The Edwardian splendour of London’s Royal Automobile Club provided an appropriately opulent setting for the display, on January 30th, of two legendary pre-war sports cars, the most expensive British open two seaters of their day. The straight-eight Triumph Dolomites, the sole representatives of the model, were being seen together in public for the first time.


They were united to commemorate the launch of Donald Healey’s 8C Triumph Dolomite, written by award-winning motoring historian, Jonathan Wood (We are pleased to announce that Jonathan and his wife Rosemary will be our guests at this year’s Annual Rally, so bring your copy of this book for signing). Commissioned by the cars’ owners and good friends, Jonathan Turner and Tim Whitworth, the book sets down, in unprecedented detail, the story of the Dolomite’s gestation, birth, albeit limited production life and the cars’ subsequent ownerships. Copiously illustrated with rare archive illustrations and specially commissioned colour photography, it is available in standard (£75 plus p&p) and limited-edition (£150 plus p&p) forms. Full details can be found on www.donaldhealeys8cdolomitebook.co.uk  (If you have difficulty accessing this website please contact Graham Shipman.)


Conceived in 1933 by Triumph’s Donald Healey, Britain’s best-known rally driver of the day, and his friend and fellow competitor Tommy Wisdom, the Dolomite was intended to challenge the best of the Continental sports car opposition. Closely modelled on the charismatic 8C 2.3 Alfa Romeo, it endowed the Coventry-built 100mph model with the design of its straight-eight twin overhead camshaft supercharged engine. Likewise, the open two-seater bodywork, the work of Triumph’s accomplished stylist, Frank Warner, echoed the Touring-bodied Alfa Romeo, down to its distinctive chrome trim and aerodynamically-inspired tail fin, although he succeeded in endowing the Dolomite with its own very British persona.


Donald Healey’s grandson, Peter Healey, was present at the launch, also contributed the book’s Foreword and provided the assembled guests with some first-hand recollections of his grandfather. Also there was Robert Warner, grandson of Triumph’s stylist Frank, who was viewing, like so many of the attendees, the two Dolomites for the first time.

Announced in the autumn of 1934, three chassis were laid down and one car, chassis DMH1, was fully completed, whilst a frame with chromium-plated mechanicals, DMH2, was prepared for display at the 1934 Motor Show. But with a selling price of £1225, the Dolomite was the most expensive British open two-seater sports car on the market and none were sold.


Donald Healey drove the single Dolomite DMH1, in the 1935 Monte Carlo Rally but he had the misfortune to be hit by a train on an unguarded level crossing in Denmark, luckily without much harm to himself and his co-driver. His Triumph was rebuilt utilising the spare chassis and he participated in the 1936 Monte, being placed eighth and was the first British car home.


After passing through the hands of young Tony Rolt who raced DMH2 during the 1937 season, the cars and spare parts were then acquired by London-based racing driver and motor agent Robert Arbuthnot. Ex-Alfa Romeo master mechanic Giulio Ramponi, who worked for him, rebuilt both Dolomites as road cars and endowed them with open two-seater bodies by London coachbuilder, Corsica.


With the outbreak of war they remained unsold and were then acquired by racer Reg Parnell. Passing through numerous hands during the post war years, both Dolomites disappeared from public view although the car based on the ex-Motor Show chassis reappeared in 1979, having been acquired by Alfa Romeo enthusiast David Cohen. He commissioned historic racing car restorer Tony Merrick to rebuild the car, the latter dispensing with the Corsica coachwork, by then in poor condition, replacing it with a replica of the original Triumph-designed body. Subsequently passing through the hands of successive American owners, it returned to the UK in 2014, having been acquired by British classic car collector, Tim Whitworth of Yorkshire. “I thought…an 8C supercharged engine, astonishingly beautiful looks, amazing handling and only two exist in the world …who do I talk to and where do I sign? If only it was as easy as that, but that’s another story… My sincere thanks to Jonathan Wood and all those who have helped piece together the jigsaw.”


In the meantime DMH1 also entered the public domain in 1980 and had a number of owners before being bought in 2011 by Jonathan Turner, another Yorkshireman. Similarly a collector of British sports cars, and an active competitor in historic racing events, he commissioned a complete rebuild which was executed by Blakeney Motorsport. In this case the Corsica body was retained but sensitively enhanced with a Touring-style trim strip and tail fin. Turner, who regularly drives his Dolomite in competitive rallies and racetracks (last outing Goodwood Revival), said: “It was built to rally and Donald proved how good it was at that.  However, it is also an awesome car to race.  Goes like the clappers and corners on rails.”


Donald Healey’s 8C Triumph Dolomite is a companion volume to Jonathan Wood’s Squire the Man, the Cars, the Heritage that was published in 2015 and received awards in Britain and America. “The Dolomite was an exact contemporary of the Squire and even less successful commercially!” said Wood. “But its rarity and state-of-the-art mechanicals made it a fascinating tale to unravel, particularly as the project was, for many years, shrouded in mystery. With considerable help from the owners, fellow enthusiasts and historians, I have been able to set down the story but in view of a lack of documentation, many questions remain unanswered. I’m hoping that the book’s publication will jog a few memories.”

For further information, contact Jonathan Wood (01584-875438), email jonathanwood35@tiscali.co.uk

A report on the impressive and memorable book launch at the Royal Automobile Club, Pall Mall will feature in the April 2018 issue of our club magazine. In the meantime here are a couple of photos taken on the day.