My Spitfire Needs A New Home!

Spitfire At BF HQ

Update – Well after adding Bars Leak Fix and letting it set, I’ve been able to put some miles on the car. And boy is it running like a top now! I keep checking the coolant level thinking it’s going to start dropping, but it hasn’t drop at all. I even put some highway miles on it this morning on the way to work and it ran beautifully! I know it isn’t a permanent fix, but it makes this a car you can enjoy right away. I won’t lie, I’m sad now that I’m selling it, but it’s for the best!

Update – So CycleMikey suggested I go get some Bars Leak fix and add it to the cooling system. I didn’t think it would work, but decided to give it a try. I followed the directions on the bottle and after letting the car warm up and cool back down, I don’t seem to be getting any more coolant in the oil! I’m going to flush the oil again and put some miles on it just to make sure it holds up to actual use. It isn’t a permanent solution, but it should extend the life of this engine significantly!

BF 1978 Triumph Spitfire

As some of you might remember, a while back I bought a sweet little Triumph Spitfire from our buddy Bruce. After getting it home, I discovered the engine was seized, but I eventually replaced it with a running 1500 from a ’74 Midget. Shortly after getting it running and driving, I ran it on the first ever Barn Finds Rally and ended up blowing a head gasket. After several head gaskets and countless phone calls with our very own Triumph guru, Jamie, I got it running yet again. Well, after taking it out for a drive recently, I discovered coolant in the oil. I’m not sure if I just never got all out or if it’s still leaking somewhere. I hate to throw in the towel, but I’ve just got too many other projects going right now to give this Spitfire the time it deserves, so I think it’s time to let someone else take over. If you’re interested in finishing it up, you can find it here on eBay in Boise, Idaho.

1978 Triumph Spitfire

I really hate to see this car just sit, but between the Fiat, Blakely and our MGA, I just don’t have the time for it. I’d rather see it go to a good home than just sit in my driveway not being used. It already spent over 20 years in storage so I don’t want to see it spend any more time parked!

0726161031c_HDR

I’ve already done quite a bit of work to it, besides swapping out the engine. Here is what has been replaced or serviced at this point: new radiator, coolant lines, thermostat, aluminum valve cover, master brake cylinder, clutch slave cylinder, steel braided brake lines, greased all fittings and bearings, replaced starter, alternator and speedometer cable. I also straightened out the driver’s side seat frame and installed some NOS seat covers (they could still use some work to look their best).

As stated earlier, the replacement engine is from a ’74 MG Midget. When I bought it, it was running and had decent compression (about 100 psi with less than 5 psi variation between each cylinder). After blowing the head gasket, I installed a Payen gasket and replaced all the gaskets on the top end of the engine. I had two head bolts that wouldn’t tighten down to the required torque, so I had to pull the head, install 3 new bolts and install a new head gasket. Once I was finally able to warm the engine up and torque the head to the proper spec, I adjusted the valves and measured the compression (125 psi across all 4 cylinders).

Since discovering coolant in the oil, I changed the oil so that I could drive it across the street to take photos and capture a short clip of it running. It sounds good, but I wouldn’t trust to run it any more than absolutely necessary. Coolant in the oil is a big issue, so I would recommend pulling the engine apart and rebuilding it. I haven’t run it much since installing this engine, so it might be as simple as fixing the leak and flushing the oil system, but that is a big gamble and may only postpone the inevitable.

Triumph Spitfire

Now with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the good things about my Spitfire! The body has some dents and dings, but is wearing its original paint and is in amazing shape. There are some chips that should be treated to prevent rust, but overall the paint looks great. Someone installed pinstripes at some point, but I’ve removed them and you can’t see any discoloration where they once were. It looks a lot better without them if you ask me!

78 Triumph Spitfire

The matching hardtop is in good shape, but is showing some surface rust at the corners and one of the side windows is missing it’s latch hardware. I love the looks and security of the hardtop, so I’ve never had it off. The soft top is still installed and looks alright. I haven’t ever had it up, so I can’t say what kind of condition it is in though. I also have the original tonneau cover and the convertible boot cover. Both look to be in good shape, but would benefit from a deep cleaning.

