It is two years since Motor Sport tested the TVR Tasmin convertible, two years in which these specialist hand-built cars from Blackpool have undergone detailed refinements and subtle modifications which have been intended to strengthen the car's appeal against its mass production rivals. In addition, TVR's return to the US market from the start of January 1983 has given fresh impetus to the task of sustaining the high quality finish that has been achieved by this British manufacturer over the past couple of years. We still have to try the performance flagship of the Tasmin range, the turbocharged 2.8-litre model, but we recently took the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with the normally aspirated 2.8-litre Ford V6 fuel-injected Series Two coupé, aesthetically a far more pleasing machine than the rather "boxy" convertible we tried in 1981.
Each Tasmin takes 400 man hours to complete and between six and eight units are currently completed each week. The distinctive two-door glass-reinforced plastic bodyshell is mounted onto a strong tubular steel spaceframe chassis. This bodyshell is not self-coloured in the manner employed by, say, Lotus, but is separately sprayed in the paint shop after the complete bodyshell has been cured for 30 min. at 54 degrees (C) under either the travelling infra-red arch or the purpose-built oven installed specially by the company for this purpose. In the paint shop normally three coats of paint are applied, but in the case of metallic finishes this is followed by three coats of lacquer. After the body is mounted on the chassis it is fitted with all its ancillary equipment before a 20-mile test drive is completed and the Production Director gives the car its final seal of approval.
In reality, it is a moot point as to whether such careful standards of hand crafting can ever produce a car as efficiently, or to such fine production tolerances, as one of the computer-controlled, robot-operated production lines in the factories of a major manufacturer. The idiosyncrasies of such small manufacturers, whether intended or not, have often worked against the product they offer to the public and there is always a nagging suspicion that perhaps such machines as the TVR Tasmin are over-priced and maybe don't offer such value for money as production machines offered at substantially lower prices. Of course, it's difficult to put a price on exclusivity, which is certainly provided by the Tasmin, but I have to confess that I was pre-disposed to examine this TVR with a particularly critical eye bearing in mind that its power unit, and much of its running gear, comes from the Ford Capri 2.8i, a car which I run as everyday transport.
As I've already remarked, I found the two-seater coupé a much more attractive visual proposition than the convertible model. Its smooth and gentle profile is interrupted by a rather dramatic "cut-away" tail treatment which I personally didn't care for, but the high standard of the internal suede velour and ambla trim was certainly very impressive. There is a wide transmission tunnel inside the Tasmin and, although the seats are quite comfortable, large people will feel slightly pinched between it and the doors once on the move. There really isn't as much room for shorter drivers who not only find themselves too close to the steering wheel, but also too close to the five-speed gearchange which sits high on the transmission tunnel — one silly by-product of the adoption of the Capri's excellent five-speed box is that when fifth is selected, there isn't sufficient room to insert or withdraw a tape from the stereo unit, but then perhaps this is only a minor point! Of course, the gearchange movement is excellent and the pedals are nicely spaced in the footwell, although I was conscious that the clutch pedal was rather stiff. I subsequently had an unfortunate experience apropos the clutch, for as I went to change down from fourth to third on one particularly quick corner on my "local lane" the pedal suddenly went limp and all semblance of clutch operation then vanished. Fortunately the Ford five-speed box is very amenable to clutchless changes and I successfully returned the car home without having to stop. Subsequent examination by the very obliging representative sent out by Bridge Motors, of Bocking, Essex, the local TVR dealer, revealed that the clutch cable had popped out at the clutch end. Apparently standard 2.8i Capri clutch cables are employed, but slightly shortened for use in the Tasmin: this one seemed to have more slack in it than usual, probably helping it to become dislodged over a particularly bad bump.
