TVR Tasmin Convertible

A social climber

When Trevor , (TreVoR) Wilkinson started selling tubular chassis for enthusiastic home constructors to complete with Ford components in 1954, the idea was to enable the impecunious to build an effective sports car cheaply. In 1957, Wilkinson began marketing complete kits, using Coventry Climax, BMC B series or Ford 105E engines. By the mid-sixties, TVR were assembling finished cars – all were very sporting and somewhat spartan in character. It was not until the appearance of the Taimar in 1976, alongside the 3000M, that significant concessions to creature comforts were made, but the Taimar was still a full blooded sports-car. The Tasmin, which succeeds the Taimar, can be had in three guises – a convertible, a two seater coupe and a 2 + 2 – and goes one step further along the line away from the out and out sporting car towards the sporting-luxury car, but it doesn’t quite make the grade.

Looking very aggressive from the front, sleek in profile and simply blunt from behind, this two-seater from Blackpool has many features which the sporting owner will enjoy, coupled with a number of aggravating points which, when taken together, detract from the pleasure of using such a vehicle.

TVR use many Ford components in the Tasmin, and there is also evidence of some Leyland made items, but the chassis and body are pure TVR. The body is made from glass reinforced plastic, (GRP), in two halves which are then bonded together along the waistline of the car. The body is mounted on outriggers from the tubular-steel, central backbone, chassis, and the bumpers front and rear are also of GRP, mounted on outriggers.

The engine is the German Ford 2.8-litre, fuel injected V6 unit, developIng 160 b.h.p. at 5,700 r.p.m., driving the rear wheels through a standard Ford four-speed gearbox and final drive with fixed-length drive shafts emanating from the chassis mounted Salisbury differential. The suspension is independent all round, that at the front being coil-spring and wishbone, that at the back trailing arms and coil-springs. Telescopic dampers are used all round and a substantial anti-roll bar is fitted at the front. The whole arrangement is very stiff and gives the car roll-free cornering at the expense of a rather harsh ride.

Steering is by unassisted rack and pinion, and is very heavy at low speeds, making parking manoeuvres hard work. The rack is mounted ahead of the front wheels which makes for an extremely good turning circle if one has the strength to wind on full lock. Servo assisted disc brakes are fitted all round, those at the back being in-board, and of a slightly larger diameter than those at the front. Braking circuits are split front and rear, and a pressure limiting valve is incorporated in the rear circuit. The Tasmin runs on 205/60 x 14 low profile tyres fitted to TVR cast alloy wheels, the test car being equipped with Dunlops.

The interior is very attractively finished, but is ergonomically poor. The seats themselves, faced with suede velour, are very comfortable and provide excellent support, but short drivers will find themselves sitting too low and too close to the deeply dished leather rimmed steering wheel. The transmission tunnel is effectively the spine of the car, and is both deep and wide, coming well above elbow level. The pedals are well spaced although there is nowhere to park the left foot; the brakes are light to operate, while the clutch is the opposite, certainly heavier than, say, a 3-litre Capri. The short gear lever sits on top of the transmission tunnel, and is satisfying to use, if difficult to get at when the seat is anything other than right back. The hand brake is mounted between the driver and the gear lever and it is not easy to apply firmly as it is so high. The stalks operating the indicators, horn and dipping (left side) and windscreen wiper & washers (right) are well out of reach of normal length fingers when the hands are on the wheel, and the headlamp flashing action is very sensitive, bringing the head lamps up from their recesses if the indicator switch is not treated with a great deal of respect.

The instruments are American, made by Stewart Warner, and are arranged neatly in the recessed walnut veneer fascia. Flanked by a voltage dial and the fuel level gauge, the two main instruments, the speedometer on the left and the tachometer, are split by the oil pressure and water temperature gauges. A row of warning lights is positioned centrally above the instruments, and a separate warning light is mounted to the left above the volt-meter, to give warning of no charge. The lesser instruments are easy to read, but the two larger dials are not at all clear. The speedometer is the worse, being of only four inches diameter, yet having a calibration for each m.p.h. up to 160, with figures every 20 m.p.h., so it is rather cluttered. The mileage recorder is, unconventionally, vertical, and the counterbalance on the speedometer needle obscures the figures at typical motorway cruising speeds. There is no trip recorder.

