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Auto Journalist: Phil James

About Phil James



While the notion back in 2000 had been to swap the 4.5 and the Red Rose Tuscan for the 'new' TVR in 2001, things had changed by 2005.

The daftest thing

During my second year of Cerbera ownership, I took the Tuscan race car out of play for a nut'n'bolt rebuild and learned to ride a horse. A change is as good as a rest.

Goin’ racin’!

Clear horizon, that’s what. Anything that might obstruct the view for a brief moment could be dispatched to the mirrors toute de suite. And then erased completely soon after. This is the car that Clarkson said “could create its own weather” and likened to a “four-wheeled atom bomb”.

My first year of ownership was also my first full season of motor racing in the TVR Tuscan Challenge so I clocked up a lot of miles. In fact I liked clocking up miles so much that the only race circuits at which I used hotels were Croft and Oulton Park. For every other of the 13 rounds, I drove to and from testing, to and from qualifying and to and from the race. Usually completing the journeys in implausibly short times (obviously due to canny choice of route, officer…).

For the Oulton Park round at which I didn’t use a hotel, there was a good reason. The race meeting was all done on the Saturday so, after racing, I set off for Liverpool docks to catch a ferry to the Isle of Man to see an old buddy …and take the Cerbera around the mountain on the TT’s infamous Mad Sunday to play amongst the bikers. Waiting for the ferry were hundreds of bikers and almost no other cars. The bikers were very interested in the Cerbera. In my experience, bikers seem to feel a kindred spirit with TVR drivers and, reciprocally, they are the kind of people I like ‘comparing’ with the most.

While embarking the ferry, I caught a chassis plate on a ridge entering the car deck. It bent the plate back, ripping the bolts right out of the chassis rails. S**t! My mate on the Isle didn’t have a jack and as I was only there for the day I had to think of an improvised repair strategy. My idea was to drive the car so fast over a bumpy road that I could hammer the plate flat. Tony knew just the road and, unencumbered by speed limits, we set off to ‘repair’ the car with Tony riding shotgun as ballast.

The first pass at 130mph sounded like it had done the trick. Nope, a bit more needed. A return pass at 150mph sounded encouraging. To anyone watching, the blue Cerbera flying back and forth must have appeared like a demented insect trapped in a test tube. In all it took half a dozen attempts to bash the plate roughly back into place. Off to ‘compare’ with the bikes then… one of my best memories was overtaking a Kawasaki Ninja around the outside of The Verandah. Cool.

The car was sent back to the TVR factory to have a replacement plate fitted properly a couple of weeks later. While the car was there, I had my leg pulled about the state of the tyres. The car had only done around 4,000 miles.

This return to Blackpool led to another incident. One of the pistons had been a bit noisy from new. The guys at the factory decided to be helpful and attend to it, opting to replace the engine under warranty. The trouble was, they didn’t tell me. This soon proved to be an unfortunate omission.

The car returned from Blackpool on a Saturday and there was one remaining place on a driving techniques day at Bruntingthorpe on the Monday. TVR Centre boss Giles Cooper phoned to offer the place to me and suggested I “finish off the tyres”. Seemed like a plan. The day comprised various activities like brake-and-avoid, cadence braking and so on. While safety was high on the organisers’ agenda, I (and a couple of others) saw the bollarded areas as a speed trial. The upshot was the car got thrashed all day, leading up to the finale of a Vmax blast up the runway. My car reached an indicated 185mph and promptly grenaded the engine. Oops. It was only after the fact that it came to light that the engine was brand spanking new at the beginning of the day.

At the next Tuscan Challenge round, the TVR engine technicians asked me what had happened to the ‘new engine’ as the welded shrapnel was quite unlike anything they had seen before. Well, now they know, although I am pretty sure they knew it hadn’t happened while nipping round the corner for cigarettes. I did finish off the tyres, in case you were wondering.

Another terrific memory of 1998 was the Tuscan Challenge round at Croft. A petrolhead police chief allowed the Tuscan racers to drive from the circuit to Darlington town centre on the Friday night. Given that the cars would overheat if driven too slowly, the roads were cleared and a motorcycle escort provided for the entire Tuscan grid (30-odd cars) to drive uninsured on slick tyres at breakneck speed on the Queen’s Highway! I drove my race car to Darlington while the team brought my Cerbera along. The streets were lined with spectators and the town centre was full of people with the local radio station roadshow in attendance. It was quite a buzz! My race engineer Dougie drove the Tuscan back and I followed in the Cerbera. Back at the circuit, I swear to God if Dougie had grinned any wider the bottom half of his head would have fallen off.

Then there was the trip to Spa Francorchamps for a race…

The Cerbera is fast, comfortable – and most importantly for a long run – INVOLVING enough to keep me alert; arguably the most effective safety device of all.

By the end of the first year, I was totally, utterly smitten.


Fright night

Although I had planned to trade my Cerbera 4.5 and Tuscan for the ultra-TVR, when it came to it, I just couldn't face letting the 4.5 go.

The Big Adventure, Part 2

After a lap of the GP circuit, it was goodbye to Monaco and the tour headed to Italy on the "Italian Tunnel Run". Truck drivers hooted and waved their appreciation as I flew by - the Espada was home!

The Big Adventure, Part 1

2007 was my Espada's 30th Anniversary and to celebrate it I was taking it on its longest ever voyage. Over 3,000 miles through 5 countries, up and down countless mountains: The 2007 FB5K Alpine Tour.

Going continental

Jim the Bentley was pretty certain the temperature issue was over with the fan repair. He'd tried his best to cook the car and it was having none of it, the temperature steadfastly refusing to go beyond 90 degrees however long the car was left running.

Temperature rising

Don't tell anyone but I actually did some work myself on the Lamborghini in May 2006. With tools. Something that has always irked me a bit about Espadas is how they can often look wonky in photos if you catch the wrong angle.