Buying Guide Triumph Herald and Vitesse

Heralds and Vitesses are fun and easily-maintained small saloons, coupés, convertibles and estates. They make great first classics and are immensely practical, with a turning circle to equal a London taxi and a surprisingly capacious, boxy shape. Although parts availability is good, it’s slowly declining now because sales volumes no longer justify remanufacture and stocks of original parts have largely dried up. Our experts to guide you are Dave Pearson, who has owned and restored Heralds and Vitesses since the Seventies and supplies parts via his business Canley Classics; Chris Gunby, chairman of the Triumph Sports Six Club which caters for all small-chassis Triumphs; and Chic Doig who has run Chic Doig Classic Sports Cars in Scotland since the Eighties, has always specialised in Heralds and Vitesses, and owns a Herald convertible.

Which one?

Herald 948 Does 71mph and 0-60mph in 23sec (78mph was available with twin carburettors). Saloon/ coupé arrived in April 1959, convertible in March 1960.

Herald 1200 + 12/50 An estate came with the 1200 in 1961, along with a much torquier engine, but there was no twin-carburettor option and coupé sales ended in 1964. The 12/50 was a pepped-up saloon for 1963.

Herald 13/60 Replaced all but the basic 1200 saloon in late 1967; 1296cc and 61bhp gave 84mph and 17.7sec 0-60mph – almost as quick as the first Vitesse.

Vitesse 1600 Super-smooth saloon and convertible with a 1596cc inline-six and twin-headlamps launched in May 1962 on a stiffer chassis (standardised across all in 1964) and initially strangled by Solex carburettors; twin Strombergs improved performance from 1965. Overdrive on third and top was a desirable option.

Vitesse 2.0-litre The six grew in 1966, with all-synchro gearbox and tougher rear axle; its 95bhp gave 95mph and 12.6sec 0-60. A handful of Vitesse estates were assembled by Standard Triumph London.

Vitesse 2.0-litre MkII The rear suspension was much-improved, while a better cylinder head brought 104bhp, 101mph and a 11.9sec 0-60mph, making for a great fun sports saloon or convertible. There were 9121 examples built from 1968-1971.

What to pay

1 A ‘bitsa’, however nicely put together, will struggle to fetch more than £3000, but a properly restored Herald saloon or estate, especially a rare model, can hit £10,000, a Vitesse a little more.

2 The majority of tidy, usable cars are £2-3k, but check very carefully for condition and originality.

3 Decent Herald convertibles and coupés are £5-10k, Vitesses 25% more, and the very best may top £15k. For rough examples, saloons start at £500 and coupés £1000.

Body rot is the biggest enemy. New panels are largely unobtainable and few repair panels have been made by specialists. Mud gets trapped between chassis and body and in unprotected body crevices, holding road salt. Virtually all cars have had repairs, most poorly done because of long-term low values. Check the entire underside very carefully.

The bonnet should feel rigid, not floppy, when you lift it – check around the D-plates in the front bottom corners for rot, and on the outside up to the sidelight mounts. A restored bonnet costs £1440 from Chic Doig. Valances rot rapidly; glassfibre is an option but alignment can be poor and rubber seals often don’t it.

With the bonnet up, check the front bulkhead, especially at its lower corners – lift the carpets inside too, and peer underneath behind the sill panels to assess the condition of the structure and the support brackets, through which the bulkhead is bolted to the chassis. The bottom few inches rot, and it’s rarely accurately reconstructed. A restored bulkhead from Chic Doig is £1200 exchange – if yours is restorable.

There’s a panel join across the floor under the front seats, and the rear body section can also rot severely, especially on convertibles. A restored convertible rear tub is £2340 – again, provided yours is restorable. Good used panels and new old stock have virtually dried up, so finding a car with a good bodyshell is vital unless you’re after a DIY welding project. Check history and originality too – a 12/50 (1147cc sunroof saloon) recently came to auction with a convertible body, 13/60 bonnet, Vitesse bumpers, Spitfire 1500 engine, later seats and wheels. Bitsas are common.

Chassis rot is the next most serious consideration. If it’s bad enough to need body removal to rectify it, labour costs will escalate alarmingly unless you do it all yourself. The outriggers (three under each side, two under the boot) and side rails (one each side) are pretty much service items – you won’t find a car with original ones. Many cars have been repaired with poor-quality replacements – if they’ve been fitted without body removal, they are likely not to have been welded on top, leading to a weakened structure; feel the top of the chassis to check. Specialists like Chic Doig offer factory-standard or even tougher replacements for £30-35 each – and a full chassis for £1440 exchange.

The main chassis legs are critical; they rot where the outriggers join and most drastically where the chassis legs are at their lowest, under the rear axle. With suspension mounts welded on, this area is tricky to repair properly – there are some awful bodges out there. Even if the outer and underside look OK, get right underneath to check the inner faces, which were a thinner gauge so usually rot out first.

Mechanical spares are readily available but body panels are now scarce, so it’s important to weigh up any potential purchase carefully. Front-hinging bonnet allows almost unrivalled accessibility to the engine bay. Interior trim kits are available for the mainstream models. Many cars may have mix ’n’ match parts from different cars. Coupé version was available from the Herald’s launch in 1959, but was discontinued in 1964.

Check the tube behind the front valance, which suffers rot and accident damage, plus where the main chassis legs come up to it from the lower wishbone mounts – kinking betrays a heavy past impact and the bonnet will never line up if damage is not repaired.

