Motoring: A beauty and a beast

The verdict; Sportier than Porsche, faster than Ferrari ... readers go wild for Blackpool's TVR Chimaera 500.
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
With Rover, Aston Martin, Jaguar and even Rolls-Royce flogged off and gobbled up by foreign conglomerates, Blackpool's TVR makes more cars (Reliant aside) than all the other British manufacturers put together. But if that's a sobering thought, here's an intoxicating one: the TVR Chimaera 500 is powered by a five-litre, 320bhp VS engine, it is capable of 0-60 in 4.4 seconds, and has a top speed of almost 170mph. And although its mythological namesake may have had the body of a goat, the head of a lion and the tail of a serpent, TVR's design department has managed to conjure something a little more cohesive. It has to be one of the prettiest sports cars on sale today.

In the Eighties TVR (named after Trevor Wilkinson, its founder) underwent a transformation, led by its then new chairman Peter Wheeler. Out went the kit-car aesthetic, and in came a genuine rival to Porsche. TVRs are now sexier than anything a German could create, faster than most Ferraris and substantially cheaper than both. For evidence you need only look at the number of letters we receive from readers asking to try one - it's probably our most requested car. And the Chimaera didn't disappoint. I don't think we've ever had as unanimously positive a response from our testers.

It didn't take them long to discover that the Chimaera can out-accelerate any car on the road, in any gear. All of its power is available all of the time, instantaneously. And though the engine is a development of one that has seen service in many cars before, I've never heard it sound as thunderous as it does in the Chimaera. Your spine doesn't just tingle, it shudders.

Without wishing to belittle the efforts of TVR's chassis engineers, their most popular model is still essentially a dirty great engine with a couple of seats attached. Sure, on a dry road it is as adept at cornering as a goldfish, but show it some wet Tarmac and the Chimaera does a fair impression of Bambi on ice. Traction control might be usefully employed here, one feels. The suspension, meanwhile, is fighting a losing battle with 320 crazy horses.

Other gripes include the Chimaera's roof, which is a pain to operate, and the clutch pedal is wearisome, presumably because a hefty flywheel is needed to cope with the engine's output. The boot release, meanwhile, only operates if the engine is running, and there is a feeble stereo, and nasty plastic ashtrays mar an otherwise exceptionally beautiful wood, leather and aluminium-trimmed interior.

TVR has had a reputation in the past for unreliability, about which it is still sensitive - the PR rang me halfway through my time with the car to ask if everything was OK, which was a first. But these days build quality is not such an issue, and a faulty seatbelt aside, we had no problems. More worrying for potential owners might be the image of the urban TVR driver - I can see him now in his rugby shirt, braying at the bar about the office "totty". But if you are thick-skinned enough to cope with that, the TVR Chimaera could win your heart for life, if it doesn't lose you your licence within a weekW

Shane Hughes, 34, housing officer, from Streatham, London. Currently drives a Volvo Amazon 123GT

"It's definitely a man's car, but women would look really sexy in it. The cockpit is very snug but the wood trim and turned aluminium are lovely. The engine note is pure music - every chance I got I blipped the throttle, it's pure hedonism, a penis extension. The engine is so torquey, it just wants to go, but it will happily chug along in top gear around town, I love the close-ratio gearbox, but the change was a bit stiff and at lower revs became harder."

`K' Avery, 28, assistant accessory buyer, from Balham, London. Currently drives a Fiat Punto

"This is very Thelma and Louise, incredible! The engine noise is marvellous. The tyres just suck it to the ground no matter how fast you go, it's so responsive, amazing acceleration. You feel cocooned inside, it's like a cockpit, but I found it odd to reach up to the gear stick to start with. I thought it would cost about pounds 50,000 instead of pounds 35,700, but I'd kill my grandmother to get one of these, I'm going to have to try and get one. It's better than a Ferrari, not so flash. This has been a real Jim'll Fix It day for me. I'm in love."

Tim Barron, 40, actor, from Poole, Dorset. Currently drives a Volvo Amazon estate

"The acceleration is out of this world, shattering, I have never driven anything that fast. They should prescribe this on the NHS for depression! The gears are heavy and notchy, as I'd expect, but the ride is beautifully firm, not bone-crushing. It's like a captive beast in town, it oozes testosterone. My main complaint is that the seat bolster was very high and the roof is too low for me. It would be totally impractical for my lifestyle - I've got two kids and eight guitars, maybe if I was younger and had the money ... "

Mike Stamper, 48, credit-card risk executive, from Lewisham, London. Currently drives a Vauxhall Calibra and a Caterham 7 "This is definitely not politically correct. It's the best-sounding car I've ever driven. It will accelerate endlessly in any gear, but it's very docile. The clutch is hugely heavy but works nicely, and the gears are notchy and stiff, but it becomes easier to drive once you get used to it. And with an engine like that you don't need to change gear often. I don't like the back view, the hood doesn't stow away."

Road test If you would like to take part in a test drive, write to The Verdict, The Independent Magazine, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, giving a contact phone number, your address and details of the type of vehicle, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26, and have a clean driving licence.

Comments