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.

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