Buyers Guide Triumph Vitesse
James Walshe takes an in-depth look at a British family favourite. Herald/Vitesse Guide Expert wisdom on how to assess and buy one of these little beauties.
Hark the Herald!
Enjoy a Triumph not a disaster
Why you want one
Was there ever a more uniquely styled Brit? The Herald represented a bold and beautiful new world away from the worthy, but traditional predecessors. That exotic design, by young Italian, Giovanni Michelotti, was a showstopper. Here was loud and proud Fifties optimism in steel and in vivid colour schemes.
Underneath was a distinctive small car, with rival-beating features such as a 25ft turning circle, reserve fuel tank and a front-end that tipped forward to reveal engine and suspension. Rarely has there been a wider range of fun and easy to run saloons, coupés, convertibles and estates.
Which one do I want?
Vitesse later. Let’s start with the Herald. The 948cc saloon and coupé were launched in April 1959, with the convertible in March 1960 and an estate (and 1200cc engine models) arriving in showrooms in 1961. The best seller of the range was the 1200, which was available in all body-styles and got the option of disc brakes at the front. Keep an eye out for the 51bhp 12/50, which was a pepped-up saloon for 1963 – a sort of GT version of the 1200. It combines the sportiness of the later 13/60 with the good looks of the early Herald. The only external giveaways are a different grille and padded dashboard, but underneath it got disc brakes as standard and a vinyl-fabric Webasto roof.
Coupé sales ended in 1964 and, at the London Motor Show in October 1967, the Herald 13/60 arrived. You’ll recognise these cars by the Vitesse-style twin headlamp front end, revised interior and the 1296cc engine shared with Triumph’s FWD 1300 model. If you’re after the convertible version of the 13/60, expect to pay significantly more than the other versions. Estates are similarly sought after.
The Vitesse was a quite different animal, with a beefed-up chassis and suspension, more luxury, sound proofing and of course, that fabulous six-cylinder engine. Launched in 1962, the rapid 1600 Vitesse was replaced by a 2-litre model four years later. You might even get lucky and find one of the rare estates. While our focus here is the Herald, Vitesse fans would be wise to read on, as there is much in the way of shared design and componentry between the two models.
What to look for
The bodywork is essentially cosmetic, so even tatty examples can be safe and strong if the chassis is sound. The main chassis rails rot below the differential. Watch out for tacked-on outriggers.
Many cars have been repaired with poor- quality replacements – if they’ve been fitted without body removal, they are likely not to have been welded on top, leading to a weakened structure. There is a panel join across the floor under the front seats, and the rear body section can also rot severely.
Panel availability is okay, with many parts pressed using original tooling. Don’t be alarmed if the panel fit isn’t great, especially if the car has had a body-off rebuild; getting everything properly lined up is a nightmare. Rebuilding a Herald properly means the sections that make up the bodywork (bonnet/front wings, bulkhead and rear tub) should be separated from the chassis.
The bonnet should feel rigid, not floppy, when you lift it – check around the D-plates in the front bottom corners for rot, and on the outside up to the sidelight mounts. A restored bonnet costs £1440 from Chic Doig. Valances rot rapidly; glassfibre is an option, but alignment can be poor and rubber seals often don’t fit. With the bonnet up, check the front bulkhead, especially at its lower corners – lift the carpets inside too, and peer underneath behind the sill panels to assess the condition of the structure and the support brackets, through which the bulkhead is bolted to the chassis. The bottom few inches rot, and it’s rarely accurately reconstructed.
Rattling at start up signifies worn big ends, necessitating a bottom-end rebuild; it’s a big job, but can be done at home. These engines will clock up 100,000 miles, so the first sign of wear is usually a chattering top end because of erosion of the rocker shaft and rockers. The 1296cc engine can suffer from worn thrust washers, given away by excessive fore-aft movement of the crankshaft. Any discernible movement in the front pulley means the crankshaft and block could be wrecked if the thrust washers fall out.
All Heralds have the same four-speed manual transmission. Dip the clutch at tickover to listen for layshaft wear and check all synchros (only 2.0-litre Vitesses have synchromesh on first). Replacing a gearbox is easy – it just pulls out from inside the car once the trim has been removed.
Suspension at the front incorporates trunnions which should be oiled; if greased, they should be stripped regularly to clean out old, hardened grease. Rear suspension on all but the Vitesse MkII is swing axle – simple and effective with a good ride, but it’s vital the rear hubs are greased every 6000 miles; if not, the hub can seize and the wheel snap off. As the Vitesse grew faster and heavier, a rear lower wishbone was added with a big Rotoflex coupling – check it’s not falling apart.