Switches for lights, hazard warning flashers, and rear fog guards share a central console with the heater controls and the National Panasonic cassette/radio unit. This console, nicely padded, comes well back into the car, making it difficult for the short driver to see where the controls are, without craning his neck back. Switches for the electrically operated windows sit atop the transmission tunnel between the gear lever and a very useful oddments tray. On the left of the fascia is a non-lockable glove box, again with walnut veneer, while centrally above the console is a Kienzle clock flanked by heater vents. It is not possible to lock the passenger door from inside the car.

Loading the car for a weekend to be spent competing in the VSCC’s Curborough Speed Trials and reporting on their Donington Park race meeting soon showed up what many will regard as the car’s major weakness – lack of luggage space. The boot which has no lock of its own, being opened by a catch positioned in the driver’s door pillar, is full of spare wheel, thus by the time a pair of wellingtons, a small photographers hold-all, a crash helmet, sleeping bag and waterproof clothing had been tucked away, there was no room for my overnight bag or brief case, both of which had to ride on the wide parcel shelf behind the seats. The boot is shaped in such a way that a conventional suit-case simply will not fit in unless the spare is removed. It is obviously intended that the GRP centre section for the hood should live in the boot when the car is being used open, but the clearance between the top of the vertically mounted spare and the boot lid make it rather awkward to stow the panel without being brutal when slamming the lid.

Starting from cold is a completely fuss-free business, the engine catches immediately and settles down to an unassisted 700 r.p.m. tickover very rapidly, pulling from cold with no hesitation. The temperature on the Fahrenheit-calibrated dial quickly comes up to its normal level of just under 200°, and warm air for early morning de-misting is soon available, the single wiper having removed the external moisture.

Leaving Standard House by car on a Friday afternoon is an excellent recipe for an hour of frustration, for in whichever direction one tries to go, the roads are thoroughly clogged up with other like-minded people trying to flee London for the weekend. As the skies were cloudy, and I prefer to listen to the radio rather than the cacophany of the capital, I left the hood firmly in place. The first five miles of the journey to the M1 took an hour, creeping a yard or so at a time, and never once getting beyond second gear. The Tasmin itself took it all very calmly. Not so the driver. Never, did the temperature exceed 200°, never did the engine miss a beat although the oil pressure did drop to 20 p.s.i. at tickover, instantly recovering to its normal 60 p.s.i. as soon as 1,000 r.p.m. was showing. But the driver warmed up and his blood pressure rose. First, the steering is heavy at slow speeds, second there is no nearside mirror, necessitating a contortion to look back over the high rear ledge to check that no-one is coming up in the inside lane, third the radio decided not to work, but worst of all the centre tunnel was acting like a boiler, heating the interior of the car to an unacceptable level, despite use of fan, fresh air vents and open windows. The exhaust pipes are routed along this tunnel on the way to the stainless steel tail pipes, and, with no air movement around the car to take the heat away, the whole tunnel warms up to such an extent that the ungaitered portion of the gear lever becomes too hot to touch. Combined with this hot-house effect, there was a distinct and strong smell of curing GRP. [I am told that later production cars are fitted with heat-shields to prevent this “boiler” effect. – P.H.J.W.]

As the traffic thinned out on the M1, the interior temperature soon came back to an acceptable level. The TVR is quiet up to 50 m.p.h., but thereafter the noise levels are noticeable, perhaps as one would expect from a convertible, making conversation at the legal motorway limit somewhat strained with the hood on, and very difficult with it off.

