In a world where sketchy Fiat 850 Spiders are selling for nearly US$10 Grand, there are few classic European roadsters that can still be bought for that amount in anything but “fixer-upper” condition. The Triumph Spitfire stands out as an anomaly, and although far from powerful, a subtly upgraded Spitfire like THIS car available on CraigsList in Southern California for $8,500 makes a great case for driving a slow car fast. Add good looks and an open top, and the case just gets stronger.
Named for the famed British Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane that was the toast of the Battle of Britain, the Triumph Spitfire’s Michelotti-designed (think Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia, BMW, Alpine, etc.) body echoes the aircraft’s sleek curves and looks sharp in traditional British Racing Green like this car. Of course, the plane’s 1,470hp and 370mph top speed slightly eclipse the stock US-market 1500’s 53hp and top speed just shy of 100mph. But, considering a curb weight of just 1,750 lb, fairly simple upgrades like this car has received can make a substantial difference. But more on that later.
When I was a Freshman in high school, there was an upper-classman who drove a Spitfire very similar to this one to school every day. Admittedly, this was the 1980s and the roads weren’t littered with humongous SUVs and crossovers, but even then I was struck by the fact that the Spitfire was sort of a 2/3 version of the green rusty Alfa Spider that would become my daily driver just a couple of years forward. These are small cars, and lack the thick doors and relative bulk (!) of even a NA Miata. You don’t want to wreck a Spitfire, particularly in 2020 traffic. What you do want to do in one, however, is toss it around the back roads, drive it to the grocery store (assuming you don’t need too much), or just bang it around town. The luggage rack bolted to the back of this car is a bit of a shame, given that it would likely be a pretty miserable road trip car – albeit one that would return pretty impressive gas mileage!
The Spitfire’s interior is as simple as its exterior is pretty. No AC here, but it’s got a heater/defroster, the important gauges (MPH, Revs, Fuel, Water Temperature), and a radio just in case the raspy engine note isn’t satisfying enough for you. Unlike some period roadsters, there isn’t room in a Spitfire to squeeze a third rider in, but two fit snugly but comfortably. Seats don’t adjust for rake, but the standard angle is comfortable. The convertible top is easy to use, and this car’s hardtop is fairly light and not hard to install, but much easier if you have a friend to help.
As suggested above, you’re not likely to win a lot of drag races against modern cars in a Spitfire, but the upgrade of a Weber two-barrel carburetor from the Zenith-Stromberg, aluminum intake, header and freer-breathing Monza exhaust (with cool quad outlets that probably sound KILLER), and electronic ignition should help the car get up and go just a little better. These upgrades should also help alleviate some of the “tractor-like” personality and sub-par reliability these cars were known for when new. Coupled with the optional 4-speed overdrive transmission, it’ll get out of its own way just fine. Personally, I am smitten with the clamshell hood (a ‘la Jaguar XKE) that makes everything under the hood totally accessible. If you’re an automotive DIY’er, I’d argue there aren’t a lot of sports cars out there easier to work on, or to learn to work on.
As much as I am taken with this nice, clean example, its price is actually at the higher end of the Spitfire scale. If you want to start with a decent base but make a Spitfire your own for less initial outlay, an example like THIS one on CraigsList in Alden, Michigan can be had for just $4,500. Now, back in the day that was a lot of money for an old sports car. These days, however, I’d almost call it “disposable sports car” money. Regardless of where you start, Spitfire maintenance and upgrade parts are all kinds of plentiful from sources like Moss Motors, so the old “can’t find parts for ’em” argument just doesn’t hold water. A quick looks shows that basically everything to build a Spitfire from the ground up can be had.
So, here we have a cute, raspy British roadster that you can wrench on yourself and has NO computers or other modern nannies to get in the way of your raw fun and can be had for less than (in some cases WAY less than) $10,000 in 2020 dollars. What’s more, it can be upgraded with electronic ignition and performance-related enhancements for reasonable additional cash outlay…. What’s the down side?