One of our long-term Undiscovered Classics brethren, Guy Dirkin, has just completed the restoration of his super-rare TVR Tuscan with his friend and co-owner of the car – Paul Guinn. This is definitely not your ordinary TVR, and you’ll learn why in this article. Many years ago, Guy put together a detailed and well-researched history on this car. We’re honored here at Undiscovered Classics to share part 2 of the story with you today. If you haven’t read part 1, click on the link below.
Let’s learn more about this car in Guy Dirkin’s words in part 2 of this story below.
Hope you enjoy, and thanks again to Guy Dirkin for sharing this.
The 1970 TVR Tuscan – Part 2
By Guy Dirkin, Ph.D.
The 1970 TVR Tuscan and Tuscan SE
When did the car Debut?
Filby stated that Gerry Sagerman benefited from the presence of the wide body Tuscan at the April 1968 New York Motor Show. Filby also stated that the New York Motor Show car had a Ford V8 Boss Mustang motor. The show date is not correct and the reference to the Boss motor would have been a big surprise for Ford. The Boss 302 was not designed until the fall of 1968 and the first Boss Mustang did not roll off the assembly line until April 17, 1969! In November of 1996 I contacted Gerry Sagerman after I had established several hypotheses, based upon a cadre of information that was available, regarding the dating of the beginning and end of wide body Tuscan production and the actual number of cars that had the wide body shell. Let me present the information I accumulated and then add the input from Gerry Sagerman.
Road and Track magazine published a road test of the “wide body” Tuscan in July 1970. Road and Track noted that “we got occasional suspension bottoming at the rear; there wasn’t enough clearance for the tires (either front or rear) in the test car, which was the first Tuscan built in the new body configuration ….. the body was more or less a prototype.” The test undoubtedly took place several months before, given typical lead times in the magazine’s layout, printing and distribution. The tree, barely visible on the first page of the road test report has no leaves. Best estimate for the actual test date is March or April 1970.
On page 48 of Robson’s book is a picture of a white, left hand drive “wide body” Tuscan on the stand at an auto show. In the background is the Porsche display. On a poster by the stand it says “Manufacturer World Champions 1970”. This dates the photograph at least after the 1970 racing season. The photo is attributed to Autocar. Old issues of Autocar could more accurately date and specify the show. Several issues can be raised to help focus on the date of the appearance of the Tuscan at the show. The car was left hand drive; “Mercantile Credit” was a corporate sponsor (also visible in the pp. 48 photo) and credit tends to be more commonly used in marketing in the United States.
Although the locations and or existence some of the MAL Tuscan’s are not known, MAL 001,004,005, 008,010, and 013 have the LWB Tuscan/Vixen/2500 body shell. Of interest is the production date from the factory records held by the TVR Car Club of MAL 013: February 1970.
Barry Zackrisson, the original owner of MAL 016, the first wide body shelled car known to still be intact in 1997, worked for Dana/Spicer and had consulted with TVR in the late 1960’s on drive axles. In a personal communication (September 1996), he indicated that the first time he saw a picture of the wide body Tuscan was in a compendium of World Cars (actual details unknown at this time) in mid to late summer 1970. Zackrisson took possession of MAL 016 about six months later, via Grand Prix Sports Cars Inc., a Columbus, Ohio distributorship in early 1971.
From the time from when a build date and chassis number were assigned to a Tuscan at the factory in Blackpool a gap of several months, possibly six to nine months, would transpire before TVR Cars of America finished the car. Robson noted that the first M series prototype was not built until fall 1971 and the first production M was not completed until April 1972. As the last Tuscan’s were not “completed” until almost mid year 1971, the gap between the Tuscan and the M was actually not that long. The Tuscan was able to hold potential customer interest prior to launching the M series.
Physical evidence that dates the Tuscan build period is also available. The bonnet bulge on the wide body Tuscan either used an early Mark I European Capri hood bulge as the plug or, more unlikely, a painstaking exact copy of the Capri bulge was hand-crafted. My car, MAL 019, had an unfortunate carburetor fire in the 1970’s. To restore the car I needed a bonnet bulge. I was aware that MAL 016 and 017 both had a faint line in center and front end of the hood bulge. This line is just visible in the photograph on page 75 of Sprint April 1995. I had noticed that the Mark I Capri also had this same faint line. I ordered a fiberglass reproduction of the Capri hood bulge from Smith and Deakin in England. In parallel, Al Way, who owns a wide-body car with a Boss 302 engine, sent me a template of his hood bulge. Al’s car did not have the faint line, but as the car had been painted several times it would have been very easy to erase the line by block-sanding. The template from Al Way’s car and the fiberglass mold from the Mark I Capri were an exact match with exception that on the Tuscan the bulge was set on the main surface of the bonnet so that it faded away into the bonnet surface close to the windscreen.
