Launched at the 1962 Earls Court Motor Show, the Spitfire was conceived to rival several other popular British sportscars of the era including the Austin-Healey Sprite and MGB and with it proving to be exhilarating to drive not to mention affordable to own, the Triumph was triumphant for British Leyland.
Designed by Italian Giovanni Michelotti — the brands go-to guy of the Sixties — the Spitfire was based on a shortened chassis of the Herald and retained its rack-and-pinion steering and swing-axle rear end while stopping power was beefed up via new front disc brakes. It featured swoopy lines, a fancy front-hinged bonnet just like the Jaguar E-Type and sat lower to the ground than sportscar standards of the time and the skateboard-like ride height sure added to the thrills behind the wheel. Power came from a twin-carb four-cylinder motor making 63bhp which isn’t much but with it weighing just 670kg, it offered zippy performance and it was an instant hit. Three years later came the Mark II which got a highly tuned engine and revised camshaft (output increased to 67bhp) and in 1967 the Mark III was introduced featuring a major facelift. The front bumper was raised (in response to new crash regulations), the rear ditched the overriders from the bumper but gained reversing lights, the cabin gained wood-veneer trim and the new 1.3-litre motor made 75bhp. The Mark IV Spitfire brought even more comprehensive changes including a completely re-designed rear which looked very similar to the Stag while the interior was much improved too however output dropped a tad (the four-pot was detuned to meet new emissions laws) and as weight increased to 779kg, performance suffered slightly too.
The first four gens had the same four-speed manual but 1974’s last iteration, the Spitfire 1500 (produced until 1980) got a robust Marina-derived unit mated to a new 1.5-litre motor. Improvements were also made to the chassis (it gained longer swing axles and a lowered spring mounting point for more negative camber and a wider rear track) which ensured the Spitfire would sit way ahead of its rivals in terms of handling.
Today, the early cars are the most sought after (they’re still affordable too; prices top out at Dh40,000) but the real bargain — and the best to drive — is the 1500 which can be had in good nick for just Dh25,000.