Gear Gamble: 1976 Triumph Spitfire

This little British roadster could end up being a bargain depending on what’s wrong with it. The seller claims that it’s an original California car and that it has always run well. Well, until just recently that is. The engine still runs fine, but it’s having some issues in the shifting department. The cause of the problem is unknown so you might be taking a gamble. It’s located in Boise, Idaho and is listed here on eBay with no reserve.

The Triumph Spitfire is a good choice if you are looking for something that’s fun and affordable. They are easy to work on and parts are cheap. They can scoot around just fine, but don’t expect American power or German quality. This is a British car so be sure order a Moss Motors catalog and a pan to catch any leaks. The 1500 isn’t my favorite four banger, but it sounds like the transmission is the real concern here.

Or is it? The transmission may or may not be bad. The seller doesn’t mention the exact issue so it could be as simple as a bad slave cylinder. That would probably be the easiest thing to fix. $45 bucks and some new fluid would get you gear changing again. Then again, it might not be that easy.

Perhaps the shifter just needs some new bushings? Nah, that’s too easy. With 100k on the clock, a bad clutch or even a bad transmission is more likely. Either way, that’s going to get more involved. Used transmissions can still be found and a clutch will set you back $100. This could be the perfect project for someone who wants to bond with their new classic by getting their hands dirty. If you want to take a gamble on this one, go right ahead. Or let us know and we will go take a quick look. It’s here close, so just let us know if you’re thinking about bidding on  it!


  1. Dan

    Nice car! I had a 1976 spit before. Seems like they had a power bump from the previous year, and you will notice that the wheels are different in 76. My understanding is that they used up some leftover Austin Marina wheels.

  2. RickG

    As a former owner of two Triumph GT6’s and one 1980 Spitfire, (with 10K miles) I have to say there is something magical about seeing a picture of a clean Triumph.

    I recently turned down a local 79 Spitfire owned by an elderly gentleman in a trailer park. Excellent condition, red paint, 100% all there and working, $2500. I just didn’t have the money at the moment. I can’t stop thinking about it…….arghhhh!

    Anyway, if you have ever spent several years driving and taking care of a Triumph, you’re probably like me…….you can’t ignore them when they come around.


  3. Keruth

    Clean project for someone close for PPI.
    Easy to work on, and easy to access parts.
    ’76’ was the high compression head, IIRC.
    Thank goodness it’s too far away for me!
    Ingress/Egress is an art form with me,
    but it’s so much fun while your driving!
    Add an over drive while your at it, just saying!

    Can’t believe I’m the first comment, lol.

    • Keruth

      Op’s, took too long to type with one finger.

  4. rawcar2long

    Had a 1975 1500 from new 50k miles in two years. My transmission would “fail” due to a plastic part in the shift lever mechanism. Trans would still shift but with gross displacement of shift lever. Got you home and to the dealer.This part was replaced at no cost by dealer (twice). I have many more stories …….

  5. ccrvtt

    This can’t be an old Triumph. I don’t see any rust. That alone makes it a bargain among Little British Cars. I’ve been looking half-heartedly at MGBs of late and even the nice ones have a hint of iron oxide somewhere. This one would be satisfying to fix because it already looks so good. Nice find.

  6. martin

    I had a 78 the same color. What a great car, and mine also had shifting issues. I never did figure it out but it seemed like the clutch fingers would not lift the pressure plate enough to separate the engine from the transmission. I bled it over and over and replaced both the master and slave cylinders to no avail. I finally made the slave cylinder holes larger and was able to adjust it enough to create some extra movement which fixed the problem. I owned it for years and it was my daily driver for several years. It was actually very reliable. It had literally zero oil pressure and I would run gear oil to get the guage to show some pressure. When I finally dropped the pan I found the bearings to be perfect, but the oil pump housing was cracked, so it could not build pressure. I liked that car so much I now have a GT6 in my shop 30 years later.

  7. Michael Rogers

    These cars have a tranny used in a wide number of their cars and are known for their durability. The remote shifters have plastic bushings that wear out in time making a sloppy shifter, the bushings cost maybe $10.00 just because they have them and you don’t otherwise they’d cost 35C

  8. Billy

    The oil leak comment was spot on. Had a friend with one back in the day, his garage floor was not a pretty site, but boy did he love the orange car! Our 2006 Miata is so much more reliable and better made in general, but that car had something special, can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it is just fondly remembering being young and the whole world was fresh and new in general. Maybe we take things for granted that we didn’t then. Who knows?

