Regrets: Triumph Dolomite 1850HL

70s cars General Bunk Regrets
A tale full of dreams, grim reality and ultimately regret from Peter Counsell. Here's the story of his Triumph Dolomite 1850HL.

Regrets –  we’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention. Actually that’s not strictly true – it seems we all look back on our catalogue of car purchases with some degree of regret. There are cars we regret selling. Cars we regret not buying. And cars we regret buying. PetrolBlog’s latest feature has certainly struck a chord with many of you, leading to an outpouring of tales of regret.

Another tale of regret on PetrolBlog, this time courtesy of Peter Counsell, he of a rather fine Real Word Dream Barn in 2012. There was a Triumph nestled in his Dream Barn but it wasn't a Dolomite. Perhaps suggesting that this is an experience he'd rather forget. Whatever, his story strikes at the very heart of PetrolBlog - a tale of dreams, painful reality and ultimately, one of regret. Over to you, Peter.

The premature death of Edith Piaf in 1963 at the age of 47 robbed the world of a singing sensation. She was famed for her songs of woe and misery, her most well-known being “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” – literally “No, I don’t regret anything”. Had she, improbably, lived in the Guildford area in the late ’80s, seen the classified section of the Surrey Advertiser and made her way to a shifty looking barn in the Surrey countryside, then her sentiments might have been so different.

Every day we all do things that we know are unwise, but there are greater forces that keep us moving in exactly the wrong direction. This is the result.

At the time, I owned a Mk1 Capri 1600GT, sold to me by my brother for the heady sum of £200 (£250 if it passed the MOT the following month. It didn't). It was fine in so many respects, by which I mean it was quite unlike anything else that friends were driving. The Capri story is for another day however. Its role in this story is merely to act as the springboard to greater things.

By the time I had left university and was gainfully employed, I thought that the Capri should be phased out and replaced with something that more befitted my job. Indeed, my bosses had suggested that as well. The right thing to do at this stage would have been to buy a Golf, Escort or 205 and be done with it. The wrong thing to do would be to indulge one’s armchair love of classic cars. Having read around the topic in some detail, it seemed obvious that depreciation was the enemy and – providing you bought right – maintenance costs could be under control. I know that there are a number of PetrolBlog’s supporters who are nodding now.

Triumph Dolomite SprintLooking then for something distinctive and not too old led me through flawed logic to Triumph Dolomite. The Sprint! Tony Pond, early episodes of The Professionals? Not the Sprint. The 1850HL which nearly looked the part. Many of you have stopped nodding.

As ever, it is important to have context. In the late ’80s, we are talking classified ads in the back of the local paper or, if feeling a bit racy, Exchange and Mart or the Thames Valley Trader. There was no internet and research meant reading old copies of Classic and Sports Car. Also a ten year old car in 1989 is a very very different proposition to a ten year old car now.

I can still remember the ad. I can still remember the telephone number and I can still remember the name of the owner trader. I can even remember the daft question I asked on the phone (“is the paintwork shiny?” – clearly I was fully prepared).

Walking into the barn (Real World, but certainly no Dream), I should have been alerted by the smell of paint and by the dozens of cars littered around. But, as we know, there are greater forces at work.

Triumph Dolomite 1850HL in greenThere it was. Resplendent in (not very) shiny green paintwork with a biscuit velour and wood interior.  A T-registered Dolomite 1850HL, with an alluring West London registration that started ‘EGO’. OK, I know that I should have looked in more detail, well just any detail would have helped. The test drive was alright. After all, I had no idea what the vehicle should actually drive like. All I could tell was that it was very comfortable and it pulled quite well. Fearful of (1) somebody else buying it and (2) that this might be the only 1850HL available in the South East, I bought.

For the most part, all was indeed well. We had a few wrinkles along the way, mostly involving a noise from the gearbox, which on subsequent examination turned out not to belong to a Dolomite at all. Nobody was any the wiser as to the real parentage of the gearbox. Suffice to say that I don’t think its mother and father were married at the time of its birth. A few garages had the pleasure of the Dolomite’s company for a while. None of them enjoyed it. One (Austin Rover) garage went as far as asking me not to bring it back to them.

As with any ‘classic’ ownership, there is some rough and some smooth. I treated it to a cassette player (Audioline!) and Alpine speakers. Ownership coincided with the cricket season and there was something quite nice about turning up to play in villages in a car that looked like it belonged. It was a very calming and quite brisk way of moving around, provided you kept at least one hand on the gear lever to hold it in place. A mate and I had an epic trip through the Lake District later in the summer.

And then it came to an abrupt end. Not through rust or mechanical failure but through the omission of the bloke behind me to apply his brakes properly. As a result, big Mercedes piles into back of Dolomite, Dolomite shoved into Marina Van, Marina Van nudged into the car at the front of the queue. Unfortunate but not nasty. My biggest concern was how to get home (the AA) and being slightly worried that the contents of the boot - my favourite 3 wood - had been damaged.

Rear of green Triumph Dolomite 1850HLThe Dolomite cost me £540 (negotiated down from £595, I will have you know). It does not take too much Mercedes W124 to cause £540 worth of damage. This incident did bring me into contact with such lovely characters as the loss adjusters and the insurers themselves. Out of that particular nonsense, I did get the value of the car back plus the stereo and speakers and £60 for distress (I was quite upset). Pleasingly the 3 wood was OK.

Not surprisingly, the impact had revealed two significant factors. Firstly, old Dolomites do not have crumple zones. They fold up in an uncertain way, doors jam, locks burst and the whole accident experience is not one to go through again with an old car. Secondly, under the green paint, much of it was filler. No surprise to you, the sage reader, and probably not to me either but in some way just a little bit sad.

What then are the regrets? Well, none of them are terminal. I regret trying to run two old cars at the same time. It doesn’t give you coverage, it just gives you two unreliable vehicles. I regret buying a car without checking that the drivetrain does belong to it. Lastly, I regret the loss of romanticism that came with its demise. It was a lovely idea to run a ‘classic’ as a daily driver, but it is most impractical and therefore unlikely to happen again. For a while….

Oh and what of Edith Piaf?  She was French and would probably have bought a Renault 16.


Car: 1978 Triumph Dolomite Sprint

Regret: Buying

Reason for selling: Became part of a Mercedes/Dolomite/Marina-Van sandwich

Strength of regret: 7/10

Possibility of buying another one: 5/10 - deeply buried but still there

PetrolBlog wants to hear your regrets. Get in touch with us at the usual address and fill PetrolBlog with regret. You know it makes sense.

Follow Peter on twitter @CounsellPeter for car-based tweetery and the occasional musical reference.

Sprint © Triumph, OHH 403W © Triumph Dolomite Club forum.