Triumph Dolomite Introduction
Although the original Triumph Dolomites were produced in the 1930s, there was really no connection between old and new varieties. It was only their name that was transferred to the multi-faceted saloons of the 1970s. In character, though, the two generations were similar - for both breeds of Dolomite were better-trimmed and better-equipped than other family cars of the period. Although the first of the modern Dolomites - the Dolomite 1850 - was not introduced until 1972, it was itself a lineal development of an earlier front-wheeldrive Triumph first seen in 1965.
Confused? So were many contemporary Triumph enthusiasts, at the time. This, therefore, might be a complicated story, but to make the entire Dolomite range more understandable (and to embrace some transitional machines) we need to spell out how it evolved. After this, we hope you will realize the challenge we have had in providing parts stock for all these cars.
Back in 1965, Triumph introduced the Michelotti-styled 1300 saloon, a fourdoor car with an in-line 1,296cc Herald-type engine and special front-wheel-drive gearbox, which rode on a 96.6 inch wheelbase. In some ways the style was like that of the larger 2000 saloon. A more powerful 1300TC (TC = Twin Carb, not twincam) was soon added to that range. This car, like all its descendants which would follow, was assembled at Canley, Coventry.
In 1970 the original car was up-graded with a 1,493cc engine to become the 1500, this being the first car in this family to have the revised interior and fourheadlamp nose which became styling ‘signatures’ of the Dolomite family which would follow. Although the main underpan/platform and engineering had not been changed, the latest car was seven inches longer, overall.
Rear-Wheel-Drive With A New Platform
At that point Triumph engineers thoroughly reworked the body shell with a different floorpan/platform so that rear wheel drive, a conventional gearbox/prop shaft and a live rear axle layout could be all be accomodated within the same wheelbase. That wasn’t the only change – they also developed a two-door version of the shell, and a short-tail variety. By any standards this was a very versatile range, and all manner of derivatives were possible.
The first Triumph to use this rear-drive layout was badged as the Toledo 1300 of 1970, which combined the 1300’s engine with two-doors and the abbreviated tail, for space reasons this meaning that the under-boot mounted fuel tank had to be a lot smaller than that of the other models. It was easy to ‘spot’ this car for it had rectangular headlamps and very little decoration. Complications then set in, for the Toledo soon picked up a 1,493cc engine for some export markets, and a four-door version followed.
The Toledo is important to this story, not only because it was the first of the rear-wheel-drive variety, but because it had a very familiar 1,296cc engine and allsynchromesh four-speed gearbox, it was the direct ancestor of the Dolomite 1300. Three years later (we are taking this development slightly out of turn, to make the overall story simpler), the front-wheel-drive 1500 was dropped in favour of the rear-wheel-drive 1500TC. Like its predecessor, this was a four-headlamp ‘long-tail’ car.
Visually, in fact, there was almost no way of telling the difference between the two cars as they shared the same exterior styling. Under the skin, however, the 64bhp/1,493cc engine drove through the same gearbox as the Toledo: this engine would be uprated to 71bhp in 1975. Called the 1500TC, it was the direct ancestor of what became the Dolomite 1500.
The first Dolomite-badged car, the Dolomite 1850, appeared in January 1972 (its launch having being delayed by serious industrial disputes within British Leyland). Although there was a new engine, this car was actually closely related to the 1500TC and to the Toledo.
The 1850, therefore, was built around the four-headlamp/long-tail version of the rear-drive platform, still running on its trade-mark 96.6in. wheelbase, and still obviously evolved from the original Michelotti style. This, though, was the first Triumph car to use the new-generation single-overhead camshaft engine which was being developed for use in other Triumphs, including the TR7 sports car (in 2 litre form). This was an engine which Triumph had already been supplying to Saab (of Sweden) since 1968, first in 1,709cc form, and later as an 1,854cc unit. The cylinder head layout and other design features were also shared with the Stag V8 engine.
For the Dolomite this engine was to be used in 91bhp/1,854cc form, complete with twin SU carburettors, which was enough to guarantee a top speed of more than 100mph. Matched by the same all-synchromesh four-speed gearbox as cars like the Toledo 1500 and the (later) 1500TC, a Laycock overdrive was also optional, as was a three-speed Borg Warner automatic.
The 1850 also had a sumptuously-equipped interior, with a new style of wooden facia, a full display of instruments, and an alloy-spoked steering wheel, plus squashily-comfortable seats and high quality trim and carpets. It looked like, and felt, a real driver’s car, a compact sports saloon. When it was new, in 1972, the Dolomite 1850 cost £1,399, had a top speed of at least 100mph, and could sprint to 60mph in less than 12 seconds. It was no wonder that Autocar’s road testers called it ‘Very desirable’.
