Track Test

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TVR’s champion convertible

For the majority of seasons since the 1973 start of producuon sports car racing, it has been easy to answer readers’ queries over who was champion in a particular year. You spelt the name of Leeds entrepreneur Chris Meek. Then added the brand of car he drove that particular season. A Lotus Europa being the most effective of all, though Meek seems to have driven virtually every machine from MG Midget upward, with great success in this category. When readers ask about 1980, it will be different. For the established BRDC series, the DB Motors of Leicester Championship, went to Hinckley, Leics, garage owner Colin Blower, in a TVR convertible.

Colin was also declared champion in the BRSCC-organised CAV series for similar cars and competitors, but Meek protested the points awarded at an Aintree round. An acrimonious RAC tribunal followed and Meek was subsequently declared champion, even though the BRSCC’s Peter Browning was practically foaming at the mouth after a display of “club sportsmanship” that made the FISA/FOCA row look like a good-natured discussion.

Bravely pushing aside the unacceptable face of motor racing, we decided to talk to Colin Blower about his long-standing interest in the category. He agreed to meet us at Silverstone one blustery pre-Christmas day, bringing with him the 200 + horsepower TVR that netted him most of the 22 wins in 24 outings that he scored in 1980. We tried this exciting convertible, officially designated the 3000S, listening later to Blower’s equally interesting 1981 project to run the 2.8 fuel injected TVR Tasmin. This will be the first car to utilise a racing version of the 2.8i Ford engine, to our knowledge, though that V6 has a cylinder block that is a direct result of the 1970s racing programme.

A mechanic by trade, Colin Blower has stuck with production sports car racing — a category where modifications are theoretically quite limited, like Group 1 racing of saloon cars, but which now offers rather more scope for tuning than originally intended! Blower first saw the category when spectating at his local Mallory Park circuit in 1973. “I had a brand new MGB at the time, and I was hooked! My first race was soon afterwards at Llandow in the B. I came last, but what an eye-opener after spectating! Everyone else looked like lunatics on the track, but I soon learned to join in . . .” By the end of the year his self-prepared B was capable of showing reasonable class results, winning the division at the last Silverstone of the season.

For 1974 Blower bought a Europa and “enjoyed a fabulous year dicing for first and second overall. We nearly won the title that time, but it was a fascinating season because our main rival was Peter Taylor from Jaguar.” Amongst other duties Peter conscientiously ensured the health of press road test vehicles that usually have more mileage displayed than those of any rival manufacturer, yet run superbly.

“It was so interesting because Peter’s E-type V12 was fast along the straight and our Europa was nippier around the twiddly bits. The result was some very close racing that I will never forget.”

Even during 1974 Blower was talking to TVR management, a logical development for a garage owner with a high proportion of TVR clientele. “Since 1975 I have run TVRs, this convertible being the fourth one. They’ve been very good to me, but as with most others in club racing today I couldn’t afford to run without additional sponsorship.” As with many effective sponsorship arrangements Colin Blower’s backing came from a local company and a casual acquaintanceship. The result is the legend across the red convertible’s flanks to the effect that Indestructible Socks are the greatest: nobody forgets Colin’s sponsor in a hurry!

From our own earlier participation in prodsports with the Caterham Seven it is worth making a point about the way Blower won his title. While Meek ran a class contender (either Panther Lena 2.3 or TVR 1600) versus largely Ginetta G154 1-litre opposition, Blower had to fight three quick Morgan 3 1/2-litre V8s. Colin knows the Morgan car and Charles Morgan well, for he raced against ITN cameraman Charles closely in 1979. At the end of that season, instead of courtroom rancour, the two rivals swopped cars and tried the merits of each for themselves. That’s more like the club racing spirit . . .

The Car

Built by Blower in what spare time he could find, the convertible we tried was actually the second such racing TVR that Blower and local enthusiasts headed by Peter Butterworth had constructed. The first, apparently lightweight model, was destroyed in a 110 m.p.h. crash at Gerrards Bend, Mallory Park, in April 1980. “A driveshaft broke and it rolled, and rolled, and rolled,” said Blower, his eyes still wide at the memory, “it seemed to dismantle itself around me. Doors, everything seemed to fly off until I ended up clutching the steering wheel with a seat and a roll cage for company: I let go of the steering wheel and it flopped in my lap! Incredibly I had just two cracked ribs.” A seat bolted down to the chassis and proper seat belts were the keys to his survival.

