Why we love the… Dolomite Sprint

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Michael Wynn-Williams on the Dolomite Sprint…


In seventeenth century Paris there was a certain courtesan whose beguiling power was the ruination of many a young man. Her favourite pastime was to seduce youthful aristocrats, suck them dry of their fortunes and then discard them like broken toys. I sympathise with those young men, for I too was led to my doom by a temptress: the Triumph Dolomite Sprint.

The Sprint was a different animal to the standard Dolomites favoured by pensioners. Comfortable in their tasteful living room on wheels, plush easy chairs in front of a mantelpiece fascia. From the Toledo the Dolomite had inherited Michelotti`s styling with a high bonnet line and a prim, upright posture. The silver-haired ones took it to their hearts so that it was forever associated with lace curtains, tartan rugs and tea with the vicar. The Sprint ripped through that image, and my grandfather knew it.

My grandfather knew how to drive, and when retiring from his company Jaguar he wanted to retain the grace and the pace, but in a neater package. The heart of the Sprint was the engine, a sixteen-valve derivative of the slant four originally developed for Saab. It was not the first sixteen-valve cylinder head, nor was it the first achieve this by the ingenious use of a single camshaft, but it was certainly the first to popularise the concept. My grandfather meant to enjoy his retirement, not with a pipe and slippers, but with 127 bhp and a 0-60 of a shade over 8 seconds. Styling tweaks gave subtle hints to the muscle that lay beneath: a full vinyl roof made it look lower and meaner, alloy wheels gave it claws.

From the Toledo the Dolomite had inherited
Michelotti`s styling with a high bonnet line and
a prim, upright posture. The silver-haired ones
took it to their hearts so that it was forever
associated with lace curtains, tartan rugs and tea
with the vicar.
The Sprint ripped through that image…

Years later, as a student looking for my first car, the same criteria for grace and pace in a punchy little package also drew me to the Dolomite Sprint. Unique amongst my peers I actually saved money from my student grant and by my final year I was the proud owner of a beautiful white Sprint. I say owner, but I always felt more like a custodian. This was a piece of motoring history and I considered it my job to preserve it for future generations. I adored the styling and the delicious clunk as the doors closed. I agonised over maintaining its originality at all costs, yet my inexperience meant that for each item I fixed I broke two in the process. I was haunted by nightmares of blown head gaskets and drove it like it was a fragile antique.

Only towards the end of my tenure with the car did I relax enough to push it, and what an animal I unleashed. By extending the engine revs it turned from a slow-witted domestic pet into a wild cat. Traffic was overtaken in whole groups rather than just singly, and I took evil pleasure in burning past cars that were in the process of overtaking others. However, all this time the temptress had been bleeding me dry and the ultimate sacrifice had to be made. After the sale I took to riding a small motorbike where a tank of petrol cost a little over two pounds and I could afford to have friends again. I had cheated my doom, and yet, even now, my heart still yearns for my cruel-hearted British courtesan.

3 Comments

  1. Great car and great memories of seeing them all those years ago. It was one of the first mainstream cars to get alloy wheels as standard too. You still see a few Dolomite Sprints at Classic car shows.

    A few years ago Vanguards models brought out a 1:43 detailed scale model of the Sprint in yellow.

  2. I’ve never driven a Dolly, much less a Sprint, but I love them nonetheless, and one would certainly grace my ‘dream garage’.

    The nearest I ever came to driving one was my very first driving experience on public roads- before my first driving lesson. I had to help move a rear-engined Toledo from a lockup garage (no, Triumph never made a rear engined Toledo- this was one that was illegally occupying a lockup garage, and had it’s engine put in the boot for transport purposes…). Anyway, I was the ‘towee’ and I was expecting only to be moving it from that lockup as far as the nearby road. The guy towing it had other ideas- and decided to tow it across town (without consulting me). Towing a car without servoed brakes inches from the back of an ancient Escort when you’ve only ever driven arcade games was an ‘interesting’ experience. As was when the Escort ran out of petrol half-way across a cross-hatched junction- the driver had to go to the luckily adjacent filling station with an empty squash bottle to buy 35p’s worth of petrol (well this was 1988 so it was more than a thimbleful). We resumed our journey, after which he had the gall to give me a bollocking about my driving- apparently I’d ‘a lot to learn about driving’…

  3. My Mum had a 1850HL for about 5 years from new, nice enough car………..when it worked!
    Car was delivered with no paint on the bottom of the sills!
    Head gasket failed three times, needed a new head the third time, doors rusted through after 3 years. Not one of my dads better buys 🙁

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