Was It Lucas? 1972 Triumph Spitfire

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I love these Spitfires for some demented reason. Their Lucas electrical systems give them a terrible reputation. This Spitfire is listed here on Craigslist in Vacaville, CA with an asking price of $2500. It’s been sitting a long time and is said to have only 13,000 miles on it. Perhaps Lucas, the “Prince of Darkness,” put out its fire as often happened. It’s a rust-free California car. I wish the seller provided pictures of the interior to show what the other residents of the barn have done to the little car. It’s good to know that the engine is free, although the seller says it’s not drivable at the moment.

The pictures don’t show much, but what we can see does look promising with no signs of rust. Brown is not my favorite color, but one can imagine this looking quite nice with a little attention.

Is there hope for this little Triumph? Could one overcome the electrical system difficulties?  What is this Spitfire worth as it is? What would it take to get it running again beyond the usual mechanical issues? I look forward to seeing what aficionados of the brand have to say!

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Comments

  1. The Walrus

    Guess it’s time to break out my only LBC joke…

    Why do the English drink warm beer?

    Lucas Refrigeration.

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Unfortunately, having been a British car enthusiast from as soon as I could walk, I know some more. I even have several of them on our Austin Marina race car. For example: Lucas–the inventor of the three position switch: dim, flicker and off.

      BTW, Matt, some of those cars have only two fuses. By the time of this Spitfire, they used four, plus an inline one for the radio. :-)

      • Milt

        Couldn’t resist all those Lucas comments. Attached is a photo of an MGA I restored back in 1970. Previous owner was thoroughly disgusted with both MG and Lucas reliability so replaced the entire system with a Volvo unit. Definitely not Concours but no more MG/Lucas headaches. Previous owner was employed by the LaGrange Texas outfit made famous by the Burt Reynolds Dolly Parton movie “Best Little Whorehouse In Texas”. Her mechanical skills imparts new definition to the term “multi-tasking”.

        Like 1
    • Luki

      Lucas invented the intermittent wipers.

    • ottogo

      The English invented rust and sold it to the Italians…

  2. Van

    I met the Lucas rep
    He said everyone called him the prince of darkness

  3. Matt Tritt

    Because Lucas sounds a bit like Lucifer – and because the steadfastly clung to a whopping 3 circuit fuses in autos; even Rolls and Land Rover. They were nothing if not consistent! I like these too, but they look better with wires and without the weird top.

  4. jim s

    if your close this would be worth doing a PI on and then making an offer. the top is worth some money. what model tractor is the background? interesting find.

    • Patrick McC.

      The tractor in the background is an old Ford Jubilee.

      • jim s

        thanks.

  5. Blueprint

    The engine is not free – you have to buy the car to get it (…raising shields right now).

    • Donnie

      good one

  6. Andrew S Mace Member

    Those who swear by the reliability of Volvo electrical systems never owned a mid-1970s Volvo from their Belgian assembly plant. As for Lucas, I’ve got pretty much NO complaints after well over 45 years of owning British cars. If this Spitfire actually sat for years “due to electrical problems,” I have to ask myself if they knew where the battery was and how to jump, charge or replace it. ;)

  7. crazydave

    Nothing wrong with Lucas electrics – except for those pesky issues of starting & running!

    Keep a smoke injection kit handy for when the magic smoke leaks out, you’ll be fine.

    Just remember the Lucas Motto: “Get home before dark!”

    • Doug Towsley

      Actually the correct motto is “Joseph Lucas: A Gentleman does not motor about after dark” The other is 3 positions for a Lucas Switch is “Off, dim and flicker” How do you know the difference between a regular person and a British bike (or car) Owner? “When stopped by the police for dim lighting you express surprise it was working at all”.

      I also have a large jar of the Lucas Smoke replacement with appropriate labeling. We used to use it at Club displays at the All British Field meets and other events.

      However, It is true that while we like to make fun, Lucas was not that bad, (Anyone ever work on anything with WIPAC??) The truth is these parts were made to a price, not quality. I have worked in aerospace both military and civilian and I enjoy showing people that the US militarys F-18 and some other aircraft use Lucas built Avionics ( I also worked for 2 years in a Engineering program for Rolls Royce Aerospace, and frighteningly, FIAT Aerospace Fix It Again Tony!). The British Motorcycle and auto industry had some short sighted ideas and forced their vendors to face unrealistic price requirements. At one point Amal carbs were installed at a loss on every Britt bike and they made up the money in spares support. Same with Lucas. With sensible mods and maintenance Lucas stuff can be made to work just fine. I swap out certain parts, but it all comes down to education. There are 3 basic types of vintage vehicle owners, Ones who get it to begin with, Ones who can be trained and educated. And some you take away their tools and tell them to go buy something Japanese under warranty.