Spitfire

Besides adding the pinstripes, it also received a new set of black side mirrors and snowflake style rims. I’m not a huge fan of the rims, so I tracked down a set of original Spitfire rims. I started refurbishing them, but they need finished. Thanks to Jamie, I have a complete set of lug nuts and I was able to buy a set of center caps from Bruce. I installed the spare wheel so you can see how it would look with the steelies and I think it looks great! I’m going to include both sets of wheels, so you can pick whichever is your favorite. The tires that are on the snowflakes are new and will fit on the steelies, so if you decide to finish them you can have the tires moved over. I’m also including the original engine and any spare Triumph parts I might have.

1978 Triumph Seats

I’ve put less than 100 miles on the car, but I enjoyed every single one of them. It handles great, the brakes are firm and the transmission shifts like a dream. The overdrive engages and disengages smoothly. With the hardtop and overdrive, you can cruise at 65 mph comfortably. With the new seat covers installed, it’s a pleasure to be in it at any speed. The dash has a couple cracks and the carpets need some work, but neither keep you from enjoying the drive!

Spitfire With Hood Up

While my Spitfire does need a bit of work still, the body is in amazing shape and makes it more than worth the work. I wish I could keep it, but right now I feel the best thing is to let this one go to someone who can get it back on the road and enjoy it! I just hope it is one of you so that I can see how it comes along and hopefully go for a ride once it’s all finished up. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments! And here is a gallery of more photos for your viewing pleasure.

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Comments

  1. Alan

    How about an update on the A coupe?

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      Don’t worry, an update on the A will be coming soon!

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      • Jim

        Sold yet?

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      • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

        Nope, still working on it! Just not to a point where I’m ready to post it. Stay tuned though!

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  2. Lawrence

    Arrrggh not again you two.
    Want want want.
    It would make the perfect little brother to the BF Mustang.
    Lawrence

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      Haha sorry Lawrence! This is a fun little car and it sure would be happy alongside the Mustang!

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  3. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    Nice car, Josh — I just bought one last week off eBay just for the overdrive transmission (story to come) that probably should end up back on the road. Folks, there’s no car out there right now that offers more bang for the buck than a late Spit like this–someone better snag it!

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      You better do a post about it! I want to see it.
      I can’t thank you enough for your help and the random parts you’ve sent me since I bought this car! You’ve been a serious life saver!

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      • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

        Don’t worry, I just have to get some good pictures and decide what we’re going to do with it. I bought it as a parts car, but it’s really too good to part out. We need a family track car… 🙂

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  4. angliagt

    Will the rally be run this/next year?
    I’m hoping to head up to Kalispell,Montana
    in September,& would be nice to tie in an
    event at the same time.
    I’m hoping to take the ’67 MGB GT,
    or get the ’74 cb Midget going.

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      We are thinking about holding it next year, with the MGA restoration taking up most of our spare time, we just don’t have the time this year to get one of the others ready and plan the event. Once we have a definite plan though, I will let you know!

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  5. Howard A Member

    Wow, thousand bucks. See, that’s the problem. Spitfires aren’t really too wanted, especially one with problems. I know of 3 right now, that all could be had for less than this ( but not necessarily nicer) It’s a great entry-level sports car, but not many like them. They’re cramped, hard to work on ( although, the tilt hood helps) and even with the OD ( a must have in case anyone is considering something like this) not the best and Jamie is wise to purchase one JUST for the OD, it’s that important of an option. I helped a friend of my daughter fix up a ’74 non OD, like this, ( he paid $500 bucks, and it ran, but funky trans. and needed brakes) and while parts are plentiful, I liked my MGB a lot better. Just for the record, I heard, it’s important to use brand new head bolts when removing the head. Old bolts stretch, and you really should use new bolts. Sounds like a cracked head or block. It can be a pretty small crack, you may not even see it. Must have got hot once, because I think that’s pretty rare for a British engine. Good luck.

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    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Howard, I’ll agree with you on most points, but spitfires are the easiest car I have ever worked on in my life! Unfortunately, I’ve worked on a lot of cars….

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      • Gary

        I agree with Jamie. Spitfires are one of the easiest cars to work on. I highly recommend them for anyone that is looking to get into the hobby but don’t know much about working on cars. Spitfires are great for “learning the ropes” on mechanical repairs. They are inexpensive to purchase and parts are also inexpensive.

