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Austin Healey 3000 vs. Triumph TR6 vs. TVR Chimaera vs. Jaguar XK8 vs. MG RV8

Big brawny, brutish sports cars are something Britain is still good at making. Classic or modern, what sends out the right signa Published: 11th Oct 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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The fab 50s was such a great time for British sports car lovers, that ever since car manufacturers have tried to recreate the good old days with recreation retro roadsters. All have been fairly successful although some have achieved it better than others – but are they as good as the real thing?

This special handful of hardcore soft tops spans the decades, kicking off with the Big Healey from the 1950s followed by the six-cylinder Triumph TR6 replacing the four-cylinder strain for the 1970s. This was a bit of a fallow decade due to US safety regs threatening the very existence of sports cars, but things gradually picked up during the 80s, surging up to the Millennium with a flourish thanks to moderns like TVR’s Chimaera (the true new Big Healey if ever there was one) and Jag’s rejuvenation in the delectable shape of the XK8. There’s a few others we’ve could have included, if space permitted, such as the V8 Sunbeam Tiger and Daimler SP250, the almost affordable Jag-based Aston DB7 and, of course, the intended Healey replacement, the MGC. Instead, we’re made up a hairy handful by opting for the later MG RV8 which nicely bridges the generations. Picking the winners is as much down to the heart as it is the head. And so it should be.

Which one to buy

1st Healey | 2nd TR6 | 3rd TVR | =4th XK8 & RV8

If it’s simply a question of harking back to a bygone era then it has to be the Healey. Those swopping lines, that brawny engine and what promises to be a challenging drive whatever the distance, the affable Austin is the epitome of the classic 50’s sports car. For this comparison test of hale and hearty roadsters, we’re purely looking at the six-cylinder 100/6 and later 3000 because the 100/4 sports an entirely different character plus costs a great deal more. Healeys may look the same – but they are not. Various unofficial tags were used; BN denotes an open-topped two seater with a B-class engine, for example. The 100-6 (BN4) was released in Oct ’56, featuring a longer wheelbase than previously plus a 102bhp 2639cc six-cylinder engine lifted from Austin’s flagship Westminster saloon.

As the initial 100/6s were slower than the 94bhp 100/4, the engine was quickly tweaked from 102bhp to 117bhp care of a 12 port cylinder head fed by larger SU carbs. Before the 3000 was introduced, some 100/6 ‘specials’ were built to test the water such as the 100/6 S, of which 50 cars sported 3000 disc brakes along with a higher-tuned 2.6-litre engine, all fitted to homologate the car for racing purposes; that it was all done at the Works adds to their appeal. Another rarity is the early Longbridge-built models, identified by a peculiar bonnet design.

In general, later 3000s are the most wanted with 100/6 cars realising perhaps two-thirds their price. Apart from a bigger engine, more power (up to 148bhp) and more civilised interiors, the 3000s also benefited from front disc brakes – but you can easily upgun a 100/6 to suit, as many do.

With the demise of the TR6, it was TVR who came up with a modern equivalent of the Healey. Based on the harder core Griffith, the Chimaera has a different bodywork incorporating a bigger boot, for added usability, and softer springing for tolerable touring. All are Rover V8 powered with a choice of 4-litre, 4.3, 4.5 and the full fat 5-litre with power outputs spanning 240bhp to 320bhp. Lasting a decade in production, chief revisions lie in the slight facelifts also incorporating improved seats and a stronger Borg Warner T5 gearbox, this replacing the Rover one in 1994.

Don’t get carried away and buy more power than you need. The 5-litre is frankly an overkill for the majority of owners. The 4.0-litre cars account for the great majority of Chimaeras available – perhaps as many as four out of five. While cars with the bigger engines are sought after, there’s never any need to feel short-changed by a 4.0-litre variant – it’ll still prove adequately quick! Some TVR specialists reckon the very rare 4.3 is a better bet due to its torquier engine. That said, condition and past history counts for most and it’s better to buy a nice, clean Chimaera 4.0 rather than a ratty 4.5.

As the Healey faded into the distance, along with the MGC only two years later in 1969, the newly launched Triumph TR6 became heir apparent to the sports car throne and it ruled with distinction for decades. A clever facelift of the TR5 PI, there’s far more TR6s around keeping the prices considerably lower. Bar room pundits say go for the pre 1973 150bhp CP-engined cars that carry a price premium but knowledgeable TR specialists reckon there’s not much real world difference between these and the later detuned 125bhp models as the former power figure was optimistic to say the least and too many buyers get hung up on this emotive fact. Stateside cars always ran in a detuned state on carburettors and had a power output barely above the old TR4. However you should go for any TR6 which has overdrive, made standard for 1975.

Ever since the E-type was culled, cat lovers demanded a successor and the XK8 fitted that role far more than the XJ-S ever could. Still based on that ungainly looking 1970’s GT, the XK8 looks like a Jag should which is good enough reason for many. Then there’s that superb V8 which even in standard trim is either fast or simply sensational in supercharged XKR form. Finally, there’s the Jaguar’s value with prices comfortably under the £4000 barrier.

