RetroTorque Classic Car Community TVR 3000M: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….

Article Information

  • Posted By : RetroTorque
  • Posted On : Mar 07, 2018
  • Views : 236
  • Category : Features
  • Description : RetroTorque Editor Mathew Taylor: "After four years as my daily driver in the early to mid-2000s, I got to know my TVR 3000M very well… but it was always something of a love-hate relationship!"

Overview

  • For me, classic cars are no mere hobby, something to clean and polish on a Sunday morning and then take-out for a quick spin in the afternoon, instead, they are a way of life.

    The thought of driving a sensible ‘modern’ is just something I’ve never been able to stomach. So, ever since I first passed my driving test, I’ve almost always had some sort of interesting, minor-league ‘classic’ as my daily transport, even for the daily commute to work.

    Amongst other things, a couple of Alfa Suds and Alfetta GTVs came and went, so did a resto-project Peugeot 504 Coupe and then a very stylish but sadly very troublesome Lancia Gamma GT.

    Then something I had long lusted after: a Lancia Flavia 2000 Coupe. This was a wonderful car, its exquisite engineering dating from a time before Fiat had cheapened the marque, and its Pinin Farina styling - both inside and out - giving it the air of a mini 1960’s Ferrari 2+2 GT. Despite Lancia’s now rather downtrodden reputation in the UK, clearly the build-quality of this model had been very high, but alas, 30 years on, body corrosion was beginning to take a hold of my example and a resultant failed MOT meant it had to come off the road (sadly, never to return during my ownership).

    Indeed, none of my cars seemed to manage to last very long. Rust, mechanical problems and a limited budget thwarted my ambitions at every turn. However, I wasn’t about to give up and go out and commit petrol-head hari-kari by purchasing a second-hand Toyota Yaris, or some other bore-box, I had other ideas. What was needed, if such a thing existed, was a classic car which was immune to rust, mechanically robust and relatively cheap to buy and, if the worst did happen, was simple to fix. I decided I needed an M series TVR. QED!

    Perhaps more to the point, I had pretty much always fancied the idea of owning one these fibreglass coupes. A total antithesis to the sophisticated GTs born in Torino, Milano and Pomigliano d'Arco, these rather crude cars from Blackpool have a very different sort of appeal: fast, fun and a bit ‘in your face’, albeit this last characteristic tempered by a good helping of British Bulldog charm.

    I started to do some research…

    During the seven years of M-Series production (1972-79) only 2,144 examples had been produced (plus an additional number of special variants, including: 258 convertibles - the ‘3000S’, 63 Turbo-charged cars, 13 Convertible-with-Turbo and one lone 1.3 litre car).

    Of the ‘standard’ cars, 148 came fitted with the Ford Cortina GT 1599cc engine (1600M), 947 with the Triumph 2498cc unit (2500M), 654 with the ‘Essex’ power-plant from the Ford Capri 3.0 litre (3000M) and a further 395 3.0 litre cars had been modified with the feature of having a handy lift-up tailgate (the Taimar model).

    With the convertibles and Turbos out of my league, the Taimar seemed the pick of the bunch, being the most powerful version I could afford, plus benefiting from the extra practicality of its hatch-back.

    I went to see one at a dealership and although it was in nice condition, it seemed a tad overpriced. Widening my options, a tatty but cheap 2500M then came into view - its 1972 build date and thus its £0 road fund licence status making it very tempting. However, worries about the state of its chassis prevented a deal from being done.

    At this point Titty Ho garage in Raunds, Northamptonshire were advertising a very nice 3000M for sale – an immaculately restored 3000M ‘Martin’, one of ten special edition cars made in 1976 to celebrate the 10 years that the Lilley family had then been in charge of TVR.   I made a special trip to see the vehicle, and it was well worth the journey. At that time, it could well have been the nicest 3000M in existence. A fortune had been spent on its recent restoration – well over double what was now being asked for the car. In particular, its magnolia coloured leather interior looked fantastic, and so too did its gleaming new Wolfrace wheels and expensive stainless steel bumpers. I even loved its ever-so-‘70s ‘Caramac’ light brown colour scheme. However, being realistic, the car was slightly outside of my budget.

    The next TVR I saw was the one I finally bought, a 1976 3000M. It wasn’t a Taimar, but in every other respect, it seemed ideal: its period late-‘70s metallic BRG paint with cream stripe, matching vinyl roof and Webasto sunroof being my perfect colour scheme for one of these cars. It wore the correct TVR ‘T-slot’ alloys and had a nice tan vinyl interior, in good condition. More importantly, it came with a year’s MOT, its chassis looked okay (from what I could see of it), and it had covered only a few thousand miles since its engine had been fully rebuilt. What’s more, it seemed in original, un-bodged condition. So, I agreed to pay just over £4000 for the 3000M (to a ‘private’ seller).

    In retrospect, this was probably around £1000 too much – although I perhaps shouldn’t have bought the car at all. I’d made a classic mistake, buying at the mid-point in the market, half-way between the tatty but very cheap 2500M and that top-end 3000M ‘Martin’. As a result I’d got something which looked superficially nice, but in reality probably needed almost as much work as a restoration project if it were ever to be run as anything approaching a reliable, well-sorted means of transport.   Anyway, so began four years of TVR fun…!

