If you'd received a Christmas card from TVR with a letter from TVR exec Ben Samuelson trailing the chance to see the Sagaris and drive the Tuscan II, and to compare it to current build cars, a T350C and Tuscan S -- at the Cameron House Hotel, on Loch Lomond, would you hesitate? Neither did I.
As I pulled up outside the hotel, two Sagarises were parked impressively in front of the main steps. With the backdrop of the hotel, the scenery, and not to mention the kilted doorman, the two cars looked superb.
The red car was an unregistered demonstrator, looking exactly as the production car will do. A red and yellow Sagaris squatting next to it was a road-registered RT and presented as ‘the race car’, though I’m not sure if it is the final version.
The two cars were there just on show, and we knew in advance drives would not be possible. Still, a great effort on behalf of TVR to get the 2 models there for us to paw over.
Let’s start with what appears to be the hottest topic then – the vents. Yes, on the production road car they are filled in. This means the vents on both the front and rear wings and also the one on the roof. I spoke to Geoff Laird-Portch of TVR about the vents.
His explanation made the ‘filling in’ make a lot more sense, to me at least. The issue of stones hitting the windscreen through the vents has been made public before, but it’s also worth considering the repercussions of cutting holes in glassfibre and possible crazing/cracking. With the cars now being warrantied for three years, TVR has to be sure that there is nothing in the design that can generate cause warranty claims. Viewed in that light, it’s laudable that TVR is now putting longevity over design.
What about the drives though?
It had been a year or so since I had driven a TVR road car, and I never owned a Tuscan. Nevertheless, I have had a few test drives and loans in the past so it all came flooding back as soon as I got in the seat; the brass instruments, the nice alloy touches, the good-looking supportive-looking seats -- that actually don’t offer anywhere near enough support.
Press the heavy clutch and off we go. The weather had started to close in -- this was Scotland after all -- and the roads were now a bit slippery. Still, in a borrowed car, there was an opportunity for some hoonery.
We were accompanied by TVR or ‘dealer’ personnel in the passenger seat, but were allowed to drive as we wished – within reason though. So, tail out at the junction; up to the change-up lights though the gears and we snake up the road with an increasingly nervous looking passenger, whom I was later to learn had put the same car into a field the previous week.
It all came back – the grunty but revvy engine, precise box, the nervous steering: wonderful. This was a real TVR, and I could feel new chest-hairs sprouting by the second. I don’t recall the wind nose off the targa top being quite so severe the last time I was in a Tuscan though.
If the day ended then I’d have gone home happy. A car that met my expectations in full -- I’d have one in my garage. But in truth, I’d rather have a Cerbera again.
Next up was the Tuscan II. I’d seen these in the flesh at the local dealer, and had already concluded that they looked rather better put together. Not much I could put a finger on, but just a feeling of better quality. Certainly, there were none of the familiar glue overruns on the trim.
The seats looked broadly the same as the Tuscan 1 (and later Cerberas), but are far more comfortable, and actually hold you in. I was unsure about the new instrumentation though. It’s certainly no worse than the original, but not a match on the Cerbera, which I consider was the high water mark of TVR interior design. While the Tuscan I seemed to have instrumentation from the Captain Nemo school of design, the II seems to have borrowed from Star Trek (the original) with that strange viewing tube Mr Spock looked down to diagnose all manner of issues with the Enterprise. Based on the Tuscan II, we can now conclude he was looking at speed, RPM, fuel and temperature.
I did like the press-button starter though, the buttons on the steering wheel, and the ‘electronic’ indicator stalk – all throwbacks to the Cerbera. Except in this case, the controls just ooze quality. If the Cerbera switches always felt the next touch would be their last, the new Tuscan switches feel like a quality hi-fi.
On to the driving though. The clutch is lighter for a start, but still lots of feel. The steering feels better too, but hey we’re still in the car park. What about the open road?
A quick repeat of the junction hoonery of the Tuscan I, and it's considerably more controllable. It lets you not just dabble with a wee tail-out, you can hang there in limbo for a while, and no snaking up the road. Even with the roads getting slippier, this car gets its power down.
The ride was a revelation. Absolutely stunning, it felt softer but not floaty, as if there were a hidden hover device under the car which, once engaged, lets the car ride an inch above the road surface, yet still allows traction and cornering of the first order.
And the relationship between the controls; the feel, the travel, the weighting, the feedback – all matched perfectly, and each spot-on. The clutch was just right. The brakes felt superb. The throttle travel? Connected direct to the brain.
The steering was as sharp as the Tuscan 1, but relaxed and quiet, sharp and smooth; an automotive oxymoron but that's how it felt. Here was a car that you could put the stereo on and do 1,000 miles in a day. Here was the best TVR I’d ever driven.
As for the handling, I was reminded of the legendary Norton Featherbed 'bike frame. Norton came up with the best handling frame of its day and won the TT with it, but it was also supremely comfortable, bucking the trend of stiffening the chassis to improve handling. TVR has achieved the same with the Tuscan II. The ride is much softer, yet handles much better.
A change of plan for the dream garage then. Out goes the Cerb and the ‘original’ Tuscan; in comes a Tuscan II. That’s all I’d need.
I was in a high enough state of euphoria after the Tuscan 2 drive that I would happily have called it a day at that point…but then I had the chance to drive a T350t. I had driven the Tamora/T350 before, but they were relatively early cars, so I was glad of the opportunity to drive a current build car.
Off we go then, and by now the roads are getting really greasy. But not greasy enough to stop a bit of tail-out tomfoolery. This was the first time I’d driven a Speed 6 engined car with a sports exhaust. My long-lost Cerb was de-catted and ran straight-through pipes, and I never thought anything could pop and bang with such style, but this T350 matched it.
And now the dilemma kicks in. Compared to the awesome Tuscan II, there is no way the T350 is anywhere near as sorted. The controls aren't as cohesive, it doesn’t ride as well, it’s nowhere near as relaxing but it's actually more fun. Much as though the Tuscan II is a superbly accomplished car -- the most sorted yet -- the T350 was a bigger hoot.
That doesn’t make it a better, or a more preferable car. What it does mean though is that TVR has come up with two very different cars using almost identical chassis and engines. To me, the Tuscan II seems an accomplished GT with continent-eating capabilities, day-to-day practicality, yet sprightly enough to perform well on a track day. The T350 seems sharper, more raw, more edgy, and a better track day tool as a result. As a consequence, it's not quite so mature feeling, and that’s no bad thing either.
GT or hooligan – the choice is yours.
S6 thrashes Rover V8
And the rest of the day? As well as the cars, TVR had rustled up a neat selection of merchandise for sale, and it was good to meet some of the well known faces from the factory- John Reid, Mike Williams and Danielle (and others who I didn’t know the names of!). Brian and Claire from Dreadnought were there too providing backup and assistance, as well as folks from Glenvarigill. All in all an impressive effort from the factory, and all the more impressive to bring such a ‘roadshow’ to Scotland – which is never going to be a particularly large market and is usually overlooked as a result. Many thanks therefore to TVR, and especially Geoff, who I understand pulled it all together.
So, apart from giving Scottish TVR enthusiasts a jolly, was it actually worth it for the factory? Only time will tell I guess, but I do know a number of dyed-in-the-wool Rover-engined enthusiasts were seriously taken with the new S6 cars. And the three-year warranty was changing a few opinions too.
The latest cars really have moved on so much that if you haven’t driven one lately you really don’t know what you are missing. It all probably sounds like an advert for TVR, but I really was blown away by the Tuscan II, and was mightily impressed by the T350.
Thanks to William Ball (aka tvrolet) for most of the pictures