Guilty pleasures: Triumph 1300

| 30 Mar 2023
Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Triumph 1300

Apart from a brief acquaintance with a TR6 project car a few years ago, I don’t think I have ever owned a Triumph

Stags and 2.5 Pis appeal, and I’m intrigued by the Vitesse as an early attempt at a compact sports saloon almost in the BMW idiom.

I’ve never even driven a Herald, but my gran had one during a fast turnover of ’70s bangers, and I wouldn’t ever want a TR, but they are wholesome fun and I can see why people love them.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Triumph 1300

This nicely appointed classic Triumph saloon rides and handles well

I genuinely hanker after a drive in a Dolomite Sprint, which I suspect was as good as anything in its class.

A friend in America is quite emphatic he prefers his Dolly Sprint to his 2002tii, and I have a clear memory of being given a ride in an early BMW 3 Series that its owner had fitted with a Sprint engine, which must say something for it.

Watching Gerry Marshall hoofing his Triplex-sponsored Group 1 Sprint around in ’70s racing footage is to witness car control as a true art. 

That car – or rather the 16-valve engine that powered it – was probably, to my mind, ‘peak’ Triumph. I can’t think of anything else that appeared subsequently that I would cross the road to look at. 

I would, however, cross the road to look at a Triumph 1300 of the 1965-’70 generation.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Triumph 1300

All models had comfortable seats plus excellent heating and ventilation; the 1300/1500 front chairs adjust in all directions and, being vinyl, are durable

These neat-looking little front-drive saloons introduced this compact four-door shape to the world and Triumph/Leyland certainly got good value from it.

It was subsequently reinvented in the ’70s as the 1500, Toledo, 1500TC and the Dolomite 1300/1500/1850/Sprint, before being given the chop, aged 15, in 1980. 

It has the dubious distinction of being one of the very few bodies to be launched with front-wheel drive (north-south orientated and sat on top of its gearbox), then swapped to rear-wheel drive.

Why, I am not sure, but cost-cutting and giving the cars a more useful place in the BL range is a fair guess. This process of rationalisation began with the two-door Toledo in 1970 and was completed in 1973 when the rear-drive 1500TC replaced the front-drive 1500.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Triumph 1300
Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Triumph 1300

Smart matching walnut dashboard and door cappings (left); the classic Triumph’s transmission should be practically inaudible

As Standard-Triumph, the firm had built rugged, worthy cars in the 1950s but, alongside the excellent Michelotti-styled 2000, the 1300 of 1965 (also Michelotti penned) was an indication that Canley was upping its game. 

Here was a small luxury car, a baby 2000, with a much more sophisticated image than the Herald it was originally intended to replace.

The Vanden Plas Princess 1100 had its leather and wood, but attempts to make the 1300 truly comfortable ran much deeper, to features like a fully adjustable steering column, height-adjustable front seats, an ergonomically considered dashboard (complete with Triumph’s ‘all systems go’ multi-function warning indicator) and full-flow ventilation.

Combined with child-proof locks and wacky foldaway window winders (not much liked), I suspect the 1300 had the most complete specification of any small production car in the world, and that’s before you get into things like front disc brakes, rack-and-pinion steering, independent rear suspension and the biggest fuel tank in its class at nearly 12 gallons.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Triumph 1300

The Triumph 1300’s engine should feel smooth, quiet and flexible when driving

Apart from using the Herald engine nothing was carried over, and Triumph was keen to point out that its new baby partly maintained the Herald tradition of a nifty turning circle, but did not inherit the BMC front-drive vice of shared engine and gearbox oil, or a vague gearchange linkage. 

The 1300 handled neatly, but perhaps rode less well than its semi-trailing-arm rear suspension suggested.

It was not very fast on 61bhp, although the 90mph 1300TC (twin carbs, 75bhp) answered this criticism to some extent. 

The original 1300/1300TC sold to the tune 150,000 cars through to 1970, when the quad-headlight 1500 took over with its longer nose and tail, but it was still front driven.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Triumph 1300

Canley’s modern small car for the 1960s is a forgotten classic, says Martin Buckley

For about £1000 the Triumph 1300 was a nicely finished family car that was seen as being a cut above the Cortina/BMC 1300/Hillman Hunter ‘tin-box’ brigade. 

It also had something of a ‘blue-rinse’ image in its day: the sort of car people bought in their retirement when downsizing to a bungalow and chopping in the Rover or the Jag for something smaller, but still with some prestige.

When I was a kid, I remember seeing them being driven by ‘respectable’ older ladies: a 1300 was very much a second car for the well-heeled two-car family, rather than a repmobile.

Today perhaps this classic Triumph flies under the radar a bit, but I think it deserves its time to shine.

Images: Tony Baker

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