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      • Howard A Member

        Hi Jamie, you got me there. The ones I refer to, are the one ’74 I worked on. Like I say, he paid $500, and it ran, but needed brakes ( and trans) and not near as nice as yours, I’m pretty sure he’d sell it, not too crazy about it now and he told me, the secretary at his job, had one, also could have been had for the same price, condition unknown. The 3rd one was one that was for sale in my little town in N.Wis. It was the previous style, a ’69 I think, and was on this guy’s lawn for months with a $1,200 sign on it. It looked pretty nice too, and nobody wanted it. Granted, wrong market, up north, but just about everybody I knew with a Spitfire, moved up the ladder in sports cars. Oh, and the easiest car I ever worked on, without question, my ’80’s-’90’s Dodge or Plymouth mini-vans.

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    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      The bidding is at $1,000 and actually a lot of people want Spitfires.

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      Howard can you send me some links to these cars? You never find a running driving Spitfire here in Boise for less than $2,000!

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      • Rick

        I have not found any in Texas for that kind of money either,

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  6. Chris A.

    Worth the money. But as stated above, the current engine is suspect. Does the old Spitfire engine come in the deal? Did you tear down the original Spitfire engine to see why it was seized? Like no oil or no coolant? Actually, what is the difference between a 1500 Sprite engine and the Spitfire’s original engine? As I’m interested, where is the car located? Does a Spitfire manual come with it? Thanks for your clear statements about the engine problems, I’d dump the current coolant, flush it out, fill it with water and get it thoroughly warmed up to see if oil shows up. As I recall, there is a florescent dye that can be seen with a UV lamp to pick up block and head leaks.

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      The original engine does come with the car Chris. I pulled the head off and it looks like the center two pistons are stuck from lack of oil. I can’t say for certain though. I think a machine shop could get the pistons out for you, I thought about heating the block up and hammering them out, but decided that might do more damage than good. The head looks to be in good shape though, so if the current engine has a cracked head, you would already have a replacement on hand!

      So the early Spitfires had a 1300 engine, but from ’74 on they all came with the 1500. The earlier 1500s had slightly higher compression then the later ones and subsequently more power.

      The car is in Boise, Idaho with a clear Idaho title in my name. I have a factory shop manual which is also included and details how to take every piece of this car apart and put it back together again. If you have any other questions, let me know!
      Josh

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      • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

        If the buyer wants it, they can also have my phone number to ask any Triumph questions they want to. Advice is free! C’mon, folks, this is a nice car at what looks like it’s going to be a nice price!

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    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Chris, there are effectively no differences between a Midget 1500 engine and the Spitfire 1500 one. I agree with your plan, BTW, but I’d retorque the head nuts as well.

      Jamie

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  7. Chris A.

    Thanks Josh, exactly what I wanted to know. Now I need the transportation cost to move a Spitfire from ID to Pittsburgh. As for the stuck pistons, look for a penetrant called Kroil which is used to free aluminum/steel aircraft parts. Heat it and pour it on top of the piston and let it set. Saran wrap over the cylinders to keep it from evaporating.

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    • Gary

      Chris A.

      I’m also from Pgh. If you buy the Spitfire, or any Triumph/MG for that matter, there is a huge support group in Pgh. Both clubs have been in existence since the 70s. We have a lot of events, year round. This weekend we are going to the 911 memorial in Shanksville. In August we have a night owl run and a half day run. Plus The Roadster Factory (Triumph and MG parts) is having their Summer Party.

      Bottom line is that Pgh is probably one of the best places to own a British car. I hope you decide to purchase one. And fee free to contact me with questions, etc garlin22000@yahoo.com

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  8. Chris A.

    Shipping the Spitfire from Boise back east to the Pittsburgh area was quoted at $1,300. Could it be driven 2100 miles? Hmmmm. This is the problem of bringing cars back east, the transportation charge needs to be added in or the car has to be drivable. And a spare engine as passenger wouldn’t help.

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      A few hundred miles, maybe. A couple thousand, I don’t know. It runs and sounds great, but I’d be worried about the bearings giving out. I’ll see if I can figure out where the leak is. If it’s the head, we can get a new headgasket here in 2 days and then swap the head out with the one that’s on the original engine. If the block is cracked, well that’s a whole other issue.

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  9. cyclemikey

    Bars Leaks Tabs. Yes, I’m serious. Fresh oil and coolant, retorque the head, and then add Bars Leaks Tabs according to the directions.You’ll be amazed at what they’ll seal up. A minor crack in a casting is right up their alley. Probably get you to Pittsburgh just fine. And don’t substitute something “just as good” or “really the same thing”.

