View Article Gallery Back to the article
Share this story

The course of true love never did run smooth and, at times, living with Terry and Brenda Windsor’s Triumph Dolomite Sprint was like starring in a Shakespearean tragicomedy.

So frustrated did they become with the car’s regular bouts of overheating, among other almost farcical calamities, that Terry took it off to a car dealer mate and swapped it for a Renault 5 Gordini.

That was in the early 1980s, but he quickly saw the error of his ways, describing the French car as “a piece of crap compared to what we had”.

The cars were promptly swapped back and, four decades later, the couple can’t imagine life without the Sprint, which has since been restored and looks as fresh as the day it left the factory.

Part of the family

“It’s part of the family,” says Terry. “We’ve not got any kids, so I suppose that’s a substitute.”

After cutting his motoring teeth on an 350cc AJS motorcycle at 16, Terry switched to four wheels as soon as he could.

“All my mates were getting killed around me and I thought four wheels has got to be better than two,” he says, his older brother, who he was working for as a trainee electrician, buying him an early Mini van for work in 1960.

“I was hurtling about in that for years. Then I met Brenda about 10 years later, and the first car I bought was a Riley Kestrel 1100.”

Another Riley, a Ford Corsair, a Renault 16 and a Rover 2000 (a “Friday afternoon car”, according to Brenda) followed before “Dolly” came along in 1977.

“We weren’t looking for one of those, but we went and saw it together, jumped in and drove it around, and I said ‘what do you think?’” says Terry. “We were both a bit iffy, but I like something a little bit different so we said yes, we’ll have it.”

The honeysuckle car was owned by a friend of Terry’s, who had paid £4,800 for the new car four months previously before running into financial difficulty.

“I offered him £3,000 and he took it, but I did feel I was robbing him so I rewired his house, labour-wise, for nothing,” he says, in the garden of the couple’s Kent home.

BMW beater

The Sprint was launched in June 1973, with British Leyland billing it as a car to beat BMW’s sporting 2002 – at a much cheaper price.

It received an overwhelmingly positive response from the British motoring press, with CAR describing a “well equipped, luxurious and very quick” car that was “remarkably good value for money”.

To What Car?, BL’s BMW-beater claim had “seemed a rather sick joke” when the car was announced, “but there is little doubt that if it had a BMW, Fiat or Alfa badge, British snob motorists would be rushing to buy one”.

For the time, it was a very fast sports saloon, its 1998cc, 16-valve, four cylinder engine propelling it to 60mph in 8.5 seconds on its way to a top speed of 115mph.

And Terry admits he “did hammer it about – it’s built to go”.

But, as he was using a van for work, it was Brenda who did the lion’s share of the driving in the Sprint, commuting to work as a secretary.

Mild panic

It wasn’t long before approaching a traffic jam, especially in warmer weather, became a source of mild panic.

“It always got a bit cooked if you got stuck in traffic,” says Terry. “If you got snarled up, end of story. The petrol would evaporate before it got into the chambers, and it just died. The beauty of it was that once you started realising what was happening, all you had to do was lift the bonnet up and sit there and wait.”

Which is all very well, adds Brenda, “until it happens when you’re in the middle of the road and you want to turn right – that’s not so good”.

“That happened to me once when I had the girls from work with me,” she says. “We’d been on an awayday training thing and I was turning right towards the motorway to come home and it just decided it had had enough.

“So I said ‘it’s all right, it’ll be all right in a minute’, and it was – well, about 10 minutes, and we were off again. They didn’t come with me again…”

Then there was the time they were heading back to Kent from the Haynes motor museum in Somerset, and a hose on the fuel pump split a few miles into their journey.

The AA got them going again, for a while.

“Going down the M3, it’s all snarled up and I went ‘oh no’,” says Terry, a familiar sinking feeling taking hold.

“Then this car came up alongside, full of young kids, and they said ‘ah, that is lovely, does she ever break down?’ and I went ‘nah, she’s fine’…and it went ‘pfft’.

Cooling down

“I called the AA up again, and I’m pushing her down the motorway to get it over to the hard shoulder, and the traffic’s all congested up. We just sat there and sat there for about two hours, nobody turned up. Once she cooled down properly, away she went and I went ‘woof, let’s get out of here’, and we finally got home.”

They tried the usual tricks, like turning up the heater full blast, which sometimes bought them enough time to get the car up to 60mph or 70mph and get some air flowing through the radiator – of which they went through three…

Eventually, Terry had had enough.

“It was giving us so much grief,” he says. “The overheating was just driving me nuts, so I went down to see a mate who was in the trade and he had this Gordini in there.

“I thought ‘that’s nice’, I took it out and I said ‘we’ll swap it for that.’ But after I got it back I was driving around and thought ‘this is a piece of crap compared to what we had’ so I went back there and said ‘nah, it’s not on, you’ve got to take it back.’

“It didn’t cost us a thing, because he was a mate, but he said ‘I had buyers for that…’”

Given a second chance, the Sprint didn’t exactly take it, with more calamities to add to the overheating problems (which no doubt contributed to the need for a head skim).

One thing after another

First, there was the gearbox.

“We just lost it, there were no gates, nothing,” says Terry, 77. “What the hell’s going on here? I phoned my mate up and he said ‘you’re having a laugh aren’t you?’ I said ‘no, it’s not a wind up, I can’t get any gears’.

“We shipped it over to him, and he couldn’t find anything wrong. Don’t ask me, I’m not a mechanic, but he said he turned everything 180 degrees, put it all back again, and we’ve never had any trouble since. That’s how he explained it to us.”

