Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
Released in 1966, the Triumph GT6 quickly became known as the poor-mans E-Type. Featuring a lovely sleek fastback body, the GT6 may have looked a little like the Spitfire, where its origins obviously lay, but in fact all the major body panels were new. Fitting a six-cylinder engine necessitated the use of a longer bonnet with obvious “power bulge”, while the doors were provided with opening quarter light windows.
Tuned to develop 95bhp, the underpinning Spitfire mechanicals required beefing up to better accommodate the larger engine. A new radiator
was fitted further forward in the car, a stronger Vitesse sourced gearbox was fitted with optional overdrive
and, to better cope with the extra weight of a six-cylinder engine, the front springs were upgraded. The interior was not forgotten either, and featured a wooden dashboard housing a full complement of instruments.
With a top speed of around 106mph, and able to reach 60mph in just under 12 seconds, the GT6 had a slight edge over it’s main rival, the MGB GT. More importantly, however, was the fact the the GT6 did it so much smoother
effortlessly, particularly as the MG’s 4 pot engine had gained a reputation for being a little too harsh.
In fact only the GT6’s suspension
was to come under fire, the swing-axle system carried over from the Spitfire, which in turn had been carried over from the Herald was not to everybody’s liking – but then even the svelte Mercedes SL Pagoda’s of the time were copping some criticism for their swing-axle set-up.
While the Triumph engineers had revised and modified nearly every major component on the GT6, the swing axle system remained identical to that of the Herald, and now being forced to cope with the extra power and weight of the six-cylinder engine the car had a tendency to break away if the driver lifted off the power mid-corner. Most criticism emanated from the US, where it could be argued that the drivers were less inclined to appreciate the handling
nuances of a British sports car.
By 1968 the Triumph engineers had significantly re-engineered the swing-axle setup, and so the Mk2 was released (this model was known as the GT6+ in the US). The fitment of rotoflex couplings tamed the suspension
, and made the car a genuine MGB beater even in the hands of an average driver. US safety regulations also dictated that the Mk2 have the bumpers raised, which in turn necessitated a completely new front end. Side vents were added to the front wings and rear pillars, while under the bonnet the engine was upgraded to develop 104bhp via the fitment of a new cylinder head
, camshaft, and manifolds. The interior also came in for an upgrade, the new dash affording better ventilation.
The final major facelift for the GT6 came in 1970 – the Mk3. Significantly, the entire body-shell was revised to match the changes made to the Spitfire, which included a cut-off rear end, recessed door handles and a smoother front end. The mechanicals underwent only minor modification, although in 1973
, when the GT6 was nearing the end of it’s life, the rear suspension
was to undergo one final modification. Triumph engineers choose to fit a cheaper, but still as effective, 'swing-spring' layout. At the same time they added a brake servo, while the upholstery changed from vinyl to cloth. The options list remained comprehensive, but the attractive 'knock-on' wire wheels were no longer available.
The Mk3’s performance remained similar to the Mk2, affording a top speed of 117mph and a 0-60 time of 10.1 seconds; by comparison the MGB GT could only reach 105mph and would take around 13 seconds to reach 60mph. Despite the improvements brought about with the Mk2, along with the better drive-line and performance offered, it was never able to achieve the sales success of the MG. Perhaps it was because no convertible was available, but Triumph were busy pushing the TR6 for that section of the market. Whatever the case was then, the car can be judged today as a solid, capable and alluring vehicle that is highly prized by collectors. Next, we will take a more indepth look at the Mark III GT6.
Triumph GT6 Mark 3 – By The Seat Of Your Pants
The Triumph GT6 Mark 3 was ideal for the enthusiast who wanted to recline at full arm's length from a leather-bound wheel and drive with the seat of their parts. It was that sort of car - a taut, stubby little sportster that encouraged you to fling it around just for the sheer fun of it. A bit like the Mazda MX-5 of today. But there was a problem in the form of an oriental competitor … the Datsun 240Z was just as “chuckable” but added some sophistication to the mix and, better still, handled even more capably. The GT6, then, sure had its work cut out to lure you away from the Nissan dealership.
One of the problems with the GT6 was that it was really a hybrid. The Triumph engineers had seemingly simply dropped their 2000 cc sedan engine into a Spitfire chassis and covered it all with a solid top. That may be a bit harsh, and in reality by the time the GT6 arrived in Mark 3 trim, the car had been in production for five years and had undergone substantial change. The major problem of appalling handling was overcome with suspension changes introduced in the Mark 2 – the biggest improvement being the Herald-style, rear swing axles being dropped and a semi-trailing arm system introduced. With the original system in the Mark 1 the rear wheels tucked under, making the car one bf the world's worst desperate oversteers.
