1969 Triumph Spitfire Mk III
4-cyl. 1296cc/76hp 2x1bbl
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
The Triumph Spitfire was on a roll after six years production. More than 85,000 of the roadsters had been sold, and 77 percent of them went overseas. Changes had been slight up to this point, but the Mk III Triumph Spitfire introduced in 1967 would be the best yet. It was faster, more comfortable and more convenient, and 65,320 were sold in three years. The 100,000th Spitfire was built in 1968.
The most obvious change was the new front bumper, which was raised to mid-grille level in an attempt to protect the vulnerable one-piece tilt front end. Owners of early cars were all too familiar with the effects of fairly light frontal contact, as the whole nose could twist and refuse to latch. Technically, the new bumper design was also implemented to meet upcoming U.S. safety standards. Bumper guards were faced with rubber and the forward-tilting hood hinges now exposed.
Parking lights and turn signals moved below the new front bumper, while the rear bumpers were different, but not much stronger. Reversing lights were now standard. Door handles were no longer the Mini-style twist handles but a modern push-button arrangement like the MGB. The interior was restyled with more comfortable seats, a padded vinyl dash and door tops and a veneer panel around the instruments. Carpets were richer and attachments installed for optional shoulder harnesses.
The major improvement was the 1296 cc engine from the FWD Triumph 1300 sedan, which had a proper 8-port cylinder head. With 9:1 compression, the 75-bhp motor could push the roadster from 0-60 mph in 14 seconds and hit a top speed of 95 mph. It had a positive crankcase emissions pump, and a water-heated intake helped improved cold starting, front disc brakes were improved, the clutch was larger to handle increased torque and gas shocks were fitted to the rear. Wire wheels ($118) and overdrive ($175) remained optional.
A significant change for 1968 was the replacement of the “packaway” convertible top in the trunk, which had to be assembled, clipped across the windshield then snapped in place along the sides and at the rear. It was replaced by the conventional folding top from the Triumph Herald which was much more satisfactory, latched at the top of the windshield and snapped to the sides. A tonneau cover hid it when it was folded.
The 1969 Triumph Spitfire saw a number of changes, including gauges moved in front of the driver, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, and new seats with adjustable backrests and mandatory headrests. Matte black trim replaced the wood on the dash and the grille was now matte black. The top gained a zip-out rear window and full wheel covers were fitted, but the hardtop was discontinued.
However, the engine traded its twin SU carburetors for just one and though the same 68 bhp was claimed, testers were unconvinced. Emissions now required a sealed evaporative gas tank and charcoal canister. Base price was $2295.
Car & Driver magazine picked the 1970 Triumph Spitfire as one of the “13 Best Cars in the World.” Road & Track magazine found the Triumph faster, more comfortable, and better handling than the MG Midget and preferred the Triumph’s heating and ventilation system.
During the production of the Mk III Spitfire, Rover and Standard-Triumph merged when Leyland acquired Rover. In 1968 Leyland and British Motor Holdings merged to form British Leyland.