I bought a 21-year-old V8 British sports car during the pandemic; it was the best thing I ever did

As petrol engines go the way of the horse and cart, what better way to enjoy a final hurrah than with a politically-incorrect TVR roadster?

TVR Chimaera 4.0 V8 - with owner Alex Robbins
Pleased would be an understatement... Alex and his TVR Chimaera Credit: Andrew Crowley

I have a very understanding wife. That much has become clear, if it wasn’t already, in the last few months. After all, how else could you explain the fact that my other half was entirely supportive of my decision, just two months after our first child was born and in the midst of the biggest hit to the economy in years, to buy a two-seat sports car with a V8 engine and a reputation for atrocious reliability?

Blame cabin fever from two months of being locked down, if you like. Or blame the writing that’s now on the wall for the petrol engine, what with the news that you won’t be able to buy a new one from 2030 onwards. Or perhaps blame that newfound desire for seizing the day and living in the moment that comes from trying to find your way unscathed through a global health crisis. 

Either way, a TVR Chimaera was a car I’d had a hankering for since I was a teenager – a poster of a yellow one adorned my bedroom wall – and now I had the chance to own one.

“Are you mad?” said the Telegraph’s motoring correspondent Andrew English, when I first mentioned to him my idea of buying the TVR. “Don’t do it, for God’s sake!” 

As well as being a convertible, the TVR is also refreshing for a dearth of driver aids and modern pampering

He wasn’t the only one. If friends and colleagues alike weren’t touting the TVR’s reputation for lethal handling characteristics, they were prophesying endless breakdowns – or, worse still, colossal fireballs resulting in charred, TVR-shaped hulks sitting forlornly at the side of the road.

Well, I must admit, I dallied. I considered other, less potentially ruinous, alternatives. But in the end, I came to my senses. I’m a great believer in the adage that if you’re going to do it, you should do it properly. 

Which is how I ended up sitting within my very own Chimaera 400 at Fernhurst TVR, one of the country’s best-reputed specialists, preparing to drive it away. I’d visited a couple of weeks earlier and driven this car, uncertain about the colour – a pale metallic green called Crystal Verde – or whether I would even enjoy the driving experience at all. 

The perfect conveyance of a warm summer evening? Quite possibly

But within minutes of taking the wheel for my test drive, I’d been smitten. It had driven beautifully, and despite trying three more Chimaeras the next day at specialists throughout the country, my thoughts had always returned to the first one I’d tried. 

That first drive home was glorious – with warm sunshine washing over me, I roared back up the A3 with the roof down, revelling in the sound of the exhaust note rumbling back at me off the concrete divider in the central reservation of the motorway. 

By the time I got home, all I wanted to do was drive it some more. I waited patiently until I’d put my daughter to bed, like a kid at Christmas told to wait until after lunch before opening the presents, and then took the car out again for another long drive, as the sun set over the Downs. 

"The first drive home was glorious.  By the time I got home, all I wanted to do was drive it some more"

So what exactly does a Chimaera feel like today? Well, a fellow motoring journalist had a go in mine recently and described it as a “palate cleanser”, and since then I’ve been hard-pushed to find a better way to describe it compared with the modern cars I review as part of my day job. 

My car is the most benign Chimaera there is – fitted with power steering, and the least powerful engine, a 4.0-litre V8 with 240bhp. Though in a car weighing around a tonne, that’s more than enough to make it feel quick; 62mph comes up in 5.2 seconds, which even today is more than enough to give you a thrill.

So what about that handling, then? Well, you do have to get used to the steering, which is short on feel and somewhat vague just off-centre, so turning in can be an act of faith. But while it isn’t all that communicative, the chassis is set up with a bit of softness, so you get a sense of the car’s attitude before you pile on the power out of a bend

Broad grins are part and parcel of such an involving car Credit: Andrew Crowley

And you soon realise there’s loads of front-end grip, so unless you’re being daft the Chimaera will faithfully go where you point it. You also get a fairly good understanding of when you’re pushing it a bit too hard, which means it isn’t as terrifying to drive quickly as everyone makes out. 

Yes, the back end will snap sideways if you’re not careful – and, in damp conditions, you have to drive like you’re walking on eggshells, given there’s no traction control or anti-lock braking. 

But on a dry road, with the sunshine flooding in, the Chimaera is not only joyous, but far more predictable than it’s given credit for. 

And if you aren’t in the mood for hustling it along, it does laid-back very well too. You can simply cruise around, enjoying the view out over the swooping dashboard and bodywork, listening to the woofle of the V8 and surfing on its lovely wave of low-down grunt. 

Apply your own boating analogy

Or clunk the stubby, hefty gearstick down a ratio and prod the throttle to hear it sing, feeling the power swell as you eke out the last few revs. For while this engine is a lazy V8 at heart, it also loves to be wrung out, rewarding you with that glorious, thudding soundtrack and an almost surprising dollop of top-end torque. 

They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes. But as you’ve probably guessed, I love this car. It’s a bit of a flawed diamond, lacking the precision of a Porsche of the technical efficiency of an Audi, but making up for that with character in spades. From the moment you pop open the door – using the button hidden under the mirror, of course – it feels like an event. 

And what about that famed reliability? Well, I’ve had to call out the RAC twice – although in both instances I blame myself, rather than the car. The first time I’d managed to get the seatbelt stuck; the second, I forgot to leave it plugged into the trickle charger and the alarm system flattened the battery. 

Otherwise, the TVR hasn’t yet put a foot wrong in a thousand miles of motoring. Long may it continue.

Here’s to good things coming out of a very bad time for the world. And to understanding wives. 

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