If money weren’t and option, I probably never would have bought my 79 Triumph Spitfire 1500. I would have bought one of the more “desirable” vintage cars out there. I like European cars, but I really have a thing for British Cars. I would have loved to grab a TR6, or maybe a Frog Eye Sprite. Hell, a big Healey would be great as well. But, as a first time buyer of a project car with a limited budget, the above mentioned were just not realistic. I narrowed my search to a few MGB’s and a Spitfire. The MG’s felt like boats compared to the quick and nimble Spitfire. The Spitfire was also cheap. Really cheap. Better still, it was well looked after, and the owner delivered it to my house for me. Nonetheless, for three years now I have owned Ginger, and I couldn’t be happier.
This car is far from stunning. It has its leaks, the paint has seen better days, it has some tears in the interior. It shows its age and that it has been driven. But that is the beauty of the car and of all British Sports cars for that. They are meant to be enjoyed. With the exception of the Marques that command a high dollar purchase price – and with that I mean those with DB or E Type in their name – the small British car does not belong in a heated and theatrically lit garage. They belong on the road. Driving the car never fails to bring a smile to my face. It’s light and quick, and it sounds great. That is the natural habitat of it, where the machine can compete in sport with any other car around. However if driving the car is half the sport of owning one, keeping it on the road is the other half.
Just embrace the fact that things are going to break on an old car. I certainly thought I had an idea going into my purchase, but one can never truly understand until it’s in your garage. Fortunately parts are available and there is a very strong community of Spitfire Enthusiasts to help you along the way. The first time I did a brake job on my car the dumb previous owner (as they say) put a brake shoe on upside down. The drum fit on fine because the friction material was worn. In taking it apart I made sure to keep track of this with photos and reassembled exactly as it was before. Of course the drum didn’t fit. A photo I took was uploaded to the Triumph Experience (an online car club / forum) and within an hour a forum member let me know of the problem. It’s a virtual community of folks equally crazy ready to help.
This experience though, and I do mean the entire experience, has built a bond between man and machine. It’s what separates true car guys from the investors and impostors. Some of the work I have done on my car was forced and some was elective, but all have taught me something new. It transformed me from the type of shade tree mechanic that might tackle a break job, to one that will drop in a new clutch or rebuild the top end of a motor. I’ve done body work, a timing chain, a rear main seal…. The list goes on. I am saying this not to blow my own hair back, because along the way I’ve developed a deeper understanding for how things work. Each job built confidence for the next. Each time I put the car up on the stands I had more of a connection with it, and each time I started it up for the first time after that I felt more proud. I drive the car differently, because I know the car differently.
Last year I had the chance of buying a TR6 that was literally right down the road from my house. An older gentleman had owned it for a long time, and for a variety of reasons he had to part with it. He and I became friendly, and he was willing to sell it to me for a very reasonable price. To buy it I would have had to part with my beloved Spitfire. I tried like mad to do so. I was thinking a myriad of things. This new car had a huge upside as an investment. The TR6 has more power! The TR6 is more comfortable. I like the color. Well, long story short, I never sold my Spitfire. It was the wrong time of year to sell a British Car, but those that came didn’t buy it I was disappointed… for about a week. Then I realized that the dollar value I attached to my car was boosted by sentimental worth. I realized that I couldn’t part with the car because for me it was more than just a car. At some point I may feel differently and part with Ginger, but realistically I see an addition coming to the fleet before there is a subtraction.
Whatever your “Spitfire” is, find it. And drive it vigorously.
For more commentary on all things automotive, join “The B Road Bombers” Tribe. Looking for more members still to go public.