With the Mark 3 the major alterations were in styling. Higher bumpers were added to comply with American safety regulations. It joined its bigger brothers with the typical Triumph flat recessed rear panel bordered by stainless steel strips. To meet American safety standards it, too, was given higher bumpers and a slightly revised front end. Filling the power bulge on the long, drooping bonnet, which speared its way forward from the windscreen, was the same 1998 cc unit Triumph normally housed in the basic 2000 sedan. In the lighter, streamlined body of the GT6 it had the chance to really prove itself and did so in a way that made you think the car and engine had originally been designed as a team.
Triumph GT6 Performance
Performance, through the four-speed gearbox (with overdrive on third and fourth) was on a par with the an average sedan from the early 1970s, but not in the class of the Monaro, Charger or Falcon GT. However, the little six was happy to dawdle along at low revs around town or to fly up to its red-line maximum of 6000 rpm whenever needed. It was happy enough when asked to pull away from 20 mph in top gear and was remained reasonably refined when a heavy right foot took it over the three figure mark.
The gearbox, however, was a major disappointment. Although the four ratios were right for most tastes, the change itself was strange. Sometimes it would glide through the gears with silky smooth precision, other times it would baulk and refuses to go in. Many owners complained that it would constantly grate between first and second and occasionally offered the same resistance going into third. The gear-lever was mounted almost horizontal in the transmission tunnel exactly where the driver's left hand dropped from the wheel. Its movements were short and could be rapid if it wasn't for the slow synchromesh. The knob on top of the lever was large, and housed a small switch for thumb operation.
The optional overdrive was advisable in the GT6 if you intended to rack up a lot of country miles, and if we were looking for a classic GT6 today, the fitment of the overdrive unit would be up there on our wish list. On long flat Australian roads any opportunity to cut down the revs (in both third and top gears), reduce noise and offer better fuel economy should be taken. Cruising in the region of old scale miles per hour, with the needle nudging 90, the GT6 would make the job effortless in fourth overdrive - the tachometer showing only a moderate 4750 rpm. Driving through the suburbs, third overdrive was easier to use than direct top. These gears had very similar ratios (3rd o/d was 3.91 while fourth was 3.89) and third offered instant acceleration with just the flick of the gearstick mounted switch.
With the optional overdrive the final drive ratio was 3.89 for 21.14 mph per/1000 rpm while the standard diff ratio of 3.27 gave 20.1. The only fault anyone found with the overdrive was that, sometimes, there was a delay in engaging. It took a couple of seconds to operate after switching. In the middle speeds, changing into overdrive produced a severe jolt - the only way to get rid of this was to time the change and blip the clutch at the right time. This could be difficult with the delay in engaging the overdrive. Under acceleration the overdrive disengaged instantly at the flick of the switch. The clutch pedal was very light with a medium travel of about five inches. The clutch itself was prone to slipping under hard acceleration – frustrating as, for a really good start, the high ratio first gear made it necessary to rev it to about 5000 rpm before releasing the clutch and getting underway. At lower revs the GT6 tended to get bogged down completely for a precious fraction of a second before heading down the strip.
As previously mentioned, it was after the suspension specialists got to work on the Mark 1 that the GT6's handling improved considerably but it was, even by the standards of the early 1970s, not up to the standards expected from such a sporting car. With its trailing arm rear suspension, the car understeered strongly when thrown into a bend under power. This would make the driver haul on more and more lock in a most un-sports car-like manner. But let off the power or worse still, brake in a corner and the handling of the Mark 3 changed to severe oversteer. To correct this the driver had to be very fast in pouring on opposite lock. With over four turns of the wheel from lock to lock, this was quite a feat.
The reality was that the everyday cornering capability of the GT6 was no better than that of many quick sedans – despite its diminutive size and weight. Nevertheless, a good driver could learn to use the oversteer and apply it to good use. But learning it a twitchy business. The car had a firm ride - fine for highway cruising, but choppy in the rough. Typically sportscar hard, the suspension allowed the car to handle only slightly rugged surfaces with the tail doing skipping sideways around the bitumen.
