- Best model: 390SE
- Worst model: 2.0
- Budget buy: 2.8 FHC
- OK for unleaded?: Should be
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 4013 x 1727
- Spares situation: Reasonable
- DIY ease?: Okay
- Club support: Good
- Appreciating asset?: The jury’s out
- Good buy or good-bye?: Good value – but classic?
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Thirty years on, TVR’s first true medallion man motor is now a classic that doesn’t cost a wedge to buy and own.
Pros & Cons
TVR always went for the retro look with its sportsters, but the Tasmin’s wedge was bang up-to-date in terms of style for the power dressing 1980s. These days we reckon that the medallion man wedge-shaped Tasmin range provides good, cheap fun and perhaps good classic bets. But what’s your take on these TVRs?
The 1970s weren’t particularly kind times for specialist carmakers and especially to TVR. The early part of the decade saw the UK, along with most of the world, in economic turmoil and, to its credit, this British firm managed to ride out the storm as many rivals fall by the wayside. But by the mid 1970s TVR needed a modern replacement for its ageing M-Series so it employed the services of top designer Oliver Winterbottom to pen a new shape. Winterbottom’s CV included Lotus and as razor sharp wedges were all the rage back then and he’d styled the Lotus Elite, it was no surprise to see a similarity in the Tasmin. Another Lotus designer, Ian Jones, also jumped ship from Hethel to design the car’s new chassis.
The Tasmin was introduced in 1980 after a reputed three-year, £500,000 development. It was initially available as a striking fastback, but a roomier 2+2 and cabriolet quickly followed. All used the backbone of the old M range although the chassis was significantly modified and employed a Ford-based suspension.
At first, the Tasmin used Ford 2.8i V6 power from the Granada (good for 160bhp) through the blue oval’s four-speed transmission (sadly, with no overdrive facility). The model was logically known as the Tasmin 280i.
Just a year later the 200 was launched. This was a brave attempt muscling in on the poorly supported MGB/TR7 market with an entry-level model using 100bhp 2.0-litre Cortina power. However, the low power and priced TVR wasn’t popular and few were sold. In contrast, two years later TVR went the other way and slotted in the beefy and versatile Rover V8 with prices to match. Known as the 350i (the Tasmin name was dropped shortly after launch) it produced Ferrari-like pace with 190bhp and became a supercar-eater when power was subsequently boosted in 1984 to 3.9-litres and 275bhp.
These Series 2 cars featured a slightly revised look with larger bumpers to meet US crash test standards. The cabin was revised too, although you can still find a number of Series 1 390 SEs (the Tasmin moniker was phased out in 1983). The ‘Tasmin’ strain reached its peak in 1985 when the fearsome 420 SEAC was introduced. Using that trusty rapid Rover V8 now stretched to 4.2-litres, it was tuned to a massive 300bhp.
The impressive SEAC moniker stood for Special Equipment Aramid Composite which basically meant that the car was made from a mix of Kevlar and carbon fibre – materials extensively used in Formula One at the time.
A few years later, the trusty 280i was dropped in favour of more Rover V8 derivatives – the 400SE and the 450SE. The 450 boasted a 4.5-litre unit tuned to 324bhp and big-bored Tasmins really paved the way for future hairy-chested macho looking TVRs.
In total some 2600 Tasmins were made of which around half are still alive, if not well. The most popular was the 280i of which 1120 were made, 258 being the coupés.
As with all TVRs, Tasmins are straightforward, uncomplicated big power fun machines. Forget the 200 model – even if you could find one unless you‘re just after the image thing as the 280i serves up very useful performance where the combination of a light weight and 160bhp ensures GTi bashing poke and decent enough economy. That said, the real stars are the Rover V8-powered wonders – they’ll all crack 60mph in less than seven seconds and can truck on to well over 160mph in the case of the brutal 420 SEAC.
Such blistering pace is fairly well harnessed by all independent suspension, but rear-wheel drive always means that tail out delights are there for the taking and it has to be said that these TVRs aren’t for the faint-hearted.
Despite their looks and plush cabins, these cars are fairly raw and unrefined but the cockpits are roomy and the boot is sizeable, which makes them them acceptable tourers
This is the best bit– but beware! Prices for wedgies are on the floor and really can’t get much cheaper. According to specialists, the Tasmin represents an awful lot of car for very little money and £9000 is ample to net one of the best project start from under £2000 with ease. But leading TVR specialist British Racing Green says the Tasmin wil probably remain unpopular because owners either go for the more classic TVRs or the Chimaera route meaning the Tasmin is skipped. But will this change?
It’s easy to modify all aspects of the Tasmin it’smore down to desire and budget. But the first step has to be a proper specialist service as many have lacked one for decades! Just ensuring the basics are right can transform many Tasmins.
What To Look For
- TVRs of this era weren’t particularly well screwed together, so expect to see many tatty and sorry cases. Given the low value and high spares prices, try to buy the best car you can rather than simply seek out a rough example to save cash.