In the summer of 1996 I visited David Gerald Sports cars in England. David Gerald Sports cars had reached an agreement with TVR in the early 1980’s to buy from TVR Engineering the copyright and total pre 1980 spares stock in March 1987-including the original bonnet mold for the wide body Tuscan. The mold for the hood of the wide body Tuscan was ironically sitting center stage at the rear of the David Gerald facility. Confirming the mold was from the wide body Tuscan was easy given that I was looking for the line in the center of the hood bulge. Gerry Jinks of David Gerald Sportscars was also pleased for the confirmation as he had been unsure what the mold was for. The center line on the bonnet bulge of the bonnet pulled from the original plug was more prominent than on the actual cars Individual pre-paint sanding meant that these lines were all slightly different, possibly explaining why AI Way’s car had no discernible line.
So what’s the point? The Mark 1 Capri was first sold in the United Kingdom during the first calendar quarter of 1969. If TVR did “borrow” the bonnet from a Mark 1 Capri it provides some evidence for the build period for the wide body Tuscan shell. It seems reasonable to consider that mold making for the wide body Tuscan did not take place, at the earliest, until the fourth calendar quarter of 1969.
What was the relevance of the MAL prefix. Some writers have stated that MAL was connected with Martin Lilley’s involvement in the Tuscan restyle. Others have stated that the prefix indicated that it was Martin Lilley’s way of showing commitment for the new product (Filby, for example). Martin Lilley (personal communication February 1997) maintained that in his view the prefix was used for product differentiation purposes: differentiating the new body style form the old body style.
Until I spoke with Martin I believed that the change in the prefix was unlikely to have anything directly to do with the wide body Tuscan The production date of MAL 001 was two years prior to the first MAL Tuscan with the wide body shell. Some had speculated that the MAL prefix marked the change to the bolt on body but MAL 001? s chassis was molded to its body. Other MAL cars, MAL 008 for example, had bolt on body shells. A concrete production change, therefore, does not explain the change in the prefix. Reverting to Martin Lilley’s explanation for the change that the MAL prefix was to differentiate two body styles, the prefix change is significant in determining when TVR Engineering expected and desired to change the body style of the Tuscan. Once again, the reality of production, supply and sales at TVR took priority over the production of the new shell. The two-year gap between the initial use of the MAL chassis prefix and the production of the first wide body shell reflects how early the Lilley’s wanted to introduce the new shell and how soon they were actually able to meet their goal.
The above detective work enabled me to independently develop a production and launch schedule for the wide body Tuscan that seemed to make sense: initial production taking place in the Spring of 1970. I contacted Gerry Sagerman in November 1996. His input matched closely, to my relief, what I was hypothesizing.
- A serious design effort for the wide body Tuscan shell began in the winter of 1969.
- Bucks/plugs, prototype molds and permanent molds were made in late 1969 and early 1970. The bonnet required a new plug and the center section of the car and tail required the modification of existing molds.
- The first shell was pulled from the prototype mold in the first quarter of 1970 with a shell coming from the hard mold in the Spring of 1970.
- A car, built from a prototype mold, was shipped to Gerry Sagerman and this car was shown at the New York Motor Show in April 1970
- Within a few weeks after the New York show Road and Track tested the same car in late April or early May 1970 and the road test report, as we know, was published in July 1970.
Gerry Sagerman was very certain that the Road and Track test car was the first wide body Tuscan in the US. He described the first US car as pretty rough and in need of debugging. It is likely that “the paint was still wet” at the show and little time was available prior to the Road and Track test to prepare a representative product. As he completed the car State side, the first quarter of 1970 is the best reference date of initial production for the wide body Tuscan. We do not know if the R&T car was MAL 014,015 or 016, but Gerry Sagerman did say it had a chassis number. MAL 016 was delivered to its first owner in very early 1971.
