The Triumph Vitesse is a compact six-cylinder car built by Standard-Triumph from May 1962 to July 1971.
The car was styled by Giovanni Michelotti, and was available in saloon and convertible variants.The Vitesse name was first used by Austin on their 1914–16 Austin 20 (hp) and 30 (hp) Vitesse models, this was followed in 1922 by G. N.(Godfrey & Nash) on their GN Vitesse Cyclecar, and then by Triumph on a car made between 1936 and 1938.
After the last Triumph Vitesse was made in July 1971, the name remained unused until October 1982, when Rover used it on their SD1 until 1986, and one final time on their Rover 800, 820 and 827 models from October 1988 to 1991, at which time that car was rebodied as the R17 version, which was produced until 1998 as the Rover Vitesse Sport.
1965 Triumph Vitesse Saloon
The Triumph Vitesse was introduced on 25 May 1962, re-using a name previously used by the pre-Second World War Triumph Motor Company from 1936–38, and was an in-line 6-cylinder performance version of the Triumph Herald small saloon. The Herald had been introduced on 22 April 1959 and was an attractive 2-door car styled by the Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti. Within 2 years, Triumph began to give thought to a sports saloon based on the Herald and using their 6-cylinder engine.
Michelotti was again approached for styling, and he came up with a car that used almost all body panels from the Herald, combined with a new front end with a slanted “Chinese Eye” 4-headlamp design.
Standard-Triumph fitted a 1596 cc version of their traditional straight-6 derived from the engine used in the Standard Vanguard Six, but with a smaller bore diameter of 66.75 mm (2.628 in), compared with the 74.7 mm (2.94 in) bore on the Vanguard, equipped with twin Solex B32PIH semi-downdraught carburettors These were soon replaced by B321H carburettors, as the accelerator pumps proved a problem. The curious observer will notice a “seam” on the cylinder block between the third & fourth cylinders revealing the humble design beginnings from the 803 cc Standard 8 block of 1953. The gearbox was strengthened and offered with optional Laycock De Normanville ‘D-type’ overdrive that offered a top gear with a 20% higher ratio (the equivalent change from 3rd to 4th in a standard box), giving more relaxed and economical cruising at the expense of slight oil drag from the pump in the overdrive unit. The rear axle was changed to a slightly uprated differential, but retaining the same 4.11:1 ratio. Front disc brakes were standard as were larger rear brake drums, and the Herald fuel tank was enlarged, retaining the handy reserve feature (essentially a curved pickup pipe that could be rotated to dip into the last few centimetres of fuel) of the smaller Herald tank. The front suspension featured uprated springs to cope with the extra weight of the new engine, but the rear suspension was basically standard Herald—a swing-axle transverse-leaf system which quickly proved inadequate for the relatively powerful Vitesse.
The chassis looked similar to the early Heralds but in fact was substantially re-designed and strengthened, especially around the differential mountings (and these improvements were immediately passed through to Herald production). The Vitesse was available in convertible and saloon forms; a coupé never got beyond the prototype stage. A handful of Vitesse estates also were assembled to special order at Standard-Triumph’s Service Depot at Park Royal in West London.
The interior was much improved over the Herald; wooden door cappings were added to match the wooden dashboard and the car featured better seats and door trims. Optional extras included a vinyl/fabric, (Webasto), sunroof on saloon models. Exterior trim was also improved with stainless steel side trim, and satin-silver anodised alloy bumper cappings replacing the white rubber Herald design.
In September 1963 the Vitesse received its first facelift, when the dashboard was revised with a full range of instruments instead of the large single dial from the Herald. From September 1965, at commission number HB27986, the twin Solex carburettors were replaced by twin Stromberg CD 150 carburettors. Power output increased from the original 70 bhp (52 kW) at 5,000 rpm and torque of 92.5 lb·ft (125 N·m), enough to provide a useful performance boost and making the car a more flexible performer. There was a claimed, although somewhat optimistic increase of 13–14 bhp, and the motoring magazine tested top speed rose to 91 mph (146 km/h), with the 0–80 mph (0–129 km/h) time decreasing from 46.6 seconds to just 33.6 seconds.
