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My Triumph Obsession, Part II: Preserving the originality of Dr. Miller’s unrestored original 1967 GT6 MKI

Published in blog.hemmings.com

From July 1966 to September 1968, Triumph produced 15,818 GT6 MKI models.

Thanks to the good graces of Dr. Robert Miller of Cotuit, Massachusetts, I was selected to be the next custodian of his beloved GT6. Dr. Miller called me one day back in March 2008 and asked if I would be interested in buying his Triumph. I remember him saying, “it’s a MKI GT6 just like the one you used to own and it’s all original – I bought it new.” Evidently, Dr. Miller was a regular reader of my column in Hemmings and remembered that I had once wrote about how I regretted selling my black 1967 GT6 back in 1978, and how I one day want to own another. He also liked the fact that I still owned my first car, a 1968 Spitfire MKIII, and would never sell it – yes, I still own it after 44 years. Seeing that I wasn’t a dealer, rather a sincere Triumph guy, I assume that’s why I became the “chosen” one.

This is the 1967 GT6 MKI that started it all, parked on the street in my Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood back in 1977.

When he lived in New Jersey, Dr. Miller bought this GT6 from Continental Motors in Plainfield back in February, 1967. After test driving a GT6, he told me: “The dealer contacted me when he received his first delivery of two; one was Signal Red, the other was white. I selected the Signal Red one as it was the same color as the 1962 Triumph Spitfire (purchased in Europe) that I ultimately traded in towards the purchase of the GT6. I enjoyed the Spitfire, but saw the fastback Spitfires race at Sebring in the Winter of 1966 when the GT6 was announced; I was interested because of its six-cylinder engine and improved performance.”

Well cared for since day one, the wood-veneer instrument panel still looks brand new, as do all the original gauges.

Evidently, Dr. Miller treasured his GT6 to such an extent that he took extraordinary care of it from day one. When I bought the car from him, the odometer was at 44,600 miles. When I asked him his original intentions when he bought his Triumph, he replied: “The GT6 was originally purchased as a daily driver. My wife’s parents wintered in Florida at that time and I was able to use their second car in the winter when they were in Florida and keep the GT6 garaged and stored, away from the New Jersey winters and their associated snow and road salt. My children started driving in 1971 and shortly thereafter I purchased a used 1969 Austin America (that’s another story) – the ‘Austin’ became the preferred driver when the weather was bad. When I purchased the GT6, I had not intended to keep it as long as I did. It was always kept in very good condition, cleaned, and waxed, and it became mostly a weekend/summer car after the first couple of winters. My son, Jeffrey, convinced me to keep the GT6 after reminding me that I once had a 1952 MG TD MKII, which I sold when I purchased the Spitfire, and he convinced me not to let another good one get away.”

That’s the original shift knob as is the carpeting, which has turned brown after 51 years.

Finding original, one-owner Triumphs today – and most other old cars for that matter – is becoming increasingly rarer by the day, so buying this unrestored GT6 was an opportunity that I wasn’t going to pass up. So, I asked Dr. Miller what was the most difficult part of maintaining the car’s originality; he said: “Starting as a daily driver, parking the car carefully and maintaining the car in good condition was a challenge. The GT6 was used for the first several winters and keeping it clean and rust free was always a challenge. It was always garaged, even when originally driven in the winter. The GT6’s paint is 60-plus percent original, however it had three mishaps that required trips to the body shop.”

Most of the Triumph AM radios were replaced with FM and cassette units, so finding an old Triumph with its factory-installed radio is a rare occurrence.

Upon close inspection you can see that the center section of the bonnet had been repainted along with the driver’s-side front fender and the rear panel. The rest of the paint is just as the Triumph workers applied it. The area surrounding the rear hatch is now showing the primer below, so I take extra care when cleaning and polishing that area. Although the Signal Red finish has faded, I have no plans to have the Triumph repainted, even though about 40 percent of the paint is no longer original. But you would be hard pressed to tell because those body sections had been repainted some 30 years ago. Dr. Miller declared: “Simply stated, cars are only original once and I find it more of a challenge to maintain a car as original and still use it (even if sparingly).”

The original carpeting and headliner are clearly showing their age, but at least the entire black upholstered interior still looks brand new.

