Why you’d want a Triumph Dolomite
Always battling to match sales volumes with development costs, Triumph was good at making cars with innovative features despite some apparently backward steps.
The Dolomite sprang from, and succeeded, the front-wheel-drive 1300, but production costs and frictional simplicity dictated it take the form of a front-engined/rear-drive car.
Giovanni Michelotti styled cars for everyone from Ferrari to Hino of Japan, but is probably best known for his Triumphs, and the Dolomite was a particular success – handsome, well-proportioned and unostentatious.
The interior was appealing and, despite a smallish boot, road testers loved it.
ʻBy any standards, let alone those in its price range, the Dolomite is a very comfortable car, particularly for the driver,ʼ enthused Motor in 1972. ʻThe layout of the controls and the range of seat adjustment are an object lesson to all other manufacturers.ʼ
The 1973 Sprint was a brilliant range-topper, successful in both racing and rallying, with innovations led by its 16-valve engine, the first for a popular British saloon and featuring a clever single-cam operation using the same eight cam lobes to operate the inlet valves directly and the exhaust valves via rockers.
ʻOutstanding value for money without a rival in sight at the price,ʼ said Motor. ʻAfter 2000 miles in the Sprint we are completely sold on it and will be backing our verdict by placing an order.ʼ
With a vinyl roof and alloy wheels as standard (another UK production first), the Sprint was a highly desirable package.
Even the 1850 Dolomite was very well equipped, among the first to feature a heated rear windscreen as standard – though the early switches for these were a bit prone to shorting out.
Gear ratios were particularly well chosen, according to motoring writers. The Sprint had a shorter final drive but wider ratios than the Dolomite 1850, so the optional overdrive on third and top was very effective.
Sadly the 1500TC struggled somewhat with its tall gearing, but the smaller-engined Dolomites were still comfortable and usable saloons that, initially at least, lasted well.
As time progressed and with values low, only Sprints were thought worthy of preservation and survival rates for other models are poor. Be wary of fake Sprints: the chassis and engine prefix should be VA.
Images: James Mann
Triumph Dolomite: what to look for
Please see above for what to check on a classic Triumph Dolomite, when you’re viewing cars for sale.
The 16-valve Sprint engine was clever and effective, though the slant-four acquired a poor reliability record in the UK, largely due to inferior casting materials and poor maintenance: cared-for examples last very well.
The 1300/1500 had the well-tried Herald/Spitfire unit, whose only weakness was premature crank thrust-bearing wear.
Rot is the biggest killer of this classic Triumphs.
One of the most difficult areas to repair is where the windscreen pillar meets the bulkhead and inner wing, under the bonnet.
Top models had nylon cord trim, which is now scarce in good condition.
Low-end vinyl options often survived better. Check wood veneers match all round.
Sprints had a tough TR6 gearbox, most with overdrive, others a Vitesse-derived unit.
Listen for layshaft noise in neutral.
The auto was popular when new, less so now.
The Triumph’s well-located rear axle depends on multiple rubber bushes, which go soft with age.
Polyurethane is a popular alternative, but can give a harsh ride.
Triumph Dolomite: before you buy
Performance varies dramatically between the 20 secs 0-60mph of the 1300 and sub-9 secs of the Sprint, but all Dolomites should feel flexible and smooth through the rev range, with real pep in 16-valve form.
On the slant-four, look for signs of overheating, water-pump leaks and/or head-gasket weeps: a lack of proper anti-freeze causes corrosion in the aluminium castings, silting and overheating that blows the head gasket.
On well-cared-for cars such problems should be a thing of the past, but itʼs wise to be wary.
Poor running on Sprints is often down to carburettor rubber mounts deteriorating: the club has made solid alternatives.
With the cast-iron 1300/1500 units, check for overheating (radiators clog up more slowly, but none last indefinitely) and most importantly for crank end float: get someone to push the clutch pedal up and down while you watch for any fore/aft movement at the front pulley. Excessive wear can render the block as scrap.
Lack of lead in petrol will eventually cause valve-seat failure on iron heads if driven much over 3000rpm: either use additives or budget £250 for an overhaul with hardened seats.
Specialist ʼbox, diff and overdrive rebuilds are available; check for excess play in diffs and wear, noise and weak synchros in gearboxes.
Braking can be marginal for track work, but adequate for road use if well-maintained – Sprints need higher-rated front pads than 1850s.