Gerry Sagerman confirmed that this was approximately the same time that the show and test car was sold. However, both the show car, MAL 016 and 017 were white cars and as stated MAL 014 and 015 are unknown entities at this time. “Build time depended on cash flow at Blackpool….chassis numbers were given to bare frames. Many times, we had to wait for bits and pieces from vendors in the UK. Sometimes body-chassis units were shipped incomplete and we sometimes had to wait for UK parts and finish assembly in the US” (personal communication: Gerry Sagerman, November 1996). For example, my car MAL 019 had a build date of May 1970 and was first registered in May 1971. Gerry pointed out that “MAL 019’s frame was born in 1970 but the car wasn’t completed until 1971”.
Knowing that the wide body Tuscan’s were built and sold from 1970-71 places in context the relatively small waiting time between this shell and the first M Series prototype which was built in the fall of 1971. The first M Series production cars, (for example, the fourth M series chassis numbered car currently being restored by TVRCC Archive manager David Yeoman) still had the bonnet “mouth” of the wide body Tuscan. Once again, products merged together. If those interested in the TVR marque can understand that ambiguity reflected reality they will be much less frustrated than when trying to find an exact answer I
How Many Wide-Body Tuscan’s Were Built?
Brief coverage was given in preceding sections to the fact that the MAL chassis series began with a direct extension of the LWB Tuscan which shared its body shell with the Vixen and 2500. In short:
No wide body shells have been discovered prior to MAL 016; MAL 013 was built in February 1970 with a Tuscan/Vixen/2500 shell. MAL 014,015,018,020 and 021 are currently unknown entities (I asked Gerry Sagerman the following question: “How likely is it that a Vixen style shell has a chassis number between MAL 014 and 022? He said, “Very likely in as much as the bare frame was given the chassis number”); and iv) at least two cars were built after the factory had ceased to assign chassis numbers to the Tuscan V8 (Gerry Sagerman’s JDG 771 B302, built on a frame from a four cylinder Vixen and a 4 wheel drive, stretched chassis version, built by UK TVR agent Liam Churchill. Both of these cars were first registered in 1971).
Exactly how many MAL chassis had wide bodies and exactly how many wide-bodies actually were made into running cars is, therefore, unclear. Most writers have left the subject with a statement similar to the last statement, citing a production number between 20 and 25. Lack of clarity is at least safe and factual, but uninformative and unhelpful. It is considered that a maximum of nine factory chassis numbered cars, MAL 014 to 022 had a wide body Tuscan shell, but most likely seven: MAL 016-022. At least Three shells were built into running cars after the factory chassis run had been completed. It is likely that not all the MAL cars post chassis number 014 had the wide body shell. I prefer not to speculate. Less than ten TVR wide body Tuscan cars were built into complete cars based on the information available at the time of writing. I propose that MAL 016 is the first wide body Tuscan, the New York Motor Show and the Road and Track Test car. Table 1 indicates the known status of the factory chassis numbered cars as of November 1996. How many wide body Tuscans are left? The cars currently known to exist are: MAL 016, 017, 019 and 022 , the ex Sagerman car JOG 771 B302 car, the ex Liam Churchill car and a car in England with a wide body shell that is undocumented. This makes a total of seven known cars with wide body shells, four of which have factory history.
What Engine(s) Did The Wide Body Tuscan Have?
A belief stemming from Filby’s original claim that the wide body Tuscan had a Boss 302 and has perpetuated as late as 1995 in Sprint the TVR Car Clubs own periodical. This section will address the issue of whether or not a Boss 302 motor was ever installed in a new wide body Tuscan.
It is was cited in the wide body Tuscan sales literature (circa 1970) that the “wide body” Tuscan was available either with a two barrel 302 cu. in.; a four barrel 302 cu. in.(a four barrel 302 cu. in. engine was only available in 1968, therefore to sell this option to a customer TVR would have had to added a 4V carburetor); or the four barrel, mechanical cam Boss 302. Gerry Sagerman bought the engines from Ford’s Industrial Engine Division. This division, not to be confused by the name, was the sales outlet for Ford engines in general. MAL 016, for example, had the 302 2V engine with the word “Industrial” stenciled on the valve covers, which had nothing to do with “industrial strength” (!) .
