilst a simple job to replace it needs addressing and its worth considering solid metal replacements that are popular amongst owners.

How much could a Triumph Dolomite Sprint cost?

In recent years, Dolomite Sprint prices have rocketed, but they remain much cheaper than a Ford Escort RS2000 with not much less performance for the money. £6,500 buys you a rolling restoration, £10,000 buys you a decent car and something that’s concours or a perfect restoration can be as much as £20,000.

Is there a Triumph classic car club I can join?

There is great parts supply back-up and club support can be found through our partners the Triumph Sports Six Club via www.tssc.org.uk and members of the TSSC can access exclusive rates on their insurance premiums with Peter James.

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