Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Suspension of disbelief

‘These things are sent to try us’… I’m not a religious person, but I do distinctly remember something along those lines. And by divine intervention or not they certainly seem to have been happening.

After fixing my plans to keep the TVR, I swung into action with a phone call to Derek Gardiner of Absolutely Shocks. We’d met the previous week at Autosport International and having owned a string of S-Series TVRs, and with very close links with shock manufacturers Gaz, he seemed like the ideal man for the job. So, that weekend Derek was set to pick up the tiv and return it with a pristine set of new springs and shocks, finely tuned to handling perfection on a four-point alignment rig.

Little did I know, things were about to get biblical. First the car developed what turned out to be an immobiliser fault (coincidentally the result of finest Japanese engineering and not a TVR part). Next, with plans re-arranged to ship the car down on a trailer, some idiot decided to park his Clio in front of the garage door, sealing it in. With that removed and the car on its way, I had to chase after Derek who'd forgotten the keys. Next, safely tucked up in the Gaz workshop it took no less than two callouts from the auto electrician to revive it, during which time the speedo and tachometer mysteriously stopped functioning. Surely things would now be simple? Er, no.

“It’s a tiny little bit firm,” explained Derek on the phone before bringing the car back, "and the ride height appears to have settled quite a bit since I did it.” A brief test drive returned mixed results – the chassis was more than capable of working with the new firmer settings, but the driver most definitely was not. What’s more the reduced ride height had caused it to ground with monotonous regularity. And so, back to the factory it went.

The fault was eventually traced to the wrong type of valving on the rear shocks, which was promptly rectified, along with an increase in front ride height. Second time round, you simply wouldn’t believe the difference it made. The (reasonably firm) ride is now every bit as good as it ever was, but the body control is greatly improved. Where it would previously pitch into corners, it now resists roll well and feels far more composed. As well as making the car much more nimble, the tweaks have also indirectly sharpened up the steering. Instead of taking its time to load up and start giving you meaningful feedback, it now does so from the off. This means confidence in the car is much increased and you can now chuck it into corners far more exuberantly than was previously wise.

So are there any downsides? Essentially speaking, no. It does still have a tendency to kiss the tarmac on very bumpy B-roads and the occasional speed bump, but this is somewhat of an occupational hazard with the S-Series and the sparks do at least look cool. Aside of that, it appears to be all for the better. The real test, however, will come next week, when the car goes for its first foray onto the track and its weakest component – the driver – goes with it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Problem solvent

‘Tick this box to discuss savings’. Those were the words written on the deposit envelope as I paid in the last lump sum from my former life at Ford. And it seemed like a good idea - despite the much-clich├ęd global economic meltdown I’ve never been in a better position financially and putting some away for a rainy day seemed like a solid plan.

Except when the bank actually phoned me over Christmas the best they could offer, even on a 9-month bond, was still below inflation. In slight disbelief I clarified, “so I’d actually end up losing 0.8% a year?” “Erm, yeah,” Mr Barclays sheepishly replied, “you would”. So at that point I reasoned I’d rather lose a little more, but get a car for my troubles.

Dangerous thoughts started filling my head. If it was going to be sort of an investment, lovingly secreted in the garage and rarely used, then all manner of hitherto unobtainable machinery was now an option. An Aston martin Virage appealed, but while I could just about afford to buy one, the first Aston-only part to go pop would have put me in much the same position as Lehman Brothers. Likewise, a Maserati 3200GT, although now quite affordable, is capable of generating its own value in service bills each year. So, in the end, the list of potential replacements for the S3 came down to various other TVRs.

After much umming and arring, I decided the Cerbera was out – partly for financial reasons and partly because the car that one magazine described as ‘violently unpredictable, intimidating and in some cases downright undriveable’ would very possibly kill me. Much the same argument was applied to the Tuscan 2. And, while the Tamora and T350C were said to be less intimidating behind the wheel, the spectre of repeated Speed Six engine rebuilds loomed large, as did the prospect of higher depreciation. So, it seemed like a two-horse race between the Griffith and the Chimaera.

However, a funny thing happened when I went to look at them. Growing up in the ‘90s, the Griffith had always seemed like the iconic TVR, but in the flesh I couldn’t understand the considerable premium it commands over its bigger-booted sibling. Both sharing the same chassis, and being largely the same mechanically, I elected to try a Chimaera. Behind the wheel, its straight-line performance advantage over the V6-engined S was nothing like as dramatic as expected and it just didn’t feel as nimble or as communicative as ‘the entry level’ S3. I went home unconvinced.

Despite my reservations about the newer cars, I still didn’t feel like I’d done the TVR thing. So, after much deliberation and a chance meeting with a TVR S-Series suspension guru at the Autosport Show, the decision was made to stick with the current car for a while. However, I plan to carry out a few changes: The standard dampers are going in favour of Gaz Gold Pros, the original springs are being replaced with stiffer units and I plan to sort out a few of the car’s idiosyncrasies, such as the hood and the fuel gauge.

This leaves a more or less Griffith-sized chunk still sat in the bank – part of which I intend to squander on petrol and track day fees - hopefully the first of which will be the Car Limits Activity Day at North Weald in a couple of weeks. As for the rest, well I guess that'll go under the mattress for the time being - after all, money is much harder to come by in my new career. But at least the financial outlook could be worse… I could work for a bank.