|Chassis Number||Confirmed Body Style||Last Known Location|
|MAL 001||LWB Tuscan-Vixen-2500/289||Somerset, England|
|MAL 004||LWB Tuscan-Vixen-2500/289||California, USA|
|MAL 005||LWB Tuscan-Vixen-2500/289||Virginia, USA|
|MAL 008||LWB Tuscan-Vixen-2500/289||New Jersey, USA|
|MAL 010||LWB Tuscan-Vixen-2500/289||Switzerland|
|MAL 011||New York, USA|
|MAL 013||LWB Tuscan-Vixen-2500/289||Holland|
|MAL 015||England (last Vixen body)|
|MAL 016||W B Tuscan/302 2V W||Maryland, USA|
|MAL 017||B Tuscan/302 2V||Switzerland|
|MAL 019||W B Tuscan/289 2V||Illinois, USA|
|MAL 022||WB Tuscan/289||England|
|JDG 771 B302||W B Tuscan Shelled Car/Boss||New Jersey, USA England|
|Ex Liam Churchill 4WD||W B Tuscan Shelled Car/Boss||England|
MAL 017 also had the 302/2V. MAL 019 was documented in the factory records as having a 289 cu. in. 2V engine and the original owner, James Morrison, also indicated that the car had a 289. Gerry Sagerman pointed out that 289’s had ceased production two years earlier but under certain circumstances, relating to supply, a 289 cu. in. motor could have been installed in MAL 019. The original engine of MAL 019 was removed following an engine fire in 1974, making confirmation about which engine was installed when the car was new impossible. The early MAL cars with the Vixen shell, 001, 004 and 005 for example, had 289 cu.in. motors. As Ford changed production from the 289 to the 302 cu.in. engines later cars in the MAL series presumably received the 302. It can be categorically stated, however, that no wide body Tuscan with a factory chassis number (MAL001-MAL022) had a Boss 302 motor from new.
The car that is currently owned by AI Way in New Jersey was built by Gerry Sagerman in 1971 as his personal, hairy enthusiasts, car. The car was built from a spare body shell and a frame from a four cylinder Vixen. The car had, and still has, a Boss 302 engine. The chassis number is JDG 771 B302, designated by TVR Cars of America. The initials of the first names of the three individuals involved in building this car, Joe Bishop, David Hives and Gerry Sagerman, constitutes the JDG prefix. The 771 was the completion date and the B302 represented Boss 302. Filby mentioned that Martin Lilley kept two body shells and that one was made into a running car. Whether or not JDG 771 B302 one of the “running” car that he referred to is unconfirmed, but highly likely.
It is not uncommon in the specialty car industry for agents, dealers and distributors to extend the development of the core product. John Wadman, the Canadian TVR dealer, added Ford 302 cu. in. V8 engines to seven M-Series cars prior to them being titled. These cars are sometimes referred to as 5000M’s. Even though JDG 771 B302 was built approximately 12 months after the end of the MAL chassis run in Blackpool, the car has become known as the “Boss Prototype” and is partly responsible for the perpetuated belief that all the MAL series Tuscans were fitted with the Boss engine. The ex-Sagerman car has been considered to be the only TVR that had a Boss 302 engine from new. There was, however, one other wide body shelled car that had a Boss engine from the time of its initial registration.
When Gerry Sagerman purchased the Boss 302 engine for JDG 771 B302 from the Ford Industrial Engine Division, he purchased one other Boss 302 engine. He remembers that when he received the two engines and peeled off the industrial engine division’s sticker the name Carol Shelby was on both engines. The engines that had been originally designated for Shelby by Ford found their way to TVR Cars of America (personal communication, November, 1996). The second Boss engine was sent to Martin Lilley and was thought by Sagerman to have been installed in Martins personal wide body Tuscan, which will be detailed below.
The car pictured on page 149 in Success Against the Odds was reported by Filby as having a Boss 302. The picture caption mentioned that the car was heavily modified by Liam Churchill at one of Britain’s TVR dealers: the Barnet Motor Company. This car was built from a spare shell and frame and used the Sagerman supplied Boss motor. Liam Churchill and the Barnet Motor Company’s had close ties to Martin Lilley and the TVR factory, as a primary agent for TVR in the United Kingdom. Liam Churchill’s car did not have a factory chassis number (pc Liam Churchill, July 1997). Liam Churchill indicated the “the Sagerman engine was the engine in the car when the car was first registered” (pc July 1997).
