Roger Young's Triumph GT6, with Chevy V6
(as recorded by Dan Masters)
I contracted British Car Fever many years ago from a 1970 Lotus Elan +2. Owning and driving a Lotus is like being in love with an evil woman. The Lotus was cranky, picky, unreliable, she demanded constant attention and always let me down at the worst possible time. She sucked my bank account dry and left me stranded time and again. But, when the Lotus was good; she was SOOOOOO good. Her exhaust thundered, widows rattled as we passed by, the ground shook and the mortals quivered in terror as we exploded past them. Of course, such affairs never last and after 10 years of ownership and 18 months of actual service we parted company.
It took several years for the pain of that relationship to heal. It took a couple more years for the bank account to recover. Then I decided to - DO IT ALL AGAIN. This time will be different; this time I'll build my own; a car with all the Lotus ground pounding thunder and none of the bad stuff. The Triumph Spitfire/GT6 looked like the best starting place. The Spit is light, the body proportions are good, I love the clam shell bonnet; it's a good, simple design. All that's needed is to fix the engine, transmission, electrical, hydraulic and rear suspension problems, in other word - throw them away and splice in the appropriate American components.
I found my GT6 (her name is Lola) in 1996 on the back row of a seedy used car lot. She was painted school bus yellow, had a stripped differential and no half shafts. Her body was fairly straight; she showed no signs of rust, and had 83,000 miles on her odometer. The dealer wanted $500 for her and urged me to act now because he had another buyer coming in to pick up the car in a day or two. I told him she was only worth $300 to me. A week later I towed Lola home - for $300. My journey started with the decision to flare the rear fenders, from there things got a little out of hand.
Here is a list of the body modification made to date:
- Rear fenders have been flared 4" per side (inspired by the AC Cobra)
- Front fenders have been flared 2 1/2 inches per side (inspired by the AC Cobra)
- License plate recess has been cut out and replace with a smooth panel (inspired by the '58 Vette)
- Hatchback was welded down and a proper boot lid fabricated (inspired by the '59 Ferrari 250 GT. Hatchbacks are for Pintos!)
- Roof rain channels were welded and trimmed smooth (just because)
- Rear quarter panel window were recontoured to match the roof line (they looked goofy)
- Frame and bonnet have been stretched 7" (improves the overall proportions of the car and allows easy installation of a V8)
- Bonnet nose has been rounded (inspired by the Ferrari 275 GTB - everything else on Lola is roundy and curvy)
- Hood bulge has been raised and extended back the full length of the bonnet (inspired by the '70 Chevelle - carb clearance and cold air intake)
- Front bumper has been split (inspired by the Ferrari 275 GTB - my bumper was bent in the middle)
- Windshield frame has been welded-in permanently and filled (just because)
Lola currently has an Opel GT rear axle. The Opel axle was the right width, has a good basic design and is strong enough to handle a V6 engine. Installing it required extensive frame and floor pan modifications. I'm not unhappy with the Opel axle, but in retrospect it would have been easier to fabricate a new frame and use a Datsun 240Z rear end.
The frame stretch left room for a V8, but I think a high winding V6 better matches the car's character. I used a Chevy 2.8L V6 engine from a Citation and mated it to a 5-speed transmission from a Chevy S10. Installation required trimming the frame to clear the starter and minor frame modifications around the transmission. Cooling is handled by an '84 Camaro radiator, it mounted vertically with half inch of hood clearance. My choice of engine/transmission combination was based primarily on what I had lying around.
I had constant problems with the hydraulic and electrical systems on my Lotus and I was determine to eliminate everything Lucas and Girling from the Triumph. I found Datsun components to replace the brake master cylinder, clutch master cylinder and clutch slave cylinder. The Japanese obviously copied Girling designs, the Datsun parts look similar to their Girling counterparts and the bore and stroke dimensions are identical. The brake and clutch master cylinders bolted in after I elongated the flange boltholes with a file. The clutch slave cylinder required and adapter plate to bolt up. Hood clearance demanded that I build new fluid reservoirs, with I made using PVC pipe fittings. The rear brakes are Opel and I'm still working on the front disk brake solution.
To cure the electrical problems I adapted Ford light sockets into the Triumph light housings and I replaced all the dash switches with industrial grade toggle switches. The switches are rated for 30 amps and eliminate the need for relays. I fabricated a simplified wiring harness using a '57 Ford wiring diagram as a guide. I replaced the three-piece wooden dash with a single oak panel. The oak does not splinter when sawing or drilling out the gauge holes; I found it much easier to work than plywood.
The car is starting to come together relatively quickly now, in retrospect I did a lot of things right and I did a lot of things wrong.
Stretching the wheelbase turned out to be very right. I know several people have stuffed V6 engines into the stock Spit - but I don't see how. The added length improve the cars proportions, the engine just fell in, it cured the exhaust system problem (side pipes) and improved the weight distribution.
I should have stretched the rear fender flares out 5 inches per side - even
with a 4 inch flare the wheel wells are a little tight. I could not have taken
the front flares out any further - any more would have looked odd.
My original decision to make all the body modifications in steel turned out to be a mistake. I know some people have the skill to fabricate body panels in steel - but I'm not one of those people. The flanged body panels Triumph uses actually lends it self to using glass panels. I believe the body substructure will provide adequate support for the glass panels. I wasted a lot of time and effort.
Keeping the original frame was a mistake. The stock frame is stamped 10-gauge sheet metal and the factory welding is hideous. I have a new frame on the drawing board. The new frame is fabricated of 3 inch channel iron and is substantially stronger than the stock unit. Using the channel allows an additional 3 inches of width for the engine/transmission. The basic layout is essentially a copy of the original central backbone fame, but my new design incorporates doorsill outriggers resulting in a combination perimeter/central backbone chassis. This increases body stiffness and allows the floorboards to be incorporated into the frame. I hope to use a stock Datsun differential and rear suspension. Using the Datsun rear end will increase the rear track width (the stretched fender should allow it) and will require widening the front track to match. I will eventually install this frame in my car.
Using the little Chevy engine was a good choice. Installing it was actually the easiest part of the process. Lola is technically a mid-engine car with her engine mounted just behind the centerline of the front axle. The stock air cleaner fits with a half inch left to spare and I believe the steering column is going to just sneak by the exhaust manifold. Piecing together the engine and transmission was a definite mistake. I've got adapter plates to mount the starter to the engine, I've got the GT6 shifter mounted to the Chevy transmission, custom bent tubes to route the water to the radiator, the list goes on and on. Just strip everything from a Camaro and be done with it. The Camaro engine comes with (or will accept) a single wire distributor with integral coil, single wire alternator, a 2 barrel Rochester carb, and the shift knob location is close to the stock Triumph location. I've also discovered the Camaro air conditioning compressor tucks in neatly above the intake manifold with adequate hood clearance.
I am currently doing the final fitting and finish sanding on the body panels. I moved the battery to the boot, leaving space on the firewall to install an A/C unit. The exhaust system plumbing is the last major project. With luck, Lola should see the road this year.
p.s. I get odd reactions from people when I describe my little British car. My wife, co-workers, friends and family are unable to decide whether I'm: (a) simply stupid (b) slightly insane or (c) both.