The Triumph Dolomite was a popular small–medium-sized four-door saloon car, made by Triumph under the British Leyland organisation. Production ran from 1972 until 1980.
It was the last addition to Triumph's complex small car range which started in 1965 as the Triumph 1300. The car was originally a 1300 cm³ with front wheel drive (FWD), but Triumph were dissatisfied with the cost, performance and sales of the FWD car; accordingly, it was re-engineered in 1970 as the Triumph Toledo, a cheaper and more basic variant with conventional rear wheel drive which was made alongside the FWD version.
In 1972, the Triumph Dolomite was released as the successor to the upmarket FWD cars. Initially, the only version available used the new slant-four 1850 cm³ engine, providing 95 bhp and offering sprightly performance. The car was aimed at the compact performance/luxury sector, and was offered with optional automatic transmission. Standard equipment included twin headlamps, a clock, luxury seats and carpets, a heated backlight, cigar lighter, and more. Styling was similar to the FWD Triumph 1500, with some updates such as the black-painted rear panel and new wheel trims. Performance was excellent; the car was capable of 100 mph, with 60 mph coming up in just over 11 seconds. An overdrive gearbox was soon made optional, offering excellent motorway cruising.
1973 Triumph Dolomite Sprint In 1973, Triumph added the Sprint as the performance model in the Dolomite range. Long known for its sports cars, the company came up with a very advanced engine for their new sports saloon. Based on the 1850 engine, the capacity was increased to 1998 cm³, and, with a 16-valve cylinder head, pushed the output up to 127 bhp. This vehicle has a claim to be the world's first truly mass-produced multi-valve car. Performance was excellent, 0–60mph taking just over 8 seconds, with a maximum speed of 115 mph. Trim was basically identical to the 1850, with the addition of alloy wheels. By now seats were in cloth on the 1850, and these were also fitted to the Sprint. Overdrive and automatic transmissions were both optional, as was a vinyl roof.
Dolomite 1300 and 1500
By the mid-1970s, the Dolomite body shell was still being made as the basic Toledo, the 1500 and the Dolomite. Triumph needed to rationalise the range, and they did this by introducing the Dolomite 1300 and 1500 in 1976. The Dolomite 1300 used the 1300 cm³ engine developed from the Herald and Spitfire, and replaced the Toledo as the basic model in the range. The body was identical, with simplified fittings, including single square headlamps. Interior trim was much simplified with basic instrumentation and seats, though the wooden dashboard and carpeting remained. There was no two-door option, as there had been for the Toledo and the shorter-boot body shell of the Toledo ceased production.
The next model up, replacing the Triumph 1500, was the Dolomite 1500, in L and HL trim. The 1500L offered identical specification to the 1300, but with a 1493 cm³ engine and twin carburettors: the 1500HL had basically identical specification to the luxury 1850, but again featured the 1493 cm³ engine. Performance was good, and overdrive and automatic transmissions were optional on the HL. Comparatively few 1500L models seem to have been built.
The late 1970s
By the time that Triumph had rationalised its range under the Dolomite badge, the line-up was:
Dolomite 1300: Base model. Basic trim, single headlamps, 1296 cm³ engine.
Dolomite 1500L: Same as 1300, with 1493 cm³ engine.
Dolomite 1500HL: Luxury specification as per 1850, with 1493 cm³ engine.
Dolomite 1850: Luxury specification, 1850 cm³ OHC engine.
Dolomite Sprint: The performance version: luxury trim, 16-valve 1998 cm³ engine.
The range was still somewhat complex but nothing compared to the previous chaotic group of names and layouts.
Updates for the later 1970s were few, as Triumph and British Leyland concentrated on other cars. Overdrive was made standard on 1850 and Sprint models in 1977, and detail improvements and updates were made to interior and exterior trim. The 1300 gained standard cloth seating (early cars often had vinyl) and head restraints were standardised across the range. The cars were quietly dropped in 1980 along with the Triumph Spitfire, as troubled giant British Leyland downsized in a bid for survival.
The cars had a mixed reputation. The basic 1300 and 1500 models were well thought of as solidly built, pleasant cars with reasonable performance and economy; they were well-equipped, and gained something of a following among older or retired buyers who wanted a comfortable, reliable car with a quality image. The 1850 and Sprint faired less well, due to the troublesome nature of the slant-four engine. Though of advanced design, overheating problems were common and head gasket failure a frequent and expensive nuisance which cost Triumph money and goodwill. The problems never seem to have been fully cured in the cars' production lifetime, though enthusiasts have had more success now that the cars have gained classic status. In a decade where British Leyland became notorious for poor build quality, the Dolomites seem to have kept up a very acceptable standard overall.
Partly due to the type of customers who tended to buy the cars when new and partly due to their reasonable resistance to corrosion, many Dolomites are still in use every day. There is a considerable following for the cars; this is concentrated mainly on the Sprint version, but expanding more to embrace the other versions. Parts supply is excellent, mostly due to the large number of common parts between the Dolomite and other cars in the Triumph range.
Dollies in entertainment
The Dolomite Sprint was the choice of transportation for television's Bodie in The Professionals, for the first half of the first season, before it was replaced by a Ford Capri.