- Test drive as many as possible. These are hand-made cars and standards do vary. If you don’t like the feel of one particular model then find another.
- Inspect the glass fibre body carefully. It can’t rust, of course, but it can crack and craze (look for ‘cobwebs’). Check panel fit too – has it suffered poor repairs? See that the pop-up headlamps work as they should – wonky operation usually indicates poor accident rectification.
- As the car runs very low to the ground, even a careful owner can easily knock the front spoiler. The reinforced massive doors are very heavy, so they’re not unknown to drop due to failing hinges, while the metal frames on coupe models are weak and rot-prone.
- The chassis can rust so check it thoroughly and yes, this means a crawl underneath! Check the sills and outriggers first (which are enclosed by the car’s bodywork) along with suspension and transmission pick-up points. The most common places are the side rails and the front cross member.
- Reckon on seeing signs of accident damage, too. These were powerful cars and many drivers with balls bigger than their brains found out the hard and expensive way! Check that the car sits true and drives similarly; many won’t.
- The fuel pump and filter units reside above the rear axle and they’re prone to assaults from the weather. Is the ‘shelf’ they sit on in sound condition?
- Richard Thorpe of RT Racing has fitted new chassis units to many cars at a cost of around £4000, and this includes removing the body and carrying out a full refit. Some specialists reckon that the early cars were the protected underneath, as come the mid ‘80s, TVR rust-proofed them in-house and didn’t do half as good a job.
- Has the gearbox been removed? Technically it can’t be dropped from underneath due to a stout beam that runs across the car, but some so called mechanics cut this away to make access to the ‘box easier. According to Tasmin experts, this can really ruin the car’s geometry – even if it has been welded back into place (and some aren’t), in most cases the chassis has been allowed to settle, so it’s refitted incorrectly. And removing the engine and transmission from the car as recommended isn’t that hard either!
- The engines are all trusty but have probably been used hard, so look for undue wear, smoking, poor performance and a knackered, thrashed feel. The Ford unit is the later German-built lump but it suffers the same hassles as the Essex unit: broken or worn timing gear assemblies, worn bores and tappet noise, mainly. Incidentally, the inlet manifold is a bespoke TVR item and not a standard Ford part – and a lot costlier as a result… The Rover V8 is well known and tough but problem points are tappet noise, worn camshafts, bore wear and deterioration due to irregular oil changes.
- On the test drive, check that the car doesn’t feel loose – this suggests worn bushes and dampers. These aren’t dear to rectify though, and they’ll certainly make the car handle like new again. See that there’s not excessive wear in the transmission as it takes up drive (clunking?). The brakes are standard Ford (front) and Jaguar (rear) and they’re fairly worry-free, although the inboard rear disc set up does mean that changing pads can be challenging to put it mildly.
- Interiors look better than they really are and many cars will be tatty due to the lack of material stamina. Look for collapsed headlinings, ruined wood veneer, mould/ mildew-infested trim, musty smells and general ageing. Check the front and rear screens for misting up due to delamination. New hoods cost around £650.
- The cabins use a mix of Ford and Rover bits, although the instruments can be peculiar to TVR, depending on the model. Ensure all the electrics work – poor earths on any GRP-made car are common, although TVR’s use of tags instead of proper colour-coded wiring on pre-1983 cars doesn’t help either.
- After an SEAC? Then beware! Very few cars were made from that special material anyway because TVR just didn’t have the know-how to make it durable. Also, many cars were crashed and repaired using conventional GRP methods – so there are quite a few mongrels out there as a result.
Three Of A Kind
Lotus EclatHardly dissimilar to the fastback Tasmin in that they’re both dirt cheap for what they offer, but there again most are in a sorry state and unloved so you must buy with great care. Designed also by Winterbottom, the Eclat is the fastback version of the unloved Elite and the better car most feel, especially when it morphed into the superior Excel with Toyota running gear. Later post 1980 cars are best.
Triumph TR7/8Arguably the closest to the TVR as it too was wedge-shaped and packed the same Rover V8 punch. A good car let down by poor development, just as this Triumph came good it was axed. The TR7 is Dolomite-powered but many cars were converted to V8s (known as TR7-V8). Proper TR8s are worth the most. Rust and neglect are the biggest worries but the spares situation is improving.
Jaguar XK8Perhaps the XK8 isn’t a direct competitor but this Jaguar has a lot in common with the TVR such as a V8 engine, RWD chassis, a choice of body styles and exceptional value for money – although we can see prices rising due to increasing interest due to their lowly values. That said, cheap XK8s can be a liability and early ones can rust to seriously worrying levels. As always, buy the best car that you can.
Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder and while the Tasmin series hardly shows TVR at its best, there’s no denying that it represents an awful lot of serious sports car for the money. Buy one cheaply, run around in it for a few years and you will not lose a penny, let alone a wedge on the deal. Keep one for longer, enjoy the experience… but don’t bank on making money on one either, warn specialists.
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