      • Kevin Harper

        Very true Doug, but I will say I was startled a little bit the first time I saw some components manufactured by Fiat going into a Nuclear power plant. I am sure there are Lucas parts used there also

      • Doug Towsley

        Marelli electrical? (Some of their stuff is pretty good, but in general Italian electrical and quality are not generally used in the same sentence). At one point in the Middle east I was working Fwd ops with a Air Force unit from Aviano Italy. A US Captain was late to work because of a broken down FIAT rental car. He went on a long running rant about Italians and engineering. We were near what was still an operational highway originally built by the Romans (E5 near Syria) and he said there is NO WAY- NO WAY there was any genetic connections to the same people who built that highway, The Coliseum in Rome and many other engineering feats and the same people who built FIAT cars. No way it was the same people, heritage or genetics.
        Of course this was a multinational unit, and sparked a long running discussion about Germans, Americans, Canadians, Asians etc. So pretty much no one escaped criticism, but I did think it was damn funny that Officer yelling about Italians and Fiats.

  8. rogerowen

    I think this Lucas bashing might be a little bit unfair chaps. If you are talking about ignition problems – many faults today can be attributed to poor manufacturing standards of items such as distributor caps, rotors and condensers.

    In one day I had a visit from a Triumph Spitfire, an MG Midget and an MGB GT all with ignition problems – all were due to the fact that new condensers had been recently fitted. Luckily I keep a stock of ‘old’ ones, and once fitted all three cars were off and running.

    • Doug Towsley

      I dont know what “Old” ones you have, but OEM Lucas capacitors and condensers deteriorate with age. Many experts, club newsletters and advice columns all advise that You can pull a NOS one off the shelf and be a dud after enough time. I have NOS Lucas parts for British motorcycles and old dealer stock, some prefer the NOS stuff but Anything with a Condenser or Capacitor I always warn people. I have some NOS Magneto armatures for K2F models and even though new and in the wrapper I wouldnt run them without replacing the Caps. Many people are using Stihl chainsaw caps, but last couple years theres a company called BrightSpark that sells a standalone cap replacement. I have boxs of condensors if you are interested in a bulk buy. Personally, With several decades of British car and motorcycle ownership and former shop owner I would just remove and carefully label and store the stock Points ignitions and fit a electronic ignition. My Boyer Brandensden on my Norton and one of my Triumphs has been working just fine for 35 years without fail and cant say the same for Lucas. I also sold electronic ignitions and offer a 2 year unconditional warranty and cannot say the same for Lucas.
      My FIL and BIL both used to build Ignition kits for MG sports cars and used to be carried by several British car service shops. On the MG you find a A series Datsun or Nissan engine, (Dist, coil, and brain box) and its a bolt in set up. You drift out the roll pin, swap the gears, and drops right in. They would check the shaft bushes, other bits, clean and new caps and rotors and sell as a kit. Sold hundreds of them and no returns. Zero.

  9. Kevin Harper

    A painless wiring system is fairly inexpensive and these cars are not that complex.

  10. Chris A.

    Good picture with the Ford Jubilee. Appropriate that the Spitfire is parked near what looks like a manure spreader behind the tractor. A classmate of mine had his early Spitfire up for sale and a cute freshman girl at Syracuse U. wanted to buy it. Full price too. I knew the family and told him “Are you nuts”? You can’t sell a Spitfire with all the electrical problems you’ve had to a police captain’s daughter”.

  11. Howard A Member

    That’s pretty funny, Luki, intermittent wipers. Bunch of character’s here. I agree, I’ve dealt with cars and vehicles most of my 61 years, and never found Lucas to be any different than any other electrical system. Electricity freaks me out and clearly has a mind of it’s own, ( didn’t Edison say that?) I think it shows the good candor our British cousin’s have, to take that abuse in stride. The Schpitfire? IDK, good entry level roadster, but I never cared for them. There’s much nicer British roadster’s to have. I worked on a friend’s and there’s a ton of parts around, sometimes, it’s just GETTING to that part, that’s the problem ( interior, rear suspension, front end is a breeze, though). Always liked Triumph’s hard top’s. Rarely met a soft top that didn’t leak.

