Thursday, March 19, 2015

Triumph's Stylish Spitfire

English sports cars were popular in America from the late 1940s through the 1960s and even a few years beyond.   They came in a variety of sizes, capabilities and price points, the latter including entry-level machines.  Up through the mid-1950s, the MG was considered entry-level.  But the marque began to creep upscale, so in the early 1960s the tiny Austin-Healey Sprite and MG Midget were introduced.  In 1965, Triumph, maker of standard size TR-series sports cars, brought its smaller Spitfire to the market.  When I was in graduate school, I really wanted to own a sports car, but the MGB cost more than I could afford, and Sprites, Midgets and Spitfires were marginally affordable, but too small and impractical for my taste.  A few years later when I had a real job, I bought a Porsche 914.

A link dealing with the Spitfire is here.  It states that its styling can be credited to Giovanni Michelotti, who did a good deal of work for Triumph during his career.  Indeed, its styling was the Spitfire's best feature.  (As an aside, I and some others cringed over the name "Spitfire" that evoked Britain's famed, graceful interceptor that generally matched the performance of Luftwaffe fighters during the Battle of Britain and thereafter during World War 2.  The Triumph Spitfire was no Spitfire.)

Below are images of a 1965 Triumph Spitfire Mk. I that I found on a website with the irresistible title "Dutch Gentlemen Racing Society."


Michelotti's design follows standard 1950s sports car styling practice.  The hood (bonnet) is as low as the motor allows, in this case dropping below the fender line.  Front and rear fenderlines (wings) are distinct, with the latter represented by an upkick as well as a delimiting crease and bulge to the fore.  The grille area is nondescript, and the use of body paint on the windshield frame makes that item heavier and more old-fashioned looking than nececssary.

This profile shot shows that the Spitfire's layout was in line with other 1950s and 60s British sports cars.  The driver is positioned slightly aft of the car's center, the seats being close to the rear wheel opening.  As I pointed out here in a discussion of the MGA's styling, this area can become an awkward, cluttered design problem.  Michelotti's solution was better than the MGA's, but not quite as good as that on the earlier Austin-Healey 100 that I will analyze in a future post.  Note that the tail light profile does not blend with the rear fenderline -- I suspect the lenses were sourced from another car for reasons of economy.

Aside from those tail lights, the Spitfire's rear is cleanly and logically done.  All-in-all, a nice design for a car that was a little too small for its own good.

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