I confess to being mystified by TVR products, falling totally out of touch when our Mr Gordon “GC” Cruickshank relinquished his V8 and I was no longer subject to his enthusiastic propaganda on the subject. It was therefore a total surprise when the Blackpool factory PR, James Pillar, rang and asked the writer to take over the number 1 “celebrity” car in the 1991 TVR Tuscan Challenge round at Mallory Park. An unusual event, for it was split into two grid starts of 10 laps apiece, a format that seemed very popular with the crowds and yielded us an encouraging debut placing of sixth at an average 94.18mph.
TVR seem to be on something of a boom period at present, production now nearing a thousand units a year. All are twists to a theme of gutsy V6 Ford or 3.9 to 4.5 litre Rover V8 driving the rear wheels. A tubular steel space frame lies beneath their glassfibre bodies, but the £22,000 to £25,000 racing Tuscan (no road version, as yet) shares few components with other models for public sale. Visually the nearest showroom equivalent will be the Griffith V8, for which there were 300 orders to satisfy when production commences this August.
My Shell-backed Tuscan was made available for a test session before the event. There it transpired that TVR stalwart (and regular race winner) Gerry Marshall had “put your name in the frame for this drive. . . . I just wanted to see a journalist race a man’s car for a change,” boomed the man who won again at our event, setting a flamboyant new 49.10s (98.98mph) lap record in the process.
It says something about the Dunlop slick shod TVR, and its 400 + bhp motivation in less than 1000kg, that it made the Collins road-attired 500 bhp Sierra RS — which I also raced that day — feel comparatively civilised! There is just a single seat under the scaffolding that serves as a TVR roll cage, the passenger side cowled in and a simple Momo steering wheel to remind you this yellow and white machine is built simply to race.
The Stack tachometer reads to more than 8000 rpm, and I am told that the latest specification engines from TVR Power and the Graham Nash team at Coventry (formerly NCK) like life at 8250 rpm. I was instructed to use 7000 on a freshly rebuilt unit and that still allowed me bundles of pulling power, some 360 lb ft created at 5500 rpm. Within the long stroke alloy V8 lurk many leading suppliers, Carrillo providing steel connecting rods, Cosworth the forged pistons and Goetze the piston rings; the block is cross-bolted for extra strength in the manner that has served Rover 3500 saloon cars.
The ex-Sierra Cosworth rear-drive gearbox, a vaguely linked Borg Warner T5 unit is the worst feature of the car, particularly vague across the gate. The lightweight polyester bodywork and its signwriting reminded me that I had the mechanical services of TVR employee Paul Giddings for this Bank Holiday speed festival. Carbonfibre ducts feed air to the V8, which has forward runs to the complex exhaust manifold. Independent wishbone suspension featured 400 lb in rear coil spnngs and 800 lb in fronts for my outing, plus firm dampers that were also being compared with Bilstein products. The car used only a front anti-roll bar, though there is provision for a rear bar.
The enlarged V8 motor was a delight from the start, spitting to 3500rpm and then clearing its quadruple Dellorto carburated throats to roar belligerently to 7000rpm. The sequence from Mallory’s exceptionally tight hairpin to the main straight saw the V8 at its best. It hauled the Tuscan from a second gear wuffle to an awesome 7000 rpm and some 135 mph in fourth.
The handling then came as a shock, for the brakes clamped down the speed so suddenly that the Tuscan immediately started to dance away from the driver. If you fix this trait via wheel cambers, the Tuscans apparently do not corner so vigorously on their 9 by 16 inch OZ wheels. I left well alone, and learned not to use all the braking power at once, and to avoid the worst of the cambered bumps on the 135 to 90 mph deceleration to the fastest corner, Gerards.
Practice was enlivened for me by James McAlpine departing the track in the sheets of flame that have become familiar in two previous seasons of TVR racing. No great damage was done on this occasion, but my car also caught fire during an incident at Snetterton when Sports/Saloon car exponent Tim Harvey was at the wheel. The cause was the same, a rubber fuel connector between tank and filler orifice detached and sprayed the side exhaust. My other Mallory Park problem has also been reported by dozens of previous TVR racers; the throttle jammed open. This happened as I was entering the hairpin, but I obviously wasn’t going fast enough, for I still had room to knock the ignition off for long enough to return the throttle.
Before the event TVR Chairman Peter Wheeler told me to expect racing like no other one-make series. “You will find no pushing or shoving. These cars inspire real loyalty in the driver, 70 to 80 per cent of them are now on their third season with us.” Another insider said simply, “you will find it is the rugby of motor sports.” If you include the startline scrum, this is the most accurate description. I knew the two starts had occurred by the amount of flying glassfibre shards that bounced on my Bell visor or ricocheted from the curvaceous body.
I will never forget the spectacle of those two TVR outings. Even though I had puffed my way over to the first grid after setting a new lap record in the Ford, the TVR pack provided incomparable action. From the second that 19 starters let their clutches bite in apparent 3500 to 3800 rpm unison, war had been declared. I was one of ten folk in the same 50-second practice time bracket, so it was bound to be a bit hectic. Unlike the turbocharged Sierra, the Tuscan liked to get away from the grid promptly and I found myself improving on an eleventh placed grid position.
In both races there were thunderous start line clashes. The first one I witnessed did not cease until one protagonist had lost a wheel, whilst the second one featured two team-mates busy wedging each other into the armco. Just like GP racing at its finest, but the TVRs continued to buck and rear their way around the Mallory Park lake, which now features a Fantasy Island centrepiece where the birds occasionally spare a protected glance for ignorant and noisy humans at play.
Arm aching, eyes streaming with laughter, and visor made grubby by slipstream bombardment of oil and water from chief playmate Clive Greenhalgh (we lapped within 0.03s of each other), I crossed the finish line a total convert to TVR racing. So long as somebody else does the next wet one for me. The Gemini Tuscan and I were nearly half a minute behind Gerry Marshall and 0.64s adrift of the TVR chairman in the most exhilarating sprint event I have experienced.
There are faults with the TVR product and some rough edges to its racing series, but the Blackpool men exhibit more enthusiasm for direct participation in the sport as a factory than any contemporary. Such keenness shows in the emergence of more and TVR machinery that is accessibly priced to share their sense of breezy fun. — JW