Why you'd want one
Triumph’s 1300 was a brave venture. It lacked the character and DiY-friendliness of the Herald, but the company’s first front-wheel-drive model – and first small monocoque – was well engineered, with semi-trailing arm rear suspension and a comfortable, quality feel that received rave reviews on test.
Front drive was the obvious way to go after the success of the Mini, and the arrival of the BMC 1100 confirmed its packaging advantages. But Triumph, then part of Leyland but not yet joined up with BMC, wasn’t going to follow blindly.
Instead, Harry Webster placed the Herald motor in-line – with the gearbox below and partly behind – and the final drive immediately under the sump. It meant a fairly high bonnet, but could use the engine unchanged bar crank and sump.
To get good performance in what was a heavyish bodyshell for its class, the 1147 unit was taken out to 1296cc and fitted with an eight-port head, based on that developed for the Le Mans Spitfires.
The 1296cc engine would soon be used in the Spitfire, too, and would eventually give the Herald a new lease of life as well, as development costs forced Leyland to take the 1300 upmarket. Four doors and luxury trim, with innovative fold-flush window winders, added to the appeal.
Michelotti penned sophisticated (if chunky) mini-2000 styling, and the in-line engine meant no loss of Triumph’s trademark tight turning circle, with double-wishbone front suspension.
The model’s sporting stardom came with a clever 4x4 adaptation using 2000 rear suspension and a Weber-carburetted motor. It wiped the board in its first televised outing in rallycross, but shortly after was rolled, and no more were made.
A small 4x4 off-road vehicle, the Pony, was also developed using 1300 running gear; it would eventually be built by Autocars in Israel.
Sophistication was weighty and expensive, however; in the end Triumph reverted to rearwheel drive and even a live axle. Front drive ceased in 1973 after 214,703 cars had been built, and the rear-wheel-drive small Triumphs were simplified into the Dolomite range in 1976.
Prices are modest and there are still nice, low-mileage examples to be found. Rust is the main flaw, plus specific weaknesses such as the 1300’s quill shaft, but those can be overcome.
Volumes are too low for much in the way of spares remanufacture, but most parts can be found and long-term owners often have stockpiles, accessible via the clubs.
See image above for rot spots.
Engine and mechanicals
The engine should feel smooth, quiet and flexible when driving. Listen for crankshaft knock (more so on 1500) and look for excessive breathing and oil leaks.
Confirm that the oil light goes out promptly on start-up and doesn’t flicker at hot idle. New valve seats will be needed after 10-20,000 miles on unleaded petrol, unless driven gently.
1300’s contra-rotating starter is almost unique, and operates on a separate ring gear. Replacements are hard to find, though club contacts can usually help.
Rotoflex couplings were only used on 1300s; aftermarket replacements have limited life, but originals are virtually unobtainable now. 1500 used CV joints.
All models had comfortable seats plus excellent heating and ventilation; the 1300/1500 front chairs adjust in all directions and, being vinyl, are durable.
Walnut door cappings and dash should match; look for damp and delamination. Foldaway window winders were a novel safety feature, unique to the 1300.
The transmission should be practically inaudible; test for worn synchros and jumping out of gear. Imprecise change is bushes; baulking may be the quill shaft.
Suspension and brakes
Suspension/wheel bearing wear should show up at MoT time; soggy bushes spoil handling and ride, as do weak dampers. Front disc brakes on all but early Toledos.
On the road
Triumph’s 1296 powerplant was exceptionally smooth and flexible; its only significant weakness was a tendency for the crank thrust bearings to wear – scarcely noticeable in service but rendering the block potentially unusable at rebuild time.
Get someone to depress the clutch while watching the front crank pulley to see if it moves back and forth – any noticeable movement is too much. Stroking the unit to get 1493cc put higher loads on the three main bearings: 1500s have a limited life, but changing bearings at 50,000 miles or less will help to avoid severe crank wear.
Low gearing gave lively performance, but the penalty was high fuel thirst if driven hard. Idler gears were used to take drive down to the gearbox; engine, gearbox and diff each had their own oil but the quill shaft transferring drive on 1300s was a weak point. Canley Classics made uprated ones; 1500s are stronger but not interchangeable. If it’s difficult to select the gears, be very wary.
The wide track and long wheelbase provide safe handling, with understeer predominant. The 1300TC had 23% more power: it was the quickest of the cars reviewed here, but Motor headlined its test ‘Performance replaces refinement’ and many owners prefer the single-carb version.
Turning a long-wheelbase, front-drive car into a rear-drive model meant that the Toledo needed a centre propshaft bearing – driveline vibration probably points to wear in this.
