My First Car Story – a 1972 Triumph Dolomite 1850HL
Probably one of the less exciting cars that will feature on this site…
When I passed my test back in 1976 and subsequently went to University in Birmingham, I couldn’t afford a car, but was able to occasionally use my father’s – during my years at Uni these were a gold VW K70 and then a metallic brown Citroen GS Pallas. He rarely went for the ordinary.
When I secured a job on completing my degree, the first thing I wanted was a car. I’d seen the one – at the local Fire Station was parked a gorgeous metallic blue Opel Manta A, but when I spoke to the firefighter owner, he wasn’t selling, and I couldn’t find another locally. The Manta A is an itch I still haven’t scratched.
Time was getting short, and I was due to start work within a few days – and as it was going to be with British Leyland, I thought I had better get an appropriate car. I liked the look of the Triumph Dolomite range (geddit? I kill myself sometimes), and saw an 1850HL being advertised for £675 (this was now 1979), so I went to take a look. I didn’t really know much about the mechanics of a car, or indeed what to look out for other than the very obvious. However, it was being sold by two teachers, so I assumed that I would be able to trust them. How wrong that assumption turned out to be.
It’d had a fresh coat of mustard-yellow paint, and its black velour interior looked very smart. After a test drive that revealed only that the wheels needed balancing and that the twin-carb set up needed tuning, I got them down to £625, and was pretty pleased with myself, but the feeling didn’t last.
It turned out that the wheels didn’t need balancing at all – they needed new tyres all round because the ones fitted were different sizes. I hadn’t even thought to check - after all, who fits different-sized tyres? I couldn’t afford new tyres so bought 5 remoulds - £50.
Setting up the carburettors cost me £48.
Then I discovered the fuel tank was leaking – a replacement was another £50.
A mechanically-adept friend of my father’s took a look at the car for me – turns out that the respray (in a mustard-yellow) that the teachers had so proudly informed me of disguised masses of filler – the car was a rust-bucket. If only he’d been able to look at the car before I bought it…as it was, I’d bought a dog.
I couldn’t afford to change it and was hoping it would at least last until I qualified for a company car at work, so I drove it without too many further issues for about a year, towards the end of which the steering column had developed increasing amounts of fore-and-aft movement. “My” mechanic took a look under the car – the chassis was slowly splitting in two roughly in line with where the front door pillar was. The car was turning into a death trap, and was only fit for the scrapyard, which was where it went – I got £30 for it. It was only 8 years old. Damn those teachers, and my naivety. I was so sick of the car by then that I was happy to see it go – I don’t even have any photos of it, though it looked like this:-
Fortunately, the promotion and company car that I had been working towards came through very shortly afterwards – though working for British Leyland, the car was an Austin Allegro 1500HL, now considered to be one of the worst cars ever made…but it was at least new, and I didn’t have to worry about any costs. My street cred, on the other hand (such as it was)…well, that disappeared. The Allegro was the first of literally dozens of BL cars that I endured in my next 4 years there. I even managed to sell some.
Whenever I see a Dolomite at a car show nowadays, it brings back bad memories of my first car, but if someone offered me a mint Dolomite Sprint, especially in blue, I’d still be sorely tempted.