The Triumph Vitesse Mk.II
When I last tried a Triumph Vitesse, in 1963, I described it even then as rather old fashioned but as an essentially honest motor-car with a very nice engine. In those days it had a 1½-litre six-cylinder power unit but the version which arrived without warning at the office last month, while having much in common with the original Vitesse, nowadays has a 2-litre engine and revised wishbone and transverse leaf spring i.r.s.
It is, in effect, a multi-cylinder Herald and follows the prevailing British trend of being a long-established model modernised by putting in a larger engine. Thus it is due for further revision but has all the appeal of a small car with plenty of power. Indeed, so over-powered or under-geared is this 1969 Vitesse Mk. II that it will pull away from 900 r.p.m. and can be driven almost everywhere in top and o/d top, if optimum acceleration is sacrificed for minimum gear shifting, control of the transmission being then mainly a matter of using the long r.h. stalk which operates o/d, this functioning in third and top gear and reducing r.p.m. by approx. 600 in the highest ratio.
The twin-carburetter 74.7 x 76 mm. (1,998 c.c.) engine gives maximum power, 105 b.h.p., at a modest 5,300 r.p.m., can be taken 200 r.p.m. beyond this, but will poodle along in 30-limits at 1,400 r.p.m. and at an easy 4,700 r.p.m., using o/d, at the legal British maximum speed. Where the Vitesse has dated is in respect of noisy running, pedals so offset that on initial acquaintance the brake was mistaken for the accelerator, a too-lively choppy ride, and not particularly comfortable separate non-reclining front seats.
Because the body is basically Herald the interior is rather cramped, with restricted elbow room for the driver, who sits close to the roof and is conscious of a shallow windscreen. The wipers fail to wipe the o/s of the glass, to such an extent that in muddy weather visibility is seriously impaired, the right-hand side of the road being cut off on right-hand bends, unless one ducks the head, while pedestrians tend to loom up unseen in town driving. Lord Stokes of Leyland should drive a Vitesse under these conditions and then ask himself whether he is making an adequate contribution to road safety . . .
Visibility apart, the Vitesse has a very reasonable driving position, the leather-gaitered small steering wheel low set, the oddly-protruding front wings providing a good guide-line, and controls, minor and major, being well positioned. The decor is polished walnut-veneered facia and door cappings and black PVC leathercloth upholstery and trim. The Jaeger instruments comprise well-calibrated speedometer and tachometer, a fuel gauge and a vague thermometer, but no oil gauge. Stalks, apart from that for o/d, control lamps and turn indicators, the latter rather short. The l.h. one, for lighting, after a facia switch has put on the lamps, sets them to side lamps, headlamps full-beam or headlamps dipped, another item which has not changed since the Herald was an exciting new car. About time it did, for apart from the danger of going on to side lamps when hurriedly trying to undip the headlamps, the sequence is unnatural, as I have emphasised before. There is a manual choke which gets the engine going with reasonable promptitude, a notchy heater-knob that needs the palm of the hand to push it in, a heat-direction knob and a single-speed fan. Convenient to the right hand, on the facia, is a big knob for single speed wipers and washers.
If the somewhat notchy gearbox with its nicely placed floor lever is stirred, very good acceleration is obtainable and top speed of this “six-cylinder Herald” exceeds 100 m.p.h. by quite a few miles per hour. The revised rear suspension has improved handling, with initial understeer changing to oversteer, neither pronounced, but with a sense of insufficient front-wheel adhesion on slippery roads, in spite of Goodyear G800 tyres. The wheels have a stylish trim. The rack-and-pinion steering works quite well, and although it asks 4 3/8-turns, lock to lock, what a lock it has! At the expense of excessive tyre scrub the Vitesse can turn inside a taxi, which is useful for U-turns on roads of average width and is splendid for parking. The Herald’s collapsible telescopic steering column has been inherited, as has the fuel reserve control on the fuel tank which lives on the n/s of the boot and holds 8¾ gallons. The reserve lever is stiff to operate and gives a range of a mere eight miles—do the Triumph design-team really believe that, even in England, you find petrol stations spaced as frequently as this? As one has to vacate the car to use this reserve supply it borders on the ridiculous, especially as the electric fuel gauge is fairly accurate, pessimistic, and has a generous red segment. On the subject of petrol consumption, the Vitesse, for all its liveliness and vitesse, is most commendably economical. Very liberal employment of o/d gave me 29.2 m.p.g. of 4-star fuel (cr. 9¼-to-1), a tribute to the 3.12-to-1 o/d and the two Stromberg 150s. If the fuel gauge is watched, however, replenishment stops would be made roughly every 200 miles. As for oil, this averaged approx. 400 m.p.p. The whole bonnet opens forward, as on a Herald, to give first-class accessibility, at the expense of dirtying one’s hands on the side catches. The washers’ bottle can be quickly removed for refilling and the dip-stick accessible. The boot lid is self-supporting, but the boot capacity is not very large. Access to the back seat is by tipping up the front seats, which then stay up. The “keeps” for the wide doors are ineffectual, the window-winders are placed low down, and flap-type door pockets are provided. The disc/drum brakes were adequate but on the test car an unpleasant noise, as of a loose shoe-mounting or a proud rivet, intruded when stopping, and the feel is somewhat spongy. The Vitesse has coat-hooks, rubber-tipped bumpers, reversing lamps, pile carpets, vanity mirror, roof and facia lamps, and four Lucas headlamps giving a good beam and a wide cut-off. A lockable cubby, scuttle map case and a shallow well on the transmission tunnel provide additional stowage space.
The test car had Stanpart safety-belts, a Radiomobile radio, and was on Bluecol anti-freeze. The heater will blow cool air into the two-door body, which has openable ¼-lights with “fireproof catches”, but fixed side windows, but the handbook speaks of the need to open a window if the heater fan is in use, an admission that the body isn’t vented.
I quite liked this compact 2-litre, but this did not overcome the impression that it has been on the market for a long time and must be regarded as an interim model while the Triumph engineers get out something fresh for British Leyland to sell. Meanwhile, those who like comparatively big engines in small cars can buy the Triumph Vitesse Mk. II for £951 as a saloon, for £999 as a convertible.—W. B.