They missed only two Championship races. The result was the TVR we drove, of which the heart is a Ford 3-litre V6 with a single production twin-choke Weber carburetter. The V6 was built by Racing Services, now at Hitchin rather than the Twickenham base we once featured.

Blower conservatively quotes 200 b.h.p. at 7,000 r.p.m. for the V6. Similar units in Group 1 saloon cars gave 220 b.h.p. and the 1980 mid-season figure for such V6s, in a slightly more developed form for the carburation, was in excess of 250. I was quoted about £2,000 as the cost of the modified engine, which features a 9.8:1 c.r. (a lot less than those saloons I was talking of), a camshaft to the measurements Ford specify (which allows a profile akin to the Weslake inspired 649 of BMC Mini fame, a profile still used by Mini racers today) and a thorough balance of standard crankshaft and associated reciprocating components. The engine is the smoothest and most satisfying of the many Ford V6s we have encountered over the years.

The gearbox is a production Ford 3-litre Capri unit (close ratio gears from Hewland are available in the production casing, but not permitted in this category), and the clutch is also from a production Capri.

TVR’s independent wishbone rear suspension allows the use of a Jaguar Salisbury differential. The limited slip is torqued to 90 lb and the ratio will vary between 4.5 and 4.7:1, according to circuit.

TVR suspension is ideal for the production racer because the small volume manufacturer provides quick adjustment facilities for all important aspects, including castor and camber, in much the same way as a formula racing car. Selecting a spring is eased too, for TVR say they have tried just about everything in production at one time or another, so the competitor can pick from a wide choice of ratings — unlike a TR7 owner, for example.

Blower commented, “we just said to TVR what we wanted to do and they sent down some suitable hard springs, which also provide a lower height than usual. We use Spax adjustable damping. Konis would probably be better, but the Spax adjustable feature is valuable to us. Basically we keep the front hard and the rear soft with a hefty front anti-roll bar also included. We tried a rear anti-roll bar, but traction was not so good. Now it is smashing off the line, just blows the others off every time!” For our test it was necessary to run a softer front bar as it rained pretty well throughout.

A production braking layout of discs at the front and drums at the rear is utilised, with the bias of the work performed by the anti-fade friction materials being toward the front.

Wheels and tyres to make this 2,100 lb. TVR trustworthy are Kleber V12 GTS in 195/70 HR (front) and 205/70 HR rear. We used wets, which in this case simply means they have more tread than the worn down semi-slicks that production racers make of road tyres. Colin felt Klebers “suit the car well. The soft walls like some negative camber to give their best, and the adjustable suspension allows us to get the best from them. I have tried Michelin, but did not find them so predictable.” Next season Blower will be one of the pioneers who will use the recently introduced BF Goodrich performance road tyres in competition. The American tyre company have a lot of experience in saloon car racing and their products have survived at both Le Mans (Corvettes) and Nurburgring (on a rather lethargic AMC AMX saloon).

The alloy TVR wheels are a generous 6″ broad in the rirn by 14″ diameter, which allows a good size disc brake room to breathe at the front.

Inside . . .

While the exterior was as smart as you would expect of a car less than a season old, the interior had its foibles.

The cloth finish of the bucket seat and Britax full harness combine with a fire extinguisher to lull the new driver into thinking a straightforward task awaits. Not so.

Colin Blower does not heel and toe. He toes and heels! Literally putting the ball of his foot on the brake and blipping the throttle with his heel. Thus the throttle pedal is almost impossible to blip during hard braking. The Formula sports steering wheel exhibited a bit of unwelcome wobble and, the piece de resistance, ventilation was aided by a driver’s side window that wanted to sit on our lap at speed.

Instruments were straightforward and largely TVR production. Oil pressure was indicated at a steady 60 lb. and water at 90 degrees. Clearances inside the V6 tend to be generous, in a racing application anyway, but this thrice-rebuilt unit had even larger piston ring/bore and valve guide tolerances, to judge by the blue smoke wreathing around the twin rear pipes, whenever the engine was started.

As soon as the motor was running, all these detail thoughts disappeared. The uneven lope that passes for a 2,000 r.p.m. idle gives way to a solid beat of power as 3,000 r.p.m. is reached in first gear. As Blower remarked the traction and sheer “get-up-and-go” spirit exhibited by the motor are remarkable. The first three gears are used up quickly, which means the TVR is then travelling at approximately 110 m.p.h. when you change into top. Along the Silverstone Club straight the r.p.m are still building before Woodcote demands that 6,000 r.p.m. plus in fourth is not wise, in view of the impending tap dance that must take place to change down and brake from approximately 128 m.p.h.