  12. Francisco

    Lucas = Loose Unsoldered Connections and Splices.

  13. Chris A.

    In all fairness, and apologies to those working on these, corroded connections, loose grounds due to loss of continuity because of rust, defective components and occasionally loose generator belts cover a lot of the problems rather than poor design. A good electrical meter is almost an essential item in the Brit car owners toolbox. Generally I found British cars worked fine, but in aircraft parlance, are maintenance hogs to keep them reliable. Routine maintenance wise, you have to stay ahead of them if they are going to be reliable. And Marelli systems aren’t much better when they get damp from salt air so Lucas doesn’t stand alone.

  14. DJS

    I own a ’68 Mark III, never had a problem with the electrics. Spifires are great cars, design-wise and fun to drive.
    PS my other car is a Toyota Tacoma, so yes, I know what reliability is.

  15. Doug Towsley

    Specific to the car, The removable Hard top is a nice addition, Had a couple Spitwads, The one I had was a later model with the 1500cc motor and found it cheap with a blown motor. Used a 1500cc A series Datsun motor and 5 speed we swapped out of a Datsun B210 and was not too difficult to install at all. Almost a direct swap and even the motor mounts nearly lined up.

    Looking on local CL for other Triumphs I am seeing a LOT of these on CL in Oregon-Washington and California. IMHO this one is a tad bit over priced compared to others i have seen. There is some real bargains out there right now in the Spitwad categories. Other parts of the US might be a different story. Do some searches on CL yourselves and see what I mean. Some listings are a package deal on multiple cars so be real easy to be a old car hoarder. I already am and friends and family threatened to turn me into some TV Shows if i dont downsize. My house is clean and I dont save old tinfoil or wash ziplock bags, but I already own an obscene amount of parts and vehicles. But Looking at Spitfires on CL, be real easy to get a big collection going. Just tell everyone,,, “Hey! Someday these will be worth something!!!”

  16. Chris A.

    Ok, if you were to look in the east for the best year Spitfire, where would you look to find a nice one with little or no rust, best suspension, brakes and possibly OD? I’m betting it sure won’t be in the northeast US unless it has been a babied summer car all it’s life. Maybe Carolinas, possibly inland Georgia?

  17. rogerowen

    Here, Here, – well said. A 30 year old wiring loom from ‘any’ manufacturer is very likely not going to be able to perform as well as when it was new. Anyone heard of negative earth ‘Black’ disease???

  18. rogerowen

    The problem with many newly produced condensers is that the electrolyte is of such poor quality, that they will run for a hundred miles or so then begin to fail (usually as they get hot). This is not just my opinion – it is fact! I have had so many cars come to me with this problem that I can state categorically that this is true. Some batches of new condensers are OK, some are not, and there is no real way of telling. Basically I would advise anyone servicing their car to only change the condenser if they are having problems.

    As for magnetos, stators, or anything ‘magnetic’ – after 25 years of storage in one position it is very likely that the Earths own magnetism will pull the magnetic molecules to an alternative alignment thus diminishing their original magnetic power.

    It’s the same with video tapes, archive vaults will turn the tapes to a different direction every 6 months to lessen this natural effect in the hope of keeping the electronic images intact for a little longer.

    Blah, blah, blah…….Please pass me my anorak!

  19. charlie Member

    I have been driving since 1957, many score of cars, only three fires, two in MG’s, and one in a Peugeot, all electrical, all stopped by yanking out the burning wire, all still ran and got me home. Two times in city traffic, smoke billowing up. everyone got out of the car, opened the hood, yanked on the wire, threw it over the side, started it up, and proceeded, applause from the guys in Cairo, head shaking from the guys in New Haven..

  20. scooter8

    Luki, had a 71TR6. had to aim at the potholes to get the wipers to work.i’m sure the car hated me for that! it became mutual when the left rear suspension tore off the frame!

