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My Triumph Obsession, Part VI: Clouded visions of glory

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Looking past the multi-color exterior and partially disassembled body lies a car that is fairly solid and very straight. Always look beyond the obvious in order to see a car’s true potential. Photography by the author.

Just when I thought it was safe to read my local cars-for-sale classified marketplace without feeling the need to buy one – Bam! – I buy one. With five Triumphs already stashed in my garage, the last thing I needed was a sixth Triumph. But fending off hallucinations of restoring another disheveled-looking Spitfire to Pebble Beach standards quickly got the best of me. So I made the 45-minute drive to a suburb north of Worcester, Massachusetts to take a look that was going to be nothing more than a casual observation. Wrong! As soon as I saw the roundtail Spitfire sitting in the seller’s backyard, half covered in snow, my heart started racing, my legs got weak, and my brain zeroed in on visions of grandeur. To help ensure Giovanni Michelotti’s legacy endures for decades to come, I had to save this car for future generations. Being of Italian heritage, it’s the least I can do for the guy.

So I bought it. For $600, how could I not?

 

1968 Triumph Spitfire project car rusted floor

The 1969-’80 metal dash assembly is incorrect for this ’68 MKIII model, and sourcing a correct center-gauge-dash replacement will be difficult. Note twin SU carb assembly on the floor, and the steering wheel – both are correct for this model.

I’ve had this Spitfire, originally dark blue, nearly one year and I still haven’t done anything with it. I haven’t even cleaned out the old leaves that fill the cabin, nor have I taken inventory of the parts that fill the trunk. I’ve been way too busy this past year working on my TR3A, traveling to car shows, and writing my next book, Corvair Style, which should be published by Christmas. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t thought about that little Coventry-built gem of a sports car.

1968 Triumph Spitfire MKIII restoration project before

The front bumper lies in the trunk, and as Spitfire MKIII owners well know, these bumpers are very hard to find as it’s one of the few parts not reproduced.

During the winter of 2012, I bought a 1969 Spitfire parts car up in the Adirondacks and removed as many usable parts from it as I could, including the bonnet, SU carb and intake assembly, engine, gearbox and lots of other noteworthy trim pieces that I was able to unbolt without resorting to the use of my trusty Vise-Grip. I’m now almost at the point where the storage room in my barn looks like the backroom of an old Triumph dealership’s parts department, minus the Microfiche reader. Thus, any parts needed to get this Spitfire restored are, more than likely, on one of those shelves.

Unlike years ago when there was an endless supply of discarded old Triumphs, Fiats, MGs, Sunbeams and even Austin-Healeys and Jaguars for just a few hundred dollars, like everything else is life, those days are long gone. When cars like this come up for sale and have a reasonable price tag attached to them, how could one possibly say no? I surely can’t.

Had this Spitfire been a rust bucket, I never would have bought it, but the body is straight and fairly solid, with half-decent floor and trunk pans. And it came with the desirable 1,298cc MKIII engine intact, too. Although it’s been mostly disassembled and doesn’t have a title, its biggest issue is that a past owner, whom I was told was a shop teacher on Long Island, removed the original center-panel dashboard structure and welded on a later model dash frame, the one with the gauges in front of the driver. Trying to find the correct center-gauge dash frame is going to be tough, as this part has not been reproduced. Several modifications are planned for this car, but at the very least I want to make it appear correct for its year and model. I just hope I’m able to restore this Spitfire before the day comes when I have to yell for help to get me off the floor.

Triumph Spitfire project parts in trunk

All the trim that was removed was stashed in various boxes, but with popular cars like Spitfires, whichever part is missing or needs to be replaced can easily be found. Most body and trim parts have been reproduced and are available from a variety of suppliers.