The GT6 was a 6-cylinder sports coupé built by Standard-Triumph and based on their popular Triumph Spitfire convertible from 1966 to 1973. Standard Triumph introduced their Spitfire small sports car in 1962. Plans to build a coupé version were prompted by the fastback styling of the Spitfires entered in to the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1964. The MGB GT coupe was selling extremely well and although Triumph had the TR range of roadsters, they had nothing to compete with the MGB GT.
Triumph found an alternative, however: the 1,998 cc (122 cu in) straight-6 from the larger Triumph 2000 saloon was about to be fitted to the Triumph Vitesse, and the engine developed more than enough power to endow the 'Spitfire coupé' with decent performance. The new car was introduced in 1966, and called the Triumph GT6. The new body was a sleek fastback design with an opening rear hatch (This gave the GT6 the nickname "Poor man's E-Type"). It was really a 2-seater, but a small extra rear seat could be ordered if required and was large enough for small children.
The new car was introduced in 1966, and called the Triumph GT6. The new body was a sleek fastback design with an opening rear hatch (This gave the GT6 the nickname "Poor man's E-Type"). It was really a 2-seater, but a small extra rear seat could be ordered if required and was large enough for small children. The family resemblance to the Spitfire Mk.2 was strong, but hardly any major body panels were shared; the longer 6-cylinder engine necessitated a new bonnet with a power bulge and the doors were provided with opening quarter light windows. The 6-cylinder engine was tuned to develop 95 bhp (71 kW) and necessitated certain changes to the Spitfire mechanics; the radiator was new and mounted further forward in the car and the gearbox was the stronger unit from the Vitesse, with optional overdrive. Front springs were uprated to cope with the extra weight from the new engine.
The interior of the GT6 was well equipped; a wooden dashboard housed a full complement of instruments, and carpets and heater were standard. The new car had some very strong selling points. The new engine provided a 106 mph (171 km/h) top speed, and 0-60 mph in 11.7 seconds, a little better than the MGB GT. Moreover, the unit was comparatively smooth and tractable, in marked contrast to the MG's rather harsh 4-cylinder motor. Fuel economy was very reasonable for the period, and the interior well up to the competition.
The only major criticism was of its rear suspension; the GT6 inherited the swing-axle system from the Spitfire, which in turn was copied from the Herald small saloon. In the saloon it was tolerated, in the little Spitfire it was not liked, and in the powerful GT6 it was heavily criticised. Triumph had done nothing to improve the system for the GT6, and the tendency to break away if the driver lifted off the power mid-corner was not helped at all by the increased weight at the front of the car. The handling was most bitterly criticised in the USA, an important export market for Triumph, where they were traditionally very strong. Similar criticism was being levelled at the Vitesse saloon, which shared both the GT6's engine and its handling problems.
Triumph realised that they needed to find an answer to the problem, if only to keep their reputation in the USA. Their response came with the 1969 model year, with the introduction of the GT6 MK2, known in the States as the GT6+. The swing-axle suspension was significantly re-engineered using rotoflex couplings, taming the handling and turning the Triumph into an MGB-beater. The Vitesse was also modified, but the Spitfire had to wait until 1970 for any improvements to be made. There were other changes for the MK2: the front bumper was raised (in common with the Spitfire Mk.3) to conform to new crash regulations, necessitating a revised front end, and side vents were added to the front wings and rear pillars.
Under the bonnet, the engine was uprated to develop 104 bhp with a new cylinder head, camshaft, and manifolds. The interior was also updated with a new dashboard and better ventilation, a 2-speed heater fan and a black headlining. Overdrive remained a popular option.
The final major facelift for the GT6 came in 1970, to make the MK3. This time the whole bodyshell was revised to match the changes made to the Spitfire Mk.IV; these included a cut-off rear end, recessed door handles and a smoother front end. Only detail changes were made to the mechanics, but in 1973 - close to the end of the car's life - the rear suspension was changed again, this time for the cheaper (but still effective) 'swing-spring' layout. A brake servo was also added in 1973, and seats were changed from vinyl to cloth. There was still a fairly comprehensive options list, but the attractive 'knock-on' wire wheels were no longer available. Performance for the MK3 was basically similar to the MK2, top speed of 117 mph (188 km/h) and a 0-60 time of 10.1 seconds; this was now comfortably ahead of the MGB GT, which topped out at about 105 mph (169 km/h) and reached 60 mph in approximately 13 seconds. Unfortunately, the last U.S. models performed comparatively poorly, as compression ratios were lowered to accommodate lower octane unleaded gasoline.
The GT6 proved to be a thoroughly pleasant, well-behaved sports car, certainly after the launch of the MK2. However it never sold in the numbers hoped for by Triumph, and was comprehensively beaten in the marketplace by the arguably inferior MGB. This seems a puzzle; the smaller-engined Spitfire sold better than the MG Midget, but this success eluded the GT6. Triumph always refused to release an official convertible version of the GT6 (although a number of owners successfully created one), and this may be partly responsible; the only likely explanation for this is their reluctance to offer any competition for their TR6 roadster, a strong seller in the USA. Whatever the reason, the GT6 was quietly dropped from the Triumph range at the end of 1973, with a few cars being sold the year after.
Today the cars have a strong following on the classic car circuit in the UK and USA. Mechanics are exceptionally strong, and share many common parts with other Triumphs of the period. Survival rate is comparatively high and there is excellent support from owners clubs.