Of all the cars I’ve borrowed from the Classic Car Club, the TVR Tuscan had me the most worried. As I walked towards it, everything about it seemed strange and intimidating.
I had been told to wear narrow shoes with plenty of grip to handle the slender floor hinged pedals – one of too many quirky features.
I had also asked whether brown trousers were advisable. Club man Jacob replied with a reassuring, ‘Only if it’s raining’.
The Tuscan was produced from 1999 until the firms eventual collapse. This is a Mk 1 and is in lovely condition – the fibreglass body is perfect It was meant to be a more ‘grown up’ TVR than the other models in the range. Although it would be a challenge to call it sensible.
Just look at the shape – clearly the designers had lost their
rulers – there isn’t a straight line to be seen. The nose dips so low that parking against a curb will be a nightmare. The doors have no handles, just the TVR button under the mirror. Wild enough, but the passenger one makes you wait 5 seconds before springing open, while the drivers door tempts you with the idea that it is opening, but if you aren’t quick enough, it isn’t.
The bright red leather interior follows no normal car conventions. The amazing instrument panel is brass and aluminium – and missing most conventional ideas of a gauge. There is no rev counter dial, instead some F1 warning lights that even predate F1 cars having such things. There is just a huge 0-200 (yes) speedo around which the needle ticks like a watch. The fuel and water gauges don’t have needles just shutters to indicate levels. None of the controls are intuitive but they are milled from solid aluminium and they do feel very special even if you don’t know what to do with them.
If I wasn’t bewildered enough by now, I then had to start the thing up. The alloy 4–litre, 24 valve straight six was one of TVR’s few home grown engines. It was rated at 360 bhp and 310 lb ft of torque. It burst into life with a really savage bark that suggested this is no pussycat.
The exhaust megaphones would look more at home on a motorbike and they just add to the sense of drama for the unwary observer.
On a dry day the later Mk 2 Tuscans could supposedly hit 60mph in under 4 seconds. The very brave would see well over 160mph. Severe skid marks might prove part of either exercise….
Why a straight 6 rather than a V8? The company’s owner Trevor Wilkinson believed that the six is the natural engine for a British sportscar. Astons, Healeys and E Types testify to his claim. Sadly, this original and interesting engine was a major source of warranty claims for TVR and it was one of the factors in the financial collapse of the company. With a dry sump it had a race car specification – and a similar need for careful maintenance.
All that torque meant reversing it to exit the club required no throttle at all. Unlike the Chimaera, the apparent absence of power steering (and airbags, ABS, bumpers….) also added thrills to the mundanity of a low speed parking manoeuvre. What would it be like beyond the garage doors?
Out of the stable and onto the open road, this beautiful beast suddenly seemed to become quite friendly. The steering lightened up, the pedals no longer seemed so heavy and I could ‘feel’ where the nose might be. The ride was good too and visibility fine. Even the radio worked – not that I could hear it above the barking engine.
The handling and roadholding never gave me a moment’s anxiety. This was because the weather was dry and I was being cautious. But it always felt well planted on the road and the brakes were very reassuring.
My non petrol-headed wife was taken with the looks but amazed by how low she was sitting and try as she might her feet wouldn’t reach the end of the footwells.
Out on the motorway heading for Norfolk, the tendency to tramline was a little disconcerting. Like a bloodhound, the TVR likes to follow it’s nose along whatever grooves takes its fancy. You don’t relax behind this wheel, otherwise the car will take you somewhere you may regret.
Always worried about the chance of a
breakdown, I left my Brompton in the boot. The one nod towards practicality, it is huge.
I love taking a few photos of the classics I borrow and the Tuscan is a very willing subject. There are no dull angles and it catches the light beautifully.
As always, taking a classic car back to the club on a Monday morning involves more of a sense of relief than sadness. Central London is a scary place in an already scary car.
Within this ‘affordable’ sports car price range there are no cars today with the freewheeling and careless creativity of the Tuscan. There is promise of a new TVR soon, let’s pray that some of this sheer audacity returns with the badge.