Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint by Kevin Warrington
For as far back in history as I can discover, my family’s heritage has had some connection with transport; originally with horses and for the last one hundred years, what is now usually called “The Motor Trade”. Even though my own career choice took me into the high tech realms of computers, I’ve always had an interest in motor vehicles that seems to have stalled with the models from my youth and which are now cherished classic cars. Passing my driving test in 1974 at the first attempt and almost the earliest opportunity, my choice of transport was limited to the banger end of the market, but my attention was quickly drawn to some of my more affluent friends who were running models produced by Triumph. This was to be the beginnings of an enthusiasm that has now lasted for over forty years.
With the aid of Hire Purchase, I stretched my apprentice’s wage to buy myself a slightly used Triumph 1300; somewhat more prestigious than the cars driven by my friends. Of course, I couldn’t afford it so the car stayed in my ownership for a very short period, but the seeds of enthusiasm for the products from Triumph were sown. Along the way, I have owned a couple of classic Triumphs from the 1970s and found myself editing club magazines which led to an approach from Amberley initially to create a book on the Triumph “big saloon” – the 2000 / 2500 (Triumph 2000 – Defining the Sporting Saloon). Clearly, Amberley were happy with the result as they were quickly back asking me for a further title. It would be a second Triumph model range and the one that had always fascinated me was the middle market 1300 which morphed into the Toledo and Dolomite, staying in production for far longer than the planners could ever have considered.
Triumph as a brand and company itself is a fascinating story of sequentially grasping success from the jaws of failure and clever engineering innovation developed on a shoestring. The first iteration of the company went out of business in 1939, was rescued by the Standard Motor Co. in 1945, it nearly went bust again at the beginning of the 1960s and was rescued by Leyland Motors who were later encouraged into a mega merger with BMC to create British Leyland. And we all know how that ended.
But the 1300 was a success story that deserves to be told. Taking a different approach to the mechanical layout for front wheel drive as defined by Alec Issigonis with his Mini and 1100 designs for Austin and Morris, Triumph employed the leading Italian stylist Giovanni Michelotti for the overall design of the car which resulted in an attractive package that sold at a premium in the market for medium sized family cars. A larger engined model was soon offered and then something most unusual happened. With the market heading towards front wheel drive, Triumph converted their car to rear wheel drive with the launch of the Toledo model.
In parallel, development work was taking place on a new range of engines to power Triumph models into the future. One of these was a modular four-cylinder engine that was, in essence, half of the engine that provided power for Triumph’s flagship model, the Stag. This engine was first used by Triumph in a revision of the 1300 / Toledo model range that was launched with a model name that was borrowed from Triumph’s heyday in the 1930s – Dolomite. In the background, the business was in turmoil following the British Leyland formation with Triumph managers being moved to the volume Austin – Morris division and senior staff from the former rival Rover Company taking control at Triumph. The designers knew that the new engine had the capability to develop more power and investigated ways in which to achieve this. Multiple inlet and exhaust valves had been used by other car makers to extract more power, but such installations were expensive to implement and in the case of the Triumph engine would have required extensive redesign. Instead, an ingenious solution was adopted by Triumph in the engine that would power the famed Dolomite “Sprint” model and an explanation of how this was achieved is contained in the book.
With the model range having now long exceeded its original design life, some commentators thought the car was looking decidedly old fashioned but it continued to sell in volumes acceptable to the management. Despite a series of aborted attempts, there was no funding to provide a replacement model with the Dolomite range soldiering on to remain as one of the last Triumph designed models to be built.
Triumph as a brand name suggests sporting success and while one might normally consider the more overtly sporting models such as the TR or Spitfire to take the honours in this arena, the original 1300 had great success, although only for a short time, in the new sport of Rallycross but it was the Dolomite that was to gain sporting honours for Triumph both in rallying and saloon car racing.
Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint tells the whole story from a brief background on the origin of the business, the route from rescue in 1945 to the introduction of the 1300 model and the full story of the evolution into the final “Dolly Sprint” models. Lightly interwoven within the model evolution is the inevitable business politics that help to understand with hindsight the issues that confronted the British car industry during the 60s and 70s. We look at the abandoned plans to replace the model and conclude with a section on the success of the cars in motor sport. Each model type is illustrated with photographs of cars on display at various shows across the country and interspersed with reproductions of Triumph’s original press and marketing material, the motor sport section also includes a selection of images from the collection of former Triumph works driver, Brian Culcheth.
Kevin Warrington's new book Triumph 1300 to Dolomite Sprint is available for purchase now.