Good value from British Leyland—the GT6

The days were not so long ago when the typical sports-car owner was that bachelor chap round the corner who was always rushing off to Silverstone with his bobble hat pulled down over his ears and a great roar of tyre smoke. The rest of the time he spent tinkering with the machine in some draughty garage getting incredibly dirty but achieving miracles with the engine. Now all that is becoming something of the past thanks to insurance companies and the like.

The present motor sporting fanatic probably does just as much rushing off to Silverstone and tinkering with engines but his car is no longer a sports model but more likely a Ford Escort with a big engine or a Mini with monstrously large wheels. The bobble hat has gone but there is still a uniform of sorts consisting of a "rally jacket" and a pair of kangeroo-skin gloves.

So who drives cars like the Triumph GT6 apart from all those Americans? The answer to this is simple. It is the chap who ten years ago would like to have been rushing around with a bobble hat pulled over his ears but, unfortunately, because he was either a student or an apprentice or about to get married he found it hard enough to finance the bobble hat let alone the sports car.

Now having made a position in the world and acquired on the way a wife, a young child and possibly a Siamese cat he hopes to recapture his youth. Naturally the sports car has had to change to meet the needs of somebody with such responsibilities and hence we come to British Leyland's popular sports car (call it a GT car if you wish)—the Triumph GT6.

Motor Sport found the GT6 in its latest Mk. 3 trim a civilised, reliable, and also completely unfussy vehicle. We found the lines particularly pleasing and the performance well up to standard. We also realised that perhaps its biggest competitor is a fellow British Leyland stable mate the MG.-B GT which sells for £1,356 compared with the GT6 which is a little cheaper at £1,287.

The car delivered to Standard House was a sparkling dark blue and turned out immaculately by the British Leyland Press fleet. Inside the interior was light brown and we immediately noticed the improvement in trim over the previous Mk. 2 model. When the GT6 was first announced back in 1966, we considered the styling to be a very clever adaptation of the Triumph Spitfire theme and despite a couple of face-lifts of a minor nature we still consider this to be so. Personally I do not like the nave plates on the wheels, which seem to be one of Lord Stokes' styling department's fads at the moment, but I suppose they are cheaper than hub-caps.

Our first task was to check the various levels and this is exceptionally easy with a GT6 as it is on the Spitfire and of course the Herald. The whole bonnet hinges up around the front, revealing all, most conveniently, and also reminding us that the GT6 still utilises a separate chassis. The straight-six 2-litre engine looks impressively powerful as it sits there. A similar engine still powers the Triumph 2000, although of course the TR6 and the 2.5 PI have now gone on to the enlarged engine with Lucas fuel injection. Everything comes easily to hand and if a mechanic wants to do any major task he can easily unbolt the whole bonnet assembly without too much problem.

On checking the oil we discovered that the car had been delivered with the level at the fill rather than full mark so we added a pint of GTX. At the end of our 900-mile test we needed a second pint to bring the car up to the full level again, so oil consumption will be around 900 m.p.p.

First impressions on driving a car are rarely, although occasionally, misleading and in the first ten miles or so one can usually get a fairly good idea of what a car is like. I usually reckon to make a quick mental calculation after a couple of miles which says "Do I feel completely happy and confident in this car to tackle the London rush hour now?". Whatever the answer I usually have to do just that but with the GT6 I felt at ease and comfortable too, but with a reservation or two.

Starting with the seating I found that there is plenty of adjustment both fore and aft and of the rake which any new owner would have to experiment. Personally I found that I needed a rather more upright position than normal as the steering wheel is rather large and being rather small in stature I found myself peering just over the top of it with an almost straight-arm driving position. There are covered sorbo-rubber pads on each side of the transmission tunnel so that both passenger and driver can rest their knees comfortably without knocking them. A central arm-rest, also well padded, makes for further comfort although it does not have any space to contain parking tickets and the like as the hand-brake sprouts out of the front of it.

Behind the two driving seats there is a spacious and well-carpeted area, but due to the way the rear sweeps down to the restyled tail there isn't the room to take an adult in any degree of comfort while small children would probably complain after a mile or two. However, that Siamese cat would have plenty of space, motoring dogs would also find the space acceptable, although Motor Sport's example wasn't allowed to try this time, and there is plenty of space for baby's cot. The large rear window opens almost like an estate car, as illustrated in our photograph, and thus bulky parcels and so on can be loaded with ease.

The facia is wood (if it isn't genuine those plastic copies certainly look like it, these days) but the lay-out is not too bright. The centrally placed speedometer and rev.-counter are easily enough seen but what about the fuel gauge? This is badly obscured by the left hand in a ten-to-two driving position and one has to move one's head to view it. Although one can't see the situation of the fuel, how about checking that the oil pressure is nice and high? Bad luck again for the GT6 doesn't have such a gauge, simply an oil-warning light which, for a sports car, can hardly tell you if the pressure sags 10 p.s.i. when the car is driven flat out down the motorway.

While we are on the subject of little grouses how about the ignition switch and starter combination which isn't on the dashboard at all? That is buried down somewhere by your right knee alongside the steering column shielded by some padding in the shape of a cup. Finding the hole for the key is something like sinking a putt from the edge of the green. The reason the ignition is down here is obviously to do with steering-column locks, which I believe was a German idea and should really go the same way as Hitler. Quite honestly I think they are more trouble than they are worth. Still on this subject, if you ever break down in a car with such a lock and are about to be towed to your nearest garage remember to turn the ignition to unlock first; you would be surprised how many people have made that mistake.

