25 years ago my first classic was a Triumph Spitfire and I loved it. Last week I was reminded why.
I sold that first Spitfire, of course – but only to buy a better one. The first was a 1968 Mk3, the second a 1969 – both red and both brilliant in their own ways: My first was cheap and heaps of fun during three years and 30,000 kilometers of ownership. The second was more than double the price (but more than double as good conditionwise) and equally good fun for a year and 10,000 kilometers. I sold both for their respective purchase prices and was quite chuffed with that.
Since then, many cars have come and gone and recently I have in fact been particularly content with the inventory of my garage: Besides the mandatory 4-cylinder classics, there are currently two V6’s, two V8’s and even one V12. Add to that several wonderful cars I’ve had the opportunity to borrow and to drive, and I frankly feel rather spoilt for choice. Luxury, power, speed – yes, please.
However, I still own a Spitfire – well, two really, but let’s focus on one at a time, shall we: All those many years ago, my father rather fancied my Spitfires, and for his 60th birthday my mother decided to gift him one. I found a particularly good one for him, a fully restored 1966 Spitfire 4 Mk2, and purchased it with the excuse that it was for myself. As this one was even better than my second Spitfire, it seemed very plausible and it didn’t arouse suspicion. I laid it up in the garage until his birthday and imagine his surprise when the car was presented to him on the day of his 60th – he was a very happy man indeed. When he suddenly passed away six years later, my mother took over the car – and actually used it properly those first few years, but very sparingly in later years. And when she passed away – well, the car was inherited by my brother and I. We immediately agreed to keep it, and my brother has used it for summer holidays several times – while I have the pleasure of servicing the thing.
It’s a thoroughly lovely car – it was back in 2000 and still is. I’ve always liked the Spitfire for its Italian lines and much prefer it to its obvious competitor, the MG Midget, in that respect. The MG is the purer sports car and handles better, while the character of the Spitfire is more that of a mini-tourer, and as such the Triumph is suitably more comfortable too. Most importantly, this specific car has demonstrated to me the value of a good and proper restoration, and also what a great decision the former owner made when he chose a Mk2-version, the rarest of the Spitfires. It made my father proud and still should.
Last year the car needed a bit more than routine servicing, though – the radiator was overhauled while I changed the head gasket and had the cylinder head skimmed. Immediately following me putting it all back together, my brother drove the Spitfire on his summer holidays and gladly reported back that the car performed better than ever. Shortly after that – I think it was late August/early September – I put the car away for storage at the lovely Gentleman’s Garage and shamefully must admit that we left it there until last week. As my brother’s summer holiday is approaching quick, I thought I’d better take the Spitfire out for a quick once over. With the last two months of summer outperforming previous years significantly, it would clearly be a pleasure to get behind the wheel of the Spitfire 4 again…
So I made my way to its fancy glass garage last Friday morning to set it free – without tools, but I brought my hat. The car looked its lovely self, although somewhat dusty after 10 months. Foolishly but naturally, I had left it without a trickle charge or anything, so what would happen when I turned the key? Before attempting it, I flipped open the one-piece front to gain access to the mechanical fuel pump. At the bottom, this has a small shaft to manually pump fuel up to the carburettors after a longer period of stagnation. Very clever indeed, dear Triumph-boys. After that, I pulled out the choke, held my breath and turned the key – and hey presto, the little 1.1-litre engine barked into life immediately. Quite impressive really – and something of a tribute of simplicity. I let it idle for a few minutes and then checked for leaks – as one should never forget after having deprived a classic of exercise for that long.
As all seemed well, I set off to the nearest fuel station to fill up with fresh high octane – and checked for leaks again. With none apparent, I drove the short 25 minute journey to my job where they’ve never seen me in such an old car before. They mused whether it could manage the 148 kilometers back home? That’s my daily commute and 80% of it is motorway. Hardly the Spitfire’s forte, I’ll admit – although it would almost do 100 mph when new, it feels rather busy already at 65 and I don’t think I’ve ever exceeded 80 in it.
But as this particular day and evening was just as extremely hot as the many days before it, I quickly concluded that it actually made perfect sense to sit at a leisurely 65 mph on the motorway in that rather basic 52-year old convertible. In fact, I could barely imagine anywhere I’d rather be than in the blustery cockpit of this Spitfire. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed being back – in more ways than one: being behind the wheel of this Spitfire, was and always is going to be a very special experience for both my brother and I. Furthermore, driving a Spitfire is also where classic car ownership started for me those 25 years ago. And on that Friday, the charming Royal Blue Spitfire 4 Mk2 not only took me home, but also took me back to my roots as a classic car enthusiast.
For the past week, I’ve enjoyed many trips to the beach with my wife, daughter or both (yes, it’s possible!) and the little Spitfire has been my classic of choice. This has really got me thinking, as I could of course easily have taken something more powerful, luxurious and/or faster instead – but on the Danish summer back roads, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the little Triumph, its rorty engine, precise steering, heavy brakes, long gearchange and even the choppy ride as well. It is, quite simply put, fun with a capital F! Driving as it used to be – at a slower pace, in a much less sophisticated vehicle, with no filters whatsoever. All of which is a very good thing, and probably the reason why it makes sense to take the Spitfire out for even a short drive to the beach. Well, I even took it out one evening after my daily 148 kilometer commute – not because I particularly felt the need for more driving, but rather as an antidote for the modern car and traffic!
The little Spitfire works wonders for your mental health – and I guess that’s exactly why my brother loves it for his holidays. For me, it’s been a reminder of what it’s all about, this hobby of old cars: Fun.
There are of course many ways to achieve this, but the Spitfire clearly proved to me that big numbers are not necessarily part of the formula. Comforting, isn’t it?