The most excitingly-specified Dolomite of all, however, was yet to come. In the summer of 1973, Triumph unveiled the Dolomite Sprint, which was not only a better, faster and more capable car than the 1850, which continued, but it was the first series-production British car to use a 16-valve cylinder head. 16-valve heads had appeared in other makes of car, but at the time they were limitedproduction’racers’ - this, on the other hand, was a well-developed, flexible and refined series production machine.
This powerful 1,998cc engine was matched to the brawny Triumph Stag-style gearbox, optional overdrive or automatic transmission, and a larger (TR6-type) final drive, all of which made it very robust machine with reliability to match its performance.
Like the 1850, the Sprint was only sold as a four-door saloon. Visually, the only way to pick the Sprint from the 1850 was that the Sprint had a unique type of smart cast alloy road wheels and a vinyl roof covering. That, of course, and the way that it inevitably drew away from almost every other car on the road, for the 16-valve/single- cam 1,998cc engine produced 127bhp, which was good for a top speed of at least 115mph, and 0-60mph acceleration in less than nine seconds. Because 175/70-HR-13in. tyres on 5.5in. rims were standard, and the suspension was stiffer than that of the 1850, the Sprint handled like a true sports saloon, and since it was even better equipped and furnished than the 1850, originally costing only £1,740 it always sold very well.
By the end of 1973, therefore. Triumph had an integrated range of compact rear- drive cars in its range, though these had a rather confusing choice of titles - Toledo, 1500TC, Dolomite 1850, and Dolomite Sprint. They were offered in a wide range of prices and performance - to contrast, a Toledo was only good for about 83mph, but was good for perhaps 35mpg, while the Sprint would do 115mph, but only 23mpg, which proved, as ever, that in motor car engineering you could not get anything for nothing.
Rationalisation From 1976
Finally, in March 1976, Triumph rationalised this range of four cars, turning it into five models, making few mechanical changes, but using the Dolomite name throughout. This, together with the original 1976 prices, is how the new basically compared with the old:
|Dolomite 1300 (£2,070)
||a renamed/improved Toledo 1300 four-door
|Dolomite 1500 (£2,205)
||an improved 1300 with Dolomite 1500 running gear
|Dolomite 1500HL (£2,441)
||a premium-specification Dolomite 1500
|Dolomite 1850HL (£2,723)
||an improved Dolomite 1850
|Dolomite Spring (£3,283)
There was more, much more, to this reshuffle than a choice of homogenuous names, and for the usual product-planning reasons, standardisation did not go too far! All cars, however, were now to be equipped with laminated windscreen glass, seat headrests and improved steering column switchgear.
The Dolomite 1300 kept its rectangular headlamp Toledo-type nose, but inherited the longer tail of the other types, while it was also equipped with Dolomite 1850-style suspension, wider wheels, a larger (12.5 Imp. galls) fuel tank, a new facia, better carpets and an electrically-heated rear window. As the entrylevel car to this range, it had vinyl upholstery, and plain glass in the windows. In some ways, therefore, it carried more improvements than any of the other types.
The Dolomite 1500 was a new half-and-half model, for it shared the same rectangular-headlamp nose as the Dolomite 1300, and also got Dolomite 1850-type suspension, but had the larger 71bhp/1,493cc engine (which was based on that of the current Spitfire), overdrive as optional equipment, brushed nylon cord upholstery, all to a rather simpler equipment standard than the 1500HL.
The Dolomite 1500HL model (HL = High Line....), was really a direct replacement for the 1500TC, with the same four-headlamp nose/long-tail body and the 71bhp/1,493cc engine. However, it also inherited the completely-equipped Dolomite 1850-style facia and full array of instruments, plus the same car’s oddments tray which surrounded the gearlever. Overdrive and automatic transmission were both optional extras.
The latest Dolomite 1850HL was an improved version of the original 1850, still with its 91bhp ‘slant four’ overhead-camshaft engine, still with the same excellent layout of instruments, controls and seating (all shared with the 1500HL), with the same type of road wheels, but from this point also with Sundym window glass.
The Dolomite Sprint continued almost unchanged as the flag ship of the range, most powerful, fastest and heaviest of all types. As before, tinted glass was standard. Once established, this range of five Dolomites changed little in the next four years though (because of the inflationary atmosphere of the period) prices rose rapidly. because there were so few visual changes, the Dolomites gradually slipped out of fashion, sales gradually tailed away, and the last cars of all were built at Canley in the autumn of 1980.
These, along with the Spitfire 1500s, were the last Triumphs of all to be built at the historic site in the city.
Dolomite Family Production Figures: 1965-1980
The following is a complete set of figures for all rear-wheel-drive and frontwheel-drive saloons produced in this model family. Our thanks, as ever, to BMIHT for their help:
||When built ?