Once an extremely familiar sight, the Triumph Dolomite has a surprisingly complicated history.
Preceded by the 1300, then both the Toledo and 1500, the Dolomite that replaced the latter two models in 1972 retained the 1500’s bigger, more purposeful body, but used the Toledo’s simpler (and therefore cheaper) rear-drive underpinnings.
Look beyond this tangled spaghetti of a gestation, though, and you’ll find a willing and family-friendly classic that has plenty of parts back-up and a vibrant owner’s club scene.
Engine 1998cc/4-cyl/OHC 16-valve
Top speed 117mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual + o/d
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Aside from all the usual areas such as the arches, outer sills, A-pillars and rear valance, the metalwork behind the headlights is prone to hidden rot where it meets the front wings. While you’re there, open the bonnet and check the front suspension turrets for corrosion. The largely unprotected front valance is vulnerable to stone chips, too, while out back, it’s essential to check the boot floor and lower inner wings, plus (where fitted) the chrome strips around the rear panel, and rear and side windows. Vinyl roofs can hide a multitude of sins, too – lifting or bubbling of the material can suggest big problems underneath.
Of all the Dolomite engines, the 1300 is probably the toughest and easiest to work on. With regular attention, it should last pretty much forever.
The 1500 engine is similarly robust, although iffy maintenance can shorten the life of the bottom
end. Fitting a thermostatically-controlled electric
fan is wise, too – it’s not unheard of for unscrupulous types to remove the original thermostat to hide lingering overheating issues.
The 1850HL uses a more modern overhead-cam-type eight-valve engine: if the head gasket goes and the cylinderhead bolts seize, what should be a simple rectification job can often snowball into a marathon. The alloy head means the engine is less tolerant of excessive heat and inadequate cooling, too.
As for the Sprint, ‘mayonnaise’ on the inside of the oil filler cap is often indicative of a failed water pump seal – thankfully a cheap fix.
Most Dolomites have a straightforward four-on-the-floor manual gearbox, although some were equipped with the desirable overdrive, and a handful were specified with a Borg-Warner three-speed automatic.
The manuals are pretty much unburstable if looked after properly. If
shifts are accompanied by an unhealthy-sounding ‘crunch’, then the synchros are worn, suggesting either a previous owner’s unsympathetic driving style, or a replacement gearbox sourced from a scrapper on the cheap. Whatever the reason, walk away.
Less seriously, Dolomite gearboxes aren’t known for their oil tightness, and prolonged exposure to gearbox oil will soon see off the mounts, causing an unpleasant ‘twisting’ sensation under load. You can bodge a repair for so long, but replacement is the only viable long-term solution. Overdrive maladies, meanwhile, can usually usually be traced to dodgy electrics.
Interior trim is mostly plentiful, though seats are getting rare
Thanks largely to specialists such as Rimmer Brothers, replacement trim is straightforward to come by, with pretty much everything from a complete carpet set to an ashtray available. What few items appear to be less readily available (seats, for example) are most easily sourced through the owner’s club forums, since scrapyard Dollies are becoming rarer with every passing year.
Less obvious than a Herald, easier to find than a 1300 and more charming than the Honda-based Acclaim that replaced it, the Dolomite is handsome, mechanically straightforward and – in 1850/Sprint guise at least – surprisingly quick. It even has a little motor sport pedigree thanks to touring car ace, Andy Rouse, who successfully campaigned a Sprint in the 1970s.