Then Brenda returned home one night, after an especially stressful drive home from work, and said: “The car won’t turn left.”

“I thought she was having a laugh but, sure enough, it would only go very gently left,” says Terry.

“We took it down to my mate again, and had to work the route out so it was mostly right turns.”

 “I had to wait until there was nothing coming so I could take a long run at any left turns,” adds Brenda. “It was quite comical by then.”

But don’t get the impression it was all drama, misery and repair bills – the Sprint also carried the Windsors on holiday all over the country, including to Devon and Cornwall, Wales, and Norfolk.

By 1987, some of the paintwork was starting to blister, and they left it in the hands of paint sprayer friend George while they jetted off to Spain for a holiday.

After completing the work, George left the car on the Windsor’s drive and posted the keys through the door, waiting for their return on the night of October 15.

The Great Storm

But no-one, not even Michael Fish, had predicted the Great Storm that would hit that night, with Kent one of the worst-affected areas.

“We were stuck at Malaga airport for 13 hours,” says Terry. “They wouldn’t tell us what was up, but we eventually found out it was a hurricane and I went ‘oh shut up’, like you do. 

“George was crapping himself, because he couldn’t move the car out of the way – he was waiting for us here when we got back. 

“Unbelievably, nothing hit the car – it was fine.”

The Sprint continued to be the couple’s only car until 2002, when they fell for the charms of a 3-series BMW – but that didn’t mean the end of the road for the Triumph.

“It never occurred to us to sell it,” says Brenda, with Terry adding: “It was part of the family by then, and we knew what might go wrong with it.”

It became a “fun car”, stripped of the responsibilities of commuting, and reserved for runs out in the countryside and car shows.

Restoration time

By 2012, the Dolomite was starting to look “a little bit sad”, says Terry, with surface rust bubbling up, rusting jacking points, and a missing overdrive, which was fixed by Gravesend Transmission Services.

They, in turn, pointed him in the direction of spray-painting specialists Viking Coachworks, which was also in the middle of an NHS contract to paint plastic beds.

“They said ‘this is our priority, but if you want to leave it here and there’s no time span, we’ll do it all for you’,” says Terry.

“They took it right down to Delorean state (bare metal) and started again. Since then, she’s been a beauty.”

Maintaining the car’s stunning paintwork is a matter of personal pride for Brenda, who says: “I’m the one that polishes it. I must admit, I do like cleaning cars.”

As well as the paintwork, the wooden door cappings were revarnished, while the seats were re-covered by Terence Upholstery, who Terry met through membership of the Ramsgate Old Motor and Motor Cycle Club (ROMMCC). 

More recently, steps were finally taken to cure the overheating, with an electric fan fitted to the radiator, while an electric fuel pump has replaced the mechanical one to improve starting.

“It’s never let us down since we fitted the electric fan, but you do still feel a bit…” says Terry, the memory of so many breakdowns hard to forget.

As well as the ROMMCC, the couple are members of the Triumph Dolomite Club, Kent Classics and Sports Car Club, and Tea Cakes and Classics, and they take in shows and runs all over Kent.

Show winner

“The last couple of summers have been a disaster for everybody, and it’s just stood in the garage,” says Terry, reliving happier memories of a show win in 2015 at Capel-le-Ferne near Folkestone, home of the Spitfire Museum.

“It was all a bit embarrassing, because we’d parked next to a red Thunderbird, which just automatically takes the eye.

“We were sitting there, chatting away with him in the museum and at 4pm they draw the winner of the car show. He said ‘are you going up there?’ I said ‘nah, we never win anyway, doesn’t matter much, we’ll have a cup of tea’.

“We’re sitting there, and this guy with a yellow hi-vis went ‘Dolomite owner?’ ‘Yes mate’. ‘Get your arse over here’, that’s exactly what he said.

“I went round there, and we’d won car of the show. I was so embarrassed because they’re all waiting. There were so many dream cars there I thought ‘how did we win that?’”

They much prefer driving the car than simply standing in a field for hours.

“That’s why we belong to the Ramsgate club,” says Terry, “because you meet up near Herne Bay at a garden centre, have a cup of tea and chat or go in and have breakfast, and they give you a specific run to go to Ramsgate.

“You’re running it and it’s much better for it, and then you go on a static field, which is not so bad.”

Attention grabber

Given only about 750 Sprints exist in the UK, roughly half of which are on the road, the car attracts plenty of attention when it’s out and about.

“We’ve had motorbikes come up on the motorways and wave at us, and a lot of people go ‘whoa’,” says Terry, “even out there on the drive, people walk down the street and go ‘ooh, that’s nice’.

“It’s a one off, it’s different, a lot of people look at it and go ‘oh it’s a Dolomite, ooh, hang on, no it’s a Sprint’.”

Brenda adds that the car’s Sprint badge causes quite a stir.

“We were late to one car show and they said ‘just pop her in there’,” she says. “Later, they said ‘you can turn her round now’ but because of a starting issue she had to stay there until she’d calmed down.

“We got more reaction from parking her the wrong way round because it says Sprint on the back, but from the front it just says Triumph. We thought ‘we’ll have to do that again’.”

Terry and Brenda plan on adding a fair few miles to the 88,935 on the clock and, one day, it may end up in one of the museums they enjoy visiting.

“We have made our wills and we’ve left it to Haynes or Beaulieu, or a place up in Glasgow, and if none of them want to take it, my mate who has looked after it all these years will get it,” says Terry.

“He’s retired now, but he loved working on it because he always said ‘I can do anything with this’.”

In the meantime, Brenda has plenty more polishing to do.

Share this story

Leave a comment