Triumph Herald Vitesse
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2
WHEN the Leyland Group took over Standard-Triumph in 1962 the revolutionary Herald
was in full production, as was the six-cylinder Vanguard. We have read some old press clippings and a common theme were those that said what a delightful car could be made by putting a Vanguard six into the 'all-independent (and separate) Herald chassis' - and we bet few ever thought it would actually happen.
But Leyland were very conscious of the fact that they could not compete with the rest of the English "Big Five" on a production count, so they set out to produce interesting cars with a high standard of finish and equipment for a reasonable price tag.
Chief designer Harry Webster was put to work on the six-cylinder small-car project - and the Vitesse was the outcome. The Vitesse had the same compact and convenient dimensions as the Herald, but it had the power and smoothness of a 70 b.h.p. (gross), twin-carburettor engine.
Although today we would welcome the power advantage of a 2 litre engine, there were those that, with some legitimacy, thought the Vitesse would have been an even better car if the cubic capacity reduction to 1.6 litres (from the Vanguard's 2 litres) had been achieved by producing a special short-stroke crank so that an oversquare bore/stroke ratio would have been available, instead of the reduction in cylinder bore dimensions to produce a long-stroke unit.
They were probably right, but economics got in the way, and the small-bore principle obviously saved a lot of money. The Triumph Vitesse is a natural for a comparison story with the 1200 Herald, as the Vitesse was really a high-performance luxury version of the latter. We dont have Australian pricing, but in the UK the two models (using standard two-door saloons as comparisons) cost £735 and £579 respectively, including the 25 percent U.K. purchase tax.
Dimensionally both models were identical. Therein lay much of the Vitesse's charm, as it was really a Gran Turismo car capable of cruising all day at a quiet 80-85 m.p.h. Yet it possessed the parkability (we are not sure if that is actually a word, but we hope you get our drift) and garaging convenience of the Herald.
The Herald-Vitesse family shared the following dimensions: Wheelbase, 7ft. 7½
in.; length, 12ft. 9in.; width, 5ft.; height, 4ft. 4in. (Herald Convertible, 4ft. 3½
in.; Vitesse Convertible, 4ft. 4½
in.). Ground clearance, 6½
in.; track front and rear, 4ft. (Vitesse, 4ft. 1in.). The Vitesse was about 1cwt. heavier than the Herald. The Herald 1200 developed 43 (gross) b.h.p. to the Vitesse's 70 (gross), although there was a Herald on sale in the U.K. with a 51 b.h.p. (gross) engine.
Both the sedan and convertible tipped the scales at 17cwt. (dry), so there was little to difference in the performance. We do have some figures from various road tests conducted when the Vitesse was launched, but the figures are so close it is not worth noting. The convertible, with top erected, presented just a little less frontal area and a better shape to the air, but the performance advantage this gave could be measured in fractions. The Vitesse (and of course, the Herald equivalent) had the easiest-to-erect hood then available. It was possible to sIt alone in the car and erect the top complete in less than a minute. The same applied when furling, except that the time was cut to about 40 seconds.
With 70 b.h.p. in a car originally designed for around 50, and with only a 1cwt. weight penalty, the performance over the 4 pot Herald was marked. The Vitesse would run strongly up to 90 m.p.h., although the large speedometer
had some very optimistic innards and would sweep impressively round to 105. Third gear was useful with a genuine maximum of 75 m.p.h., although some road testers claimed that at that speed, the speedo
was showing 90 - which seems inaccurate in the extreme.
But the best part of the extra power given to the Vitesse was the way it went about it, being able to cruise with an uncannily low noise level at 80-85, and the way it would slide smoothly through town in top gear at anything down to 10 m.p.h. On the road the Vitesse handled much like the Herald, except for a little more understeer due to the larger engine and greater weight over the front wheels. For a simple swing-axle layout the rear independent suspension
was good, but its limited movement showed up if the car was driven fast over rough roads.
At slow speeds over rutted surfaces the ride was good, and able to soak up the bumps. It was only when you traveled fast over the rough stuff that the suspension
system showed its age. But on the highway long-distance travel in the Vitesse was a joy. Owners commented that they could enjoy long runs with little fatigue (although some say it would have been even better with an improved driving position), the car being light to handle and extremely responsive, as well as quiet.