Once well clear of London, I pulled into a service area to remove the hood. The system is remarkably simple and is a definite plus for the car. Two over-centre struts keep the rear flexible portion of the hood taut and the centre section, which is rigid and made of GRP covered with the same material as used for the hood, is trapped between the edge of the rear section and the top rail of the windscreen, location being by lugs in the centre section which fit into corresponding slots on the mating surfaces. Release the struts and the rear section folds neatly into the area behind the seats, leaving the centre free to be lifted out and placed in the boot. Although the noise levels are in fact greater, making conversation more difficult, without the hood, the feeling is that the car is quieter. With the side windows up, one’s hair is hardly ruffled even at very high speeds. With them down, the buffeting at anything above 60 m.p.h. begins to be uncomfortable. The Tasmin is geared at 22 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m., and feels slightly undergeared – the engine buzzing somewhat at high cruising speeds. Top speed is quoted by the makers as 133 m.p.h., but with the hood down I feel that 120 m.p.h. would be nearer the truth, and perhaps 125 with it up – the sleeker Tasmin Coupe might well be capable of the higher top speed. With a standstill to 60 m.p.h. time of a shade over eight seconds, the car is no slouch, and there are not many cars on the road which will keep up with it.

Having spent Friday and Saturday nights near Sutton Coldfield, the journey to Donington Park up the A38, cutting off round the SW corner of Derby, was soon over, despite the heavy rain. The Tasmin’s hood kept perfectly watertight, and the single wiper handled the downpour with ease. Opening the boot, to find my wet weather gear, however, showed up another serious weakness – water flows straight from the lid onto the contents of the boot, and this happens however carefully one opens the lid. During a lull in racing, I had filled the TVR’s twin, but inter-connected, tanks at the pumps in the paddock. The filler neck is designed in such a way that it is impossible to feed a standard filler nozzle fully into the neck, with the result that when the fuel chokes back, it comes out over the feet, and choke back it does if the filler cap on the opposite side of the car is not opened as well. Even then, it is slow to fill, and it is just not worth trying to squeeze in that last gallon, for much fuel will be wasted, sloshing out of both filler orifices.

The minor road journey home, attempting, but failing, to avoid the traffic coming away from Silverstone after the six hour endurance race, showed that the car can be thrown around with confidence in a very satisfying fashion. The stiff suspension keeps the car very flat, and with its tendency towards readily controllable oversteer, fast cornering is a delight. The combination of the excellent acceleration, very powerful and beautifully progressive brakes and light (at speed) steering enable the driver to cover country roads quickly and easily, pausing only when baulked by slower traffic. The penalty one has to pay is a rather harsh ride, with kickback in the steering. Obstacles can be passed at the smallest opportunity, the exhaust making very satisfying noises as maximum revs are reached in the lower gears. The Dunlops keep the car firmly planted on the road, breaking away gently when pushed in damp conditions, but clinging on extremely well in the dry.

By the time the TVR came to be collected on its trailer and taken back to Blackpool, I had covered some 1,200 miIes at a fuel consumption of 20.2 m.p.g. With the quoted 14 gallon capacity, it should be good for 250 miles between fill-ups, which is not really enough for modern usage, but our photographer ran out of fuel some 210 miles after I had filled it at Donington, the car taking 10.4 gallons on that occasion, and I found the car hesitating and misfiring a further 220 miles from then, despite the above empty reading on the gauge, the tank then taking 10.2 gallons, thus indicating that four of the 14 gallons are “dead”, giving a safe range of only 200 miles.

Taken as a sports car, the Tasmin is superb, but spoilt by having to carry such items as electric windows, walnut trim, and so forth. Taken as a luxury car, it disappoints, having just too many niggling faults to be acceptable in a car of this category, particularly when one compares it with the opposition, which admittedly, are not convertible. The convertible is the cheapest of the Tasmin range, costing £11,800 inclusive of taxes, while the + 2 version is a whole £2,000 more at £13,800. An automatic gearbox is available on all models for an extra £400. A basic 924 Porsche (£9,103) doesn’t have quite the same accelerative powers, and it is not open, but it handles just as well, the ride is considerably better and the interior is much more ergonomically satisfying. A Mazda RX7 (£8,700) loses a little both on acceleration and in handling, but is much more comfortable for a long journey and has more space for luggage. And the +8 Morgan (£9,780) is much more a sporting machine, having noticeably better acceleration and just as good road holding and handiing. But the TVR Tasmin is a rare car, having a certain individualistic character which is difficult to define, but which so many value. Something to do with being hand-made in small quantities. – P.H.J.W.