    Seems hokey, but it actually works. Several manufacturers used to use a dose of it in new cars. Don’t know if they still do that.

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    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Got me through 2 years with head problems on a Dodge Shelby Charger. I think it’s good stuff…

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      I was actually just looking at Blue devil, it’s suppose to seal cracks and leaky head gaskets. Has anyone had luck with it? I know I can get it here locally, but I’ll see if I can get Bars leak tabs here.

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      • cyclemikey

        O’Reilly’s carries it.

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      • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

        I’ll have to go get some and give it a try! If it works, I think Chris could easily make the trip in it!

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      So I added the Bars and it seems to have sealed the leak! I need to flush the oil system, but it runs like a top now. After letting it cool, I started it up and let it idle for 15 or 20 minutes and it didn’t overheat, smoke or make any unusual sounds! After I flush the oil, I’m going to take it for a short drive and see how it does. If it holds, I’d be comfortable make a long drive in it!

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  10. bluzemn1

    bottom line ? what do need to get for the car

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  11. Mike Williams

    anything with sodium silicate is a great sealer.

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    • SSPBill

      Blue Devil. I used it on an old Ford Focus. Worked great to seal up head gasket and/or small cracks in the water jacket (assumed causes of the leaks). It also finds its way past seals and into bearings so a new water pump soon followed. I was hoping to get the car through the winter. I think I drove it for another 2 years.

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  12. wuzjeepnowsaab

    Argh. If I didn’t just drag home a-(nother) *eye roll* 900 project I’d be all over this one. Love Spitfires…glwts

    Ps: there was a service bulletin put out by GM/Saab many moons ago that recommended dealers use BarsLeak in all cars coming in for service and for prep. The stuff in the little gray bottle

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  13. Howard A Member

    I’ve used a product called “Mendtite”. It’s a Zecol product, and I swear by it. I’ve used it a dozen times on various coolant leaks, including my semi’s.( 2 bottles for semi’s) Currently, I drive a ’96 Sonoma, 2.2, with a bad head gasket, and it stopped it cold. Bumper to Bumper usually carries it. With engine hot, you have to add it directly to the top radiator hose, ( or cap, if you have one) not in the overflow tank. It works. http://www.unitedhardware.com/media/images/products/artwork/J0421004.gif

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  14. rusty

    Great car love it but I just got to ask.

    Since I saw this thread I couldn’t help but wonder why It’s an eBay listing and not a BF exclusive?

    It kinda makes me wonder if it could discourage people doing BF exclusive listings if you yourself haven’t used it.

    personally I think the BF exclusive is a great idea.

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      I actually was going to do it as an exclusive Rusty, but I figured the market for Spitfires with a possibly cracked block is pretty small and I needed as much visibility as possible.

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      • rusty

        Hi Josh
        Yeah perhaps but you have always been very honest in your appraisal of your cars and I for one would not hesitate in accepting what you say. Infact a motor problem in a British 4 cylinder is an easy fix of repair or replace.

        To me a head problem on a triumph motor or any similar british motor is dead set easy to remedy. Even if it’s dead in the water a replacement motor should be easier for you guys to find them say us here in aussie

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      • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

        I could probably find another engine here easy enough, I found the current engine in a day, but I’m not in a position to do another engine swap right now. I wish I could, I prefer to leave a car better than I found it. And considering when I found it, it had a seized engine and had been parked for 20 years, I think it’s better than it was before. Sadly, it isn’t in the condition I would like for it to be, hence the brutal honesty and the choice to list it on eBay. But like I said, my situation is such that I can’t invest anymore money or time into it and I’d rather not let it sit outside awaiting the time when I can.

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  15. rusty

    You couldnt be more honest on your description of your head problem. . Shouldnt scare of true triumph people. Damn using a mobile phone on this site is difficult typing into the comment area.

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      That’s true and it could be as simple as torquing the head down tighter, the problem is that coolant in the oil can damage bearings and wreck havoc on the rings. Even if I had fixed the issue, I would have still disclosed that it had had coolant in the oil. Always better to be safe than sorry!

      Also, can you send us an email detailing the issues your having with commenting on your phone? Our email is mail@barnfinds.com. Thanks Rusty!

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      • rusty

        No need for you to do any further work on it…it is what it is and you have explained perfectly and there is a point of where one decides its time to let go. Its not like you have priced it at some high price. Here is the car, here is a potential problem and it is sold with that knowledge.