On the track

For the opening laps I tried to concentrate on changing gear with the gear lever instead of the equally stubby and convenient handbrake, plus a change in routine from heel and toe to brake, clutch in, blip throttle, change down in separate movements. This was occupying so much space that I later settled for what little throttle aid I could find by searching for the throttle under heavy braking.

On the slippery approach to Becketts hairpin, where the demand is to decelerate from 120 m.p.h., or so, to 50 m.p.h. and second gear in the wet, this provided some intensely interesting motoring. Right down to the full Timo Makinen “put-it-sideways — the opposite way to the direction you intend to go,” arrival. This shocked the photographer sufficiently to ensure that no pictures were filed of the most exhilarating part of the test.

Coming out of Becketts was the challenge. Blower convinced me that the throttle should be left applied and that the resulting long spells of sideways motoring could be deftly handled by the steering. The idea is to come in slightly under the best speed and just blast through. I quickly discovered that any chicken-heartedness at this point with the throttle led to severe understeer. Sometimes I just could not believe that the TVR, which accelerates very rapidly from 50 to some 65 m.p.h. in second gear, could go on sliding without spinning. Thus a long slide would end with the throttle sharply eased, my sharp intake of breath released and the car lurching into third gracelessly. However, on the rare occasions when I did get it right, the resultant slide onto the main straight was the essence of my personal preference for front engines and rear drive in touring cars.

Woodcote and Copse right-handers were wet too. I settled for third gear and constantly increasing throttle for both. Copse even faster than its easier curvature would suggest in this car. The TVR has to be babied into a corner and Woodcote, traditionally the scene for desperate last lap overtaking manoeuvres, almost demands that you leave your braking as late as possible. Yet it was better to brake earlier in the TVR, turn in gently over the glistening tarmac and apply the considerable V6 torque with respect.

There was hardly any need for fourth gear on the short pits straight, but I felt the owner might be happier if there was some evidence of gearchanging going on when the motor was obviously going to touch 7,000 r.p.m. Barely had the bridge been passed than it was time to start fumbling for third again. Provided the TVR had been settled into Copse easily, it came out with fine prowess, third gear nearly used up and eager to gobble up the space before the theoretically flat out Maggots Curve (not identified in the current RAC Motor Sports Yearbook: has the title been dropped?). I say theoretical, because in the wet conditions the TVR tended to slide so far that the line into Becketts hairpin was spoiled. Easing the throttle in fourth gear seemed a better way on the day.

In such slippery conditions, stress was laid on neat braking ability. Blower commented that the use of Aeroquip lines had cut out the production spongy feel that the brakes would normally exhibit in circuit use. Certainly they performed well for this class of car, but there was still enough pedal travel to allow contact with that elusive throttle pedal.

So far as the tyres were concerned, I did wonder if Blower was going to miss the Klebers badly in 1981. It would be difficult to imagine a better combination of grip and predictability from a production road tyre. Sure, there are covers that will supply more grip, but they tend to break away suddenly. The Klebers made it possible for a stranger to get in and return laps in the 1 min. 13 sec. and high seventies m.p.h. average.

I was glad to hear that Blower would be backing Blackpool and TVR again in 1981, for the rules change this season to admit exotica from Group 3. BRSCC supremo Peter Browning told us frankly that the RAC were insistent on a tighter set of regulations being applicable. The result is that from 1981 onward we have the British Production Sports Car Racing Formula, a combination of Group 3 and cars made in Britain that can show a 200 production run in 12 months.

This means we have Morgan V8s, and TVR versus Porsche 911 (all types except Turbo), Porsche 924 Turbo, and the Ferrari 308 series. The class below admits Caterham Seven, Lotus Esprit, Porsche 924 and many others including MG-B, which was the type of car that this kind of racing grew up with. In 1981 the up-to-1,500 c.c. class (there is expected to be an unofficial overall 4-litre limit) will probably be dominated by the Fiat XI-9 1500 racing against the traditional MG Midgets. Chris Meek tells us that he does not expect to contest the series this year “though I might do some development for Panther”. Another Northern veteran, Tony Lanfranchi, can be expected out in a Porsche 911, which would be our tip for 1981 Championship honours. Meanwhile, we will look out for the progess of the fuel-injected TVR. — J. W.

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