Compared to the DB7, which uses the same XJ-S DNA as the XK8, the Aston can sell for ten times the price of the Jag yet – apart from arguably nicer looks and a much cooler badge – is not that demonstrably superior…

XK8 specialists recommend that you should set your sights on the later 2002 revamped range that ran with the new 4.2-litre V8 along with a better transmission and headlights, as there’s far more around in better nick. There’s a cluster of special editions such as the Silverstone (just 100 were made, split both in coupé and convertible forms) and the XKR-based ‘100’. The later S limited edition (based on either the XK8 or XKR) in a choice of special interior and exterior colour schemes plus 19-inch alloys, signed off the range in style.

The MG RV8 was essentially a stop gap to keep the badge flying until the MGF picked up the baton. Based upon the Heritage MGB body shell, and made by Rover’s Special Projects division, only five per cent of the RV8 was carried over from the old BGT V8 it’s claimed: 20 per cent making up modified and re-tooled components, with the remaining 75 per cent of bits all new.

The evergreen V8 was now upped to 3.9-litres and, tuned by TVR, to almost 200bhp. A five-speed gearbox replaced the previous four plus overdrive and although the live rear leaf spring rear axle stayed, the ancient suspension design was revamped. Just one trim level was offered but Japanese cars, where a staggering 1583 cars went (although many have returned to Blighty, to join the 307 sold here) boasted air con.

The final choice is a purely personal one between two traditional classics (Healey and TR6) and two modern (Jaguar and TVR) with the MG sitting somewhere in the middle as it’s a mix of old and new. Price-wise the Healey is the dearest with good but not concours models easily broaching £70,000, which is double what you’d pay for a similar TR6 or XKR convertible.

If you are on a budget, the most affordable cars are the majority of XK8s, most Chimaeras and, for slightly more money, the RV8 where typical values start at just over £20,000. Strangely, despite air conditioning, Japanese expats can be valued less by as much as £3000 and interest in this MG seems to go in fits and starts although colours count; green, blue and red hues hold the most sway – and value. XK8s are starting to gain in value but only the best as there’s so many scabby cats around and the same comments can be levelled at the TVR.

What’s the best to drive

1st Healey | 2nd TVR | 3rd RV8 | 4th XK8 | 5th TR6

As you can’t compare these sports cars directly it’s unfair to rate them in a cold, clinical way so whatever car you choose all will give a great deal of satisfaction in their own unique ways. For a nostalgia trip it’s hard to beat the Healey and the TR6 as they both came from the same era. Both built upon a separate chassis, they sport similar characters insofar they respond best by being taken by the scruff of the neck and shown who’s boss! Compared to say, the XK8 or TVR they are heavy and hard going with what’s now only considered as moderate performance and middling handling and roadholding standards.

That’s to be expected but the sheer sense of occasion on a drive is up there with a supercar. Of the pair, the larger Healey just shades it but it’s a personal thing and if you’re after a tourer the IRS sprung Triumph is the better option.

The Chimaera is harder core than the XK8 and rewards drivers after a similar approach to their classic motoring. Even the 240bhp 4.0 model provides shattering pace; 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds and 0-100 in 12.1, good enough to draw away from a Ferrari 348 and any Porsche bar the 911 Turbo, said one road test, although the 4.3 is regarded as the best as it also has more torque. The TVR has been long hailed as the modern Healey and there’s more than a grain of truth in this. Prodigious power and bare minimum driver aids means it serves up similar character as well as demands from the driver but with sublime old school handling and prodigious grip. In other words, the Chimaera is like a Healey only much faster…

Yet don’t think that it’s a rough neck because there’s enough room and refinement to make them fine, civilised tourers and good for up to 25mpg. Another point in the TVR’s favour – and this is purely subjective – is that, unlike many later TVRs, it doesn’t shout ‘medallion man’ and is, in fact, quite classy looking.

Jaguar’s XK8 is a vast improvement on the XJ-S it’s still based upon. The refinement and sereneness is still there but now this cat has some cornering claws, especially on convertibles because they all use Jaguar’s computer-aided CAT’s suspension system to tighten things up notably although slight traces of scuttle shake are still present and big wheels do spoil the usual silken ride. The old AJ6 straight six engine was good but the V8s is sensational, especially in searing supercharged XKR tune where its 370- 400bhp will match any DB7 but if you don’t need the speed opt for the plain 4.2 as its 300bhp more than suffices. There’s no manual option on any but the clever ‘Randle Handle’ automatic selector is almost as good as many stick shifts.

The MG RV8 mixes old and new quite successfully and is a better drive than the TR6 for this reason. Despite the new front coil sprung suspension, like its forebears, the 1990’s MGB is still a slow in – fast out sort of sports car, the difference being it’s a lot faster coming out! At the traffic lights grand prix the RV8 is far more sorted than any other MGB with none of the tramp experienced, thanks to anti-tramp bars and a Quaiffe limited slip differential. With a zip to 60 in less than seven seconds puts it almost in the Chimaera bracket.