This Tasmin coupé had done just over 5,000 miles when it came into our custody and, although the engine displayed all the smoothness and responsiveness so characteristic of Ford's injected V6, it certainly didn't pull anywhere near as well as my regular 2.8 Capri. This was interesting since a couple of weeks earlier I had sampled a low-mileage press fleet Capri 2.8 five-speed with less than 5,000 miles on the clock, and this, too, declined to rev. as freely as my own well-used 35,000-mile example. It should be possible for one of these V6s to pull 5,500 r.p.m. in top with no drama, but I found the TVR really reluctant to get up towards this figure in fourth, let alone in fifth. I can only conclude that these engines needs the best part of 10,000 miles to loosen up and perform at their best. Have readers any similar experiences on this subject, I wonder?
Straight line performance, of course, is highly impressive. Even allowing for this slight tightness, the Tasmin rocketed from rest to 60 m.p.h. in less than eight seconds and an impressive lack of wind noise cruising at around 100 m.p.h. a relaxing experience, rather more so than in the Capri. Front suspension is by means of upper wishbones, stabilised lower lever and coil springs with trailing arms and coil springs at the rear. The rack and pinion steering is nicely weighted and positive with 3.7 turns lock-to-lock and a turning circle of 31.5'.
The Tasmin is quite responsive to changes of direction and the stiff suspension endows it with very little roll. But, really, the ride is firm to the point of being harsh. There is a fair amount of kick-back through the steering on rough roads and the whole car shudders if you ride even a moderate bump at any sort of speed. This is an area where Lotus leaves its rivals for dead, giving the lie to the notion that high standards of cornering ability must be achieved at the expense of ride comfort and wheel movement. From this point of view, certainly, the Tasmin was extremely disappointing, even though on smooth surfaces, and even in the wet, the car's overall balance and agility, given smooth throttle operation, makes it a pleasure to drive.
Visibility is reasonable, the windscreen swept by an efficient single wiper which covers a commendably large area of the screen, but I must say that I had an unusual amount of trouble judging the car's width at speed. The bonnet line drops away quite dramatically towards its front edge, which doesn't help matters, but rearward visibility is quite adequate, helped by an extra glass panel running the width of the car immediately below the sweeping rear screen which lifts up to allow access to the large, fully carpeted, luggage deck. The exterior appearance is enhanced by specially designed TVR cast alloy polished wheels, with a five stud fixing, and 205/60 VR 14 low profile Dunlops complete the package.
Internal instrumentation includes a batch of nicely matched, extremely legible circular dials in the walnut-trimmed, recessed fascia panel immediately in front of the driver. The 160 m.p.h. speedometer is complemented by a rev.-counter red-lined at 6,000 r.p.m. with matching, smaller, gauges monitoring fuel contents, water temperature and oil pressure. There are ashtrays in the doors, a vanity mirror in the passenger sun vizor, a quartz clock and warning lights dealing with the handbrake, low brake fluid level and the ignition.
The heating and ventilation system is what one might describe as adequate: as on the convertible we tried, there's no problem heating the occupants but obtaining a supply of cooling air to the interior was a full-time business for the fan. The two 75-watt halogen headlights are housed in retractable pods at the front of the bonnet, this system fitted with a fail-safe system that leaves them raised rather than lowered in the event of a power failure. The windows are, of course, electrically operated, which is just as well bearing in mind the relatively narrow passenger compartments on either side of the transmission tunnel.
The average fuel consumption for the duration of our test was 24.4 m.p.g., which, given the two inter-connected 7-gallon vaults mounted ahead of the rear axle line, allows around 300 miles motoring between refills. Carrying a tax-paid price tag of £13,824, this is an expensive car which has one or two impressive rivals nestling round it. I feel that it is necessary to point out that the Lotus Excel costs £14,273 and the Porsche 944 £14,462, the former offering a much better ride than the Tasmin and the latter the sort of proven longevity which virtually makes it a "best buy" without question. The TVR Tasmin Series Two coupe offers motoring in a distinctive style to the marque's loyal clientele. But it does not have the cachet of either of its two aforementioned rivals, nor the advantage of selling at a significantly lower price.