    A 3000M is the sort of vehicle which can turn every journey – even a trip to the local supermarket –into an adventure.   First there’s the noise – they sound just fantastic – although the neighbours might not agree. My car’s stainless steel exhaust system generated a sort of guttural note which seemed capable of penetrating the soul. Inside the cabin the exhaust noise wasn’t a problem, but at motorway speeds, wind-noise, tyre roar and general mechanical sounds all combined to make a deafening din.

    Then there is the car’s performance potential. Okay, so these particular TVRs aren’t in the super league bracket, but with 3.0 litres of Ford power under their bonnets (138bhp / 174lb ft. torque) they’re no slouches either; they have a top speed of over 120mph and will hit ‘0-60’ in 7.6 seconds. Plus, there’s no doubting that when the need arises, the ‘Essex’ V6 is capable of producing plenty of useful mid-range grunt.

    However, sadly my main memories of my TVR don’t relate to driving it, but instead the constant battle to keep the beast on the road.

    Indeed, immediately after I had bought it, the TVR couldn’t even complete the journey from Cambridgeshire back to my home in Leeds without causing a heap of trouble, with the car stalling and refusing to re-start until it had cooled-down, a couple of times. When the chance came to examine the car properly, the petrol hoses were rerouted away from anything hot – to try and prevent any chance of fuel vaporisation – and the fuel and ignition systems was given a proper ‘tune-up’ and service. All of which seemed to do the trick, as the stalling problem never reoccurred.   Actually, the next few weeks with the car were rather joyous and practically any spare time I had was spent driving around the A and B roads around north Leeds, Harrogate, Ilkley and Otley. But even when they are running well like this, it’s clear that an old TVR wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. They just don’t make any compromises or concessions.

    Firstly, a 3000M (never mind any of the earlier, shorter wheelbase TVR models) is more a car you wear than sit in – no doubt a lot of people would struggle even to fit. Then there’s the gear lever. It protrudes too far back out of the centre console, meaning you have to drive with your left arm in an uncomfortable position, your left elbow constantly bent at a right-angle. And, on a sunny day, the large glass area of the fixed-head cars means that these TVRs heat-up inside like an oven; driving with windows and sunroof open provides little relief as there’s just no proper interior ventilation to help channel out the warm air.

    However, the thing which grabs the attention most about any ‘70s TVR is the firmly-sprung ‘crash, bang, wallop’ quality of its ride. On all but the smoothest roads the driving experience is much more Land Rover than it is Lotus. And it’s this ‘agriculturalness’ which most betrays TVR’s kit-car origins.   The overwhelming impression you get from driving these cars is that the Blackpool company assembled them from a collection of off-the-shelf parts, without ever developing a full understanding of how the components should best relate to each other. There’s just no sophistication. However, in a perverse way, this is all just part of the TVR charm.

    With the first autumn of my TVR ownership came the rain, and then continual soaking wet carpets and underfelt. I’m sure it’s possible to make these cars leak free with attention to detail and a few minor design modifications, but in standard form they seem to collect water like a sinking boat and then mist-up like a sauna.

    After this, sadly things never fully recovered, and it seemed like there was always something going wrong.

    The next thing to happen was that corrosion caused the differential to pull away from its chassis mountings. However, a welding bodge-job managed to sort this out without having to take the car’s body off its chassis.

    Soon after, one of the Hardy-Spicer joints in the rear suspension started to squeak. In fact, these were almost a constant issue, both sides lasting only for short periods before needing replacement – surely another sign that these TVRs just weren’t set up properly.

    Some of the problems were starting to cause a few rather scary moments too. Like when the throttle jammed open on the exit slip road of a motorway. And on a trip down to London on the M11, the windscreen spectacularly blew half-way into the cabin. Also, without any warning, one night on the way home from work, one of the Triumph-sourced front-trunnions failed, causing the front-right-hand corner of the suspension to collapse and to come crashing down onto the road.

    There were other issues as well. Speed bumps must have knocked off the rear section of the exhaust at least four times during my ownership of the TVR. The differential was noisy and developed play. The fuel tank also sprang a couple of leaks. And more than a couple of times, the windscreen wipers inconveniently gave-up-the-ghost during heavy rain.

    Even with all these difficulties, after four years I’d still managed to cover over 15,000 miles in the car. But the breakdowns were becoming more serious and more frequent. The writing was on the wall – the TVR now desperately needed a total body-off strip-down and rebuild.

    Rather than embark on this project myself, I made the decision to sell the car. But the diff had once more pulled away from its chassis mountings and it seemed sensible to have this welded-up again before going ahead with the sale. Alas, whilst it was parked outside a local garage awaiting repair, the vehicle was vandalised. Its front screen and headlights were smashed and its vinyl roof was partly torn away. Frankly, it ended up looking a right mess.

    Totally dejected, I put it up for auction on eBay, with a full description and a reserve of £1500. In the end, the bidding went up to just shy of £2000, which I was happy with, especially as the transaction completed without any glitches – the gentleman who bought the TVR had been looking for just such a project and seemed to relish the prospect of getting on with it.

    And as far as I was concerned… well, it was all very much a case of mixed feelings. I’d learnt that to get to know a 3000M is to experience the very highest and lowest extremes of classic car ownership.