I’ve got a pretty damn good starting point, given that the engine is already in a pretty strong state of tune, thanks to a decat, revised intake arrangement and a chip from Trackcar Solutions netting a claimed 408bhp. A head skim, custom exhaust manifold and some more work on the management side of things could probably net a bit more, but given the diminishing marginal returns at this stage, I think it’s right to push power considerations to the back of the queue.
Besides, following the old racing adage of “to finish first, first you have to finish”, there are one or two bits that could do with attending to in order to make sure that the mill will actually deliver those 408 horses, or any for that matter, when I call on it to.
First in line for attention is what TVR affectionately refer to as the “big fuse” – a 100 amp strip in the charging circuit. Honourable though I’m sure their motivations were, the fuse consists of an unshielded metal strip in a flimsy plastic case sat right in the valley of the V, meaning that it is constantly exposed to heat, vibration, and when the plastic case inevitably gives up the ghost, all manner of dirt and other detritus. Failure, which can be partial and not obvious to the naked eye, leads to all sorts of electrical gremlins from an erratic rev needles and doors that won’t open on demand, to complete failure to charge the battery or start. So a replacement with a gold-plated, properly sealed “midi” fuse from a car audio suppliers, along with a new case and contacts (made from the gold terminals of an old speaker) was an easy fix.
Not that it cured the starting problems I had in my early days with the car, but then that would have been far too easy. Chasing that particular malady, I replaced the relatively new battery for an Optima Red-Top, which I believe is popular amongst hardcore off-roaders for its ability to haul them up steep inclines on the starter motor, power winches, and start even the most reluctant of engines in the worst conditions. It looks very impressive and the 880 cold cranking amps figure makes for a good pub boast if you’re very dull, but it didn’t do much to solve the intermittent nature of the Cerb’s willingness to turn over.
So I turned my attention to the starter motor itself. Even the most die-hard TVR fan would probably concede that positioning the starter immediately above where the two exhaust manifolds come together without any airflow wasn’t the cleverest piece of design, and as a result heat-related failure is an all too common occurrence. Using my best thin-hand skills I eventually extracted the item for refurbishment, but not before the range of various cable-tie ends had given my arms more than a passing resemblance to those of the very most dedicated of Glaswegian junkies. Unfortunately, whilst the starter was away being refurbed I had an unrelated accident with a kitchen knife which rendered me incapable of putting it back, although given I couldn’t drive either, I wasn’t inconvenienced too badly by the job being stalled for nearly a month.
Hand healed and weekend set aside for fitment, I was so confident of my diagnosis that I booked onto a trackday for the following weekend, so I could sneak in my first circuit-based outing since the summer’s ‘Ring trip before the Scottish winter set in in earnest. Events conspired against me somewhat on that first weekend, so when I finally got everything back together the night before the trackday, it was too late and dark to fire it up.
The following morning, instead of the sound of a V8 bursting enthusiastically into life, I was met with only a lethargic groan and a stubborn refusal to start. Having ruled out just about every other possibility, I connected a jump lead from the negative terminal of the battery directly to the casing of the starter and the engine finally span into life. Sadly, I still could not drive off into the deep blue yonder as the bonnet wouldn’t shut with the jump lead attached, and I didn’t have any cable to make up a new earth lead from. Having the keys to the next door garage, my friend’s kit-car found itself a convenient cannibalisation victim, and I was all ready to head off to Knockhill to show those pesky Porsches what for.
Except that despite the engine’s enthusiasm to be let off the leash, the gearbox now wasn’t in the mood to allow it to convert all that verve into forward motion. The clutch pedal went straight to the floor, and that was game over. There would be no track outing in 2007.
After repeated attempts to fix it with bad language, I discovered an ominous pool of hydraulic fluid under the car and all sorts of nightmare scenarios ran through my mind. I traced the leak to a braided hose, which, upon inspection had scorch marks both around the leak and on the piece of the chassis it had been touching – looks like in the absence of a decent earth, the starter had improvised with the metal braiding of the hose from the master cylinder.
Once again I had to thank TVR for using some slightly odd hydraulic connectors which nobody seemed to stock, but fortunately the Pirtek just round the corner from my house not only made up a replacement hose, but also made up some special insulation that they use on the folklift trucks these hoses are more commonly used on.
By the time the new hose was on, the reservoir had been filled and the various concealing panels sikaflexed back into place, the weather had started to take a turn for the decidedly nippy, so I was really rather glad that everything worked and that any further time spent sitting on the concrete floor of my unheated garage would be on a purely voluntary basis.
With the starting problem now cured (I took a belt and braces approach to earthing, with brand new straps now going to the starter, the chassis, the engine block and the airbox bracket), the car was now tediously reliable, so I was going to be forced to start applying a little imagination to keep my hands oily.