Flying the flag

cerbera4_2_493fb44bdeb59-lightboxR66 HOT’s first little bit of fame that year came when it was the sole TVR in the Parade des Pilotes through Le Mans city centre on the Friday before the race. How the TVR race team missed that trick, Lord knows.

My Cerbera was in the ‘Supercar Presentation’, the order of which was: the Audi Nuvolari V10 concept car leading; me in the Cerbera; a Spyker C8 Laviolette (driven by Spyker boss Victor Muller); a Koenigsegg CC8S (driven by Christian von Koenigsegg); a Pagani Zonda (driven by Pagani’s engineering boss Mino Camilotti); a Ferrari Enzo (driven by Team Veloqx boss Sam Li); and, a Ray Mallock GT40 (driven by my good friend Chris Notley). It does make me chuckle whenever I think of this escapade – I mean, really, me in a severely road-rashed Cerbera mixing it with that lot? With my reputation? Had nobody thought of the consequences?

The format was for each car to drive up a red carpet on to a stage surrounded by VIPs while a commentator explained what the car was over a PA system. First up was the Nuvolari which crawled slowly on to the stage while a demented commentator gabbled about it en Francaise. Next, I was waved forward to do my bit for Britain. A brief burnout for the crowd then I too crawled up the carpet to be gabbled about. As I rolled off the carpet a French policeman marched over to yell “No spin! No spin!” at me. Bloody spoil sport, so I dawdled along to follow the Nuvolari.

The trouble was that a crowd of 130,000 people lining the streets, most of them seemingly British, wanted to see and hear some action. “Go on! Give it some!” they hollered. To begin with, I obliged by merely revving the engine but I knew very well what they really wanted: “spin” to paraphrase the French plod. In the end, I did the decent thing having got out of sight of that first policeman: I let rip. A big dose of revs, a sharp step off the clutch and I smoked ’em good and proper. This triggered something of a “Mexican Wave” as one by one, the cars behind did the same thing! It was awesome! Victor Muller lit up the Spyker (incredible V8 sound!), followed by the Pagani and so on. The crowd went wild and the police went a different kind of wild. The crowd clapped, the shocked police madly waved their arms to stop the anarchy! The sound of an Enzo with a sports exhaust, the GT40 (running a fuel-injected Ford Motorsport big block straight into a pair of megaphones) drowned out the Cerbera. I am gutted to have no photos or video of this moment and would be delighted to see any if anyone has.

I had flown the flag for TVR and country, so it was very disappointing that both TVRs were out of the race with daft faults the next day.

R66 HOT’s second bit of fame was as the development mule for the innovative ZeroShift transmission. On 15 July 2003 ZeroShift, a company I had formed a year earlier, announced to the press that it had successfully tested a converted Tremec T5 in my car. Then all hell let loose as enquiries from car manufacturers, racing teams and interested individuals flooded in. For the next year or so, until ZeroShift bought its own Cerbera (a 4.2) in late 2004, my favourite toy was pretty much out of bounds. I did however treat it to a new registration plate: 112 ERO …II ZERO.

I have often been asked what the ZeroShift gearbox was like – or if it’s still in the car (it isn’t). Making the converted gearbox robust is something that ZeroShift’s engineers have been busy perfecting but even the original prototype showed great potential. For a low weight, high torque car like a Cerbera, the effect on acceleration was dramatic. With a conventional manual, you get acceleration – pause – acceleration – pause… Those pauses, while they cost time, at least provide some respite from the g-force. With the ZeroShift gearbox, there were no pauses: acceleration, acceleration, acceleration. No respite, just grin.

Failures of early prototypes tended to contain themselves inside the gearbox but on one spectacular occasion it, erm, didn’t. I’d taken the car to visit an F1 team early in 2004 and on my way back to the office I took the opportunity to drive in ‘my normal way’. Belting down the A5 the contents of the transmission made a bid for freedom …and succeeded. Such was the speed of the car that as the gearbox began to fail, there was no chance for the wheels to lock up because the forces involved were simply too great. The wheels drove the prop, the engine drove the input shaft and KABOOM, the much-modified prototype gearbox blew itself to smithereens. I coasted to a layby and got out my AA card. It was months before the smell of transmission oil, that had been pressure blasted into every orifice under the car, fully cleared.

By 2004, that “Tuscan R” I had ordered back in 2000 (for a 2002 delivery) had morphed, via the T400R/T440R into the supercharged 600bhp Typhon and it was time to do the specification for a projected late 2004/early 2005 delivery… and trade in my black Tuscan and the 4.5. But loving Cerberas as I do, I was still struggling with the idea of the Typhon (no problem with the idea of 600bhp though, quite the contrary). I decided what I would prefer instead would be “the mother of all Cerberas” to my own specification.

Having set ZeroShift on its way, I left at the end of 2004 and this led to a really interesting twist: a call from TVR, by then owned by Russian Nikolai Smolenski, to invite me to become Head of Marketing. I joined in February 2005, which coincided with the completion, after 9 months, of that “mother of all Cerberas”. It was TVR shuffling time at home again…

 

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Phil James