The Triumph Dolomite Sprint

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Road Impressions

In recent months we have had a good deal to say about the 2-litre sixteen-valve Triumph Dolomite Sprint, justifiably so, because this is one of British Leyland’s most acceptable new models. Since a colleague tried the test prototypes and I paid tribute to the ingenious overhead-and-rocker valve gear of the Sprint engine I have been able to road-test a production model of this fast, docile, compact and well-contrived car.

The Dolomite Sprint has been compared in some quarters to far more expensive German cars. I prefer not to do this, because I think in this case comparisons are odious and detract from the very real excellence of the Triumph, which is a fine car in its own right, especially remembering its price of £1,740. I prefer the comment made by Bill Davis, Managing Director of Rover/Triumph, when the Sprint was introduced, namely that it “will lay the myth that the Continental manufacturers have a virtual monopoly of fast, medium-sized cars”. Incidentally, it was remarkable, at the time, that his PRO Department said that the first Dolomite was a six-cylinder 2-litre, obviously having forgotten or conveniently over-looked the straight-eight, twin-cam supercharged 2-litre Triumph Dolomite of an earlier era, which traditionally was nearer to the Sprint’s role as a sporting model.

However, all that is very much in the past and in the light of present-day expertise the Dolomite Sprint is a highly acceptable car. It can be driven like any other family saloon, being outstandingly docile. The canted-over, multi-valve engine is very quiet and pulls smoothly in top gear from about 1,500 r.p.m. Driven like this you would never credit the 115 m.p.h. maximum speed and the truly impressive acceleration, in the ss ¼-mile in 16.6 sec. bracket. True, the Sprint seems to be covering the ground well, habitually cruising at an indicated 70 m.ph. with no effort at all, the 127 (DIN) b.h.p. engine then running at a very modest 3,000 r.p.m. in o/d top gear.

It is when the lower gears are made use of, engaged by the very good if not outstanding, typically Triumph gear lever which slaps so easily when required into reverse, that the Sprint is seen for what it is, a very quick and accelerative compact saloon, able to hold its own with the majority of sporting cars of this size, yet still performing without noise or effort. The somewhat heavy clutch engages smoothly.

The Sprint is immensely controllable, cornering with initial understeer and very accurately placed where the driver intends, the small racing-type steering wheel operating through pleasantly light and consistently taut rack-and pinion gear which asks only 3 5/8 turns, lock-to lock, and the suspension such that, if it is too lively over the less smooth roads, it kills any excessive roll. There is sensibly mild steering return and the turning-circle is conveniently tight. All this adds up to a safe and “happy” car in which to drive fast. The servo disc/drum brakes are in keeping and the test Car had those flat-profile Dunlop SP Sport Formula 70 aquajet tyres for added security, on nice-looking 5½” cast aluminium alloy wheels, made by GKN, not by Dunlop as we inadvertently said in the description of the Sprint. That the new engine is low stressed is evident from the gearing used, which means that at 1,000 r.p.m. in top gear the road speed is nearly 19 m.p.h. That it is also an efficient power unit is emphasised by the notable fuel economy of 97-octane fuel. In ordinary running about I recorded 29.4 m.p.g., and as the fuel tank, which has a secured but not lockable, rather small filler, takes 12½ gallons, the range is likely to be usefully in excess of 300 miles however you drive. The warning light shows some 60 miles before the tank runs dry. Checking the oil consumption with a short angled dip-stick set low down but accessibly beneath the air box on the o/s of the engine, the level in the sump had dropped by approx ½-a-pint after 650 miles.

The interior and appointments of the Dolomite Sprint belie its sporting pretensions. It is a top-grade family saloon, very similar in its instrument layout, use of a walnut facia, and control arrangements, with rotary lamps switch, to the Triumph Stag road-tested by MOTOR SPORT last month. There is the same cluster of warning lights, slightly differently located, directly before the driver, the same full complement of dials minus an oil-gauge, the same good stowage facilities, and those convenient, multi-purpose control stalks. There is a centrally-placed Kienzle clock and the recessed interior door-handles and ash-trays exemplify the neat, ungarish treatment accorded to the Sprint’s decor, which includes “fitted carpets” and wood door cappings. The test car had Triplex toughened Sundym windows, with openable quarter windows in the front doors, and upholstery is in black brushed nylon which I find rather clinging. But the seats are very comfortable and the rear one has a retractable centre arm-rest. The boot, openable without the use of the key, is shallow but unobstructed and is lit at night even when the car’s lighting is off – full marks, Triumph! The body is vented beneath the roof extension and triple fresh air inlets are provided within. Under the front-hinged, self-propping bonnet the small I.ucas battery and the fillers and (buried) plugs are all accessible. The exterior paintwork is mimosa, the finish and trim thus following the Triumph pattern for their sports-cars. The full-width front spoiler is in black and presumably helps adhesion at the very high speed obtainable from this quite small car. It is matched by the black radiator grilles, back panel and body lining and matt-black roof – very smart!

This Dolomite Sprint is a car I liked from the moment I moved out of the office car-park and it becomes more likeable the further and faster you drive it. There is very little to fault. On the test car the air volume control, the central one of the three heater/ventilation levers, produced unscheduled hot air after a certain setting, which it shouldn’t have done and I had to assist my wife to release herself from the reel-type Britax safety harness, which had a stiff button. During the test the horn ceased to work. The steering wheel transmits no kick-back but some vibration and there are some mild tremors through the body shell, although generally the running is as smooth as the engine, which gets over its diesel-like idling at 750 r.p.m. as soon as it is opened up. Otherwise, absolutely no complaints. The driving position, with well-placed unobtrusive hand brake, the small plastic-bound wheel and adjustable steering rake, is excellent. The engine required a good deal of mixture enrichening of the twin side-draught HS6 SUs to persuade it to pull after a summer night in the open and the close-set twin exhaust tail pipes look vulnerable but gave no trouble and are protected by solid-looking rubber-tipped bumpers. The overdrive switch is most conveniently set into the knob of the gear lever, as on other Triumph models. The Sundym glass and the overdrive, by the judicious use of which I achieved petrol economy of nearly 30 m.p.g., adds £91.17, bringing the total to £1,831.01. Seat belts are supplied as standard.

The Triumph Dolomite Sprint is a thoroughly likeable and unexpectedly fast compact saloon, with which I could be very content if buying a car in this price bracket. It should become one of Triumph’s most popular models. – W.B.