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LIKE LIGHTNING
Triumph World

LIKE LIGHTNING

Posted 14 February 2015   |   584 views   |   Aviation & Transport   |   Comments (0) Last issue we saw a Spitfire that drew inspiration from the Corvette Stingray. This issue we bring you another Spitfire with Stateside inspiration — Brian Pringle's fantastic tribute to Lightning McQueen of the Disney film, Cars.

This is my fourth Triumph, but the first to look a bit out of the ordinary. We started out with normal cars — a GT6 back in the 1970s, then one of the last Stags ever built which we got when it was just six months old. That Stag was unfortunately a troublesome car, until the engine burst on the M4. After Leyland then put a new engine in it for me, it went for 30,000 miles and was never any more trouble, partly I think because we'd learned how to drive the Stag — it just wouldn't take a caning in the same way as the GT6 would.

My son Neil and daughter Kay remember those first Triumphs, as they had to squeeze into the back and there wasn't much room in the GT6. Neil is six foot now, but even as a little kid of seven or eight he still had to have his legs folded up. They must have impressed him somehow though, because he has his own Stag now and loves it — he grew up with his hair blowing around in the back of our Stag; now he does it to his kids. He's not got so much hair of his own to blow about these days, but the girls more than make up for that...

If our Triumphs got Neil started out on his own Triumph path, it was Neil who got me started with this Spitfire. He bought it for me as a project to encourage me to retire — I'd been threatening to retire for some time, but a heart attack forced the issue a bit so I cut down. I was a marine engineer and we had a chandlery shop in Leigh-on-Sea selling outboard motors, fishing boats and dinghies, that sort of thing, so I've always enjoyed tinkering. Now I'm down to two days a week, but I only go in and play with my toys.

The Spitfire came from eBay as a £500 project. It was a complete car with an MoT, but how it got that with its headlights pointing in different directions, I don't know. Plus there was no interior and the bonnet flexed all over the place... It had been a real beauty in its younger days, though, starting out in life as a GT6 Mk3 in 1972. It was later restored back to a beautiful condition in 1997, but six weeks later it got shunted up the rear while waiting at the lights and was written off. The owner bought the salvage back from the insurance company and carried out an economical repair by fitting a MkIV Spitfire body onto the GT6 Mk3 running gear. The bonnet was also a hybrid, consisting of a GT6 Mk2 centre, but Mkl wings.
So it is something of a Bitsa, but at least it survived. It was run like that for a number of years, then put on eBay as an unfinished project in need of TLC in 2011 and that's when Neil bought it. Mixing and matching parts may have been the cheapest way to put it back together, but when we got it the bonnet didn't fit the hinges and the hinges didn't fit the car... We had to mongrel bits to join the mish-mash of parts together, but I enjoy that kind of work. So it started off as an interesting project, and it just grew and grew. My initial plan had been to make a car to use, but then I got carried away — as you can see! That really all started because we had some yellow paint in stock at the shop, and so I painted the wheels that colour. I've always had yellow wheels on my cars, it is just a kind of signature thing. The rest of the car was still red, and I stood back and thought: hang on, if I painted the scallops on the sides and put some stainless steel louvres on from one of our boats, I could put little lights in them... Because we have grandchildren, we'd been to see Cars and that was it — I had a theme. We'd enjoyed the film and thought it was a good moral for the kids, so my Spitfire began to turn into a tribute to Lightning McQueen.

It wasn't all thought out from the start, but evolved one bit at a time. We'd bump into something and think: We could put that here or add it there... We painted the bonnet bulge yellow because we liked that. It has got two Mk3 grilles, one on top of the other, because it can't carry a bumper as the Mk2 bonnet is a different shape to the Mk3. Doubling up on the grille gave us more room for the smile, which we made out of plastic tubing with little LEDs that come on with the sidelights. We had some stickers made up to replicate what was on some models of Lightning — eyes by the windscreen wipers and eyebrows by the sun visors. We originally painted those on, but they didn't last too long which is why we turned to vinyl instead. The vents were too deep to bury into the wings, so we moulded over them using a plywood base with fibreglass on the top. They are functional because I cut holes in the wings underneath, but I also put LEDs in the first four holes on each side, then flashing indicators in the last two. We covered the door cappings with vinyl tartan from the local hardware shop because the proper cappings were £14 each. But we got about a mile of this tartan for three pounds, so we used to have the visors tartan too (though I've since recovered them again). We tell everybody that is the McQueen tartan.

