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Cheap Driver: 1974 Triumph Spitfire

1974 Triumph Spitfire

The Triumph Spitfire is already a great choice as an affordable classic because parts are so dang cheap, but when you find a clean runner for this kind of money, it’s a steal! Obviously you aren’t going to get a show car for a couple grand, but this Spitfire does look clean and the seller has already done a lot of sorting. The dash still needs some work and I would probably do something different with the seats. The seller was planning for a Zetec swap, but luckily that never happened. They are throwing in a couple of totes full of extra parts and seem to be looking for a quick sale by only asking $2,400 obo here on eBay. The car is located in Rantoul, Illinois. Does this look like a good deal to you?


  1. Avatar photo Jamie Staff

    There’s a lot good about this car and very little bad. The only thing I’m wondering about is why does it have a camber compensator; that is usually only fitted to 1970 and earlier Spitfires as the pivoting center spring on the 1971 and later cars. The underriders for the front bumper can be found, although pricey. I maintain the Spitfire is the best value for money of any old sports car today, and this one is no exception.

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  2. Avatar photo Tirefriar

    Jamie, I’m right up there with you. I like British cars but my passion is Alfa Romeo. However, the Spitfire would be a car I would cheat with on my beloved AR. This is an exceptional value if the car is solid without underwater rocks. I love the forward tilting bonnet that gives you excellent access to the engine. It almost begs for you to wrench on it. This car is too far away from me and I have quite a few balls in the air at the moment. Once the dust settles down though, I’ll be looking for one of these as a project with my sons.

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  3. Avatar photo ClassicCarFan

    I’ve got to agree with Jamie on all points. This seems like a really good package for the price. It could be made into a very nice usable driver quality car with little effort.

    I am biased. I love Spitfires. I’ve owned (still do technically, still in the family) restored and driven one many years/miles and they really are an unbeatable combination of fun for your money. Nobody would claim they are an out-and-out sports car like a Lotus or Alfa, but they are great fun to drive and “fast enough” to be enjoyable. They have remained extremely cheap to buy and I really can’t think of any other classic car that is cheaper and easier to work on – with their simplicity of engineering and construction, great parts availability and pricing….. and of course that wonderful flip front that makes any work on the engine or front of the rolling chassis and absolute breeze.

    In some ways (like with the MGB discussion on this site a few days back…) ironically, the bargain values of old Spitfires has been a curse against them too because once they deteriorate to a certain level of roughness then are not economically worth restoring. If you were aiming to get a nice usable driver Spitfire for the summer you’d be better off spending $4,000 – $5,000 to buy one that is already sorted out than buying that $500 project in the local free ads because it will cost you far more in the end to get it all up to standard.

    I would always recommend Spitfires to anyone who was looking to dip their toe into the world of classic cars for the first time because it’s a great starter car to get all the benefits of classic ownership at the most reasonable price of entry (and ongoing cost of ownership). I fully understand all the factors and market forces that make a Porsche 356 worth $80k when you can buy a REALLY nice Spitfire for say, $6,000 but it is an odd reality. If your objective is to buy something to actually drive in the sunshine and enjoy you’d probably have just as much fun in the Spitfire for a fraction of the cost.

    Yes, I know people buy classic cars for other reasons such as badge snobbery, exclusivity, bragging rights, and investment potential too. I’m not trying to ignite a storm of discussion about what cars should be worth. The market is what it is, it’s a supply and demand thing and that’s how a free market economy works. Just saying, that I you want a classic car that’s fun and easy to own – in relative terms the Spitfire remains and absolute bargain.

    Personally, I think that 1973-1974 are particularly good years for the Federal Spitfire being the first two years of the 1500 engine but before they went over to the hideous 5mph bumpers. I also prefer the pre-77 style steering column and interior. I know there it has become almost an internet myth taken as fact – that the Mk3 era 1300 motor is preferable to the 1500 motor in a Spitfire but it is mainly a myth. The theory that “the racers like the 1300” is true because the Mk3 era 1300s are shorter stroke with lighter cranks and rods so they can be made to rev much higher that the longer stroke 1500, so if you are setting one up with a suitably hot cam to make maximum power higher up the rev range to race on the track and are willing to keep it operating in the 4,000 – 6,000 rpm range then it has more potential than the 1500. For road use, driving in the way that we actually drive 99% of the time – the superior torque of the 1500 is preferable.

    And yes, Jamie is of course right… you shouldn’t need a camber compensator on a post-71 “swing spring” Spitfire. I’d imagine that would actually detract from the handling (unless other modifications had been made to tune it all in?)

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  4. Avatar photo Tirefriar

    ClassicCarFan, you raise a lot of valid points and seem to be very well versed in Spitfires. I have owned a list of older cars through out time, Alfas being the predominant brand. The only British car I ever owned was a 2001 Jaguar XJR, which I remember quite fondly and would not hesitate to get into another one as long as it was kept as nice as mine was. I am a true believer that one should buy the best one can afford and avoid the pitfall of buying the cheapest one out there. I do believe you and I are on the same page in that respect.

    However, one of the attractions of this Spitfire is the price point for what appears a decent car with a good amount of work done. Now, I’m in no way a Spitfire expert, hardly even at a level of a novice. The only way I’d be interested in buying something like this is for me to phycally inspect it. But if this car has a solid body and decent mechanicals, I’d say this is the car for someone who wants to dip their toe into the classic sport car waters.

