MGB, Lotus Elan and the Triumph Spitfire defined an era
Is it really 60 years since the MGB, Triumph Spitfire and Lotus Elan were launched?
These three sports cars defined the meaning of ‘modern sports car’ in the 1960s.
The Triumph Spitfire’s main market was the USA, where imported sports car sales were approaching 100,000 units annually.
Built on a shortened Triumph Herald chassis, the Spitfire was a response to the BMC’s Austin-Healey Sprite/MG Midget twins.
Styling was by Michelotti, who had a design contract with Triumph.
A feature it shared with the Herald was the bonnet and front fenders which opened all as one piece.
It is automotive folklore that the Spitfire was originally planned for release in late 1960.
It was delayed because of Triumph’s financial problems.
When Leyland took over Triumph its managers found the prototype Spitfire in a corner of a warehouse, saw its potential, and ordered it into production.
Well, that’s the folklore.
Not sure if it’s all true, but it makes for a good story.
1962 Triumph Spitfire
Meanwhile, over at BMC they were planning to combine old and new as a way of getting the MGB into dealership showrooms.
BMC’s aim was to sell an affordable modern sports car worldwide.
And it had to make a profit.
The car has its origins in a prototype built in the late 1950s.
This prototype featured lightweight unitary construction, as opposed to the heavier body on chassis layout which MG used for its T series and MGA models.
The brakes and suspension were upgrades of the MGA.
Its B-Series engine dated back to 1947.
All up, 512,243 MGBs, in various guises, were sold globally until it was “retired” in 1980.
In Australia, the MGB was constructed by BMC at its Sydney factory.
An estimated 9090 were sold.
Like the Spitfire, the MGB’s biggest market was the USA.
Almost 300,000 went stateside.
The car even ended up in a song about a movie star weary of the Hollywood scene.
Neil Sedaka sang in Wheeling West Virginia of the morning drive to the movie studio: “Laurel to Sunset, Freeway to Culver, racing my MG down to MGM.”
Colin Chapman’s road car, the Elan, had a steel backbone chassis, fibreglass body, four-wheel disc brakes, four-speed gearbox, rack and pinion steering and independent suspension.
The engine in the Elan was largely the same as what Ford and Chapman inserted into the Lotus Cortina.
By buying an Elan, the owner was able to get close to the driving experience of a Lotus race car with some comforts.
Fragile it was and light too.
The MGB weighed almost 50 per cent more.
The Elan was not cheap and cheerful either.
It was expensive compared to the Spitfire and MGB.
In 1962 in the UK the Spitfire was the cheapest of the three at £730.
The MGB cost £834 and Elan was a hefty £1499.
To put this in perspective, the Jaguar E-Type cost about £2000.
Estimates vary about how many Elan’s were made.
Most researchers say somewhere around 12,200.
David Burrell is the editor of Retroautos.com.au
1962 Lotus Elan
1962 Lotus Elan
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