1973 Triumph Dolomite Sprint Group 1 Ex Works Car
In Spring 1973 Julien Vernaeve, the ex BMC works driver and distributor of Leyland Cars in Belgium, decided to go racing again. This was not some wild whim, Vernaeve had been very successful in the European Touring Car Championship in 1964 with the Ex Works Mini Cooper S backed by Tyrell and indeed won the 1966 Marathon de la Route which constituted 84 hours of the Nürburgring in the now legendary MGB ‘Old Faithfull’ with Andrew Hedges.
Vernaeve obviously saw great racing promise in the then new Dolomite Sprint and his influence meant he was well able to get the car he wanted. To this end chassis VA2493, a left drive Sprint was transferred upon completion at the Triumph Coventry factory in August 1973 directly to the BMC Motorsports Department in Abingdon. The car was built in collaboration with Vernaeve, the engine being built by friend and engine supremo Don Moore, a long-time employee of the Works Department who built the Mini Cooper S engines that had brought Vernaeve success in the previous decade.
The car was transported to Leyland Cars in Belgium at the end of 1973 and first appeared in the Belgium Touring Car Championship in April 1974 at Zolder, sponsored by the Butch Taylor/ Broadspeed Racing Team. It went on to be one of the four Mimosa yellow Dolomites to campaign the Spa 24 Hours race that year driven by Vernaeve and John Handley, qualifying went well but the car failed to finish with a broken rear axle 11 hours in. However, the Dolomite showed promise, Andy Rouse and Tony Dron in a sister car again sponsored by Butch Taylor finished fifth.
This car took many class wins in the championships of 1974/5 and once again competed in the 1975 Spa 24 hour race, again with Vernaeve and Handley. Once again success eluded them with a retirement after 12 hours frustratingly having risen to 8th place at that point.
At the end of 1975 the car was sent back to Abingdon to receive the latest Works homologated upgrades consisting of a new strengthened engine block allowing the car to rev higher and for longer, this remains in the car today. In addition, larger Weber 48 carbs were fitted and a repaint completed in the Leyland Works Cars livery, again retained to this day.
The upgrades soon proved worthwhile with chassis 2493 taking multiple class wins on the circuits of Europe in 1976, most notably at Coupes De Spa in May 1976. Vernaeve went on to drive the car with Rene Metge, Tony Pond and Belgium Dolomite Sprint ace Guy Pirenne. The race history is fully documented and detailed in the extensive history file that accompanies the car.
The car was retired in 1978 and spent many years on display in the Vernaeve Leyland Cars dealership in Gent until it was bought by fellow racer Barry Sidery Smith, who raced the car once only at Oulton Park in 1998. Following this, Sidery Smith placed the car on display in the Abbaye De Stavelot Museum which features important cars that have raced at Spa.
The car remained in the museum in time warp condition exactly as it had left the track in 1978 until it was bought by a new enthusiast in 2010 at which point its racing career resumed. The car was mechanically restored by Ken Clarke Motorsport during 2010 and 2011, as the ex TWR chief mechanic during the Rover SD1 years he clearly knew how to make the car competitive. He provided full race support for the car’s second race career until 2015.
The Dolomite reappeared fittingly at the Spa Francorchamps Six Hour race meeting in 2011 and went on to compete in multiple events, most notably with the Motor Racing Legends HTCC series from 2012 to 2014. It won this series in class (Group 1 under 2,500cc) in 2012, 2013 and 2014 mainly in the capable hands of Anthony Robinson and Rob Gravett.
The car has been invited to the Goodwood Members Meeting each year since its inception in 2014, driven by its owner, Tim Harvey, Rob Gravett and Michael Caine. It would have attended this year’s meeting had a pandemic not intervened.
In 2014 Warren Heath Engineering (the ex Prodrive engine builder) took over the restoration, race prep and race support of the Dolomite. The engine being rebuilt along with a suspension overhaul and development in 2016.
Today chassis VA2493 presents in race ready order with a pleasing patina as one might expect of a race car. It has a valid Historic Technical Passport, number GB 19315 expiring on the 31st December 2029. The car retains its exotic Works componentry, the rare homologated thick wall block with alloy ported and flowed 16 valve cylinder head and steel crank, steel caps, steel rods, JE custom pistons, steel custom profile camshaft and stainless steel valves. Combined with other mods such as the twin Weber 48 DCOE carbs, Group 1 exhaust manifold and down pipe and straight through exhaust power peaks at about 250bhp. In addition, there is an Abingdon Special Tuning STR53 close ratio gearbox, Salisbury LSD, Group 1 front brake callipers with vented discs and vented rear drums. Also fitted is a twin pipe brake master cylinder, balance bar and dash mounted bias adjust. Koni two-way dampers, coil springs and anti-roll bar are well up to controlling body movement.
Here we have an important historic Works race car that is ready to continue its career. It comes with a very extensive file that fully documents the life of VA 2493 including all race entries and results. There is a gratifying abundance of action racing photos over the years contained within along with much correspondence, specification and of course the all-important current HTP papers. A substantial number of parts accompany the Sprint.