The construction of the Liam Churchill car began by using the rear section of the standard Tuscan/Vixen frame, all frame tubing forward of the rear suspension and differential was new and redesigned to accommodate the four-wheel drive unit on the side of the transmission, the front differential, and suspension uprights. The car had a wheelbase stretched by 6 inches and a body that was stretched by 9 inches, to accommodate a Ford four-wheel drive unit using an automatic transmission. In addition to four-wheel drive, the car had anti-lock brakes and a sculptured leather interior. The car was first registered with a K registration in 1971 .
Churchill mentioned that the car had seen a top speed of 178 mph using a 2.88: 1 final drive. A stall converter was added to the automatic transmission at a later date, which gave phenomenal off-the-line acceleration in wet and dry conditions. The car is now owned by Steve Norgate. Steve bought the “car” in pieces and without an engine or transmission in 1986-1988. The car, other than a missing engine, is complete with all the modifications that Liam Churchill had made, including the four-wheel drive transmission which Norgate acquired from a third-party source after the initial purchase.
On page 49 of The TVR’s: A Collectors Guide, there are two photographs of a wide body Tuscan then owned by Robert Nosowicz. This car was at one time the personal transportation of Martin Lilly. The chassis number of this car is MAL 022 and was built after the MAL chassis run had been terminated. Future records and TVR literature will have to add this chassis number to the production inventory of the Tuscans with MAL chassis designations. The car was originally yellow, is now black in color. The car is right hand drive. The car was believed by Robson to have a “much-modified 289 cu. in. (4,727 cc) V8 engine … (with) …. four down draft Webers carburetors”. The car, photographed in 1980, has Cleveland style valve covers, to enclose the canted valves of a Boss 302: which is the engine in Nosowicz’s car.
The ex Martin Lilley car is still owned by Robert Nosowicz. Robert indicated that the car originally came with a 289 cu. in. motor (pc June 1997). Nosowicz, who has a full history of the car, acquired the car in 1977-78 and prepared the car for sprints and circuit racing. He purchased a complete Boss Mustang and extracted the engine. The motor was fully race prepared using titanium valves, an aluminum flywheel, a dry sump and other ultra high-performance specs. The engine dynoed at 540 hp at the flywheel with a red line in the 8500 rpm range. The car was re engineered and the suspension dialed in. The primary components remained original, except for the inclusion of inboard rear disc brakes. In this trim Nosowicz indicated that the car recorded a top speed of 183 mph. The speed was calculated from indicated rpm, and tire circumference (no allowance was made for tire ballooning). Robert also noted that the cars’ handling was always adequate, but white knuckles helped in the decision not to go all the way to the red line and 190 mph.
The Boss 302 was, to say the least, a minority power plant and were installed in dealer hybrid cars in 1971. The first group of TVR historians may have heard about these Boss engined cars and perhaps extrapolated information, retroactively from a build sequence perspective, to the MAL chassis series cars in general. Another variable, however, has to be introduced and recognized as something more than a trivial side bar. The TVR affectionardo’s wish that such a car existed.
The Ford Boss 302 as an Image Builder
All great cars are a combination of technical specifications, actual performance and fantasy. The rarity of the wide-body Tuscan has left even those most knowledgeable about the TVR marque to conjecture about the potential mother demon of all TVR’s. What was the performance actually like? Would the frame and suspension have been up to the task? Just when would aero dynamics have limited maximum speed? The wide-body Tuscans contribution to the myth, fantasy and lore that surrounds a specialty car and specialty car manufacturer is arguably just as significant as some of the other more practical historical facts. It was very consistent marketing practice to link the TVR to the hot engine of the day. Griffith did it with the Ford 289 Hi Po, and Sagerman used the Boss as the SE option in the marketing of the 1970 Tuscan. It is worth explaining why was the Boss 302 such a hot item in 1970.
Advertising the Boss engine as an option was definitely designed to increase the pulse rate of any horse power hungry potential customer. In 1970 the Boss 302 cu. in. powered Mustang won the SCCA Trans Am Series Championship, soundly beating the arch enemy: Chevrolets’ Camaro. The engine survived six hour long races shifting at 7500 RPM with occasional bursts over 9000 RPM. Ford benefited from their Boss image maker with increased sales at their dealerships and achieved what all manufactures strive for: the creation of a legend.
Superficially, the 290 maximum horsepower 290 ft. Ibs of torque specified by Ford may not seem to justify all the hype that the Boss generated. This was especially true for TVR after a 306 bhp version of the 289 cu in. Ford small block was installed in the LWB Tuscan SE. The explanation of the genuine performance potential of the Boss is well documented in the literature.
