The Triumph Vitesse was a compact 6-cylinder car built by Standard-Triumph from 1962–1971. The car was styled by Michelotti, and was available in saloon and convertible variants.
The Triumph Vitesse was introduced in April 1962 as a 6-cylinder performance version of the Triumph Herald small saloon. The Herald had been introduced in 1959 and was an attractive 2-door car styled by the Italian deigner Giovanni Michelotti. By the early 1960s, however, Triumph began to give thought to a sports saloon based on the Herald and using their 6-cylinder engine. Michelotti was again approached for styling, and he came up with a car that used almost all body panels from the Herald, combined with a new front end with a clean 4-headlamp grille.
Triumph fitted a 1596 cc version of their traditional straight-6 in the Vitesse, equipped with twin Solex carburettors. The curious observer will notice a "seam" on the cylinder block between the third & fourth cylinders revealing the humble design beginnings from the Standard 8 block of 1953. The gearbox was beefed up and offered with optional overdrive. Front disc brakes were standard as were larger rear brake drums, and the Herald fuel tank was enlarged, retaining the handy reserve tap of the smaller Herald. The front suspension featured uprated springs to cope with the extra weight of the new engine, but the rear suspension was basically stock Herald—a swing-axle transverse-leaf system which quickly proved inadequate for the relatively powerful Vitesse. Perhaps by accident rather than design, the front of the Vitesse did not "dive" under braking. The chassis was basically the same as the Herald, and the Vitesse was available in convertible and saloon forms; a coupé never got beyond the prototype stage.
The interior was much improved over the Herald; wooden door cappings were added to match the wooden dashboard, and the car featured better seats and door trims. Optional extras included a fabric, (Webasto), sunroof on saloon models. Exterior trim was also improved, with a reversing light, stainless steel side trim and anodised alloy bumper cappings (replacing the white rubber Herald design). The prospective buyer of a classic Vitesse will do well to check that the side flashes are full-length and continue around the radiator grille. The chassis frame of the late model Herald 13/60 is identical to that of the contemporary Vitesse and is often being used to replace a rusted Vitesse chassis or to fake a Vitesse.
A year or so after the car's launch, the Vitesse received its first facelift; the dashboard was revised with a full range of instruments instead of the large single dial from the Herald, and the engine was uprated and fitted with twin Stromberg carburettors. Power output went up to 70 bhp, enough to provide a useful performance boost and making the car a much more flexible performer.
The Vitesse 6 sold extremely well for Triumph, and was by some way the most popular Vitesse sold during the model's lifetime. The car was well-liked for its performance and reasonable fuel economy, as well as the well appointed interior. The Vitesse had few rivals for the price: able to perform as well as many sports cars, (oft times referred to by Triumph as 'The Two Seater Beater'), but with room for a family. The convertible in particular was virtually unique in the marketplace and another genuine 4-seater sporting convertible would not reappear from a British manufacturer until the Triumph Stag several years further down the line.
In 1966 Triumph upgraded the engine to 1998 cc, in line with the new Triumph GT6 coupe, and relaunched the car as the Vitesse 2-Litre. Power was increased to 95 bhp, endowing the new car with a 0–60 mph time of around 13 s. The performance increase was welcome, but it highlighted the deficiencies of the rear suspension, also noted on the new GT6 and the Spitfire. There were detail modifications for the 2-litre, including a stronger gearbox and uprated brakes.
The Vitesse MK2 was launched in 1968 as the final update to the Vitesse range. Essentially intended to be Triumph's answer to growing criticism of the rear suspension, the MK2 was fitted with a completely redesigned layout using Rotoflex rear couplings. This system, also shared with the new GT6 MKII,(GT6+ in the USA market), tamed the wayward handling for good and endowed the Vitesse with firm, progressive roadholding.
There were other improvements: the engine was tweaked once more to provide 104 bhp, cutting the 0–60 time to just over 11 s and providing a top speed easily in excess of 100 mph. The exterior featured a new grille, fake rostyle wheeltrims and silver painted rear panel, and the interior was upgraded once more in order to share parts with the new Herald 13/60. A new colour range was offered for the MK2 models.
This was the ultimate Vitesse, a saloon or convertible with performance easily superior to an MGB or Sunbeam Alpine sports car but with four proper seats and a large boot. The Vitesse sold well until its withdrawal in 1971, a year before the new Triumph Dolomite saloon entered the performance luxury sector for Triumph, and two years before the Dolomite Sprint variant added another high-performance sports saloon to the range.
Today, the Triumph Vitesse is a sought-after car by enthusiasts; parts supply is excellent, and the cars have a reputation for bullet-proof mechanics. The Vitesse 1600—especially the early Solex-carburettored version—has been somewhat forgotten, and these cars are now becoming scarce. Most popular are the MK2 cars for their power and handling, and convertibles in particular continue to be in high demand. Club support is excellent, and the Vitesse represents a practical performance 4-seater.
- Vitesse 1600: 31,261
- saloon: 22,814
- convertible: 8,447
- Vitesse 2-Litre: 10,830
- saloon: 7,328
- convertible: 3,502
- Vitesse MK2: 9,121
- saloon: 5,649
- convertible: 3,472