    Just for comparison, $2500 in the Alfa camp will typically get you 75-89 car barely running or one with “special” needs, notably rust and/or bad transmission. With Alfas being a bit more complex machinery this can and usually does turn into a tricky project and pricey project.

    Going up to $6k or so will put you in a completely different realm of Alfa Romeos – later Series 2 and Series 3 Spiders, 164 sedans (very well sorted), Alfetta GT and Sport Sedan, even a nicely sorted GTV6. if small european drop top cars are your thing then 115 Spiders are some of the best bang for that buck giving you a 5 speed trans, fuel injection, 4 wheel discs brakes and a twin cam that if maintained right is just as durable as the British mills but much more visceral. Parts are plentiful and the force is strong with these cars.

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    • Avatar photo Jamie Staff

      Wow…I enjoyed the comments you folks have added :-). I drove a Mk. 2 Spitfire as my daily driver from ’08-October ’13 (27 mile commute each direction) and only stopped because it was stressing me out that the car needed so much cosmetically and I didn’t have time to devote to it. It’s still my “go-to” car when I need a dose of convertibling!

      @ClassicCarFan — I have just introduced my soon-to-be son-in-law to the joys of Spitfiring by him taking over a project car. He soon acquired a second parts car for free from a member of our local Triumph Club. Now he’s looking for a GT6… :-)

      @TireFriar — someday I will be dipping my toes into the Alfa pool. I have a soft spot for the Milano, believe it or not, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s where I try first.

      One of the joint plusses/curses of TR2-6, Spit/Herald/Vitesse and GT6’s is that they are true body on frame construction. Keeps many on the road that would not otherwise be so due to body rust, which I suppose is good, but means there are a lot of “rusty” projects out there that get scrapped even though they could be saved. Note that the Spit/GT6 depend somewhat on their sills for strength; they don’t have the outrigger tie-ins that the others do. Worst place for a Spit to rust is just in front of the rear wheels; if they aren’t rusty there, it’s almost always a solid car.

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      • Avatar photo Tirefriar

        Jamie, the Milano or the 75 as its known around the world is a great intro car to a more modern Alfas. Many people and even some die hard Alfisti cannot get past its styling but I love it. But then I love everything that is not run of the mill so it fits right in. Get the Verde and you will never look back. With Alfa, loving caring ownership is key and thats what you want to go for. The Busso engine, although durable, is much more complex and thus more expensive to rebuild than the twin cam Nord. The Nord engine can virtually be rebuilt unlimited amount of times due to its floating cylinder design. Either way you go, it will be great to welcome you to the Alfa camp and read on your AR adventures.

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  5. Avatar photo John

    Someone liked it. It’s gone.

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  6. Avatar photo JagManBill

    $2,400 is a good buy in almost any market. If the pans were good, then it was an exceptional buy. ClassicCarFan – I would agree on the 73 and 74’s but I have to say the 73 as the best as it was the last “non-federal-federalized” of the bunch. Minimal emissions control crap and the 1500 still had some power. More importantly, it was the last of the 3-rail tranny’s.

    I’d like to get a Mk3 at some point to complete the collection. Currently I have a 63 hardtop (never had a soft top from day one), 2 64’s (both GP vintage racers), a 73 GT4 (yes…a GT bodied 1500 Spit), and a 79 Spit (also a future racer). They are habit forming to say the least. In all 5 cars I have a total of just over $5,000 invested so cheap is also a good way to describe them.

    Yup…someone got a pretty good deal on this one

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  7. Avatar photo JeffH48

    @JagManBill….+1 Nice collection of Spitfires. I’ve seen you post over at BaT from time to time. Your comment regarding your (19)73 Spitfire GT4, really piqued my interest. Primarily because I had never heard of such a ‘wee beastie’, so, after a Google I discovered…http://www.thefullwiki.org/Triumph_GT6
    :”In early 1963 Giovanni Michelotti was commissioned by Standard-Triumph to design a GT version of their recently introduced Spitfire 4 (also designed by Michelotti). An unmodified Spitfire 4 was transported to Michelotti’s design studios in Italy and late in 1963 the prototype Spitfire GT4 was returned to England for evaluation. The styling of the vehicle was a success but unfortunately the extra weight of the GT bodyshell resulted in extremely poor performance, with the 1,147 cc (70 cu in) Spitfire power unit, and plans for producing the Spitfire GT4 were shelved.”

    ….and then located 4 photos of a Triumph Works Rally Car, circa 1965. the pale blue one starting in the third row here…of paarticular note is the dual exhaust, and rally bonnet wiith extra lightinng:

    So, is yours a 1973 with the fiberglass hardtop ? Do you know where it originated from ?
    Part of the reason I’m so interested is, quite simply, I’m a GT kinda guy. I’ve also had a look at the Ashley GT body replacement for the Spitfire and quite like it, too. Here’s one on this page: http://car-from-uk.com/sale.php?id=53537

    This particular vehicle looks it was a very good deal and I hope the buyer is going to restore it, it certainly looks to have “good bones”.


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  8. Avatar photo rick

    had an 86 alfa syider…. i wouldn’t call it a true sports car either. it’s known around the globe as the least stiff convertible in the world. it was featured on a show once on how not to build a car chassis. the engine is just adequate – nothing more. but it’s styling and sound is just right. the spit is the same thing – maybe a bit stiffer in the chassis department…. but has an even weaker engine than the alfa…. the spit is a corner carver. both these cars are not about engine power though. it’s about the pleasure of driving. you don’t have to go fast to look good. both have about the same legroom but alfa has a bit more elbow room. for the price you can’t beat a spitfire.

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