Name: Ben Coombs (username - fivetenben)
Car: 1997 TVR Chimaera 4.0l
Owned since: April 2011
Previously owned: Porsche 944 lux (Driven to South Africa),
Austin Mini (driven to Mongolia),
Fiat 126 (driven to the Arctic),
Bajaj Auto-Rickshaw (driven across India),
Jaguar XJ6 (driven on the Baltic Sea),
Rover P6 3500 V8 (driven to the Sahara),
Chevrolet Corvette C4 (driven to Singapore),
Honda Win 110cc (Ridden across Vietnam)
Renault 4l (driven home from Slovenia)
Also Peugeot 306, Nissan Micra K10, Range Rover classic, and various other money pits...
Why I bought it:
Why does anyone buy a TVR? The looks, the quirkiness, the performance and the noise. Oh yeah, that noise...
Back in 2011, I was very much a Porsche guy. My daily driver for quite a few years was a Porsche 944, which had ultimately been driven across Africa a few years previously, and sorely missed ever since I sold its battered remains to a bus driver in Mozambique for 60,000 meticas (about £300). The brand had got under my skin, but I wasn't so blinkered as to discount the lures of less mainstream sporting cars.
Even so, when I started browsing the classifieds all those years ago, aircooled Porsches were my first port of call. At that stage, I wasn't looking for something to drive across continents; rather, a cherished toy for the garage. The 993 and 964 had already crept beyond my means, but a guards red carrera 3.2 lurking in the Pistonheads classifieds caught my attention in a wallet-twitching manner. But all the time, at the back of my mind there was a craving for a V8, and the thought that maybe I was missing out by not sampling another marque. And then a TVR came up for sale two miles from home, luring me in for a look.
I wasn't intending to buy it. In the poorly lit photos, the colour looked flat and uninspiring, but I was curious as to what these mythical fibreglass beasts from Blackpool were actually like.
And then I saw it. The metallic juniper green paintwork shimmered beautifully in the sun. The magnolia leather interior stylish and inviting. And then, with a turn of the key, the exhaust echoed around the used car lot faster than I could reach for my wallet.
Then there was only the small matter of the largest credit card transaction of my life, and it was mine.
What I wish I'd known:
As a frequenter of Pistonheads in the olden days, I was familiar with TVR's perhaps-unjustified reputation, so I took my pre-purchase homework pretty seriously, and despite making the rookie error of buying the first one I saw, I've been pretty lucky with my purchase so far, with no unexpected surprises. Find a good one - or in my case, fluke a good one while buying the first one you see - and you'll be getting a good car with simple mechanicals and running costs far below most cars of similar performance.
Things I love:
It's a cliché, but what made me buy it was everything which makes the TVR brand a thing to be celebrated. The smooth, bling-free style, the shock n'awe soundtrack, the torque, the history. But when you live with a TVR - especially on an 8-month trip across the globe - the more subtly positive aspects of ownership rise to the surface and make themselves known. Aspects like the colossal boot, which made fitting in everything we needed for Pub2Pub a doddle. Or the comfortable, spacious cabin, in which ten hour days behind the wheel across unknown countries were a doddle. The simple mechanics which make it one of the least intimidating sports cars around when it comes to keeping it running far from specialist knowledge. Or the way that it generates a positive reaction everywhere it goes, with none of the animosity its German counterparts sometimes receive.
Things I hate:
How could you hate such an endearingly cheeky little car?! Overall, the ownership experience has been very positive, both as a 'high days and holidays' steed for our first 6 years together, and as a overland adventure machine in more recent months. However, it does know how to irritate on occasion. Like right now, when the driver's door release goes on strike whenever it rains. Or the fact that stowing the roof in the boot when you're carrying a decent amount of stuff becomes a time-consuming, tetris-like exercise.
It sure isn't perfect, but without wanting to reel off a series of well-worn sayings about 'character', is that necessarily the end of the world? I'd go with 'no, not at all'...
So far, Kermit has been very understanding when it comes to my phobia of unexpected bills. In the first 6 years of ownership, it covered about 12,000 miles without too many surprises, other than needing a new brake master cylinder, auxiliary belt tensioner, and some suspension components.
Prior to the big trip, it was serviced and given a once over, but was kept pretty much standard, and luckily, the maintenance costs during its global meanderings were pretty minimal, thanks to both its reliability, and the support of people like TVR-specialist Powers Performance and GAZ Shocks, who were willing to help out the expedition by sending parts out to keep it rolling. The only major surgery required on its 27,000 mile trip across the globe was a new clutch, sent out to Nicaragua by Powers, and fitted without much hassle.
Of course, while we're on the subject of money, the greater costs of Kermit's trip should probably be considered. Firstly, Fuel. I've been too scared to actually add this up, but the final total comes to around £3,500-£4,000, with Ecuador being the cheapest country, at 26p/litre, and around 60p/litre being the average once we were out of Europe. As for shipping, three sea passages were required, with the total for getting the TVR to and from the North American continent, and across the Darien Gap, coming to another £4,000. Insurance in Latin America was generally bought on the borders, and didn't come to more than about £250 in total, while the total bill for the two garage visits made on the trip was less than £300 (covering the clutch change and service in Nicaragua, and a check-over in Lima, Peru, after some rough running - traced to the HT electrical system).
Where I've been:
For the first 6 years of ownership, the TVR led a fairly normal life. It roamed south west England when the sun came out, and made a few longer trips to places like Ireland and France. But then, the Pub2Pub idea came along, and the mildly outrageous nature of the undertaking meant the TVR appeared to be a completely logical choice for the journey. If you've been following our progress here on Pistonheads, you'll know what came next. A 27,000 mile journey, across 25 countries on three continents, which began in the northernmost bar on the planet, and ended at the southernmost.
So the list of where it's been is now both long and fairly daunting. Highlights include Death Valley, where it endured the 50°C temperatures without complaint. Bolivia's Death Road, where it proved perfectly surefooted as it negotiated a wet gravel track hanging above the abyss. Amarillo, where it ran the quarter mile at a grassroots drag racing event, and Colombia, where we raced it against a horse across a field. Patagonia, where it roared across the grassy plains for hundreds of miles, and Guatemala City, where it acquitted itself well as it diced with the frenzied local traffic.
But perhaps the most memorable place it's been is the Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia's fabled salt flats, which were flooded when we visited, turning the surface into a mirror the size of Northern Ireland. Driving on this surface, with nothing to see as far as the horizon, and the sky reflected in the waters beneath our wheels, was certainly one of the more other-worldly motoring experiences of my life.
Hopefully, many more adventures! We've been so blown away by the level of interest the Pub2Pub Expedition has generated, that we're launching 'Pub2Pub Adventures', to cater for those who've been inspired to undertake their own pub-based adventures. And obviously, as one of the better known sports cars in the UK right now, Kermit will be the centrepiece of the new venture. So, expect to see Pub2Pub's plucky Chimaera leading further adventures, both within Europe and further afield, in the years to come.
Yeah, I think it's fair to say that after all we've been through together, it's a keeper...
For more on the Pub2Pub project, click here.