Without an extraordinary set of circumstances, I think my head would probably have stopped me when I bought my first TVR, a 1999 4.5 Cerbera, in November 2007, but, for once, it was my heart that was in the right.
I’m a stranger to neither the rawer end of the performance car spectrum nor the business end of a torque wrench. My former steeds have included a pre-traction control BMW M Roadster and a tuned VX220 Turbo and I’m part way through a project to “reinterpret” a Mk3 Austin Healey Sprite with a Westfield spaceframe and a Vauxhall red-top engine.
But petrol-fuelled adrenaline fixes have been too few and far between since the birth of my daughter a few years ago, and the itch had become virtually intolerable. Unfortunately, the itch had remained unscratched since the sale of the VX due to personal factors such as lack of available garages within reasonable walking distance from my house in central-ish Edinburgh, possession of two other, perfectly adequate cars, financial commitments, and the usual demands of family life.
My acquisition story really starts back in late Spring ’07, when a friend and fellow ex-VX owner, Derek, bought what is now my car, after I talked him out of buying a particularly dubious early Noble. As the Cerbera in question had a recent engine rebuild, some sensibly chosen modifications and a glowing report on the condition of the chassis, it seemed more likely to keep his bank account healthy and his driveway free of oil stains. Proof that I can listen to my head, at least when it’s not the object of my own affections at stake.
Fast-forward to late August, and following a visit to Trackcar Solutions for a Whirlwind induction kit, bespoke chip and a set-up of the Nitron suspension, Derek very kindly offered to share his pride and joy on a trip to the fabulous Nurburgring – a truly wonderful experience, but one that set me inexorably on the path to TVR ownership.
The first, and totally inescapable feature of this Cerbera is the noise. The moment Derek arrived at our pre-launch lodgings and nearly shook the putty out of the ageing windows, I felt a warm sense of impending mischief, and every subsequent journey on the public roads in it felt completely illicit. It really shouldn’t be allowed, but the aural pleasure of its existence is a call to arms for any with the slightest hint of 98RON in their bodily fluids.
On the open road the following day the acoustic joy, existing somewhere in the realm between NASCAR V8, big capacity bike engine and Cosworth DFV, was seducing me already. The off-throttle artillery, especially when reverberating from nearby street furniture, added a further glorious depth to the experience. “I could own one of these, and be happy just sitting in the garage blipping the throttle”, I said at the time. I subsequently discovered this to be a bare-faced lie.
My first drive on slimy dew-covered early morning roads, despite embarrassingly clumsy clutch work and trepidatious throttle application, revealed that the Cerbera’s fearsome reputation isn’t entirely deserved. Sure, it needs the respect due to any 1150kg RWD car wielding northwards of 400 brake, but it’s not going to needlessly bite your head off, despite what the stream of obscenities from the exhaust seem to be threatening. With 200-odd miles of motorway driving under my belt, the sheer pace of the beast (which I do not feel, in this exceptional circumstance, to be an overstretched metaphor) was in no doubt whatsoever.
I’d hitherto been of the opinion that straight line pace was the automotive equivalent of bicep flexing – momentarily impressive, but ultimately only meaningful as part of a broader package. The Cerbera somehow manages to make even arrow straight tarmac indefatigably exciting by treading a path between the frenetic, but ultimately tiring, scrabblings of the powerful lightweight and the “hand of god” relentless, but frankly boring, surge of the übersaloon. It’s an addictive experience, and, coupled with the hardening engine note, makes it difficult to resist spending longer journeys wringing out fourth, braking into mid-third and doing it all again.
Not having tried a standard car, I can’t really comment on how the Nitron suspension compares with the factory set-up, but the car, as tested, on the flowing roads around the circuit and on the Nordschleife itself, handled beautifully. It’s firm but biddable gait inspired massive confidence: not confidence that it would cosset, or even be sympathetic, in the face of ham-fisted treatment, but rather that it would translate my bodily movements into movement on the road with complete fidelity.
As my last nagging doubt about the suitability of the car completely evaporated, my heart was already reaching for my chequebook. I’d found a car that could deliver a genuine rush on even the shortest journeys, be a tactile and incisive track weapon, demolish a transcontinental jaunt, and at the same time appeal to my faintly patriotic admiration of engineering in the face of adversity. Intoxicated by the spirit of adventure, the journey, the venue, the glorious weather, the people we met (including an expedition of TVR owners from the Central Scotland region), and, far from least, the car itself, my head let my heart have its fill, and I made Derek an offer on the ferry home.
Unfortunately, due to initial reluctance on his part and our respective work commitments, it took until the last day of October ’07 until I was actually handing over payment. What had passed for a summer was all but spent, and the prospect of a six month wait until I could get another full fix was very clear and present. I parted with another substantial pile of cash for the insurance, and yet another to rent a lock-up a 15 minute walk from my house. After a single run to London, the car retired to my garage to fix a niggling starting problem, which refused to be remedied, and my head was starting to question its previously laissez-faire attitude.
After an extended period renewing various electrics, and removing the starter motor more times than I care to recall, the problem revealed itself to be earth-related, which in turn led to clutch failure (starter earthing down a hydraulic hose). By the time it went to a specialist for its first service under my recognisance, I’d only had one meaningful drive. Far from feeling disappointed, I felt like I’d passed some kind of initiation test – seen my way through an early trial, and come out feeling like I knew the car’s structure, inner workings and foibles intimately. A ying of a cerebral experience to match the yang of the emotions of the ‘Ring trip.
I don’t know if I’ve been unduly affected by my relatively recent ascension to fatherhood, but my time spent buried up to my shoulders in the engine bay has left me with strangely paternal feelings towards the car, with thoughts of cold-galvanisation for its chassis and re-Connolisation of its leather filling my head. In contrast to most other cars I’ve owned, which I’ve regarded as possessions to be abused at my discretion and fixed as necessary, I feel a weight of responsibility to preserve the TVR; not just for myself, or a future owner (if there ever is one) but also for a visceral sense of engineering principle.
Two months into the Cerbera experience, despite its couple of periods of garage-bound convalescence, and a little pocket-lightening, I love it all: I love the anticipation of driving to my lock-up to pick the car up. I love the incongruity of burbling it out of its urban residential home. I love every trip, from the snatched midweek afternoon spin, to the weekend family excursion, to the balls-out trackday. I love the tinkering, fixing and improving. I even love the thinking about tinkering, fixing and improving, and, in my very logical head, it all feels eminently sensible.
And maybe that’s the rub. Maybe your head’s not there to censor your heart’s aspirations at all. Maybe it’s there to provide eloquent, reasoned argument in support of your heart’s desires.