Interior trim is available from Newton Commercial for mainstream models – a full interior trim kit for a Herald 1200 or 13/60 is around £2000. However, if you’ve picked a rare early model that has lost distinctive features such as the light grey plastic steering wheel and control knobs, these parts and other trim items are extremely scarce.
- TRGB, trgb.co.uk
- David Manners, jagspares.co.uk
- Moss Europe, moss-europe.co.uk
- Rimmers, rimmerbros.co.uk
- Southern Triumph Services, southerntriumph.com
- TD Fitchett Ltd, tdfitchett.co.uk
- Club Triumph, club.triumph.org.uk
MARKET ANALYSIS with James Walshe
While a runner can be had for two grand or so, six grand will buy you the best early Herald saloon, with Coupés up to £2k more. A 948 or 1200 convertible will be around £8500. Saloons and estates with the 1147cc units can be found anywhere between £1500 and £6000 and it’s the same story for any 13/60 model. Move into Vitesse territory and you’ll be paying £1500 for a project and around £15k for the nicest examples.
FOUR QUESTIONS WITH A HERALD OWNER
Nick Price reacquaints us with an old cover star!
1 Hello, old friend!
‘Indeed! My 63,000 mile Herald 948 convertible was featured on the front cover of PC back in the summer of 2002. I didn’t realise that when I bought it in 2013, but the mag was in among the history and paperwork. It took a while to find a car like this. It has every scrap of history from day one, including Coventry factory correspondence regarding the fitting of seatbelts. Since being restored 20 years ago, it has remained almost completely unchanged!’
2 Is this model rare?
‘The early 948 convertible is a rarity now, yes. Mine was a dealer demonstrator, and the very first Herald Convertible on the Isle of Wight, from August to December 1960. Being a 948cc the car was very rare at the time with the majority exported. There are just 15 left in the UK, with 10 on the road. A pre-launch car, this little Herald remains one of the earliest in Europe!’
3 When did you first get into Heralds?
‘Many years ago, I was in my Ford Orion, when an early white Herald convertible pulled up beside me. From then on, I knew I always preferred the early cars. The extra bits of chrome, the white dials and many other details. The first one I bought was a 1960 948 saloon and after a few more like it, I went for a coupé. It was so hot inside during the summer, I decided it was time to find myself a convertible.’
4 What’s it like to own a Herald?
‘Parts for early cars are very scarce, with trim and panels unavailable. You can buy new panels but they’re for later cars and need to be tweaked to fit. Many years ago, I began hoovering up a lot of spare parts, so I’m pretty much sorted if I ever needed to replace something on my car. The specialist and club support is brilliant and the car is easy to work on. There are some challenging jobs, however. They say you can spend two years on a restoration and another year trying to make all of the panels fit properly!’
WHAT TO PAY
- PROJECT £850-£1250
- RUNNER £1400-£2500
- GOOD £3500-£8500
- Engine 1147cc/4-cyl/OHV
- Max Power 39bhp @ 4500rpm
- Max Torque 61lb ft @ 2250rpm
- Gearbox 4spd manual
- Top speed 76mph
- 0-60mph 28.6sec
- Fuel economy 32mpg
- Length 3.9m
- Width 1.5m
LIVING WITH A HERALD
- How easy to work on 5/5
- Parts availability 3/5
- Running cost 4/5
- Practicality 4/5
BASED ON 45-YEAR-OLD, with a second vehicle. It is garaged, covers 3000 miles a year and lives in an SP2 postcode. Owner has no claims or convictions, is a club member: £107.68 or £125.68 with Agreed Value.
*Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may vary between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. An additional charge may be payable.
**Quotes based on a 1962 Triumph Herald 1200 coupe valued at £8000.
- Chassis This is where you need to check really closely. Badly tacked on outriggers will cause headaches – they should be fitted body-off.
- Engine Three 4-cyl units were available. All are simple enough to fix. Listen for any rattling on start up though. The big sixes are robust also.
- Body beautiful Panel fit can take a great deal of patience to get right, so it’s wise to seek advice from those who have done it before.
- Cabin Later cabins weren’t quite as charming, but any Herald is a pleasant place to be, with a great view out. Trim on all but the early models is still available and won’t break the bank.