Its top gear 40-60 m.p.h. in 9.5sec. gives some idea of the capabilities of the small six, and this was a feature that relieved the driver, as well as passengers of fatigue. Better still the Vitesse was a driver's car, too. With 70 b.h.p., front disc brakes, Lucas "quad" headlights (these gave very good performance for the time), remote gear lever
, rack-and-pinion steering
, and a 7ft. 7iin. wheelbase, the Vitesse gave driver enjoyment in spades.
Consumption figures averaged out from road tests conducted during the 1960's shows that, on highway conditions, the Vitessewas good for around 23 m.p.g. but this could be stretched to around 29-30 m.p.g. if you were gentle. The engine was fitted with twin Solex semi-downdraught carburettors which were regarded well at the time, particularly as they had no flat-spots. Testers noted that the engine would start easily, warmed-up quickly and needed only the minimum of indirect running. Possibly because of its relatively small bore size, the engine needed considerable r.p.m. to get on with the job, so spirited driving was best achieved with the tacho
at around 3500 r.p.m.
The sweet-running of the six-cylinder engine was enhanced by the quiet exhaust
and the minimum of road noise being transmitted through the rigid and sturdy backbone chassis frame. Pitching was practically non-existent, and braking with the nine-inch front discs and eight-inch rear drums was smooth, progressive, Although non-servo, a sharp prod on the pedal would supply retardation to the tune of .9g from practically any speed under 60 m.p.h. (From 30 m.p.h, in neutral the figure was 33.5ft.). Under all fast main-road conditions there was no sign of fade.
The gearbox had a delightful short lever - it did not, however, provide 'synchromesh' on low gear, although the Vitesse would start in its synchromesh
second gear on most occasions. The change was smooth and quick, but like the Herald, the indirects were anything but inaudible. The axle ratio was the same as the Herald (4.11:1), but with its slightly larger section tyres
(5.60 by 13 to 5.20 by 13) it had a top gear per 1000 r.p.m. speed of 16.4 m.p.h. Thus at 60 m.p.h, in top gear the Vitesse six was turning over at a modest 4000 r.p.m. and an over-drive model was available for (UK pricing) £51 extra. This was fitted in conjunction with the standard axle ratio, so we believe even quieter and more economical cruising may have been possible.
72 Available Driving Positions
The interior of the Vitesse possessed a finish and appointment far out of its price bracket. The thick carpets, polished walnut veneer - facia and door cappings, and well-trimmed seats gave an air of opulence as well as comfort. In spite of the "72 available driving positions" made possible by the to-and-fro slides and the alterations to rake supplied by revolving rubber blocks on the underside of the seat frames, taller drivers we have spoken with have told us that it is difficult to get far enough back from the pedals.
The other disappointment was the adjustable (or collapsible) steering
column. On the earlier Heralds the wheel could be slid down quite close to the dash and a fantastically comfortable and controllable driving position could be attained. On the Vitesse the column was still adjustable, but it certainly didn't have anything like the movement of the earlier Heralds.
There was not much room in the back, and this was probably the reason the front seats didn't slide back far enough to accommodate the long-legged. If you were looking for a family car the Vitesse was not for you, but if you wanted a car with character, a little extra class and above-average speed and flexibility, then the Vitesse filled the bill admirably. On the credit side the PVC seats were deep, well-padded and comfortable. As with the Herald the dash locker, gearbox tray, and door pockets provided plenty of space for bits and pieces and the road view was good, the razor-edging of the guards serving as an excellent sight for traffic judgment.
Even for the 1960's the instrumentation was sparse, the single large-dialled instrument being a 110 m.p.h. speedometer
with inbuilt fuel gauge and warning lights for ignition, headlamp beam, and oil pressure. One good point about the speedo
, apart from its having a round black face with white numerals, was its k.p.h. markings as well as m.p.h. - a blessing for enthusiasts on the continent, and later very helpful when Australia switched to the metric measurement. On the down side, the turn indicator warning light was crudely countersunk in the beautifully polished facia.