In fact the keys of the GT6 confused us quite a bit. Both looked somewhat similar but the key that worked the ignition did not work the door locks. The key that operated them looked the same either way up but wasn't. In fact in one instance of fumbling to get the door open and the car started W.B. failed to escape the grasps of a parking warden. He swears that if it had been a one-key-for-everything Ford he would have been off and in 2nd gear before the yellow peril would have had time to raise a pencil to her notebook.

But these are only minor grouses; what of the general performance and handling of the car? The steering is tremendously light and responsive and something that could take a little acclimatisation particularly if one is used to something a little more solid. The leather-covered steering wheel was a little large for our liking and also rather hard to hold. Basically the steering is good and perhaps a slight drop in tyre pressure might make it feel a little more positive.

The gear-change, via a short stubby lever, falls easily to hand and was pleasant to use. One point here is that there is definitely a knack in selecting reverse, perhaps because our car was nearly new, but once learned there was little difficulty. Of the three drivers who tried the car all were unanimous about the brakes, they need high pedal pressure and lacked feel. At first when I drove the car I thought that the brakes were just plain poor. Then I started pushing harder and realised that it was all a matter of pressure. Rugger types would find no problem but the GT6 seems to find quite a good market amongst the female population of England and for them I think a servo would definitely be the order of the day. However, once you learned to push hard they did not fade at all and pulled the car up nice and square.

Unfortunately for the GT6 we had the vehicle at the same time as an Elan +2, of which much more next month, and our time was divided between the two cars. Lotus handling and cornering is legend and naturally, although the GT6 has fully independent suspension, it just doesn't come up to the standard of the much more expensive Elan. The old Spitfire transverse leaf rear suspension and tucking under rear wheels was thankfully not perpetuated on the GT6 and, of course, both the Spitfire and the GT6 now have a much more sophisticated method of springing the back wheels. The method works well and you can hurl the GT6 along at a good pace although naturally one doesn't have the same confidence as one would in the Elan. Round tight corners one can kick the back out quite easily although it is not a car I would reckon to throw about at faster speeds. To me it seemed a trifle unpredictable although this might be more due to a personal whim than pure fact.

The ride though a little choppy on rough roads is generally of a high order and cannot really be faulted, with the well-designed seats obviously helping here. Incidentally I particularly liked the seat belts which were well anchored and easily worn.

Although reasonably small and compact the GT6 with its steel body and separate chassis is no lightweight so the 2-litre engine does not give it sensational performance. Nevertheless it is a very brisk car which leaves the line very smartly and puts the power down well. The GT6 has a good top speed, too, although right at the top of the range one is starting to grit the old teeth a bit. Perhaps the best cruising speed is around 90 m.p.h., which the GT would perform happily all day and every day. At an indicated 100 m.p.h. the rev.-counter was showing 5,000 r.p.m. while it will continue to accelerate up to 5,500 r.p.m. which is where the yellow line starts, with the red around 5,800 r.p.m. In fact we were able to hold 5,500 which must be about 105 m.p.h. for quite a while although at that speed one is aware that the GT6 is close to its limit. However, at an indicated 100 m.p.h. everything was well in order and I was able to take my hands off the wheel without drama to note that the car ran straight as a die. Mid-range acceleration is also particularly good, for the engine has plenty of willing torque so one isn't forever having to change gear.

The heating and ventilating system proved m be efficient and easy to operate although the inclusion of a heated rear window would be almost essential. We were surprised to find that, actually under the facia, there were an additional pair of eye ball sockets to the ones on the main dash. These were so tucked away that we didn't find them until the test was half over, but the general idea seemed to be to blow warm air directly onto your cold feet.

As the miles mounted up I discovered a few more traits of the GT6 which had not struck me at first. One concerned the light dip switch which was operated by a stalk from the steering column. I don't reckon you can beat the present all-purpose stalks which are used these days by several manufacturers. Such a stalk gives you indicators left and right by up and down movement and lights full or dipped by forwards and back movements with a horn on the end tip for good measure. The GT6 had separate indicator and light stalks, both with up and down movements, but thankfully no overdrive or we really would have been confused.

The really broad-shouldered driver may also find that he is a little cramped by the GT6. The cockpit space is fairly small and I found my shoulder only an inch or two from the door.

In summing up the GT6 one must emphasise that British Leyland have produced a strong, reliable and well-engineered sporting vehicle which is, above all, very competitively priced. Neither Chrysler, Ford or Vauxhall otter a competitor and comparable sporting 2-litre two-seaters from the smaller or foreign manufacturers sell at a good deal more than £1,300. Running coats are not high either with fuel consumption working out at around 25 m.p.g. driven hard, and maintenance bills fairly reasonable too. The GT6 in its latest Mk. 3 form is known to be a well-sorted and bug-free motor car, and is tailored to meet the needs of the kind of person who buys it. We would not recommend it to the rorty-torty brigade who want to go hurtling about the country in opposite-lock slides with the engine revving round to 7,000 r.p.m.

However for someone who still likes the idea of a two-seater with excellent yet unfussy performance complete with all the mod cons of a well-finished interior, wind-down windows and so on there isn't much to beat the GT6. Undoubtedly one of British Leyland's better cars. —A. R. M.