  9. Adam T45 Staff

    I have a real soft spot for British cars, and this little car is no exception. I’m so glad I’m in Australia, as I’m getting sick of explaining to my wife why I’ve bought another car.

    “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”

  10. Jeremy DuBois

    The 76 didn’t have a high compression head, it’s the only year that had flat pistons. They went back to dished pistons in 77. But any spit 1500 that has had the engine rebuilt undoubtedly now has the flat pistons in it.

    If the gearbox is bad I’m this car, it’s not that big of a deal. They’re pretty easy to rebuild, or can be sent to Quantum Mechanics in CT. John Esposito is the expert on British gearboxes, and his rebuild prices are reasonable. I had him rebuild a gearbox on a 65 spitfire for $500.

    • Rob Mouat

      Esposito sold me a TR3 OD Tranny for $3500, would not respond to a request for a wiring diagram for the OD and the darn thing leak a pint every 500 miles or 1 month whichever comes first. I wouldn’t give him the time of day.

  11. Van

    Easiest trans swap ever. It comes out from the top. Great car to learn how to do your own repairs.

  12. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    Side note…the plastic part that folks are talking about really does disintegrate. However, it was only fitted through 1974. The later transmissions (known as single-rail) have a completely different shifter mechanism than the earlier ones (three-rail). Personally, having about 100k miles of driving with single rails and about 50k miles of driving with three rails, if they are in good shape they both shift well, but I prefer the single rail.

    HOWEVER!!! Having a hard time shifting more than likely means the thrust washers are in the oil pan rather than where they need to be…which means you need a new block, crank and rear main bearing cap OR a creative machinist. BTDT!!! Have the seller lever the crank back and forth from the front pulley–if there’s a clunk plan on this repair!!! True for all Spitfires, GT6’s and TR6’s…

  13. Paul B

    Looks like a very clean solid shell with an interior in nice shape. It appears to be a non-abused non-rusty car. Hmm … I’d take the gamble and plan on possible major expense to repair the engine as Jamie notes above, or replace the gearbox, clutch and clutch hydraulics. So? Go into it with clear eyes and realism with this used car, budget for it on and don’t worry. Prospects for long term enjoyment are great. If I weren’t so far from Boise and not still in process of bringing another 2-seater up to snuff, I’d love this little Triumph.

  14. Fred Hicks

    I had a Spitfire when I was young in my 20s. It was a fun car. I bought it for $40. Because the previous owner thought the gas pedal was the brake and
    crashed it ,only the front fender got damaged . I remember it requiring almost daily maintenance though . I got hit broadside ,the windshield popped out and the seats bent backwards . No body got hurt though .I sold it to a guy that had a junkyard full of foreign cars for $60.00

  15. Mike Williams

    I’m just glad I’m a Mustang Man, otherwise I’d be tempted.

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Mike, come over to the dark blue side (Triumph “book” emblem is blue), we have Lucas smoke! (Seriously, I have a Boss 302 in addition to my Triumphs–they go well together!)

  16. tim clark

    Ouch, 1976 equals California Smog

  17. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    If you’re interested in one that needs transmission work but DOESN’T need engine work, check this one out in North Carolina (no connection, no idea if claims are correct):

  18. Matt

    Jamie, you are a bad influence! The Boise car is so clean, I was tempted but agree that the engine may be toast. Just when sanity prevailed that Idaho was simply a bridge too far, you post a nice NC car… I have 3 or 4 spare trannys in my parts locker. grrrr must resist!

  19. Pete

    Man that thing is clean. That Tranny could be rebuilt pretty easily. Even if you had to replace the syncros between 1st and 2nd gear as I had to do on my very first car a 65 spitfire. I took that thing apart and put it back together like 8 times before I got it right. I was 16 with little experience and refused to ask my dad for help. LOL. It wouldn’t scare me at all.

  20. Rick

    This is a bargain even if it needs a whole new trans. The body condition is the most important factor. Used trans for this car is dirt cheap and they are simple to swap. I had a miata ten yes ago and its a fun car but I also had a spitfire. The miata is better in every way. Problem is I never felt like it was special. In the triumph it felt – special. If you like ppl turning heads the spitfire is the cheapest way into a special car

  21. Twilcox

    I’d put money on a worn thrust washer causing the crank shaft to float and not allowing the clutch to fully engage. I have replaced many of them.

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