As we've said many times on these pages (especially in the buyer's guide): a Triumph Spitfire is an old car and it needs more maintenance than modern cars. Firstly because it's old and if it hasn't been completely and throroughly rebuilt recently, some parts will be 'tired' and need replacing - and secondly because Spitfires were designed and built in a time when cars were expected to need more maintenance anyway.
So, it needs looking after. You can either have this done by somebody else, pay lots of money for it and still not know if it gets done properly, or you can do it yourself and be proud of it. It can be daunting if you've never done it before, but no job is difficult to do on a Triumph Spitfire - honestly! I personally find it very satisfying to tackle a job I've never done before with only a workshop manual, the right tools, some perseverance, bare hands and common sense and succeed. If you're not afraid to get your hands dirty and are prepared to learn about what makes a Triumph Spitfire tick, it's all relatively simple.
Spitfires are among the most popular starter classics. Therefore, first time owners may not have a comprehensive toolset when they get their Spitfire. This page tries to give more information about the tools you're likely to need to keep your Spitfire in top condition and tackle most maintenance and repair jobs an average owner may encounter.
Workshop setup - General considerations, lighting, workbench, bench vice, garage jack, axle stands, tools storage, general storage, personal protection
Essential basic hand tools - Set of AF combination spanners, socket set, spark plug socket, oil filter wrench, pliers, screwdrivers, feeler gauge, hammer
Non-essential hand tools - deadblow hammer, 7mm socket screwdriver, torque wrench, 1/16" Allen key
Electric tools - Test lamp, multimeter, battery charger
'Nice to have' - Engineer's stethoscope, mirror on a stick, balljoint splitter, prybars, Eezibleed, carb vacuum gauge, air tools
Special tools - Road spring compressor, rear wheel hub puller
Make sure you have somewhere to work on your car inside, in something at least resembling a garage. Working in the street or on the driveway may sound OK, but isn't. You don't want to have to carry all your tools down to the street (and worry about them getting stolen!) and if for any reason you can't finish a job in a day, you don't want to leave the car outside on axle stands or - even worse - on bricks.
Main workshop lighting rule: you can never have too much light. A single tubelight is the absolute minimum; there really is no maximum.
A good, sturdy workbench is invaluable. It should be heavy enough not to move from its spot when worked hard, or be firmly attached to a wall. The worktop can be wood (best is beech-wood) or steel. Garage floors, old tables, kitchen sinks, Black & Decker Workmates and similar things are no alternatives for a good workbench.
Every good workbench should have a good vice. The width of the jaws should be at least 125mm and the jaw opening should be as wide as possible. It doesn't need a turntable, but it's a convenient feature if it has one. Try to get some sort of removable protection on the jaws, so as not to damage delicate workpieces. You can use pieces of aluminium angle material, or buy dedicated protection jaws which are sometimes even magnetised. They come covered in rubber, felt, fibre, leather (my favourite) or polyurethane.
The world's best bench vices are made by Heuer. These look very slender and vulnerable, but are entirely forged from steel, guaranteed unbreakable, exquisitely engineered and Made in Germany. They're relatively expensive, but good value, since they will last at least a lifetime. Your kids will love it if you decide to buy one of these...
A garage jack is used for lifting the car to a suitable height at which it can be supported by axle stands - and getting it down again after the work is done. That is the only thing it is used for. A garage jack, or any other jack for that matter, should never be used to support the car while working under it.
An hydraulic garage jack for the home mechanic can initially be of the cheap and cheerful variety you find at Halfords or DIY centres. A Triumph Spitfire is only a light car, so a light jack will suffice. Added advantage is that they are low, which suits a low car like the Spitfire.
The axle stands and garage jack go together. Axle stands are used to support the car while working on the suspension or brakes, or while working under the car. Never, ever work on a car that is just supported by a jack of whatever type. Always use axle stands.
This is where you can be as creative as you like. You can hang your tools on the wall, spread them out on a shelf, keep them in a tool chest or put them in a roller cabinet, like the 'real' mechanics do. Whatever you decide to do with your tools, do keep them in an orderly fashion. You'll soon grow tired of digging through a great big pile of disorganised tools.
You'll need somewhere to put your spare parts, cleaning rags, fluids, nuts and bolts and such. Shelving is always good, a small drawer cabinet for nuts & bolts and other parts comes in very handy, too.
Working on old cars can be a messy job (but somebody's gotta do it). We suggest getting at least nice overalls (some Triumph clubs have overalls with the Triumph wreath on them!) and good, stout footwear as minimum body protection, supplemented by leather working gloves for the really heavy and dirty jobs.