  21. Allen Member

    I can tell a Lucas joke as well as the next guy, but having owned, restored, and driven Vintage MGs for 32 years, I’m sick sick sick of Lucas bashing. Most of this disease circulates among those who have never owned a British car and use poor Joe Lucas as an excuse to flaunt their ignorance. Wanna see a bad electrical system – try the ’84 Peugeot I couldn’t wait to sell back about 25 years ago. I’ve driven my ’73 B/GT for 30 years – did a restoration in 2004, still on original wiring harness. 247,000 miles – no fires. Last electrical problem? Oh yeah, it was the Delco Saturn alternator I had bought to increase output from 43 to 96 amps. I can’t remember any other electrical problems. Well, headlight switch failed in the early 90s. Hardly 20 years old. Crap! Oops, I remember now – I took it apart, repaired it and it’s still functioning. Let’s see, that makes for two electrical problems in 43 years. Lucas crap! Oh yeah, and it gets worse… back in 2004 I replaced all the bullet connectors prophylactically. And they were only 31 years old. More crap – you just can’t rely on the stuff over time.

  22. rangeroger

    This Spitster,not running, is worth maybe $1000- 1500 tops. Like I said in another post, I paid $1700 for my ’68 Midget, and put 250 miles on it before loading it on the trailer and hauling it from San Diego to Smelterville, Id. (why does spell check always tell me I spelled Smelterville wrong?)
    The first thing I did was replace the Lucas distributor with an electronic ignition one. Now, mind you, this is not my first LBC. In the early ’70’s I raced a 1963 Lotus 7 in F production. Bought a ’67 1275 Sprite in ’74, which was a daily driver and weekend autocross car for 20 years. The worst problem I had with Lucas electrics was the night I drove from San Bernardino to San Diego. The engine kept dying. The fuel pump would quit and I would get out, reach under with a rock, hit it, fill the float bowls and drive til it died again. Finally stopped at a Mobil station outside of Fallbrook at 3 AM, borrowed a 7/16 wrench and a phillips screwdriver. Pulled off the fuel pump,opened it up, got a book of matches from the mechanic who was a smoker, cleaned the points, put it all back together, and was off and running again. Or is that running and off?
    It really is all matter of understanding the systems, find the problem, figure out the solution and fix it.

  23. Rosso

    Had a ’69 GT6+ and the electrical worked flawlessly for the six years I had it.
    It started life in SoCal, went to Marines Mountain training center in the Sierras, and I got it in ’77 or so on the North Coast, so it had a taste of many climates.
    It also never failed to start when commanded.
    Having said that, unused contacts are gonna corrode. But most everything is simple to access, so what’s stoppin’ y’all.

  24. John

    I re-wired one of these from nose to tail. I even added a real fuse block and a few extra circuits. This is a VERY simple car to work on. With a little electronic ignition help, a bit of fiddling to add a Toyota alternator, and a good electric fuel pump the electrical issues simply go away.

    Which leaves you lots of time to work on rust removal and sheet metal restoration.

    • Doug Towsley

      John, thats basically the same blueprint I use as well as all my inlaws as ALL of them have at least 1 british sports car. (well up until the last couple years, a few fell off the wagon) Im the motorcycle guy so in addition to the cars, Same deal with the Triumphs-BSA-Nortons. Sometimes clean and reuse the stock wiring, sometimes all new harnesses of our own construction. The electronic ignitions are a great help, and modern Alternators. I use small modular modern type fuse blocks. 4 to a panel and snap together if you want to add circuits. Biggest problem i have found is bad grounds. On motorcycles in the 70s the wonderful engineers actually believe chromed plastic turn signals provide an adequate ground path! I worked in Aerospace so everything being redundant is the best method. I Ground every part near its install point as well as a second ground back to central grounding points. Well into the 1970s Triumph-BSA-Norton were still using Selenium rectifiers and Zener Diodes instead of Industry standard solid state Reg/rect.

      I still have Dealer-shop status and all the modern replacement components I sell carry extensive warrantys. Lucas, None. My FILs MGs are the bench mark of their MG Car club, (Which is pretty large club) And how reliable and trouble free they are once set up right. I dont mind and actually enjoy sheetmetal and body and paint. Now, if I could only convince him to paint his MG TD British Racing Green as God intended, we would be okay.

      All parts seen falling off this car are of the finest English workman ship!

  25. Van

    I love Triumphs and Jaguars electrical problems or not.

    My wife’s 2003 Mazda 6 had problems
    By 2005 engine blown, bad variable timing
    2006 won’t start wiring repair
    2007 hit a bump, radio failure
    2008 to get the A/C to go on, bang on the dash
    2009 dealer can’t get car to start. Replaced ecu three times, each one left technician behind tow truck
    Factory rep tried to help.
    Is the computer, California, Canadian, or 49 state? Never could tell.
    2010 Thankfully a truck backed into it
    Minor damage but total

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