The GT6 Around Town
Around town the GT6 was a cinch to park - its steering lock was so good the front wheels almost turned at right angles, much the same as the Triumph Herald. On full lock the engine was really straining to push the car forward, almost pushing the wheels sideways. This - combined with light steering at slow speeds - made it a joy to park in spaces previously used exclusively by Minis. The brakes were on the soft side but were capable of pulling the car up well in a straight line when really pressed. Under hard braking it was possible to have each wheel lock-up independently – but importantly this rather unnerving characteristic wouldn't put the GT6 off line. The handbrake is poor. Unless the driver exerted their full might to pull the high, centre-mounted lever up it was incapable of holding the car on any sort of incline.
The GT6 At Highway Speeds
One of the main criticisms from car reviewers of the time was the wind noise and buffeting that entered the GT6 cabin. At high speed the pleasant engine noise disappeared and was taken over by howling wind, drumming into both the driver and passenger's ears. The main cause of the noise was, apparently, the bad fitting around the tops of the rimless glass in the doors and the rain guttering running along the top of the windscreen. The usual method of rectifying this, by opening the windows slightly, would frustratingly make no difference. These poor design elements also allowed water egress into the cabin, particularly around the top of the windows, through the surrounds of the back window and from under the dashboard.
For the Australian climate the GT6 ventilation was hopeless. It might have been fine in more temperate England but Aussie owners were soon to discover that the eye level vents in the dash would let in only minimal air supplies while those under the dash hardly worked at all. The only way to get even slightly cooled in the hot black interior was to open all the windows, including the rear quarter vents. The GT6 was fitted with a heated rear window as standard equipment.
The little bucket seats were comfortable, with terrific lateral support. They were adjustable in both rake and fore and aft movement and catered for almost everyone, however they were also very close to the doors thus significantly reducing the already little shoulder room.
The only problem behind the wheel were the pedals which were offset to the right. The accelerator was too high, making it impossible to toe and heel. On top of this there was no room for the driver's left foot except under the clutch and you needed to bend your knee and rest it against the padded transmission tunnel to avoid the steering wheel. Behind the two seats there was only cramped luggage space although this easily reached through the opening rear window. Under the luggage compartment, and very hard to get out was the spare tyre and small tool kit.
A Car For The Home Mechanic And Tinkerer
The GT6 was a delight for the do-it-yourself mechanic, and lets face it, this car appealed to (and still appeals to) the home mechanic and tinkerer. The forward-hinged bonnet and wings left the engine sitting almost naked between the front wheels. was is one of the easiest serviced engines ever. The engine was one of the most easily serviced in any car. With both front wings and bonnet tilting forward, the engine sat almost naked between the front wheels. The regularly looked at features are within easy reach of even the amateur mechanic.
The dashboard was attractively finished in non-reflective wood with two big dials partially obscured by the large steering wheel. Two other smaller ones in the centre of the dash were the fuel and temperature gauges. The two big ones housed the speedometer, odometer and trip meter with the tachometer in the other. In such a sports car the lack of an oil pressure gauge and an ammeter was disappointing, but easily fixed with an aftermarket job.
The switches were an odd mixture. In front of the driver on the right was a large knob for the two-speed wipers and washers, on the left the same sort of knob for the choke. In the centre was a rocker switch for the hazard warning lights. Mounted below the heater controls over the transmission tunnel were rocker switches for the rear window demister, interior light and headlights. Several controls were particularly difficult to operate - the door catches, set low-down near the floor at arm's length, the window winders which the driver couldn’t reach when belted in, the ventilators under the dashboard and worst of all the combined ignition and steering lock. This was impossible to reach with the seatbelt on and at best was fiddly even without the belt. To make things even more complicated Triumph insisted on having three separate keys for the car. One, single-sided, for the ignition, one double-sided, for the doors and petrol cap, and the other (also double sided) for the rear window.
With a 1971 price-tag of A$4163 (with overdrive) the Mark 3 GT6 had its work cut out for it to snare a buyer because the shortcomings made it a difficult car to live with on a daily basis. It was good at some things, but not excellent at any. The quirkiness made it a fun vehicle, the perfect weekender, but for the buyer back then some form of daily commute ability would have been required. Less so these days, the collector can afford to keep the GT6 in the garage until the prefect conditions prevail, then enjoy a scoot along some city roads. Back then, most would have opted for the 240Z – and we don’t blame them.
The GT6was quietly dropped from the Triumph lineup at the end of 1973
, with a handful of cars being sold the year after.