Suspension bushes deteriorate; uprated polybushes last longer, but can be firm.
Triumph Dolomite price guide
- 1300, 1500: £1000/2500/6000
- 1500TC, HL: £1250/3000/8000
- 1850: £2000/6000/12,000
- Sprint: £4000/10,000/20,000
Prices correct at date of original publication
Triumph Dolomite history
1965 Oct 1300 (FWD) launched
1970 Oct Toledo 2dr (RWD) introduced, and four-door 1500 (FWD) with long boot
1971 Toledo 4dr arrives
1972 Jan Dolomite 1850 introduced
1973 Jun Dolomite Sprint launched: alloy wheels, first 2000 in Mimosa Yellow Oct RWD 1500TC replaces 1500; SUs for 1850
1975 Dolomite-based, alloy-bodied Panther Rio (1850) & Especial (Sprint); 38 built to ’77
1976 Mar Toledo and 1500TC replaced by Dolomite 1300/1500; 1500TC becomes 1500HL; Sprint gets standard overdrive
1979 May 1500SE: black, silver side-stripe, grey cloth seats, walnut dash, 2500 built
1980 Nov Canley factory closes
The owner’s view
Having been brought up in the motor trade, Lee Allen came early to Dolomite ownership: “I bought a 1300 Dolomite trade-in from my dad for £100 when I was 13,” he recalls. “It was my first car, I tidied it up and sold it on.
“When I turned 40 I acquired another, and I’ve bought four or five more since. I’ve got a 1500HL that’s only done 3000 miles, a Mimosa Sprint – chassis number 276 – that I’m slowly rebuilding and a 1980 one-owner car in Russet Brown that’s only done 29,000 miles.
“I bought this example because it was a well-known car that had won many awards with the previous owner – his widow is very happy that it’s still in good hands.
“It was a little smoky when I got it, but we’ve sorted that out and we’ve just done the timing chain because it was a bit noisy, too.
“They are great value for money and I love driving it fast – it really surprises other road users!”
ALFA ROMEO ALFETTA
Not quite as quick as a Sprint, but lively and stylish in 1.6-, 1.8- and 2-litre forms, with all-disc brakes. Rust and neglect are common and few survive.
Sold 1972-’84 • No. built 424,739 • Price now £5-18,000*
Heavy, dependable Swedish saloons with 1.7-, 1.9- and 2-litre adaptations of the Triumph slant-four. Quick in Turbo form, almost matching the Sprint. Cheap today, except Turbos.
Sold 1967-’85 • No. built 624,628 • Price now £3-20,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Triumph Dolomite: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
Still good value but increasingly appreciated, especially in sporty Sprint form, the Dolomite is a classic car without vices – a good example will clock up big mileages in comfort and leave you smiling.
Check the history and originality of any prospective purchase, and that repairs have been done properly because too many have been bodged.
Buy on body condition first, interior second, mechanicals third: as ever, buy the best you can afford.
- A great all-rounder that is still good value
- There’s a range of performance to suit all buyers
- Helpful, active club with good stocks of parts, including body repair panels
- Low survival rate means parts remanufacture isn’t commercially viable
- Decades of low prices mean many have been neglected
Triumph Dolomite specifications
- Sold/no built 1972-’80/255,360 (1500TC: 25,549; 1300/1500: 127,860; 1850: 79,010; Sprint: 22,941)
- Construction steel unitary
- Engine all-iron, ohv 1296/1493cc, or iron-block, alloy-head, ohc 1854cc or 16v 1998cc ‘four ’, single SU or twin Stromberg/SU carbs; 58bhp @ 5500rpm to 127bhp @ 5700rpm; 68lb ft @ 3300rpm to 122lb ft @ 4500rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual, optional overdrive, or three-speed auto, RWD
- Suspension: front independent, by double wishbones rear live axle, trailing and semi-trailing arms; coils, telescopics f/r (a-r bars for 1850/Sprint)
- Steering rack and pinion
- Brakes discs front, drums rear, with servo
- Length 13ft 6in (4122mm)
- Width 5ft 2½in (1588mm)
- Height 4ft 6-7in (1372-1395mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft ½in (2454mm)
- Weight 1995-2295lb (904-1041kg)
- Mpg 23-35
- Top speed 83-116mph
- 0-60mph 20.1-8.4 secs
- Price new £2953-4896 (1978)