Triumph Dolomite

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Triumph Dolomite

1972 - 1980
United Kingdom
4 cyl. OHC
68 kW at 5200rpm
4 spd. (O/Drive 3-4th)
Top Speed:
118 mph
Number Built:
1 star
Triumph Dolomite
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1


Designed as the successor for the upmarket variants of the front-wheel drive designs, and also for the 6-cylinder Triumph Vitesse, a sporting relative of the Herald, the Triumph Dolomite was presented at the London Motor Show in October 1971. However due to a number of strikes and other industrial upsets, the car was not reported to be in full production until October 1972.

The name "Dolomite" had been used by Triumph for a range of models prior to the Second World War and this name was revived for the new car. The car used the longer bodyshell of the front wheel drive Triumph 1500, but with the majority of the running gear carried over from the rear-wheel drive Triumph Toledo. Initially, the only version available used the new slant-four 1854 cc engine, which mated an alloy OHC head to an iron block, providing 91 bhp (68 kW) which offered sprightly performance.

This was a version of the engine that the company was already providing to Saab for use in their 99 model. The car was aimed at the then-new compact performance-luxury sector, vying for sales against cars such as the BMW 2002 and Ford Cortina GXL, and was offered with a high level of standard equipment, including twin headlamps, a clock, full instrumentation, luxury seats and carpets, a heated rear window, and a cigar lighter.

Styling was similar to the Triumph 1500, with some updates such as a black painted rear panel, Vinyl D-posts, and new wheel trims. The car was capable of 100 mph (160 km/h), with 60 mph (97 km/h) coming up in just over 11 seconds. An overdrive gearbox was soon made optional, offering relaxed motorway cruising and improved fuel economy, and there was also an optional automatic transmission.

The Dolomite in Australia

When it was released the Dolomite was warmly received in Britain – but less so in Australia. It was not a revolutionary car, rather being very conventional, but it did offer a pleasant combination of adequate performance, good finish, reasonable accommodation and excellent handling. At launch the Dolomite retailed in Australia for $6480 – which for the basic model put the car in the lower end of the luxury market. It was obvious that Leyland wanted to offer the Australia car buyer a quality, well-finished light/medium touring car which would offer strong competition to those in that lower end luxury field of the time, these cars including the Fiat 132, BMW 2002, Peugeot 504, Volvo 244DL and the Alfetta.

The problem was, the Triumph marque did not have all that much of a reputation in Australia. We are not saying they had a bad reputation – rather almost no reputation at all. The only Triumphs seen on the roads, excluding of course the highly collectable veteran models, were the 2000/2500 series. The little Triumphs Dolomite and Dolomite Sprint were truly ' chips off the old block . They were well-finished and offered traditional Triumph prestige, handling and comfort. It was not perfect, but it was pleasant enough for all the usual motoring requirements and although it didn’t have the performance of the Sprint version, it offered excellent handling and braking and quite impressive engine performance - without the disadvantage of noise and discomfort.

Behind the Wheel

As a vehicle package the Dolomite was almost ideal. The four doors opened wide and the cloth-covered seats offered ample accommodation for four adults. The boot was not all that deep, but it was deep enough to accept a reasonable amount of luggage. It could be best described as a luxury family car. The body was originally born from the Triumph Toledo/1500TC model - inner skins and floorpan were identical, but there was been some exterior sheet metal changes to give a refined more modern look. Triumph were always good at creating a functional interior and control layout. Australian Design Rules insisted on a clear view of all instruments (provided in the genuine wood dash), so you had a neat, leather-bound, steering wheel which felt good and adjusted in-and-out as well as up-and-down. There were also the familiar Triumph column-mounted switches.

The Dolomite sold as a four-seater, although you could fit five in legally but not comfortably. There was more leg room than equivalent-sized bodies, but if there were two tall people up front there was not an abundance of room in the rear. History records the Triumph Dolomite as being a 'gap-filler', owing to the fact that Triumph (back in 1971) offered a base-line 1300 (front-drive) model and the next car up the scale was the 2000/2500 range. The Dolomite was conceived as a 'sporty-but-civilised' light/medium car and inherited the Triumph-designed SAAB sohc four-cylinder engine. Originally capacity was 1709cc, but Triumph engineers bored it out to 1854cc and hung a pair of Stromberg 150CDSEV carbs on the lusty four to give an output of 68 kW at 5200rpm. With an engine which began life in 1967, developed and tweaked to produce reliable, economical power the Dolomite (engine-wise) came to Australia with an exceptionally well-tried unit.

The engine was slanted over at 45 degrees and remarkably (for a British manufacturer) it was a sealed unit and, on paper at least, looked well able to handle Australian summers. As the original intention of the designers was to produce a sporty saloon car the choice of transmission, from the Triumph parts bin, was fairly limited. Eventually the engineers settled on the Triumph GT6 close-ratio box - which featured fairly high indirect ratios. The final drive ratio was lowered somewhat, to 3.64 to one and this gave acceptable acceleration times. The gearing gave (theoretically) gear maximums of 80, 100 and 155km/h respectively in first, second and third.

Dolomite suspension was a clear example of the high degree of rationalisation which took place through the Triumph small car range. The Dolomite used a basically identical suspension to the Toledo and 1500TC, except for re-rating of the front springs to allow for the additional weight of the bigger engine. Up front was a coil and double wishbone setup with the telescopic shock absorber acting on the upper link in McPherson strut-style. There was an anti-roll bar, and steering was by rack and pinion. The front suspension was a direct carryover from the Toledo, but nonetheless it worked well, giving adequate spring travel and positive response in the steering department. Feedback through the steering wheel was great and in fact the car was beautifully set up for quick driving.

At the rear the live rear axle was located by two trailing and two semi-trailing arms, coil springs and telescopic dampers. The axle location was excellent and it was only on badly made roads which gave any trouble. The ride comfort, for a relatively short-wheelbase car, was excellent and there were few shortcomings. Pitch was noticeably absent and suspension noise was not a problem. Although the ride was relatively firm it was no deterrent as most buyers were making their purchasing decision based on the cars sporty handling and performance. In this regard the Dolomite was, at this time, unique on the Australian market.

The Dolomite used 22.2cm discs up front and 20.3 drums on the rear with power assistance – and these provided impressive stopping power with no fade, nor lockup. Pedal pressures were progressive and light with good progressive feedback. Around town the Dolomite required only moderate pressure for standard braking applications. On the road the Dolomite was fun to drive, being totally predictable at all times. There was very little roll when cornering hard. At the limit there was the chance the inside rear wheel would lift off, but up until that point the handling was extremely neutral. The steering was brilliantly responsive.
This is what the successful compromise is all about.

Fuel consumption was very good too, it returning between 27 and 34 miles per gallon, and the UK Autocar magazine recorded figures of over 40mpg. The Dolomite was fitted with a 57 litre tank – which was perfect for Australia where it would have provided a 600km range.
Triumph Dolomite

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Also see:

Triumph Dolomite Sprint Swindle
Triumph Dolomite Sprint Review (USA Edition)
Lost Marques: Triumph
Triumph Car Brochures
Triumph Car Commercials
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