The Toledo had its own innovation – polycarbonate bumper underriders – and, despite being a deliberately cheapened model, remained refined, with good handling and remarkable economy.
What to pay
Typical upkeep prices
Full rear wing, Toledo £248
Front subframe, 1500 £211
Brake master cylinder, recon exch ’72-on £135
Rebuilt engine £3000
Clutch kit, 1300 FWD £260
Water pump £32
1965 Oct Front-wheel-drive 1300 launched
1966 Jan 1300 goes on sale
1967 Oct 1300TC added, 75bhp
1969 Brian Culcheth wins first time out in 4x4 1300 in Rallycross Winter Series
1970 1500 FWD replaces 1300: longer boot, twin headlights, beam rear axle, 61bhp; Toledo added: two-door, 1300, live axle, rear-wheel drive
1971 Oct 1500 up to 65bhp
1972 Oct Four-door Toledo introduced (as well as Dolomite 1850)
1973 Oct 1500TC RWD added, inc auto option, competitive pricing, 91mph, cloth seats optional
1975 Mar 2dr Toledo dropped
1976 Mar Toledo and 1500 replaced by Dolomite 1300/1500 (RWD only)
The owner's view
Triumph 1300 owner Neil Harris: “I bought this 1300 in 2011: it’s our fourth. The first was my wife’s grandad’s; it was too rough to rebuild, so we broke it for parts and bought another (a TC), and another.
"This was a Bournemouth car and had done only 26,000 miles. The first owner traded in a Rover 2000 automatic for it and must have thought it was an auto, because it had bills for many clutches!
"There was 5mm end play in the crank – I had to change the engine. The body was superb, though. It was never sealed – it’s still in primer underneath – but it’s never had any welding.
"They were quite forward-looking for the time… and it’s unusual; it’s often the only one when we go to shows. There’s a keen following and we enjoy the club’s social side.”
Lively front-engine (1197/1438cc), reardrive workhorses that rusted in their millions. All-disc brakes, plus later twin-cams. Few left, but good to own and fun to drive if you find a nice one.
• Sold/no built 1966-’74/c1,543,000 • Mpg 25-35 • 0-60mph 15.9-10.1 secs • Top speed 83-102mph • Price new £820 (1968) • Price now £1500-5000MG
The sportiest ADO16s sold well in MG form. Brilliant packaging and superb Hydrolastic suspension, though all became expensive when rot set in. Strong following now, with prices rising.
• Sold/no built 1962-’73/189,958 • Mpg 26-36 • 0-60mph 18.4-14.1 secs • Top speed 85-97mph • Price new £845 (1968) • Price now £3-7000
Triumph 1300, 1500 & Toledo: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
The small Triumph saloons had an unconventional gestation but led into the successful Dolomite range. Some low-mileage, well-preserved examples are still around and worth grabbing, because values haven’t yet increased much and they are refined, comfortable and very usable. Values don’t justify restoration so avoid unless you’re an expert at DiY.
• Comfortable and refined
• Practical, compact classic
• Excellent heating and ventilation
• Still fine value for money
• Undergeared, especially 1300
• Some parts getting hard to find
• Lacks quirkiness and DiY maintenance appeal of separate-chassis Triumphs
Sold/number built 1965-’76/333,885
Construction steel monocoque
Engine all-iron, overhead-valve 1296/1493cc ‘four’, single Stromberg or single/twin SU carburettors
Max power 58bhp @ 5300rpm-75bhp @ 6000rpm
Max torque 70lb ft @ 3000rpm-84lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission four-speed manual or three-speed auto (1500TC only), driving front/rear wheels
Suspension independent, at front by coils, double wishbones, telescopics rear all: coils, telescopics; 1300 & TC independent semi-trailing arms; others diagonal upper links & trailing lower links – 1500 dead axle & anti-roll bar, Toledo/1500TC live axle
Steering rack and pinion, 3 turns lock-lock Brakes front 83/4 in (222mm) discs, servo on all but 1300 FWD and Toledo to Oct 1972 which had 9in (229mm) front drums; rear 8in (203mm) drums
Length 12ft 11in-13ft 6in (3937-4115mm)
Width 5ft 13/4 in (1568mm)
Height 4ft 6in (1372mm)
Wheelbase 8ft 1/2 in (2454mm)
Weight 1905-2128lb (866-967kg)
0-60mph 19-13.2 secs
Top speed 84-93mph
Price new £899/940 (1300/1300TC, 1968)
Insurance £81.85, based on a 30-year-old London-based driver with full no-claims bonus and a clean licence on a 1968 Triumph 1300TC as a second car, agreed value £5000, garaged overnight, 5000 limited mileage. Richardson Hosken (01277 206911)