Wednesday September 25, 2019
‘There’s a lot of pointing, and saying wow!’, for a car such as Jake Clappison’s 1979 Triumph Spitfire 1500 is always going to cause a minor sensation when it is out and about.
Firstly, there is that Inca Yellow paint finish, secondly it is in stunning condition and thirdly, the Spitfire must be one of the most handsome British sports cars ever made.
For the past four years Jake had ‘dreamed of owning an open-top classic; before I came by the Triumph I’d always gone in for Minis or Beetle’.
His father is Paul Clappison, whose MGB GT was our Car of The Month for April 2019, and ‘he found the Spitfire in about 2018. It’s a local car but was only about a month ago that we got around to seeing it – and I fell in love it!
The Spitfire was originally finished in white but ‘it was re-painted yellow some time ago by a previous owner’.
The pictures give an idea of its extensive restoration before it joined the Clappison fleet and Jake points out ‘it still has the original “Passport to Service” book. JBJ 921 V lacks the optional overdrive, but as a late model 1500, it is fitted with cloth trim, head restraints and TR7 style switchgear. Jake finds the cabin ‘a little a bit tight as I’m 6f.t 8ins tall - the hood’s always going be down!’.
Standard-Triumph commenced work on “‘Project Bomb” in 1960, but their financial problems meant the prototype seemed fated to remain in a corner of their workshops.
Fortunately, the new Leyland management saw its potential and gave the project the green light in 1961.
The original “Spitfire 4” debuted at the 1962 London Motor Show, where the Michelotti coachwork really did cause a sensation.
The Mk. II of March 1965 offered slightly more power and an improved cabin.
Two years later, the Mk. III boasted the Triumph 1300TC’s 1,296cc engine and a raised front bumper to comply with US safety regulations; some enthusiasts refer to this version as the ‘bone in the teeth’ Spitfire.
1970 was a major year for new Triumphs – the Toledo, 1500TC and Stag – while the Spitfire received a major facelift as the Mk. IV.
There were 2000/2.5 Mk. II style taillights, a single-piece rear bumper, a taller windscreen, flared wheel arches and a new hard-top.
The suspension gained a ‘swing spring’ to improved handling, there was an all-synchromesh gearbox, and the cabin featured rather more logical instrumentation. And, at last, a heater became standard equipment!
From 1972 onwards US-market Spitfires were available in 1.5-litre form and in December 1974 BL formally launched the “Spitfire 1500”. ‘put the fun back into your travels’ urged the sales copy as the latest Triumph elevated ‘your sports car motoring to new heights’’.
Autocar regarded the latest Spitfire as ‘a topping little sports car’ (now there’s a phrase you are unlikely to encounter on Top Gear) with ‘a lot to offer which no other car quite matches’.
British Leyland planned for the Spitfire 1500 to remain in production until 1982 but changing legislation in California – the model’s principal export market – meant this was economically unviable.
The final example left the Canley plant in August 1980, marking the end to compact Triumph sports cars.
Today, they appeal to classic enthusiasts of all ages and the 19-year-old Jake remarks that ‘it feels very different to my Fiesta as this is my first “traditional” sports car. The Spitfire is so enjoyable to drive – it just feels so nippy, and the handling is pretty great. And there is that turning circle of course!’.
Back in the 1970s BL claimed ‘‘Rain or shine, the Spitfire gives you more fun and enjoyment per mile and per £ than anything else on wheels’ – and cars such as JBJ 921 V are proof that this was more than mere hyperbole. No wonder passers-by say ‘wow’!
WITH THANKS TO – JAKE CLAPPISON