First, early pressure from environmentalists was being felt by the big-three auto makers not to produce gas guzzling muscle cars which led Ford to lay low on just what a “screamer” the Boss 302 actually was. The Boss engine was essentially a racing engine in a production car enough to make even the mildest of the environmentally conscious turn green! Second, marketing the street version of the Boss Mustang with the same advertised horsepower as the Camaro Z28 302 cu.in. while beating Chevrolet soundly on the track was factored into Fords decision to go with the 290 bhp figure. Third, the average of any ten Boss engines was 314 bhp, underscoring the conservative number that was advertised. Fourth, and most important, prior to the Boss advertised horse power was based upon an engineering maximum power test on a dynamometer without any air cleaner or accessories but with dynamometer exhaust headers. The figures produced under such an engineering test were referred to as performance on the “A” curve. The 271 bhp for the 289 cu. in. small block Ford was, therefore, the gross horse power figure on the “A” curve. The Boss 302s’ 290 bhp was rated on the “B” curve, an engineering test that measured the performance of the engine as installed in the vehicle. The Boss 302s’ “A” curve performance was in excess of 390 bhp.
In full race specifications a Boss Trans Am motor was reported to be able to produce 460 bhp. In conversation with ex-Holman and Moody engine builders, who built many of Fords racing engines in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, 600 hp was more like the actual output. This output is seen in today’s vintage race cars using roller cams and modern valve train components which aid to durability rather than necessarily increase horse power. Even today, a road race prepared 289 cu. in. motor is limited to around 450 hp.
The discussion of the Boss 302 cu. in. engine option for the wide-body Tuscan SE circa 1970 is a mixture, then, of fact and fantasy. No MAL factory chassis numbered cars had a Boss engine from new. That several wide-body shelled cars ended up with a Boss is a fact. The mystique surrounding the wide-body Tuscan is a blur between the technical aspects of engine options; theoretical and actual performance; fantasy and lore. A late friend, and TVR owner, Dennis Duginski, once said that key to a car guy’s fun is the ability to sit around and tell lies to each other over a glass of beer. Somewhere, perhaps on a straight, empty stretch of road some of us would like to believe that an unknown TVR Tuscan SE is raging down the highway. A Boss 302 race motor gulping massive amounts of air and fuel as the tach. approaches the high 7’s. Does such a car exist? Does the car guy want it to exist? You bet, especially after a few more beers’
Our car, MAL 019, is currently being upgraded to SE specifications. A Boss 302, that was prepared by the legendary Ford race shop of Holman and Moody for the 1970 Trans Am race series, was initially detuned from 600 hp to 428 hp so that it could run on US pump quality gasoline. As our restoration progressed, the engine was detuned further to 350 hp at the flywheel. A roller cam and lifter were installed on this second build. Although raw horse power at the flywheel will be down, engine build specifications reduced reciprocating mass to allow the small block to “wind-up” effectively. Road test and driving experience of MAL 019 will be provided in a future article.
Driving the TVR Tuscan
Several articles have described what it was and is like to drive an MAL chassis series TVR Tuscan. This section will attempt to capture the essence of the experience of driving the car, drawing from the writings of others.
“Slipping behind the wheel of this rocket is a religious experience, a melding of man and machine, a oneness with power. … the TVR Tuscan is a blisteringly fast sports car-one that seems to be meant for more than mere mortals.” wrote Alex Gabbard in Autoweek in December 1983. The Tuscan pictured in the article was built in 1970 and was reported to be chassis number 13. If this information is correct the car was MAL 013 and had been “campaigned in club races and also at Watkins Glen … ” Gabbard must have been impressed. He continued: “If ever there was macho street machine, the Tuscan is it. … a thrilling street coupe, yet well mannered enough for long distance touring”
Gabbard, once he had finished explaining to the world that he was a little closer to his God following his Tuscan experience, noted the general demise of the hairy enthusiasts car: ” …. by the early 1970’s. performance had become a dirty word in US government cloakrooms, and cars sank to an all-time low as the Dark Ages of automotive doldrums set in. The Tuscan was one of the cars offering genuine exciting performance that vanished from the showroom floor in 1971.. .. as a giant of a performer, (the) Tuscan is still one of the very best, and perhaps the last true performance sportscar of its era.”