The Vitesse 6 sold extremely well for Triumph, and was by some way the most popular Vitesse sold during the model’s lifetime. The car was well liked for its performance and reasonable fuel economy, and the well-appointed interior. With its ability to perform as well as many sports cars, but with room for a family, the Vitesse had few rivals for the price. The convertible in particular was virtually unique in the marketplace; another genuine four-seater sporting convertible would not reappear from a British manufacturer until the Triumph Stag several years later.
The Vitesse 6 convertible was exported to the US as the left-hand drive Triumph Sports 6, from 1962 until 1964. It was marketed as a “limited edition car”, but because of its retail price only 679 were sold before it was withdrawn.
The Sports 6 was perhaps better suited to American highways than was the Herald, but it faced stiff price competition from cars such as Ford’s new Mustang. The Vitesse Saloon was not officially imported to the US, although a few do come up as P.E.D. (Personal Export Delivery), cars usually imported by American service personnel. Original US price (POE East Coast) was $2,499 for the Sports 6 Convertible, which was usually delivered in White, Signal Red or Black.
In 1966 Triumph upgraded the engine to 1998 cc, in line with the new Triumph GT6 coupé, and relaunched the car as the Vitesse 2-Litre. Power was increased to 95 bhp (71 kW), endowing the new car with a 0–60 mph time of just over 12 s, and lifting top speed to 100 mph. (The 2-Litre was advertised by Triumph as “The Two Seater Beater”). The performance increase was welcome, but it highlighted the deficiencies of the rear suspension, also noted on the new GT6. There were detail modifications for the 2-litre, including a stronger all synchromesh gearbox, uprated front brakes, and an improved stronger differential with a slightly higher 3.89:1 ratio. The overdrive GT6 used the same differential, though the cars without overdrive specified used a 3.27:1 differential of the same dimensions, though that was not fitted to the Vitesse as standard. Wider & stronger 4.5-inch wheel rims were fitted. There was a satin silver anodised aluminium-alloy cowling above the reversing light, and badges on the side of the bonnet and in the centre of the grille read 2 litre.
Vitesse Mark 2
The Vitesse Mark 2 was launched in October 1968 as the final update to the Vitesse range. Essentially intended to be Triumph’s answer to growing criticism of the rear suspension, the Mark 2 was fitted with a redesigned layout using new lower wishbones and Rotoflex half-shaft couplings. This system, also shared with the new GT6 MKII (GT6+ in the US market), and the first GT6 MkIIIs, tamed the wayward handling somewhat and endowed the Vitesse with more firm, progressive roadholding. The solid swing axles of the Herald and earlier Vitesses had camber changes of some 15 degrees from the limits of travel. By adding the lower wishbone and the divided drive shaft whilst retaining the transverse leaf spring as the top link, this camber change was reduced to about 5 degrees. While this was a considerable improvement, it was still a system that struggled to keep up with any good link located live axle or the true double link IRS system seen in the
There were other improvements: the engine was tweaked once more to provide 104 bhp (78 kW), cutting the 0–60 mph time to just over 11 seconds and providing a top speed over 100 mph (160 km/h). The main changes were to the valve timing, to give earlier opening and later closing of the inlet valves compared with the earlier 2-litre engine. (38/78 btdc/atdc for the Mk2 vs 30/60 for the 2 litre). Design changes to the cylinder head allowed for increased inlet valve diameters and better porting. The exterior featured a new grille, Rostyle wheeltrims and silver painted steel rear panel, (described by Triumph as “ceramic”), and the interior was upgraded once more in order to share parts with the new Herald 13/60. A new colour range was offered for the Mark 2 models. The aluminium cowling above the reversing light remained, and gained an oblong chromed VITESSE badge. The separate chromed mezak TRIUMPH letters on the bonnet and the boot lid were also deleted. The badges on the bonnet sides were changed to read Mk2 instead of 2 litre.
This was the ultimate Vitesse, a saloon or convertible with performance equal to an MGB and superior to a Sunbeam Alpine sports car but with four proper seats and a large boot.The Vitesse sold well until its withdrawal in July 1971.