New Owner (or want to be)?

Congratulations on considering a Spitfire or GT6. They not only look great but are fun to drive!

I must first say you will be buying a hobby not a car. These cars are old and being built on even older technologies and designs, they are not as reliable as a modern car. These cars require maintenance that modern cars have engineered out. That been said, it will break down so be prepared.

But the good thing is they are usually very easy to fix and/or work on. And on most any street corner there is an “old guy” that not only had a Triumph but knows exactly what is wrong. And there are many companies that sell parts. The only parts that are difficult to get are some body panels on very early cars, some emissions parts and some chrome trim. But there are also many companies out there that sell “used” parts.

When buying one of these cars, keep in mind that most everything is easily fixed EXCEPT body work. Rust can often make an otherwise decent car an expensive pile of **** or even a deathtrap. When looking at the car be sure that major rust hasn’t been quickly covered up and painted over. It is a good idea to take a refrigerator magnet and run it around areas of the body like the fenders behind the wheels, under the doors and the nose. If the magnet doesn’t stick there is probably “Bondo” filling. This is not always make or breat but at least you are aware of previous repairs and discuss them with the owner. Go to our checklist page and print out the list to take with you. It will help you be more objective about the car and not just see it as a cool new toy.

What is it worth? Good question. A lot depends on the current condition of the car, how much is still original, the age of the car, famous previous owner, etc. Occasionally you will find a person that wants to get rid of someone else’s car (ex-husband, death in the family, etc.). These cars are usually a steal as the seller has no idea of the value and seldom cares. These finds are rare and are the exception. The more normal sale will not be as cheap as these. The value of these cars is a tricky thing. As a general rule, the older and more original, the more valuable. (If you change anything with a non-original item i.e. replacing a Zenith Carb with a Weber, keep the item. You can always put it back on later.) A guess based on prices I have seen for Spitfires is: Rust bucket/Parts cars: free-$800, Fun driver needing things: $1000-$3000, A restored or great original: $3000-5000, perfect cars: $5000 and up. Remember, it is almost always cheaper to buy a pretty good car with minor problems than to buy a piece of **** and fix it up. This been said, buy the best you can afford, and know what needs attention up front.

When you get the car it is a good idea to give the car a complete going over. Replace all fluids (oil, brake fluid, diff., coolant). Oil/grease the hinges, u-joints, trunnions, etc. Give it a full tune up (new plugs, ignition wires, dist. cap, points, check timing, etc.). Change all filters, hoses, belts and pads. Having everything that wears out replaced will ensure your car getting off on the right foot. This will cost around $150 for you to do or a couple of hundred for someone else to do it. You might consider rebuilding the carb(s) also. It can make a huge difference!

If the car has been sitting for a while, the hydraulic systems of the brakes and clutch will probably have problems. Repairs are relatively straightforward but MUST be fixed. Safety is paramount.

I don’t want to scare you with all the talk of bad reliability but this car is old…the newest Spifires are now more than 25 years old, the early ones 45ish. Keep that in mind. There is no reason, with a little work, the car couldn’t be a daily driver.

The basic things you will need:

1. A basic set of tools; a non-metric socket set, a set of screwdrivers in various sizes, Vise Grips, etc. and occasionally a hammer (you will understand soon). Also, Go-Jo hand cleaner works miracles! Other tools can be added as you go along.

2. A Workshop Manual. There is a decent “beginners” manual made by Haynes. Books for has them as cheap as I have seen online.

3. A good attitude and good friends. Until the car gets most everything fixed, there will be times of frustration. You may need friends, preferably ones that own British cars, to keep your outlook positive. You may also have to have a friend come and tow you home. Don’t forget the cell phone.

A few other things I have learned that are extremely helpful:

1. Join a local British Car club. There will be many with a similar love of these cars and endless knowledge base of info that can’t be found in the manuals. They will also recommend local mechanics, parts stores, etc. or even have cars or parts for sale. Members can even be on your “help list” if you are ever stranded. Occasionally clubs will host or visit car shows. You’ll get to see perfect examples of your car.

