Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Fall and Rise of a Spitfire (Part 2)

A lot of good stuff seemed to happen after I dumped left the Spitfire with its caring new owner in 1992. I got married, moved into a bigger house that had - luxury of luxuries - its own driveway and garage. For a few years I was happy enough driving around in extremely competent modern cars.

Then one day I realised that I'd stopped driving for fun. On a nice evening or during the weekend I'd often jump in the Spitfire and drive somewhere just for the sake of it. But I had no interest whatsoever in doing that in our modern cars. Ever since I've known my wife she's had a company car, which means that we've always had the fallback of one sensible car that we can rely on without it needing any outlay from us. Also, I knew from my visits to Orkney that my old Spitfire was still there. Robert had only got as far as separating the tub and chassis, and had made some repairs to the chassis. Can you see where this is heading...?

Then, in 1999 my parents decided to move from Moffat to Orkney. I found myself hiring a Luton van to move their possessions. I'm really not sure what was going on in my head, but at some point I found myself wondering if the Spitfire - which I knew to be in bits - would fit in the back of the empty van for the return trip! I reckoned it would, and a phone call confirmed that it was mine again if I wanted it.

Packed up and ready to come home, September 1999.

Next thing I knew I was unloading it into our garage. I'd have laughed out loud if anyone had predicted this back in 1992. And it would have made far more sense just to buy a decent roadworthy Spitfire that I could have driven straightaway, but I've never been one for always taking the easy road. As stupid as it may seem, after a seven-year break, it felt like unfinished business.

The original plan to restore it myself as a fairly standard 1500 went out of the window in next to no time. I'd always had a hankering for a GT6 but didn't want to forego the soft top - so why not drop a six-pot in it? I'd always wanted one in dark blue or BRG - so why not change the colour? Maybe I'd use it a lot for track days and hill-climbs - so why not make it a 2.5 and tune it up a bit? This is going to be an awful lot of work - so why not get someone to do it for me? A few chats with Chic Doig later he was rebuilding a very non-standard Spitfire for me! Other than building up the rolling chassis, which I did in our garage (after Chic Doig had painted it), Chic Doig did all of the work.

Rolling chassis finished, April 2001.

Engine build / bench test, May 2001.

Replacement tub, Californian import, May 2001.
The original tub turned out to be a total basket case!

Engine mounted in chassis, June 2001.

Bodywork, June 2002.

In March 2003, it was all done and back home:

It ended up with a 2.5 straight-six bored out to 2.7 with TriumphTune Sprint 90 camshaft and Stage III head, triple Weber 40s; GT6 turrets and front suspension with 330lb springs, 1-inch anti-roll bar, 4-pot vented front disks, GT6 drums on the rear; close ratio gear set in a 3-rail box, J-Type overdrive and 3.63 diff with Quaiffe LSD. Tyres were 185/60-13s on 5.5 inch AlleyCat slog mags. The seats are Mazda MX-5 and the paint is a metallic BRG.

So, on the whole a fairly standard 6-pot conversion -- but, in my opinion, very well put together.

I ended up spending a lot more on it than I originally planned, but I don't regret it one bit! It goes like stink and handles well. It's comfortable and great fun to drive.

The only significant change to the car since 2003 was the replacement of the 6-2-1 manifold and wheelbarrow twin exhaust with a bespoke Gareth Thomas 6-3-1 manifold and exhaust system in 2008. It improved performance and reduced the noise levels considerably - the noise reduction was something I'd specifically asked for and it was achieved by fitting a centre silencer and a bespoke rear box.

The intention I had of using the Spitfire for track days and hill-climbs has never really come to anything. Nowadays, it's used purely as a road car - for touring mostly. With this in mind and now that it's been back on the road for nearly ten years I've been taking stock and plan to experiment with a few things this year to see if I can make it a better road car.

Firstly - tyres. The 185/60-13s have always given a very harsh ride and while they've worked extremely well on the few occasions I've had the car out on local sprint circuits I've come to the conclusion that I don't like them for normal road use. When the last set of 185/60-13s all decided to wear out at the same time in September last year I replaced them with 165/70-13s. I've not done a lot of miles since the 165/70-13s were fitted, but the ride quality is definitely much improved and the rear suspension works much better. I also plan to try out 175/70-13s on a set of Weller Sport 13 x 6 inch wheels I acquired last year and will make a decision regarding which I want to keep later in the year.

Secondly - if I have a criticism of the handling then it is that the Spitfire has a tendency to yump excessively on B-roads. I've got a pair of higher-rated progressive front springs which I'm going to fit to see if they improve matters.

Lastly - seats. The MX-5 seats are exceptionally comfortable and they also served a purpose in 2003-2005 when I was having some lower-back problems. However, the driving position is wrong - just slightly too high and slightly too far forward - and I've never quite been able to get used to it. So I'm currently renovating a pair of late Spitfire 1500 recliner headrest seats and I'll be fitting them in the next month or so to see how I get on with them. I managed to acquire a good pair of seat frames on eBay and with Dave Kent's help managed to get them up to Scotland eventually. I'm just waiting for new foams and leather covers to arrive from Park Lane Classics.

Other than the above the plan is to use the Spitfire as often as we can and get as much enjoyment out of it as we can. We're keeping our fingers crossed for better weather than we got last year!


  1. Nice, ive just acquired a spitfire in a similar state, out of interest, how did you lift the spitfire into the van?


  2. It involved a big John Deere tractor with a front mounted hydraulic ram. That was the easy bit :) When I got it home three of us managed to manhandle it out of the van and into the garage so I reckon as long as there's three of you (or better four) it should't be too difficult to lift it in manually.