The Carchive: The Triumph Vitesse

It’s time for our weekly contrast with all that’s shiny and new in the Hooniverse News, as we blow the dust off something which had it’s moment of glory in the dim and distant past. Welcome the The Carchive.
I presume I was hungry. Otherwise I struggle to explain the strange bite mark on the top of this otherwise well-preserved 53 year old brochure for the Triumph Vitesse.


“…a new 1600cc version of the great Vanguard 6 engine, gives the Vitesse the heart and lungs of a gran turismo sports saloon with the smoothness and silence which only a 6-cylinder unit can achieve”
This was a narrow bore version of the traditional straight-six unit offered in the Standard Vanguard, a car not really famed for its sporting credentials. In this guise it still wasn’t a powerful engine on paper, but accounts at the time said it to be sweet and flexible. And probably sonorous.
With 70 bhp performance wasn’t blistering, ninety-ish at top end, reaching sixty seventeen seconds after rest. But in 1962 Britain was unaffected by the horspower race erupting elsewhere in the world; real performance was still pretty much the preserve of the wealthy.
“This picture tells you two important things about the Triumph Vitesse. First, it shows you what a superbly engineered piece of machinery it is. This is what you would expect from a product of the Leyland Motor Corporation. There’s no finer certificate of roadworthiness”.
Indeed, they weren’t always crap, that came later. In the heyday of Standard Triumph the corporation was very respectable, thanks, though not especially revolutionary or exciting.
The second thing it shows is the rear suspension arrangement, with a transverse leaf spring A BIT LIKE A CORVETTE! But combined with swing axles the Vitesse was also equipped with roadholding which quickly became treacherous if either of the rear wheels tucked under. This happened.
“The first thing one notices about the Triumph Vitesse is its striking good looks. Taut and elegant, it is an essay in how to be beautiful without trying too hard. No chrome curlicues. No over-stated “styling”, just pure lines, every contour modelled with a purpose”
The Vitesse was, of course, a aggrandised Herald, from which the basic design only differs around the front end. The Vit was given quad headlamps in a “Chinese Eye” layout. It was pretty cunning and immediately gave the car a far more assertive demeanour than the humble, family-pleasing Herald.
Modifying the front end sheetmetal was made easier by the fact that the whole front end of the car lifted up as a clamshell in the same way as the Jaguar E-Type, which incidentally made DIY maintenance a lot more straightforward than other cars. This was fortuitous. It’s also worth mentioning that the convertible model and the later, bigger, V8ier Triumph Stag were alone on the British four-seater open-top car market for quite a long time.
“Every detail of the Vitesse interior breathes luxury. Deeply-upholstered seating, the driver’s seat adjustable for leg length, height and rake. The elegant functionalism of the fascia with its comprehensive range of instruments.”
I must admit that looks like a really nice thing to sit behind. It was a far cry from the Herald, which shorn of the wood cappings and virtually all of the instrumentation, seemed straight mean in comparison.
The Vitesse was later treated to a more powerful, two-litre six, and production ended in 1972 when its Herald base was discontinued.
The Vitesse name found its last British applications after the Triumph name had been retired, first on the (I think it’s safe to say) Legendary SD1 Vitesse, which made wonderful noises with its ex-Buick V8 and enjoyed considerable touring car success. It next turned up on the rump of the somewhat less legendary Rover 216- the Anglicised version of the Honda Ballade and later arrive inscribed on the seatbacks of the Rover 800, first with the 2.7 Honda V6 and later with the 2.0 Turbo T-16 engine.
With 200hp this final machine would also be the fastest Vitesse of them all.
And from my long list of impossible things that I wish would happen, the re-emergence of Rover and the Vitesse name having credibility once again features highly.
(All images are of original manufacturers publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of BMW, who need to release a new Vitesse or, in fact a Stag, immediately please)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

20 responses to “The Carchive: The Triumph Vitesse”

  1. Tanshanomi Avatar

    In the cover shot, that particular olive-and-black Vitesse looks downright wantable.