Over the last few years we've become great fans of latex surgeons gloves. They're cheap, non-handed, single use items and you don't need to scrub your hands for half an hour to get all the oil and grime off afterwards. If you've got delicate office hands like us, you'll love them.
If you get into things like de-rusting with a rotary wire brush, do remember to wear eye protection. Nothing sucks more than a piece of steel or slivers of rust in your eyes.
Essential basic hand tools
Set of AF combination spanners
No Spitfire was ever made with metric size nuts and bolts, so you'll need at least one good quality AF spanner set. 'Good quality' is important, since cheap'n'cheerful sets can be lethal when used in earnest. Avoid cheap, simple chromed steel spanners at all cost. The (poisonous) chrome will chip off and get under your fingernails and/or penetrate your skin. You don't have to splash out your month's salary on a bloody nice but wildly overpriced Snap-On set, but do try to get a set from another well-known toolmaker, like Metrinch, Gedore, Facom, TengTools, Kraftwerk, King Dick, Stahlwille and such. They're really worth their higher price in the long run.
'AF' stands for 'Across Flats' and denotes the size of the nuts and bolt heads in inches. The word 'combination' means the spanners have both a ring and an open end. Use the ring end of a spanner whenever you can, since it will grip the nut or bolthead much more firmly than the open end. You can do pretty much everything you need to do on a Spitfire in the way of regular maintenance with just the following spanner sizes: 3/8", 7/16", 1/2", 5/8" and 11/16"
An AF socket set is optional, but very convenient, especially if you have just the single AF spanner set. When it comes to quality, the same goes with socket sets as with spanners: buy a well-known brand. Steer well clear of the cheap'n'cheerful stuff, it'll wear out before you know it (rounding off nuts and bolt heads in the process), chrome will flake off, ratchets will break and you'll get annoyed and possibly even injured.
Socket sets come in different drive sizes, 'drive' meaning the square thingy with the spring loaded ball that attaches to the sockets. Most common sizes are 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2". A 1/4" set is generally considered too small for serious work on any car and 1/2" may be slightly oversize for working on a Spitfire. We consider 3/8" drive socket sets just right for working on Triumph Spitfires - and most modern cars, for that matter.
Make sure the ratchet in the socket set has a fine ratchet action, which means a high number of 'clicks' per revolution; the finer the better. If it's very course, it may not be of much use in tight spaces, where you can only move the ratchet handle a tiny amount.
If your budget will stretch that far, try to get a socket set that also contains 'deep sockets'. They're longer sockets which are great for gripping nuts that are on long bolts, with a length of bolt sticking out of the nut.
Spark plug socket
If it isn't in your socket set already, get a spark plug socket with a T-handle on a universal joint. It doesn't need to be of super-high quality, since it won't get used much and doesn't need to withstand a lot of force.
Oil filter wrench
Oil filter wrenches are really only needed for undoing filters, not for thightening them, since they should not be tightened with great force. In an emergency, you can also undo an oil filter by piercing it with a screwdriver and using that to loosen it.
We routinely change our car's oil filters every year, no matter how few miles we've driven since the last change. Therefore, the oil filter wrench gets used at least once a year and might as well be a good one. There are many types available, using steel or nylon bands, bicycle chains, knurled claws or just a giant socket to grip the filter. The one with the knurled claws seems to be the latest and greatest, but we haven't tried one yet.
Good selection of pliers
You should at least have combination pliers and adjustable 'water pump' pliers. So-called 'electrician's pliers' come in handy, too. These are much like combination pliers, but with a longer, tapered nose. Don't be tempted to buy the cheapest, expecially when it comes to water pump pliers. Spending a bit more on quality pliers really pays.
Good selection of screwdrivers
Small (3mm) and medium (6mm) slotted screwdrivers and a medium Phillips screwdriver (some interior screws have crossheads) are the bare minimum. And again: don't buy cheap. It's well worth getting some brand name stuff when it comes to screwdrivers. It will save you a lot of frustration in the long run.
Indispensable tool for setting engine valves, spark plug gaps and points gap. Should be in every classic car owner's toolbox. They can be cheap, as not much can go wrong with them and you don't need to use them much, anyway.
There are bound to be moments when you want to whack things with a great big hammer. Most of the time you don't need to, but when it's really necessary, you better have a good one. Don't get just any cheap hammer, invest in at least one quality bench hammer with a 300 to 500 grammes head and a good hickory shaft. Anything heavier is unnecessary and possibly harmful overkill. Do not use a claw hammer, they're only meant for carpentry work and can be very dangerous when used on a car. Avoid hitting metal parts of the car directly with a steel hammer - always use a bit of wood between the hammer and the car part.