Jonathan Stein, a staff writer at Automobile Quarterly, also wrote an article for Autoweek in the January 15,1996 issue. He featured the ex Gerry Sagerman car, owned by Al Way in New Jersey, JDG 771 B302 which had the Ford Boss 302 motor. “The acceleration was so brutal that it was impossible to stretch forward and touch the dash from the passenger seat” At the wheel was Way, who drives McKee Can Am cars at vintage race tracks around the US. “Way fought to keep this 2300-pound rocket on the straight and narrow pavement. His car, a one of a kind TVR Boss Tuscan, had created yet another indelible memory” (Note: this article was written prior to the confirmation that the ex Liam Churchill wide body shelled car was first registered with the Boss 302 engine supplied by Sagerman to TVR Engineering)
I spoke with Jonathan Stein on the telephone in January 1997 and it was clear that the memory of his quick trip with Al Way was still very vivid. I asked Al about the ride he gave to Stein at the thirtieth anniversary of the Can Am reunion at Elkhart Lake. Al smiled and mentioned that he thought there might be a 4.11 ring gear in the differential. This, combined with a 425 gross horse power figure, may help explain why Stein had exploded a few neurons during his seat time in JDG 771 B302.
The latter two articles were both written in Autoweek’s “Escape Road”, which profiles cars of particular interest but is not constrained by the technical requirements of a road test. Gabbard alluded to 0-100 mph in about ten seconds and Stein referenced Gerry Sagerman hand clocking a 0-60 time in the four second range. The Road and Track test of the wide body Tuscan in July 1970 does address the car from a more comprehensive perspective. The test car had the mildest Ford 302 cu. in. engine option of 220 hp at 4600 rpm, although this engine did generate 300 ft.lb. of torque at 2600 rpm. In addressing the cars abilities Road and Track noted “the car possessed all the performance anyone is going to use on the highway-the Boss must be wild!”
Road and Track drove the wide body Tuscan on two road courses: Bridgehampton and Lime Rock. With the mild engine the test staff were able to pay attention to, and recall, other details of the cars performance. “Steering was noted to produce a “shimmy” reaction over bumps, and front and rear suspension bottoming with fairly aggressive driving. Rear torque steer, present in earlier V8 TVR’s that Road and Track had tested, was determined to have been eliminated. (This assessment was probably a reflection of the lower power of the wide body Tuscan under test than the Hi Po powered Tuscan and Griffith’s; the suspension layout was virtually identical). Brakes showed a higher incidence of fade than the Vixen Road and Track were also testing and the rear brakes tended to lock. The gearbox shifter linkage was felt to be “stiff and obstructive, restricting really fast shifts.”
The deficits reported in the Road and Track test were real. The test summary noted that with “a little more development…(the Tuscan) … could be a most pleasant hairy-chested motorcar.” Let me suggest what that development might have addressed. First, the “shimmy” reaction in the steering when the car went over bumps. The Griffith’s used a steering rack, on the same Thurner designed chassis with the same track of 52.5 inches, that was 24 inches between the inner tie rod/steering arm ball joint centers. MAL 019, and other Vixen S2/Tuscan cars I have checked, have a steering rack that is 27.5 inches between the inner tie rod/steering arm ball joint centers. The 3.5 inches of extra rack, given that the front spindle and steering arm remained unchanged, significantly reduces and tightens the radius that the tie rod/steering arm moves through. The change in rack length was probably done to save on the production time of actually cutting down the steering rack to meet engineering specifications. The result in this change increased bump steer from less than perfect but in the ball park to horribly imperfect and out in left field. By using a steering rack that met the original engineering specifications for the suspension would have resulted in a major improvement in the “shimmy” reaction.
Second, the bottoming of the front and rear suspension. Stiffer springs are used by almost everyone driving the Tuscan and Griffith cars with performance in mind. Stiffer springs, however, can be the wrong thing to mess with from a marketing and sales perspective. The customer of a new TVR wants to think they could drive the car on a daily basis and not feel like a cocktail: shaken and stirred! Never-the-less, spring rates were too soft resulting in a) the front and rear bottoming (although inner fender clearance certainly exacerbated the problem) and b) contributed to the tendency of the rear brakes to lock as an overabundance of the cars’ weight transferred to the front wheels. With stiffer springs and better shocks an acceptable ride can still be achieved without the negative aspects of going to a very stiff set up.
