Words: Dave Smith, photography: Simon Cooke
This custom has evolved over a third of a century from an unremarkable British Leyland beater into something that can only be described as…Dolo-mint.
Some guys seem to be able to build a custom in a matter of weeks; others take absolutely years to finish their project. Some rodders sell their builds almost as soon as they’re done; others will keep hold of them for decades. This home-brewed custom is somewhere in the middle – it began as a bone-stock daily driver, and has been slowly and gradually modified, a bit at a time, over many, many years. It hasn’t been built so much as evolved. This isn’t the car’s first visit to the pages of Street Machine, and, going by past form, it won’t be its last…
David Hames, from the West Midlands, bought this bog-standard 1973 Triumph Dolomite 1850 way back in 1984. “I bought it for £500, just so the missus, Jayne, had something to drive to work,” says David. “It was solid, no rust or damage, just dull in faded burnt orange. I’ve always liked modifying motors, ever since I was a Mod as a lad and fitted all the accessories to my Lambretta SX200! However, at the time, we had three little kids and a mortgage, and there wasn’t much money about.
“In 1986, Jayne had a little bump, and the car needed a new wing. I got Jayne a cheap runabout, took the Dolomite off the road, and decided to do a few little jobs. I took it to Pete Jackson, a body and paint man at a local garage. Pete was into modified Minis, and he began suggesting some mods we could do to the Triumph! He fitted a new wing, painted the car BMW red, and widened the arches, so I bought some alloys, and that’s when it began turning into a custom.
“I started buying Street Machine and going to some of the old-school custom shows. I went to a little show over Stourbridge way, and one of the guys who ran the show was Phil Bowen, who had a Model T. He was so nice and friendly, and that got me more into the custom scene.
“The major changes began in 1996, when I had a new leather interior, made a new centre console, and fitted billet aluminium interior trim, door handles and so on. Then, in 2001, I got a 2.0 TR7 engine from a scrapyard and took it to a specialist engine builder in Kent who lightened and balanced the bottom end, gas-flowed the head and fitted the hot cam and twin Webers. I removed, cleaned and powder-coated the front subframe, then fitted the new engine and full stainless exhaust.
“In 2003, I got the car up on axle stands in my tiny garage, and set about the underside, stripping it all back to bare metal before giving it about four coats of paint. The steel down there is remarkably good; aside from a couple of tiny welded repairs, the only non-original panel on the car was the wing that was replaced in 1986. I stripped all the suspension down and had it all powder-coated, had the axle rebuilt, and fitted new Spax dampers and poly-bushes all round.
“I fitted a new aluminium radiator and electric fan, because the 2.0 was running a little hot on the stock radiator, and fitted electronic ignition. I took it back to Pete, where it was de-guttered, de-seamed around the back end, and had the flush door handles from a Rover 200 fitted. He made the boot spoiler in metal, frenched in the front indicators and the ’34 Ford taillights, and we fitted an electric tilt and slide sunroof, and the electric mirrors from a Toyota MR2. Then, he painted it in the colours it still wears now – metallic silver over a Peugeot pearl red.
“The pinstriping was done by LetterKnight, who came to my house to do it. The wheels were custom made by Image Wheels, who took measurements and made these billet two-piece 17″ rims. Very few cars use the small Triumph PCD, so there’s very little out there above 13” unless you have them made. The last mod I made was the Budnik half-leather billet steering wheel, but of course there was no boss available for the Triumph, so I ordered a GM one, which has a smaller hole, and a local firm drilled it out and re-splined it to fit the Dolomite column.
“That’s how you see it now, although there’s always something to do. It goes a lot better than a normal Dolomite, although it still drives like one – occasionally I’ll put my foot down, but I’m not a speed freak. I get a lot of youngsters pull up alongside me and ask, ‘What is it?’ I also go along to Triumph shows, and three-quarters of the people there appreciate it, but others just don’t get it and ask ‘Why?’ I do this for me, though; not them. The car does get used, and does about 3-4,000 miles a year, and I’m happy to take it out unless the forecast is really dire – it means a lot of cleaning afterwards, otherwise! It’s my joy; I want to drive it! I do get people not believing that I drive it, but it’s never been on a trailer.
“I love hot rods, and I’d love a ’34 Ford, but they’re out of my price range and I’ll never get there. Now the kids have left home and the mortgage is paid off, there are a few more pennies to spend on the car. I’d quite like another new interior; that one’s been in there a good few years now. Don’t let my missus hear that, though! No, I’m very lucky – Jayne loves the car, comes along to all the shows, and even polishes, sometimes.”
1973 Triumph Dolomite 1850
- 2.0 TR7 8v engine
- Lightened and balanced
- Gas-flowed head
- Stage II camshaft
- Twin sidedraught Weber carbs
- Electronic ignition
- Stainless exhaust
- Custom aluminium radiator
- Electric fan
- Spax adjustable dampers all round
- Drilled and grooved brake discs
- Image 17″ custom split-rim alloys
- Bridgestone low-profile tyres
- Extensive bodywork and interior modifications!
Thanks to: “Thanks to my wife, Jayne. They do put up with a lot, especially when cars take over our lives…”