Like the Herald, the Vitesse switch gear was excellent. It had the turn indicator stalk on the right-hand side of the steering
column, and the left stalk controls side/rail, dip and headlamps by ever-upward movement once the main switch had been tripped on the facia. The headlights could be flashed in daytime by pulling the stalk towards you. The horns were good and penetrating. Yet another comparison with the Herald reveals that there were no grease nipples to worry about, and oil changes were every 3000 miles.
The boot was not huge, but it had a good shape which would accept a great deal of luggage, and the fuel tank within had a reserve fuel tap. Most road testers commented that the heater wasn't a very good performer - although we cannot confirm or deny this. This aside, the attractive Vitesse came standard with bumper over-riders, wheel trims and visors. Combine these with the six-cylinder engine, disc brakes, four headlights, twin carburettors, thick carpets, and polished walnut, and the Vitesse offered good value for the extra cost over the Herald.
The Vitesse 6 convertible was exported to the United States as the left-hand drive Triumph Sports 6, from 1962–1964, and was marketed as a "limited edition car", but by the time Leyland had exported it and in trying to recoup the costs of switching to left hand drive, the price became a problem and in the end only 679 were sold in the U.S. before it was withdrawn. The Sports 6 was perhaps better suited to American highways than was the Herald, but it faced stiff price competition from cars such as Ford's new Mustang. The Vitesse Saloon was not officially imported to the U.S., although a few do come up as P.E.D. (Personal Export Delivery), cars usually imported by American service personnel. Original U.S. price (POE East Coast) was $2499 for the Sports 6 Convertible which were usually delivered in White, Signal Red or Black.
In 1966 Triumph upgraded the engine to 1998 cc, in line with the new Triumph GT6 coupé, and relaunched the car as the Vitesse 2-Litre. Power was increased to 95 bhp (71 kW), endowing the new car with a 0–60 mph time of around 13 s. (The 2-Litre was advertised by Triumph as "The Two Seater Beater"), The performance increase was welcome, but it highlighted the deficiencies of the rear suspension
, also noted on the new GT6 and the Spitfire. There were detail modifications for the 2-litre, including a stronger gearbox and uprated brakes, and an oblong 'VITESSE' badge on the satin silver anodised aluminium-alloy cowling above the reversing light.
Vitesse Mark 2
The Vitesse Mark 2 was launched in 1968 as the final update to the Vitesse range. Essentially intended to be Triumph's answer to growing criticism of the rear suspension
, the Mark 2 was fitted with a completely redesigned layout using Rotoflex rear couplings. This system, also shared with the new GT6 MKII, (GT6+ in the U.S. market), tamed the wayward handling
for good and endowed the Vitesse with firm, progressive roadholding. There were other improvements: the engine was tweaked once more to provide 104 bhp (78 kW), cutting the 0–60 time to just over 11 s and providing a top speed easily in excess of 100 mph (160 km/h).
The exterior of the Vitesse Mark 2 featured a new grille, Rostyle wheeltrims and silver painted steel rear panel, (described by Triumph as 'ceramic'), and the interior was upgraded once more in order to share parts with the new Herald 13/60. A new colour range was offered for the Mark 2 models. The aluminium cowling above the reversing light remained, but no longer had a chromed 'VITESSE' badge on it. The separate chromed mezak TRIUMPH letters on the bonnet and the boot lid were also deleted.
This was the ultimate Vitesse, a saloon or convertible with performance easily superior to an MGB or Sunbeam
Alpine sports car but with four proper seats and a large boot. The Vitesse sold well until its withdrawal in July 1971, a year before the new Triumph Dolomite saloon entered the performance luxury sector for Triumph, and two years before the Dolomite Sprint variant added another high-performance sports saloon to the range. Although the Vitesse was an older model, it proved to be more reliable than its replacement.
- Vitesse 6 (1600): May 1962 - September 1966; 31,261 saloon: 22,814 convertible: 8,447, includes 679 Sports 6 (USA)
- Vitesse 2-Litre: September 1966 - September 1968; 10,830 saloon: 7,328 convertible: 3,502
- Vitesse Mark 2: July 1968 - July 1971; 9,121 saloon: 5,649 convertible: 3,472