        My point is that a true triumph person probably wont see the head probs as a deal breaker as they will have knowledge or parts or friends in the scene to help., but a non triumph person will/may see it as a deal breaker. My guess is that car ownership now a days is getting perhaps more orientated to those into a particular car…less spontaneity of purchase although I dont doubt that is still happening.

        re the probs using a mobile..i will email you. [i am on my computer now] hee hee

        cheers rusty

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  16. Tony S

    Bar’s Leaks? Oh no you dint…

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    • Howard A Member

      Hi Tony, I know, I haven’t had much luck with Bar’s. I tell ya’, this Mendtite is great stuff, not to be confused with “Sealtite”. I tried that in the ol’ Sonoma 1st, and it lasted about a year and let go. Josh is in a bit of a bind here.I understand where he’s at. ( it’s rarely as simple as re-torquing the head) Sometimes you have just let it go, cut your losses, and move on. The car is nice enough, it’s still a good deal. Lord knows enough nice stuff comes through here, that he can’t make it up down the line.( maybe on some real deals we never get to see. 🙂

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      I know Tony, but if figured the engine already has issues so what’s there to loose? On the upside, it’s running extremely well know. I’ve put about 30 miles on it since adding Bars and I haven’t lost any noticeable amount of coolant! I even drove it into work today and took it on the interstate. It cruised wonderfully at 65, I even hit 70! With the overdrive engaged the engine was barely turning over 3k and the temp gauge stayed right on the mark for proper temperature. I won’t lie, I’m regretting not adding the stuff sooner, as I’ve been having a blast driving this thing!

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    • Tony S

      Oh please don’t get me wrong – I hope the car sells and Josh gets a good price. My experience is that it is tough/impossible to clean the stuff out of the coolant passages, radiator, coolant pump, etc. If you are just trying to get a few fun trips out of the engine that is fine – but in my experience, once it fails, it is best to just to take the engine and radiator to the recycler. I guess I am just extremely anal about the projects I work on. I have torn down engines that have all manner of “1 minute rebuild” poured into them and it is a mess. Kinda like Quaker State back when it was paraffin based. 🙂

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  17. Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

    Holy cow! I just took Josh’s Spitfire for a spin and it’s in a lot better shape than he may have conveyed in the story above. It has lots of power, turns, and brakes good. Everything feels tight and it looks awesome. I’m afraid if bidding doesn’t go higher, he is going to get seriously ripped off. It’s funny how people will buy rusted out hunk for $1,500, but this auction is having a hard time cracking $2k. Heck, the overdrive and hardtop are worth more than that. I’d say this thing is worth at least $4k, so if it doesn’t go up soon, I might have to bid and buy it for myself!

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  18. angliagt

    Is that the Barnfinds executive office in the background
    of the first picture?If so,that would make the Spitfire a company car.

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    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      That is our office, but it’s Josh’s car.

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  19. Chris A.

    After reading all the comments, I think this Spitfire will be a good deal for someone who is willing to do what Tony suggests, namely the engine and cooling system components should be replaced. I suspect that sometime in the past that engine seriously overheated resulting in the cracked block with oil where it shouldn’t be throughout the cooling system, head and block. As related to me, the 1500 engine is a stroked 1300 and has a tender bottom end unless you want to spend some serious $$ on upgraded components. If you have a good 1300 engine to drop in this, Josh deserves a fair sale for being so honest about the warts. Much as I like it, and the work done so far, I can’t see trying to drive it even with a working OD from Boise to Pittsburgh. With the summer head we’ve been having in between the two cities both the car and driver would probably have heat stroke.

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  20. Chris A.

    Josh, do you still have the Spitfire? And if “yes” what comes with it in the sale? I remain interested.

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  21. Danko

    Hi Josh,
    How much for releasing the white Spit?
    What else comes with it?
    Danko

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  22. Chris A.

    Josh and Jesse, is there an update on the Spitfire? I’m still interested in the car despite the iffy engine.

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    • Josh Mortensen Josh Staff

      Hey Chris,
      My apologizes for not getting back to you on Friday, I got sidetracked trying to get posts done for the weekend and then I totally forgot to contact you. So the Spitfire actually sold the day after the auction ended. It’s going to one of our readers in California! Sorry!
      Josh

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  23. Chris A.

    Glad to read it found a home. I’d like to be driving behind him if he tries to drive it back to CA.

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