Classics for sale: The British saloon which made performance accessible

Performance saloons were once only an option for the wealthy. The Triumph Dolomite changed that forever.

As midnight struck on December 31, 1971, the forthcoming year was set to unleash a plethora of exotic and memorable metal. Alfa Romeo’s Alfetta, the Aston Martin Vantage, Ford Granada and Ferrari 365 GT4 2+2 would all take to the world stage for the first time. Yet, arguably the greatest trendsetter of 1972 slipped under the radar – the Triumph Dolomite.

Now, we can understand your reaction to such a claim. The Dolomite may have emerged from deep within British Leyland’s drafty and strike-burdened stable, boasting all the raw aggression of iceberg lettuce, but it spawned something of noticeable performance that the masses could finally afford. We are, of course, talking about the Dolomite Sprint.

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Launched in June 1973, the Dolomite Sprint landed in showrooms as a direct rival to foreign competition. The likes of the BMW 2002 had cost Triumph no end of sales and tarnished the brand’s street credit, yet the Sprint was set to change all that. In doing so, the peppy saloon would challenge all that had been previously assumed of Albion family transport.

Led by Spen King, the inimitable mastermind responsible for the original Range Rover, a team of engineers developed a sturdy 16-valve cylinder head with actuation for each valve balanced over a single camshaft, rather than the traditional Double Overhead (DOHC) arrangement. As a result, the Dolomite Sprint claimed title as the ‘first mass-produced multi-valve car’.

Exciting stuff to those who enjoy crunching numbers and technical data, but the road-going consequence of such intricate engineering gave muster to the phrase: ‘I’m heading out for a spin’.

Power output witnessed 127bhp at the rear wheels, which may sound lacklustre by modern standards, but back in 1973 such mechanical prowess was almost unheard of in a car costing less than £2000 (£22,995 in today's money).

Such clout was previously reserved for Jaguars and high-end automotive nobility. However, as the 1970s wore on, the aspiring teenager could now wage war in the top lane of Blighty’s motorways. The Bentley driver was left quivering on their pedestal, as the Dolomite Sprint prowled down below.

Further tuning packs were made available and noticeable product placement in cult TV series The Professionals cemented the Sprint’s place in national history. Even today, a well-heeled Dolomite Sprint feels raw, guttural and downright exciting in the face of contemporary equivalents.

Well-appointed and compact, yet deceptively roomy even for four adults, the powerful four-door family wagon offered sensible economy and impeccable road handling manners. Purely undertaking the commute or heading out for groceries was enough to slap an ear-to-ear grin upon driver’s faces.

From 1975 onwards, overdrive and tinted glass became standard equipment, as did the alloy wheels. Unlike any car in its class, soon the radio, headrests, laminated windscreen and twin-rear fog lamps were all chucked in with compliments of the house. You may guffaw, but back when Thatcher and Regan ruled the roost, these aspects were viewed as a luxury commodity.

The Sprint left all rivals floundering in its wake. Competitors took years to offer the same level of equipment without charging the earth. Setting a new trend for sporty, affordable mid-range saloons, the Triumph’s popularity never wavered.

Sadly, like all British Leyland products, terminal rust dispatched the majority of all 22,941 models built off to the great scrapyard in the sky. A scarce few remain, and therefore command top dollar, but if you find a good one then you’re in for a decadently British experience.

That’s why we sat bolt upright upon finding this example in our classifieds. It’s been fully restored and is currently located in Portugal. She’s an incredibly late example from 1980 and has been fully restored, having enjoyed the company of only three previous owners.

In fact, this car still preserves all the original factory panels and welding points – something very few of the remaining examples can boast.

Get a closer look at this immaculate example with the AutoClassics classified advert.

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