The carpet on the doors and in the boot is from a kids' bedroom carpet with Lightning McQueen and all the characters from the film on it. We'd gone looking for red and black carpet because it is a red and black car and we thought a simple fleck would be nice. But I didn't want to buy £100 of carpet to trim a couple of door cards, so I spoke to the people in the shop and they said to get the biggest roll down and they would cut a metre off. We found that a 1m strip off a roll 4m wide would do everything — we've done the door cards, the interior and the boot, plus we've got some bits left over to lie on while we are working on it too!

I made my own Surrey top. I'd seen them on TRs and knew that style would please somebody in the family who wouldn't have her hair blowing about, but you can't buy them for the Spitfire. So I bought a MkIV hardtop for £70, then cut it in half to make the Surrey style top with dowel pins to locate the centre section. That was cheaper than getting a new hood for the car, and doing away with the convertible mechanism freed up some interior space too.
I was hoping that the centre section of the roof would fit in the boot when removed, but it was too big which is why I ended up cutting that centre section in half. Now the two panels sit nicely behind the seats. We could have gone with a fabric centre section like the proper Surrey top, but we were making it up as we went along. This was actually our second attempt, because the first one blew off after we hadn't fitted it on securely. Now we've adapted the design with strips of aluminium framework covered with fibreglass, and it works really well. We often travel with one side on and the other side off — we are allowed to come home from shows with no roof on, but not to go there without it because she doesn't want to get messy!

The seats are from an MX5. They are very comfortable, and that is important because we do 6000-7000 miles in the Spitfire every year. It is a good all-round fun car. The first year I had it out like this was 2012, and we were awarded Car of the Show at the TSSC Mile of Triumphs in Norfolk. Then in 2013 at the TSSC International Weekend in Stafford we got the People's Choice. At the club's TriumFest in 2014 I was hoping to win the Cruised and Used class, but we came second. I was so proud to win those awards that I put stickers in the back window to advertise the fact. If we do win again, I shall have to become more modest and get some smaller ones made up.

The spoiler on the back is something we bumped into at an autojumble. It cost me £10 to buy — then £20 for the paintwork and another £25 for the stickers! I have no idea what it came off, but everybody comments on how well it fits the Spitfire. Because we have so little luggage space, I built some rings into the spoiler so that a boot bag can be secured on the back. The rear bumper is a double bumper, and we've built a tow bar into it so we can tow our classic boat. I did the double bumper because I didn't want to see an ugly tow bar sticking out the back.

It is the same with the exhaust system — I've got a cherry bomb from a TR6 hiding up in the transmission tunnel, then it branches into two pipes and they progressively get bigger all the way down to give a nice distinctive note. I also use the tow bar to pull a flatbed trailer I have for carrying a couple of three-wheelers — a Lister Platform Truck from the 1950s and a 1962 Nobel 200. However, that trailer has also evolved to suit Lightning McQueen as I have built a removable box unit to go on it that resembles Mack the Truck, also from the Cars movie. I made that out of plywood, plastic, Dexion and fibreglass and it makes a great seating area for up to six people at shows, or sleeping accommodation for two.

The Spitfire has been an ongoing and evolving project, but I don't think there is too much more I can add. I would, however, like to get it so that the little model car by the sun visor talks. I'd also like to have the car wiggle and shake like the American show cars do, but I think that is a bridge too far as it would cost way too much money. So far it hasn't been too expensive, probably under £2000 all in.

When he first saw what I'd done with the Spitfire, Neil cringed. In fact, everybody cringed and said: Oh no, what's he getting up to now? But then when we started taking it out to shows, people began to say how nice it was to see somebody enjoying their car. And besides, it was never going to be a classic because it was made from too many bits and pieces, so everybody accepts it as a fun car. I've only had one person comment that it isn't standard, and he had a 2.5-litre in his GT6 so I thought: You're not standard either! Now I stop fussing about what people think and just enjoy it. We go out with the Suffolk, the M25 East and the Essex groups of the TSSC, so we keep busy. Most of the members accept it for what it is — a fun car — and don't get too excited about having the wrong bumper bolts or anything li

For more great articles like this get the No.152 Like Lightning issue of Triumph World below or subscribe and save.

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About Triumph World

Triumph World is the leading magazine dedicated to all standard triumph cars. Read about some of the greatest triumphs on the road, from the TR sports through to the Stag, Spitfire and Saloons, includes practical features, and also buying and maintenance advice.

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