Bits of wood
Collect some bits of wood of various sizes; beech wood is ideal. Smaller bits to use between the aforementioned bench hammer and parts you're hitting, larger beams to use behind parts you're hitting, or to put on the floor to prevent the car from rolling when you're working on it and the rear wheels are up in the air.
Non-essential hand tools
Nylon- or plastic-headed deadblow hammer
A deadblow hammer has a metal or plastic head, filled with small lead or steel balls. When you hit something hard with a deadblow hammer, the balls prevent the hammerhead from bouncing back. The nylon or plastic head prevents you from doing too much damage to the part you're hitting. It more or less replaces the block of wood you would use with a steel-headed hammer.
7mm socket screwdriver
Very convenient tool for tightening or loosening jubilee clips on hoses. Much safer than a screwdriver (which will slip and may damage surrounding parts or fingers) or pliers.
There are many nuts and bolts on the engine and in the suspension of a Spitfire that need to be fastened to a specified torque. For this, you'll need a torque wrench, which enables you to tighten nuts and bolts with the required torque by 'clicking' once the right tightening force is reached. If you already have a 3/8" socket set, it makes sense to also buy a 3/8" torque wrench, although many wrenches come with converters that enable you to use 3/8" drive sockets on a 1/4" drive wrench or vice versa. To keep you torque wrench accurate and in good condition, keep it in a dry, place with a reasonably constant temperature and always relieve the tension by unscrewing the torque setting knob at the end, before you put it away.
You do not need to splash out on the most accurate and professional torque wrench around - a Triumph Spitfire doesn't contain any rocket science, after all. But do try to avoid the cheap and nasty variety with a long arm, an almost equally long pointer and a little plate with a scale screwed squarely onto the arm near the handle. These are no good at all, you might as well do without.
1/16" Allen key
This is one little tool you'll need if you want to open the dashboard centre piece. Use this to loosen the grub screws in the heater control knobs. Please do not use a 1.5mm Allen key, since it's too small in diameter and you'll ruin the grub screws' sockets with that.
A test lamp doesn't seem like much of a tool, but it can help you solve many electrical problems and is also indispensable when setting the ignition timing. It consists of a single 12V bulb, two lengths of wire and perhaps some crocodile clips. Much better, simpler and cheaper than a stroboscope.
You use a test lamp to find out why electrical components, like lights or horns, aren't working. After making sure that the component itself isn't broken, you work with the test lamp and an electrical diagram, going back from the non-functioning component, using the test lamp between the wire and earth. The problem is invariably between the points where the test lamp didn't light and where it does start to light. A cheap but very effective fault finder.
This is more versatile than the test lamp, but also more expensive and more complicated to work with. I use both the analog and digital version and often prefer the analog version if I have to deal with varying resistances, like you may encounter when checking a fuel tank sender.
'Nice to have'
Great for impressing friends, family and the kids from next door, and for finding the exact source of unwelcome noises, mostly engine related. Do not use an old doctors' stethoscope, get a proper mechanic's one with a rigid probe sticking out of the resonating chamber, and an extension rod. They're not that expensive, these days.
'Mirror on a stick'
Most parts of a Triumph Spitfire are easily accessible. In fact, accessibility on a Spit is second to none, no other car comes close, except maybe the Triumph Herald, on which the Spitfire is based. But there are always little nooks and crannies that you can't quite see. Like the back of the chassis beams, when you need to re-attach the front suspension and you're struggling to get a ring and nut onto the bolts. That's when you need a 'mirror on a stick' of the type dentists and doctors use. These days, you can even get extendable ones, with a swiveling head.
If you need to take apart the front suspension, this is what you'll require to separate the top balljoints from the vertical links and the track rod ends from the steering arms. Avoid the nasty tapered forks that need to be hammered between the balljoint and the part you want to separate it from, as the repeated hammer impacts may damage both the joint and other parts. Instead, use the 'scissor' type with a short fork and a central 'finger' that is pressed through the fork by a large bolt. They're more expensive, but a much better tool than the impact type. Beware, though, to buy good quality here, too. I broke a cheap one on my third balljoint, with just one balljoint to go - see picture - so I had to fork out for a quality tool after all.
Prybars are like giant, cranked screwdivers with square shanks and wide blades. They come in handy when doing suspension work and are ideal for (gently!) forcing things into place.
Bleeding Triumph Spitfire brakes the 'traditional' way can be a right pain. It's always a two-man job and some people never succeed in getting all the air out of the system and are left with a slightly spongy pedal. The same goes for the hydraulic clutch system. There is a simple and effective tool that will take all the frustration out of the job of brake bleeding: Gunson Eezibleed. This makes it a one person operation, without any pedal pumping at all. You fill the bottle with brake fluid, hook up one end to the car's brake fluid reservoir and the other end to a car tyre deflated to about 20 Psi or 1.4 Bar (the deflating bit is very important - read the instructions!). Then you open each bleed valve in turn until clean fluid with no bubles emerges and hey presto!, the system is bled. Lovely bit of kit, this.
