Driving the new TVR 1600M

Shortly after my factory visit Mike Casale loaned me the new smaller-engined addition to the TVR range, the Ford 1600 GT pushrod-engined model introduced to take advantage of, or defend, TVR against the fuel and economic crises. This is a revised version of the earlier 1600M dropped two or three years ago, in happier, cheap fuel, days, its ancestry dating back to the 1600 Vixen launched, on an older chassis, in 1968.

I confess to being something of a fan of TVR style and character, though the rorty performance and flexibility of the torquey 3000M is more up my street. Viewed in the light of the 3000M I tested in more detail in the September 1973 issue of Motor Sport the 1600M was initially a disappointment. Substituting 84 b.h.p. for the 142 b.h.p. of the V6 car has removed all that gutsy urge and the 1600M feels a mere shadow of big brother. As more, comfortable miles mounted I realised that I should have shut the 3000M from mind: though it looks the same, the 1600M is a totally different car with a unique personality of its own.

Externally only the single instead of dual exhausts distinguishes the 1600M from the 3000M. Even the 6J alloy wheels, standard equipment and manufactured specially for TVR, shod with 185 x 14 HR radial ply tyres (usually Pirelli Cinturato CN 72s, as on the test car) are shared by both models. Side and bonnet vents have been deleted recently from both cars.

Low though it is, the 1600M is easy enough to climb into for any reasonably agile body. The lack of door keeps is a distinct and not very understandable omission — there appears to be room to fit them. Within, I found the vinyl-covered, high-back seats very comfortable, location ensured by the massive centre tunnel and padded door side panels. But the rear half-bulkhead restricts adjustment of cushion and backrest for tall drivers. An ideal arms-stretch to the small leather-covered wheel and perfectly-placed pedals completed what for me was an excellent driving situation. On the other hand the twin-cowled scuttle seemed too high and the gear lever too far back, enforced by the placing of the engine well behind the front wheel centres. Within 50 miles or so I’d forgotten both criticisms, feeling happily at home in this cosy, very well-trimmed cockpit.

On this basic version of the 1600M (basic except for optional Sundym glass, Vinyl roof, heated rear screen and Blaupunkt radio) the facia is attractively trimmed in foam-backed Vinyl; available extras include cloth seats and a wooden facia. It is well instrumented with voltmeter, fuel, water temperature, oil pressure gauges, speedometer with trip and tachometer. Labelled rocker switches on the centre console control everything except wipers and washers, which are on the right, together with a handbrake warning light. Dip, flash and indicators are on familiar — to me — TR6 steering column stalks and horn in the wheel-boss. There is a cigar lighter too. Cold or heated air can be directed through eyeball vents beneath the screen and in the foot wells. There is no through-flow ventilation — I would save for the sunshine roof — and the heater output is modest. There is a small, unlockable cubby hole, a deep stowage well by the passenger’s left foot, a shallow stowage well beneath a carpeted lid in the top of the centre tunnel and an expansive but shallow lidded tool well beneath the luggage area. Sensibly, the spare wheel is positioned under the bonnet ahead of the engine. Foot-wells, tunnel and luggage bay are neatly carpeted. As always, this TVR’s worst fault is the lack of a lift-up tailgate, luggage having to be fed over the front seats. One learns to live with this, but it remains a nuisance, as does the lack of a ledge to stop small items of luggage sliding forwards between the seats.

The test car’s somewhat rattly Ford engine started instantly and immediately ran cleanly whether hot or cold — except, embarrassingly, on a couple of occasions when onlookers were admiring this attractive car. It contrived to break its rather weak throttle return spring in the first 20 miles of “ownership”. Some of the harshness associated with the Mexico engine/gearbox unit and Spitfire axle is inherited, another criticism which I forgot after the first couple of days. The engine is surprisingly well muted, more so, I think, than in its Escort application, particularly at gentler revs around town. Road noise too is well subdued for a sports car, but that recurrent TVR bugbear of wind noise from the driver’s door window remained, in spite of stiffened window frames. Pressing the seal lightly with a finger tip silenced the noise.

The initial feeling of gutlessness is magnified by the fact that the chassis is too quick for the engine, if you see what I mean. In fact it is a misleading car, for it has a top speed in excess of 110 m.p.h. and accelerates from to 60 m.p.h. in not much over 10 secs., a bit quicker than the old Mexico and much better than the MG-B GT, for example. Nothing much happens below 3,000 r.p.m. so the beautifully light Escort gearbox needs rowing; used thus the performance is quite respectable, surprisingly so in top from 70 to 90-95 m.p.h. or so, a happy cruising band. Speeds in the gears at 6,000 r.p.m. are 34, 57 and 81 m.p.h. Best of all, this car returned 27 m.p.g. in London, 34-35 m.p.g. out of town from its 12 gallon tank. The controls are quite light, placing it for parking is moderately easy so that this is an agile, fuss-free town car. The light weight and good distribution make the all-round TR6 brakes perform much better than those on my TR6 — yes, very good indeed. On this very new car the front discs also exhibited the same “wire-brushing” squeaking noises which drove me mad during my TR’s early life.

The handling and road-holding are very safe indeed, in the wet or dry, a trifle dull compared with the powerful 3000M which can be steered more on the throttle. On the other hand there aren’t the same penalties for injudicious use of the throttle, particularly in the wet . . . While the 3000M needs skill and quick reactions to control it when it does break away, the better-balanced 1600M breaks away more gradually and is very controllable in a severe oversteer condition achieved by deliberate provocation. Normally there is a small degree of very safe understeer with no noticeable tyre scrub and little roll. The steering is a bit dead, but quick if you can keep up with the 3 1/4 turns lock to lock for the 35 ft. 9 in. turning circle, and would benefit from better castor return and/or higher gearing. The ride is choppy over rough surfaces, but good seats make it acceptable.

Beautifully finished, eye-catchingly attractive, built for long life (likely to be smart and solid when steel competitors are heaps of rust) and ideal for the DIY enthusiast this sports car of character is reasonably priced: the 1600M starts at £2,896 and the 3000M at £3,256. — C.R.