2. Get Help Online. There are numerous resources available one the web. Visit the links on our links page.

3. Order parts catalogs. Not only do these catalogs give you an idea about the price of parts, it will contain illustrations of how things are put together. And most are FREE.

4. Get a “parts car”. This might not be practical for everybody but it is a great time and money saver. I purchased a rusted out but very original car for $200 and have used thousands of parts from it. If I’d bought the parts new, or even used, they would have far exceeded the $200 price tag. And I often use the car as a 3-D manual. If I don’t understand an illustration in the workshop manual, I go to the parts car and see how the part should be fitted.

5. Learn some of the Terminology. When discussing these cars, enthusiasts like to use the British terms. A quick set of necessary ones are: Bonnet: the engine cover (hood), Hood: the convertible top, Boot: the trunk. For a complete list, visit our terms page.

A few other things I have learned the hard way:

1. You now own a hobby, not a car. These cars are fun but will require much more maintenance than a modern car. Be mentally prepared. If you are not willing to work on it (or can’t afford for someone else to do it for you), get a Miata.

2. Never throw anything away. A soon as you do you will need it. Even replacing a part with a new one it helps to have the old one if the part comes partially assembled or even worse, does not work. I have gone so far as to use old carpet scraps to fill in an area where the new carpet set did not quite cover fully.

3. Get a can of GoJo hand cleaner. Magic stuff for cleaning your hands after working on your car. It will, with enough work, even clean grease from under your fingernails! Lets see soap do that!

4. Master cylinder repair kits rarely work. I have rebuilt 4 master cylinders and only one worked like it was supposed to.

5. Many electrical problems are due to dirty contacts. A good cleaning with sandpaper of contacts will often fix things. Large numbers of things not working (all tail lights, all dash lights, etc.)… clean the grounds, then suspect the contacts made by the fuse behind the fusebox.

The numbers on your car:

Commission number; The Commission number is your car’s VIN number and is the best way to tell your car’s age. It will be a long series of letters and numbers beginning with (most of the time) an F.

1. Commission number location. It is located on a metal plate riveted in different locations depending on the year of your car.
The Commission plate is most often located under the car’s bonnet (hood) on left side of the body photo and will look similar to this photo.
On later cars the plate was moved to the driver’s side door pillar. (photo)
There might also be a plate on the left side inside the windshield. (photo)
Of course your commission number will be on your title (but will probably be listed as a “VIN” number).

2. What the Commission number tells. In the 60’s and 70’s it was not uncommon for car dealers to list as car’s year on the title the date the wasSOLD not the year it was made. This causes much confusion for new owners. If a Spitfire came off the assembly line in Dec. 1970, arrived at the dealer the following May, sat on the lot then sold in January, the title might state that the car is a 1972 Spitfire. Scary but true. The Commission number will have to tell the real story.

This link will list Commission numbers and will give you an idea how to guess the approx. date your car was built. This link will explain why I say approx. date.

Right now the only way to get the exact date the car was made is to have a British Motor Industry Heritage Trust Certificate processed. A company in England still has most of the original factory records about many British car and will send you a copy for $50.

3. Other Numbers. There are other number sprinkled around your car.
The engine number is located on the distributor side at the back of the engine on a flat area between the head and block (see photo). This link will give info about engine numbers.
The body number plate is located below the commission number plate under the car’s hood on left side of the body (see photo)
The diff and frame also have numbers: (photos to come).

Don’t panic if the Commission number is not the same as the engine. The Commission number, body number, engine number, dif, frame, etc. will all be different…close but not the same. Only be concerned (if this concerns you) if there is a huge difference in the numbers. For instance if your Commission number is FH38050 and your engine number is FM150002E then the engine is not original to the car (engines are so easy to swap that owners often did…to fix worn out engines or wanting more power from a different year).

Final thoughts:

LBC’s (Little British Cars) are like potato chips, no one can have just one!

Good luck and happy motoring!