Driving the latest Triumph Dolomite

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British Leyland’s long-awaited 1.8-litre o.h.c. Triumph Dolomite—the third Triumph to carry this type-name*—had a difficult birth, being delayed on more than one occasion by labour problems. Perhaps that was why I overlooked the fact that Motor Sport had not been offered one for test, apart from brief pre-view sampling, until the very week when the entire British Press, distinguished, indifferent and mediocre, daily, weekly and technical, was publicising the clever hybrid from Coventry. A telephone call to Berkeley Square House fortunately had an almost instant response, Simon Pearson producing a well-run-in Dolomite the next day, but requesting me to excuse any shortcomings it might have, as there had been no time in which to check it over.

The arrival of the Dolomite enabled me to use it to look at the VSCC Measham Rally, as less likely to attract attention than a Datsun 240Z or a yellow Ford Mexico. Having announced pompously to the helpful officials of this interesting night competition that apart from writing some nonsense about it I would motor round the route assisting anyone who might need help, I began by following the President’s 4 1/2-litre Bentley at what I thought was a discreet distance, headlamps dipped. Before very long Tony Griffiths in his well-known Austin 7 overtook both of us on the winding road between Horderley and Eaton, and that was about all we saw of the rally until the halfway stop! Because at the second Control Mr. Mann asked a marshal to ask me to drop back, as my lamps were worrying him. This I did, to become utterly lost in wildest Montgomeryshire, as my lady passenger can’t read maps. Which gave me time to think about the Dolomite….

It is a combination of previous Triumph models—speaking generally, a 1500 body, Toledo floorpan, drive-line and suspension, GT6/Vitesse gearbox, Toledo/GT6 back axle, 2.5 PI facia and the engine used by Saab, turned back-to-front as this is a r.w.d. car and enlarged to 1,854 c.c. It proved a comfortable car for the night’s task, with generous-sized front seats (with reclining squabs), although the four Lucas sealed-beam headlamps could have given more illumination and lack of courtesy lights from the front doors (on the test-car), an unlit (and unlockable) wood-lidded cubby-hole, and invisible-in-the-dark heater controls forced themselves on our notice on this nocturnal excursion. The test-car was on 155-13 Dunlop SP 68 radial-ply tyres which suited it well.

The new Dolomite, taking the name of Donald Healey’s Alfa-crib disaster and those pre-war push-rod models, is a fully-equipped saloon which some people see as a rival to foreigners such as the Fiat 124, Alfa Romeo 1750 and BMW 1600. It is certainly a likeable vehicle, well-balanced on corners, with neutral handling characteristics, an eager engine which gives 91 (net) b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m. and runs extremely smoothly to its 6,000 to 6,500 indicated r.p.m. limit, somewhat spongy but effective Girling disc/drum servo brakes, and ergronomic controls, of the familiar circular warning lights cluster and two stalks, which do not quite equal those on Rovers. But it is to BL’s lasting credit that you find such sensible layouts in both these makes. There is excellent, slack-free rack-and-pinion steering, geared nicely at three turns lock-to-lock, but the coil spring suspension gives rather surprisingly a too-lively ride, which results in slight weaving on bad roads.

This Dolomite III inherits something of the Herald’s ability to turn on a sixpence, so that although I have never mastered the art of tight parking, I found I could slot it easily into a small gap, and the action is not light but certainly not excessively heavy. The gear-change is quite nice, too, if notchy when hustled into certain locations. The clutch must be good because I cannot remember anything about it. The steering wheel rim is leather bound but too thick; the grip of the central hand-brake also rather a handful and, on the test-car, this brake was reluctant to hold unless firmly applied. The lamps, horn and turn indicators are controlled by the right forefinger, wipers and washers with the left forefinger. The lamps are first selected with a rotary switch on the right of the lockable steering column.

This Dolomite is a quiet runner, with plenty of performance, to a top speed of better than 100 m.p.h., it is a comfortable four-seater, and its short bonnet should help in fog. It has a good heater, with three finger-light controls, swivelling facia fresh-air vents, and openable front 1/4-windows. The body is smart, with a not over-commodious illuminated boot. The interior decor is of luxury demeanour, even to walnut window sills and facia-capping, thick carpets, smart Bri-nylon upholstery, a driving seat which adjusts for height and tilt as well as setting, heated rear window with a very discreet warning light as a standard fitting, Smiths instrumentation which includes tachometer, battery-indicator, fuel gauge, thermometer, Kienzle clock (but no oil gauge), and a telescopic and height-adjustable steering column, together with excellent Britax inertia safety-belts and good map pockets, door handles and sill-locks, and things like a hazard warning, rheostat control of facia lighting, etc., are truly commendable in a £1,399 car. Sundym glass and automatic transmission are extras.

The 45°-angled Type PE 114 alloy-head 87 x 78 mm. engine with its chain-driven o.h. camshaft seems a very fine power unit—if it weren’t Saab would not have been using it for four years in 75,000 of their cars. It gave 28.9 m.p.g. of 4-star fuel and the absolute range was a most useful 333 miles. Oil consumption was approx. 1,200 m.p.p. The dipstick and Lucas Pacemaker battery are accessible under the front-hinged self-propping bonnet.

The cylinder bore has been stretched from the original 83.5 mm. to 87 mm. and the Dolomite has two side-draught Zenith-Stromberg carburetters instead of the Saab 99’s single carburetter, which hasn’t done much for increased power output, while it is thought that the lower c.r. Saab engine is a little smoother and quieter. It seems a bit odd that Triumph, notable advocates of fuel-injection on the 2.5 and TR6, use carburetters for the Dolomite, leaving p.i. to Saab on the same engine. But it is an admirable four-cylinder power unit and one which I think is intended to work for ever, or at least for some 100,000 miles, before wearing out, as is intended of Chevrolet’s sub-compact and Citroën’s GS. It seems 21 bit ironical that this is so, in an age when salted roads and traffic density tend to make running gear unserviceable before an engine needs a rebore…

BL should not be blamed for evolving their third generation of Dolomites from a variety of parts, for this is an art admired among the “soup-up” fraternity. The result is a very acceptable car, seeming quite high-geared with its 3.64 to 1 axle ratio, a car nice to drive and to occupy. One must commend, also, Lord Stokes’ restraint in not announcing Dolomite until it was on sale, and Triumph for publicising the car as without stripes or GT badges, although I am not sure I would refer to it as a sports-saloon, well as it performs (0 to 60 m.p.h. in 11.5 sec., s.s. 1/4-mile in 18.5 sec. and 86 m.p.h. in third gear) without any need to take the engine anywhere near its limit in ordinary motoring. Where the Dolomite falls short of anticipation is in some back axle tramp in spite of a four-link location and in a rather old-fashioned body style, although the lines have dignity. I like the exposed wheel nuts.

Over 2,000 of this new Triumph had been built when it was introduced to the customers on January 6th last. Production was to have started at 300 a week (but a strike intervened) and by now should be running at 500 a week. More can be made if the demand arises; as I confidently expect that it will.

Indeed, the 1972 Triumph Dolomite is such an excellent value-for-money car that I now await with even greater impatience the advent of a completely new car from British Leyland.—W.B.

***
*There was a s/c straight-eight, twin-cam 2-litre Dolomite in 1935 and four- and six-cylinder Dolomites from 1937. BL seem to have conveniently forgotten the former, saying the name has been reintroduced “after an interval of 33 years”!