  2. CraigSu Avatar

    Some of these photos are begging for the return of the Caption Contest.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      The first image rather foresees Capt. May’s Mirror Dinghy-rigged Herald from Top Gear forty-five years later…

  3. Fuhrman16 Avatar

    “It’s also worth mentioning that the convertible model and the later, bigger, V8ier Triumph Stag were alone on the British four-seater open-top car market for quite a long time.”
    I find this quite curious. For a nation who had a strong love affair with open top cars, only have two models with seating for four seems odd. Why do you think that was?

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Seriously, probably a lack of imagination.

    2. mdharrell Avatar

      I’m not sure why that is. I’ll ask my chauffeur.

        1. Sjalabais Avatar

          Rewatched the ’81 Cannonball Run movie yesterday. Roger Moore’s bond references became quickly as tiresome as they were meant to be. But I was surprised what a fun loving movie it was, deserving of its cult status. Probably 20 years ago I saw it last.

          1. Rover 1 Avatar
            Rover 1

            O.H.M.S.S. was the first Bond film without Sean Connery. George Lazenby could have been Roger Moore. But my over-riding memory of the movie is of Bond being chaufferred in the back seat of a Corniche.

    1. boxdin Avatar

      That’s not a wagon its a sedan delivery w one door in the rear or a panel truck w 2 doors. Based on size its a sedan delivery.

      1. bigredcavetroll Avatar


    2. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      The Herald vans were named Couriers, that one is a rather obvious conversion to Vitesse specs.

  4. Guest Avatar

    “This was a narrow bore version of the traditional straight-six unit offered in the Standard Vanguard”

    Funny that a sporty-ish car would be sold with the engine of a Standard Vanguard, especially since the first Vanguard’s engine was originally developed for Ferguson Tractors.

    If you haven’t read about Harry Ferguson, I recommend doing so now, even if you have little interest in tractors.

    He was an interesting guy who revolutionized an industry, and in doing so worked with the Ford and Standard Motor Companies, as well as others. After retiring from tractors, he then went on to work on applying AWD and ABS to cars. His work directly lead to motorsport use, as well as the Jensen FF, which was a modified Interceptor with Ferguson’s Formula.

  5. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    ” which incidentally made DIY maintenance a lot more straightforward than
    other cars. This was fortuitous.”
    To say the least. Friends of mine with Vitesses and Heralds found carrying a Phillips screwdriver to be essential, to tighten up the myriad self-loosening screws.
    I had a Herald for a while, that I was given because it didn’t go. Substitution of the distributor with one from a dead Hillman Minx fixed that and allowed me to quickly find the VERY low standards of roadholding with which these cars came equipped. More power from six cylinders is the last thing these chassis needed particularly on the crossply tyres shown in the ‘supple 6’ picture. The grip in the dry was low and on wet roads was sub early VW Beetle standard, hilariously dangerous.
    It was a good way of practising drifting – not that we called it that back then. It was just fun.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      I’m glad you’re still with us!

  6. rickbradner Avatar

    Ahh, memories!
    In my misspent youth I had a total of three of these little gems at different times.
    The handling was always a bit perilous, but could be made manageable by fitting many of the same upgrades fitted by owners of the Spitfire (Herald) & GT6 (Vitesse/Sports 6).
    These were as mentioned also available in Estate version from whence the van was derived.
    The little six sounded terrific, much along the lines of the T5/6, and was arguably the best part of the experience, but they could be made to motor and I distinctly remember seeing one of these in an early TransAm race.
    One of the hot mods at the time was fitting a Datsun 510 dif with spacers to bring the revs down on the less sinuous roads of North America.

  7. Joe Dunlap Avatar
    Joe Dunlap

    One of the best bits of racing I ever witnessed was between a Vitesse and a Datsun 510 in a club race at Laguna Seca, probably 1975 or 76. The Vitesse took the lead and won on the final lap by taking a short cut through the dirt (you could do that back then) at the entrance to 6 and over the sharp drop off into 6a. The crowd around those turns had been cheering those two on the entire race, and just lost their minds when the Vitesse made its triumphant pass. Yeah, I know.

  8. Krautwursten Avatar

    That’s an angry little car with an attitude that looks completely out of place for the time, just like the angry Buicks. Makes you wonder how the hell cars this angry and constipated got so accepted by the mainstream nowadays.