Panel alignment is interlinked with the rust issues. After major repairs to the body and chassis, getting it all to line up properly is a challenge too far for many home restorers – and some professionals. An outrigger welded on a few degrees out, or a body mount slightly out of line, throws the whole body out of alignment. It’s all adjustable with slotted holes and rubberised pads – within limits – but it’s very time-consuming. If poorly-fitting repair panels have been welded in, it can be impossible. Try to find a car with good panel alignment from the start; don’t pay full whack for a car whose panels don’t line up – and do not believe a seller who says that they never did. If the bonnet’s out of line, the pivot pins may be seized in the bonnet support tube, making opening stiff and alignment impossible; this can usually be freed with applied heat.

Engines will do 100,000 miles without major attention if serviced properly, and all parts are available for rebuilding. The crankshaft thrust bearings are weak and damage the cylinder block when worn. Get someone to depress the clutch while you watch the front crank pulley – if it moves forward and back, the block may be beyond repair. The oil light should go out quickly on start-up and not licker at idle. Running hot is usually cured by re-coring the radiator and flushing the block. You need hardened valve seats for running on unleaded fuel, so budget £500 to get it done when the tappets close up, if it’s not already done.

Gearboxes usually last around 60,000 miles; a rebuild is around £500 but won’t necessarily last as long if many worn parts are re-used. Dip the clutch at tickover to listen for layshaft wear, and check all synchros (only 2.0-litre Vitesses have synchromesh on first). If overdrive isn’t fitted, it (or a higher-ratio differential) is worth adding, because all these cars were undergeared.

Check gearbox and differential for oil leaks – a differential rebuild will be £500+.

Suspension at the front incorporates trunnions which should be oiled; if greased, they should be stripped regularly to clean out old, hardened grease. Heavy steering means attention is needed. Rear suspension on all but the MkII Vitesse is swing axle – simple and effective with a good ride, but it’s vital the rear hubs are greased every 6000 miles; if not, the hub can seize and the wheel snap of. As the Vitesse grew faster and heavier, a rear lower wishbone was added with a big Rotolex coupling – check it’s not falling apart.

Interior trim is available from Newton Commercial for mainstream models – a full interior trim kit for a Herald 1200 or 13/60 is around £2000. However, if you’ve picked a rare early model that has lost distinctive features such as the light grey plastic steering wheel, control knobs and door escutcheons, these parts and other trim items are extremely scarce. Later models have slightly wider, more supportive seats, the best being on Vitesse MkIIs, but it’s not unusual to find less worn seats from a Herald have been swapped in.

Owning a Herald/Vitesse

Gavin Radforth, Derbyshire ‘I was brought up with Morris Minors, but when my older brother wanted a convertible as his first car, he didn’t like the Minor’s pram hood so bought a Herald convertible. He still has it, it’s supercharged now. When I was 18, in 1998, I bought a Signal Red Herald 1200 saloon, but in 2004 a motorcyclist rode into the side of it and wrote it of. I looked for another Herald and found this 1200 coupé – it’s the same year as the saloon, 1962, and had a knackered gearbox, so we swapped that along with some other parts including the disc brakes, which were an extra then.

‘It was back on the road in 2005 and has never been of the road since. My father is a retired mechanic and he helps us – we do all our own servicing and buy parts at autojumbles, so it’s very cheap to run. We’ve replaced the bonnet and valances, and dad made a towbar so I could tow a trailer which we made from the back end of the Herald saloon! Parts like the headlamp surrounds are hard to find, but everything else is no problem.’

Clive Bergman, Farnham, Hampshire ‘A friend at university had a shabby Herald convertible and convinced me I could run an old car too. I bought a Vitesse 1600 sunroof saloon, which turned out to have a GT6 engine – it went like the clappers, but I really wanted a convertible. The same friend sold me a 13/60 convertible that had been repatriated from Algeria; it was fun – I took it to France and it was easy to keep going, but it had crash damage and would never be nice. In July 1986 I bought the Vitesse convertible I still have. A late 1600, it had done just 53,000 miles with two previous owners from new. It was my everyday car and eventually the years caught up, so I had it rebuilt in the late Nineties.

‘In 2004 a work colleague showed me his 948 saloon – it was scruffy but had all the correct early parts, so I had to have it. The Vitesse had a big accident that year and should’ve been written of, but I decided to get Triumph Auto Classique to rebuild it. They did such a good job that I gave them the 948; I did the mechanical work including rebuilding the engine while they did the body. I’ve spent decades hoarding rare early parts and it’s an eternal quest. The 948 is delightful to drive, with light controls; I like the aesthetics of the early cars and value originality over shininess.’

Fraser McKay, Cambridge ‘My Vitesse is less mid-life crisis, more family heirloom. It’s the car that I’d been taken to school in as a child and watched my father rallying all over Europe, so it was a privilege to take it over. A 1969 MkII saloon, in red, it’d been sat for a fair few years before being passed on to me in 2015, which was quite a moment. A few replaced radiator hoses, some new petrol and a charged battery and she started up brilliantly.

‘There were some things to sort – timing gremlins, wheel refurbishing, new tyres, new brake lines and inevitable handbrake troubles – before it passed its MoT. It’s smooth to drive and fantastic fun round the bends – I use it regularly during my university holidays. I’ve now fitted a programmable 123 distributor, releasing noticeably more power.

‘Plans for the future vary wildly in scope, from finally sorting the bodywork properly – red tape sadly doesn’t work miracles – to a full, custom electronic fuel injection set-up, possibly with some boost thrown in. As an engineer and amateur racer, I just can’t resist!’

1966 Triumph Herald £8995

26,500 miles from new, dry stored since 2013. Restored and repainted in original colour, presents beautifully with an excellent body with stunning panel gaps. Original trim; excellent engine and gearbox. Brakes, suspension and steering are superb. Ready for the show season. Comes with original service book, sales and service directory, and photographs of restoration work. Call 01944 758000

‘These are fun and easily maintained saloons, coupés, convertibles and estates that make great first classics.’

‘Engines will do 100 miles without major attention if serviced properly’


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