Carburettor vacuum gauge
All Spitfires that were not initially exported to North America were delivered with two carburettors. These should always draw the same vacuum and thus the same amount of fuel and mixture. Although it's rare for Spitfire carbs to go out-of-sync, they do need to be checked for balance once in a while and perhaps readjusted. This is accomplished with the help of a vacuum gauge, specifically made for this job. These come in various different sizes and price ranges, but they are all applied in the same way: held up against one carb inlet on a running engine, they indicate the amount of vacuum it's drawing. Holding it up to the other carb gives an indication of how out-of-sync they are.
There are some metal vacuum gauges on the market, in chromed brass or cast aluminium, which look bloody nice and will no doubt do an excellent job. One of these is called 'Unisyn'. There are even sets of vacuum gauges, mounted next to each other, which can be used to see differences in vacuum in one single glance. They may look even nicer than the Unisyn and are certainly more expensive, but they're pure overkill for the home mechanic. There's also a cheap plastic thingy called a 'Multiple carburettor air balancer' made by Gunson (of Eezibleed fame), which in our view does the job just as well. Highly recommended.
It would be nice to have, but I don't have one and have never felt the need for one. The ignition timing on a Triumph Spitfire can be set using just a test lamp. In fact, the factory workshop manual recommends doing it that way!
There's no job on a Triumph Spitfire you can't do with ordinary hand tools and standard garage equipment. You certainly don't need air tools to do anything on your car. But it satisfies some people's souls to have just the right toys, especially the toys most other people don't have, like air ratchets and such. Some of us just love the racy sound of an impact air wrench. And why not? If it turns you on, if it gets you through the night, you might as well have one and enjoy it.
Oil pressure gun
According to Standard-Triumph and BL gospel, the front brass trunnions, the lower swivel steering points in the front suspension, should be lubricated, not greased. The story is that grease solidifies and oil doesn't. It's a matter of ongoing fierce debates between Triumphists whether this is still true for modern greases, but better safe than sorry, so most people (including myself) still diligently try to fill the trunnions with oil.
The problem here is that the oil needs to be pressed in there and it's a messy job. True pressure oil guns are rare or prohibitively expensive. Most grease guns are only suitable for grease, the seals are insufficient to keep oil in. Luckily, there's a German company called Pressol that makes push type hand grease/oil guns that are perfect for pressing the oil into the trunnions. They make them in 80, 150 and 300ml sizes. The 80ml one, article no. 12362, is not expensive and perfect for anyone who services his own Spitfire (or Triumph TR2-6, which also have trunnions that need to be oiled).
Road spring compressor
The front shock absorbers are so-called 'coil-overs'. That means they are inside the coil road springs. The front shock absorbers can only be fitted to the car after they have been fitted to the road springs and the springs need to be compressed before they can be fitted to the shock absorbers. The front shock absorbers and springs are fitted to the car as a tensioned pack. This tension makes them potentially lethal if not treated properly.
What you need to safely dismantle and retension the front road springs is a road spring compressor. You can spend ages trying to track down the elaborate, original Churchill special tool, as pictured in the back of the workshop manual. Or you can pick up the much simpler and available modern version from a good and dedicated Triumph parts supplier, which will do the job just as well and just as safely. It consists of little more than two thick steel plates, one with nuts welded onto it, and two long bolts. See self explanatory picture and note how long the uncompressed spring is.
Spitfire owners shouldn't need this tool very often; therefore some Triumph clubs have one to hire out to members.
Rear wheel hub puller
The rear wheel hubs need to come off if you want to renew rear wheel bearings, but they are pressed onto the halfshafts very, very firmly. If you ever need to renew the rear wheel bearings, do not expect to get the hubs off with your garden variety two- or three-legged puller. Do not even expect to succeed with a 10-ton hydraulic press. Many have tried and almost as many have failed. Heating with a blowtorch has helped some people, but it's a brutal job, which is still likely to fail.
The only tool that will do it every time is a special 'Churchill' tool, made specifically for this job. It is not available off the shelf any more, but some ingenious Spitfire owners have made their own. Some clubs have one of these tools available on loan to members - check with your club's technical comittee.
We don't bother with this particular tool at all. If we ever need to replace rear wheel bearings, we just replace the whole halfshaft, including bearing, hub and universal joint, with a ready-assembled exchange item.
Copyright ©2003-2007 by Eric Kieboom