A Long Time Coming – Triumph Vitesse

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 9.18.08 AM With their rarity today, it’s hard to remember how successful the Triumph Herald was in its day. Introduced in 1959 to replace the large unloved – and unsuccessful – Standard Eight and Ten, the new small car made good use of the modern lines penned by Giovanni Michelotti to create an entirely more desirable vehicle. The productive Italian had first been approached in 1957 to consult on a freshening of the TR3 and he had developed a following within the halls at Coventry. The initial sketch for the Herald Coupe was completed in a matter of minutes and he soon had secured the consent of Triumph executives to proceed with construction of a prototype.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 9.18.40 AMWith its Italianate good looks, powerful engine (for its class) and rack-and-pinion steering, the Herald was almost an immediate success. The first affordable British car to be sold with an IRS suspension (even though it used the hair-raising swing axle design made famous by VW) it offered this unique feature when many sports cars still made do with live rear axles (like the larger TR roadster). Sold in several versions, including a convertible, coupe and estate, the Herald was a revelation in the days before the Mini was introduced.

Eager to upgrade the performance of the range, the Triumph Vitesse was introduced in the Spring of 1962 with a smaller (1596-cc) version of the 2.0-liter unit that was used in the Standard Vanguard. With “Chinese Eye” styling in front and a close ratio gearbox, it offered impressive torque and strong acceleration. Unfortunately, the larger engine adversely affected the handling with its far greater performance and increased weight that could transform the initial tendency to understeer into snap oversteer without much notice. In 1966, the 2-liter engine (making 95bhp) debuted in the Vitesse with better brakes from the GT6 and improved seating. The additional power hindered better handling even with revisions to the rear spring rates but most of the danger could be eliminated through installation of a camber compensation kit.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 9.18.55 AMThe added punch of the larger engine led Triumph to advertise that its family car could outperform 11 leading sports cars (and with a 0-60mph time of just more than 10 seconds) it was faster than the MGB and Sunbeam Alpine, not to mention almost every other family sedan of its day. With almost 600,000 Heralds and Vitesses built (576,979 in total) they were once a frequent site on the road. Never revered or loved as much as the larger TR series, however, and never possessed with strong corrosion resistance, many cars disappeared. Hopefully, the sale of the car shown here may help matters as this impeccably restored Vitesse proved that there is a market for these oft forgotten cars. A true No. 1 condition car restored to the highest standard this was the top of the market but shows what can happen when a rare car in great condition meets a room full of buyers.

Hammered at $23,000 by Bonhams, this was all the money but also represented great value too (where else will you find another?). Well bought and sold and kudos to the house for having the guts to include it in a sale chock full of Ferraris, Porsches and Jaguars.

By Johnny Oversteer

Images courtesy of David Swig and Bonhams.

'A Long Time Coming – Triumph Vitesse' have 3 comments

  1. October 28, 2015 @ 7:17 pm Michael Hathaway

    I have a 1964 Triumph Sports 6/Vitesse and absolutely love how it drives. It is also pretty comfortable on long trips. I drove it to the VTR National in Lake Geneva, WI from Oklahoma and had a blast.


  2. December 30, 2020 @ 12:59 pm Daniel Olsen

    Can anyone tell me how many 1966 Vitesse Convertible right hand side drive for the US market, where manufactured? I have one but have never seen another.


    • October 17, 2022 @ 1:19 am Chick

      Can’t say how many, but RHD versions were made in big (ish) numbers for the UK home market. Having had and enjoyed a Triumph Herald convertible, I bought and early 1.5 Vitesse then a 2 liter version. It was my pride and joy, signal red with wire wheels. The buffets mistake of my motoring life was to sell it – to buy a Ford! I’m constantly on the lookout for a mint condition example to correct the error.


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