1973 Triumph GT6
1974 Triumph GT6
The GT6 was a 6-cylinder sports coupé built by Standard-Triumph and based on their popular Triumph Spitfire convertible. Production ran from 1966 to 1973.
Standard-Triumph introduced their small sports car, the Spitfire, in 1962. Almost immediately, plans were made to build a coupé version, influenced by the fastback styling of the Spitfires entered in to the Le Mans 24-Hour race, which competed with some reasonable success. MG had introduced a coupé version of their medium sports car, the MGB, which was selling extremely well. Triumph had their big TR range of roadsters, but nothing to compete with the closed MGB GT. The separate chassis of the Spitfire meant that a new bodyshell could easily be dropped onto the existing chassis, offering the new car at limited cost to Triumph. A design was therefore commissioned from Michelotti, but the extra weight of the coupé bodyshell resulted in extremely poor performance with the 1172cc Spitfire power unit. Triumph found an alternative, however; the 1998cc six-cylinder from the large Triumph 2000 saloon was about to be fitted to the Triumph Vitesse, and the engine developed more than enough power to endow the 'Spitfire coupé' with decent performance.
The New GT6
The new car was introduced in 1966, and called the Triumph GT6. The new body was a sleek fastback design with an opening rear hatch. It was really a 2-seater, but a small extra rear seat could be ordered if required and was large enough for small children. The family resemblance to the Spitfire was strong, but hardly any major body panels were shared; the longer 6-cylinder engine necessitated a new bonnet with a power bulge and the doors were provided with opening quarter light windows. The 6-cylinder engine was tuned to develop 95bhp and necessitated certain changes to the Spitfire mechanics; the radiator was new and mounted further forward in the car and the gearbox was the stronger unit from the Vitesse with optional overdrive. Front springs were uprated to cope with the extra weight from the new engine. The interior of the GT6 was well equipped; a wooden dashboard housed a full complement of instruments, and carpets and heater were standard.
The new car had some very strong points in its favour. The new engine provided a 106pmh top speed, and 0-60mph in 11.7 seconds, a little better than the MGB GT; moreover the unit was beautifully smooth and tractable, in marked contrast to the MG's rather harsh 4-cylinder. Fuel economy was very reasonable, and the interior well up to the competition. The only major criticism was of its rear suspension; the GT6 inherited the swing-axle system from the Spitfire, which in turn was copied from the Herald small saloon. In the saloon it was tolerated, in the little Spitfire it was not liked, and in the powerful GT6 it was heavily criticised. Triumph had done nothing to improve the system for the GT6, and the tendency to break away if the driver lifted off the power mid-corner was not helped at all by the increased weight at the front of the car. The handling was most bitterly criticised in the USA, an important export market for Triumph, where they were traditonally very strong. Similar criticism was being levelled at the Vitesse saloon, which shared both the GT6's engine and its handling problems.
Triumph realised that they needed to find an answer to the problem, if only to keep their reputation in the USA. Their response came in 1968, with the introduction of the GT6 MK2, known in the States as the GT6+. The swing-axle suspension was significantly re-engineered using rotoflex couplings, taming the handling and turning the Triumph into an MGB-beater. The Vitesse was also modified, but the Spitfire had to wait until 1970 for any improvements to be made.
There were other changes for the MK2: the front bumper was raised to conform to new crash regulations, necessitating a complely new front end, and side vents were added to the front wings and rear pillars. Under the bonnet, the engine was uprated to develop 104bhp with a new cylinder head, camshaft, and manifolds. The interior was also updated with a new dashboard and better ventilation, a 2-speed heater fan and a black headlining. Overdrive remained a popular option.
The final major facelift for the GT6 came in 1970, to make the MK3. This time the whole bodyshell was revised to match the changes made to the Spitfire; these included a cut-off rear end, recessed door handles and a smoother front end. Only detail changes were made to the mechanics, but in 1973 - close to the end of the car's life - the rear suspension was changed again, this time for the cheaper (but still effective) 'swing-spring' layout. A brake servo was also added in 1973, and seats were changed from vinyl to cloth. There was still a fairly comprehensive options list, but the attractive 'knock-on' wire wheels were no longer available. Performance for the MK3 was basically similar to the MK2, top speed of 117mph and a 0-60 time of 10.1 seconds; this was now comfortably ahead of the MGB GT, which topped out at about 105mph and reached 60mph in approximately 13 seconds.
The GT6 proved to be a thoroughly pleasant, well-behaved sports car, certainly after the launch of the MK2. However it never sold in the numbers hoped for by Triumph, and was comprehensively beaten in the marketplace by the arguably inferior MGB. This seems a puzzle; the smaller-engined Spitfire sold better than the MG Midget, but this success eluded the GT6. Triumph always refused to release a convertible version of the GT6, and this may be partly responsible; the only likely explanation for this is their reluctance to offer any competition for their TR6 roadster, a strong seller in the USA. Whatever the reason, the GT6 was quietly dropped from the Triumph range at the end of 1973, with a few cars being sold the year after.
Today the cars have a strong following on the classic car circuit in the UK and USA. Mechanics are exceptionally strong, and share many common parts with other Triumphs of the period. Survival rate is comparatively high and there is excellent support from owners clubs.