Thinking back to the little fastback’s performance and what his impressions were of driving it, Dr. Miller told me: “I am six feet tall and fit in the cabin fine, however, while the GT6 brought more power and performance over the Spitfire, going from a convertible to a coupe was one of the few drawbacks to the GT6. I always liked convertibles and especially with the MG TD, driving with the top down in the winter was a common occurrence (I used to say that in the winter convertibles were to be driven with the top down and the heater on.) Another aspect of the coupe/GT that I had not considered was the heat. Being a small coupe, with a larger six-cylinder engine under the hood, the cabin would become quite hot in the warm weather. When stuck in traffic in the summer heat, it was not uncommon to have to put the heater and blower on to keep the temperature gauge in the safe zone (try explaining that to an unsympathetic passenger). Other than running hot when it was above 85-degrees or so outside, the GT6 performed well when driving. It revved freely and willingly, handled well on the highway, and on trips would provide over 30 mpg.”

Driven 49,500 miles since new, the 2,000-cc straight-six engine has never been rebuilt. The ignition coil and mechanical fuel pump are both original, and the canister oil filter has never been upgraded to a more modern spin-on filter type.

If you ever owned a Triumph, you’ll be all too familiar with just how rugged and reliable they are, however, they, too, did have their faults as some of the mechanical components weren’t as durable as they should have been. Regarding the GT6’s mechanical issues, Dr. Miller kept a thorough log book of every single thing that was done to the car including recording how much fuel and oil it used; today, I often reference that book to see which parts were changed, and when. He said: “Shortly after buying the car the fuel pump became clogged with rust from the gas tank. After cleaning the fuel pump, I installed an in-line fuel filter and never had a problem again.

Rarely seen today, the original battery cables have survived surprisingly well.

“The GT6 is known to have a weak transmission and differential and I had issues with both of those. The transmission was rebuilt once. This work was performed by a very good mechanic in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. My son and I removed the transmission through the interior of the GT6 without removing the engine and it was quite a task. The mechanic rebuilt it with new bearings, main shaft, etc. and my son and I then reinstalled it. The transmission worked fine after the rebuild.

The wiper motor still performs like new, while the factory-applied paint on the bulkhead still shines. Note the yellow negative battery cable.

“The differential failed with the differential carrier shearing as I entered my driveway one day. I purchased the required parts (new differential carrier, bearings, and an assortment of shims) to rebuild the differential myself. I had never done a differential rebuild before, but being technical and mechanically adept and with the official Triumph Shop manual and sophisticated tools and gauges from work (including a differential carrier spreader which was made for me), I was able to rebuild the unit. After the rebuild, I was not really satisfied with its operation (it still made a wining noise), so I purchased a second differential from a GT6 racer that I met at a race at Lime Rock. That unit too seemed to have issues, so I then purchased a third differential from a GT6 at a local wrecking yard. My son and I had the various differentials out and in several times. One improvement that I did make on the differentials was to install a drain plug so the lubricant could be changed by draining it rather than drawing it out through the refill plug. Other than routine maintenance and the transmission and differential rebuilds – the engine was never apart – the GT6 was reliable; it never stranded us. Overall, this car was a pleasure to own and was reliable as long as it was given standard maintenance.”

The pushbutton starter solenoid is also original to the car, and still works.

In filling out a questionnaire about his Triumph, Dr. Miller wrote: “In 2008, I decided it was time to sell the GT6 after 41 years of ownership and my son was instrumental in its sale to Richard. I am thrilled that Richard, who is a true Triumph lover, purchased the car and that he will continue to care for it, keep it original as long as possible, and will enjoy it as it was meant to be enjoyed. I know that it went to a great new home! Triumphs have a strong following and current owners should join their local Triumph club as well as the Vintage Triumph Register (VTR). My son and I had a lot of fun with this car and it provided us with a special bond. My son had a lot of fun showing the car at car shows and as a result of those shows, it was featured in the Vintage Triumph (the publication of the VTR), issue #40 in 1986. If you own a Triumph, or any sports car for that fact, drive it, enjoy it, and have fun with it!

Although scratched after 51 years of use, the original “TRIUMPH” seatbelt buckles are almost impossible to find today.

So, in honor of Dr. Miller and my pledge to him to maintain the GT6’s originality and preserve it best I can, this April will mark my 10th anniversary owning this very special Triumph. Sadly, Dr. Robert Miller is no longer with us, but I remain in contact with his son Jeffrey, keeping him updated on his father’s beloved GT6.

While the paint may have lost its shine, and there are a few minor rust spots here and there, this GT6 will continue to be preserved as-is, and will not be painted nor restored.