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The Carchive: The Triumph Dolomite Sprint

Chris Haining June 3, 2014 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 14 Comments

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Good afternoon. Once more it’s time to rummage down through the laundry basket of history, cast aside the odd socks of the ordinary to seek out a vintage nylon shirt of wonder.

After last week’s visits to look at the Sayama-built Honda Aerodeck  and the Cologne-built Ford Scorpio, I figured I could stay a bit closer to home this week, so let’s start with the Canley-built Triumph Dolomite Sprint.

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“Superb comfort and smoothness plus phenomenal performance and roadholding, all for hundreds of pounds less than many of the pricey imports it outperforms”

The Dolomite Sprint was the hero model from the Triumph medium saloon car range. This was a portfolio of cars which were intended to replace the Triumph Herald, and which was almost Byzantine in its complexity using what was basically one bodyshell but with front or wheel drive three different engine sizes and various different names. The Dolomite was the senior model, of which the 1973-launched Sprint was the flagship.

The Dolomite itself was pitched as a rival to the burgeoning quasi-upmarket saloon sector, both upscale 2000E and GXL models of Cortina, Vauxhall VX4/90 and overseas imports like the BMW 2002 and Alfetta sedans. The Sprint came as a riposte when higher-powered variants of these came about; things like the 2002Ti, and Tii.

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“With the Sprint, even the most mundane journey is something you can look forward to”

A lot of hard work went into creating the Sprint, not least in creating an engine to suit such an application. The Sprint engine would end up as an evolution of the famous Triumph four cylinder engine so beloved of SAAB fans. It was extended to 1998 cc and, quite unexpectedly, given four valves per cylinder (sixteen in all) being operated by a single very knobbly camshaft. Net output of the production units was an extremely creditable 127bhp, though the hand-built test engines were cranking out 150ish.

Official Triumph figures quote 9.2 seconds to 60 and 116mph flat out, and these figures were easily attained. Contemporary road tests were rich with praise; “Sparkling performance, yet very tractable” were the words of Autocar. Fortunately, there are enough devotees of the breed to ensure that Youtube is rich with footage of Sprints doing their thang.

(Thanks to Youtube user Theseoldcars)

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“If you can’t make yourself comfortable at the wheel of this car, you must be a very unusual shape”

Inside, apart from a few sporty touches like the alloy-spoked steering wheel, much was as it was in the regular Dolomite, which again shared much with the Toledo, the 1300 and the 1500, but then it wasn’t broke so not much in the way of fixing was necessary.

Of particular merit for the gangly or the gigantic was the fact that the ‘wheel could be adjusted for tilt or rake, and that the driver’s seat could be raised and lowered as well as slid back and forth. Materials were nice, too, even if the seat coverings were in a frighteningly unnatural man-made fibre; there was much shaped timber on display and nicely made chrome fittings as door furniture. The Dolomite was one of the better built machines from the somewhat shakey-looking British Leyland of the ’70s; perhaps the Coventry workforce were just a happier, more proud, bunch of chaps than found elsewhere around the empire.

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“The Sprint is essentially a practical car, and the longer you live with it the the more you appreciate its many fine features”

It was a very complete car, the Sprint, with an awful lot in its favour. You could say, though, it was cursed from the very beginning by the fact that the fuselage was seven years old already by the time the first Sprint had been built. By the time the line was deleted in 1980 the Sprint looked somewhat dated and could no longer rely on an innate sense of Englishness to give it core appeal.

It was pretty special, though. And, just because I can, I’ll end with a video of a Sprint being rallied by an amazing bloke called Ken Wood, whose car is ironically no longer powered by the 16v four, but by the Rover KV6 just like my own 825.

(Thanks to Youtube user CPLmedia2)

(Disclaimer: Images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright was given away in a fit of generosity in the late ’90s, and now probably belongs to BMW.)