As many RV8 owners will tell you, a set of quality dampers in place of the stock Konis transforms the handling no end. The unassisted steering feels heavy at first but soon lightens up on the move and is very responsive. Mind you, this is no latter day Healey 3000, but more a properly sorted MGC albeit with more grunt and better cruising capabilities, although wind noise is as loud as ever, spoiling the R V8’s Bentley-like wood and leather interior ambience.

Improvement potential

1st Healey | 2nd TR6 | 3rd RV8 | =4th XK8 & TVR

Due to their popularity in classic motorsport and simple 50’s designs the oldies triumph here with the Austin-Healey just clinching it because, unlike the TR6, you can purchase a new chassis bodyshell easily although you need deeper pockets to tune and improve one. There’s also the car’s originality to consider whereas a good many TR6s have been enhanced over the years – in fact, it’s becoming harder to find a totally stock Triumph but, on the other hand, a fair few mods (such as superior fuel injection pumps) are readily accepted in club circles.

MGB parentage means that the RV8 is well served by specialists and despite the car’s relative youth, there’s a list of things than can do with improving, not least better damping and brakes as these are areas that Austin-Rover pennypinched on. The XK8 and Chimaera can be easily improved but it can be an expensive pastime for no other reason that their makers did such a good job in the first place and ad hoc enhancements may prove anything but.

As with any ageing performance car, the best improvement is to have this Jag and TVR serviced, sorted and set up by a respective specialist who knows their stuff to make the best of what’s already there, which in the case of the Chimaera and XK8 is considerable!

Owning and running

= 1st TR6 & Healey | 3rd RV8| 4th XK8| 5th TVR

As in the previous section, the oldies take top slots due to their simplistic design lending themselves to DIY owners, or small, old school garages. The once fickle Lucas fuel injection has been around long enough for experienced mechanics to service the system fairly easily although it’s still best to have a TR expert carry out major repairs and tuning. By-and-large the Triumph is probably a bit cheaper to run as TR6 parts are more prolific as are specialists; not that Healeys are hugely expensive to keep sweet or lacking in parts suppliers with the likes of A.H.Spares and A-Head 4 Healeys catering for virtually every need. What counts against this performance pair is their age and so rampant rust problems is a worry. In contrast if you look after them, this shouldn’t affect the Jag or MG.

Being MGB-derived the RV8 holds no surprises apart from running costs according to guru Clive Wheatley who says this bespoke build is far dearer to maintain or repair than a common or garden MGB or MGC and as a result there are depressing numbers of poorly kept RV8s around. On the plus side, it’s as easy as any MGB to work on and the bodies are rust protected.

The Jaguar is hardly an economy classic to run on the cheap although a good many are despite spare part prices being reasonable for this class of car. It’s far more sensible to own a pampered XK8 than a neglected XKR and it’s best to concentrate on the car’s condition rather than its age or spec although most early 4-litre versions have used up most of their lives by now.

The biggest problem with the Chimaera is not parts supply (TVR Parts claims to hold just under 3000 items) or specialist help but rather how the car has been treated. A hard life is part and parcel of any performance car, but TVRs can suffer more than most, especially if they are trackday toys) and neglect is very common if for no other reason that they (‘500’ excepted) are not worth restoring, financially speaking.

Chassis rust can be ruinous and made worse because it is only fully ascertained once the body is removed. A new chassis fitted leaves little change from £5000 but on the other hand, mechanically the Chimaera is a toughie.

James Agger Autosport, a well respected TVR dealer with over 20 years experience, told us, told us, “The key is to buy the best car that you can find as this is now far more important than the specification; condition is key.” Avoid cars that have been used only very occasionally, clocking up few miles from one MoT to the next. It’s these low-mileage cars that can be the most unreliable”

And The Winner Is...

=1st TR6 & Healey | 3rd RV8 | 4th XK8 | 5th TVR

In accordance with Clash of the Classic rules, while we have ranked the cars in final order, picking an overall winner is nigh on impossible due to their differences in power, price and personal preference.

If it’s pure performance you want then the TVR would come out tops. Sure it’s something of a blunt instrument, but a Chimaera is something to savour on that cross-country blast and is the closest car to a raw racer out of this group. They can be good value but you have to take care when buying as so many suffer from rot and crash damage.

Even in XKR guise, Jaguar’s XK8 is a softer option offering less of the he-man heroics but as compensation, is a great all round modern performance car, plus is the only one out of this handful that’s a 2+2, which may be the deciding factor for some. The XK8 is far more a driver’s car than the XJ-S it’s based upon and can be spectacular value –especially when compared to the DB7. That you can’t have your fun wielding a gear lever may put many off, as good as the ‘Randle Handle’ auto selector proves in practice.

Perhaps the MG RV8 should sit at the top of the pile as this Queen B successfully blends old and new. The perfect pastiche, it’s still the sports car that we know and (mostly) love while on the other, it’s been made modern where it matters yet without diluting the car’s character. And if you are buying a classic as a regular daily driver, the RV8 makes the most sense. Healey or TR6, the king or heir apparent? That’s for you to decide…

Classic Motoring

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