Rear torque steer, reported by Johnathan Stein when riding in the Boss powered car owned by Al Way would have been more difficulty to eliminate for TVR. With a new set of rubber bushings in the suspension and the car on jack stands it is very easy to move the rear wheel from side to side (hands at 3 and 9 0 clock), producing 1/2 an inch of toe in/toe out at will. Because the frame was made of 16 gauge steel tubing, it would have been asking for trouble if TVR used stiffer bushing material. There have been many TVR owners who have stiffened their suspension and found cracks in the frame tubing a few months later. This would have been really bad for business. Vintage racers of V8 TVR’s use harder bushing material, but also manage to find ways to address the frames’ inherent weaknesses. While some of these modifications could have been deployed by TVR, they would have made little business sense as these types of modifications start a cycle of potential unreliability. Rear steering remains one of the inherent weaknesses of the 1960 and 1970 TVR’s.
TVR used the same sway bar for the Vixen, the 2500 and the Tuscan. Obviously, there is significant difference in weight between the Ford 1600cc engine in the Vixen and either the Triumph 2500cc or Ford 289/302 cu. in. (the Triumph engine actually weighs 30 Ib more than the standard Ford 289/302 V8). Standardization of components and its benefit of cost saving called for this homogeneity. The Tuscan would have been well served by increasing roll resistance with a stiffer sway bar. However, the 16 gauge frame would flex more as sway bar stiffness increased. Once again, this would have created higher cost and risked the integrity of the product. The cost issue perhaps could have been handled by promoting a “competition suspension package”, but why raise questions in the potential customers mind that the car may not handle that well. A competition package also does not eliminate the liability of increased mechanical stress on the frame, A-arm attachments, front suspension uprights and rear stub axles.
After questioning the integrity of the Tuscan design in the last few paragraphs the Thurner designed chassis has proven to be remarkably durable in applications that the designer probably did not envision. Art Becker who owns MAL 008 said that his car was drag raced throughout the 1970’s with a Boss 302 engine with Hilborn fuel injection. Such a package would easily produce 550-600 hp. (The original engine in this car, as noted earlier, was a 289 with an automatic transmission). When Art stripped the car for a body off restoration in the mid 1980’s the frame was straight and free from any noticeable stress damage. Current chassis designers would probably criticize the Thurner chassis as be too flexible. This flexibility does limit the extent to which the suspension can be “tuned” as ultimately suspension settings will change as the chassis flexes. This very flexibility, however, is just why the chassis has been able to tolerate lots of power. Chris Shirle, competition manager for TVR in the mid 1980’s, builds and maintains first generation racing Griffiths. He has pointed out that the chassis is designed to flex and that trying to apply Formula 1 concepts and torsional rigidity specifications to this era of car will cause, rather than solve, problems.
Generally, the TVR Tuscan is a car that can be made to handle and perform very well. The basic chassis and suspension design features are good and weight distribution is approaching 50/50 with a front mid-engine configuration. The Tuscan is above all a car for those like, Lilley and Sagerman, wanted an enthusiast’s car on the hairy side. The early Tuscan leaves lasting impression on the driver/passenger and upon the image that TVR built upon in the course of its history as a company.
In the history of TVR seven points seem most relevant to the significance that can be assigned to the wide body Tuscan.
- First, the cars design was a transition model, leading to the successful M-Series that dominated production throughout the 1970’s. With the M-Series, the Lilley owned TVR Engineering also transitioned from turbulent financial woes and product quality issues of the 1960? s to relative prosperity and industry recognition as a “player” in the 1970’s.
- Second, the car was the first car which TVR Engineering moulded in-house.
- Third, production of the wide-body Tuscan provided experience in hands-on fiberglass work for the company and its employees.
- Fourth, the wide-body Tuscan was the last V8 engined car built by TVR until the Rover/Buick aluminum V8 was installed in the 350 Tasmin, some thirteen years later.
- Fifth, until the 1996 production of the Cerbera GT, the wide-body Tuscan with the Boss engine option was theoretically the fastest production TVR ever conceived.
- Sixth, as Gabbard noted in his review of the Tuscan in Autoweek in late 1983, the Tuscan was perhaps the last true performance sportscar of its era.
- Seventh, specialty car companies are built upon products, reputations and the ability to create a certain charisma. The wide-body Tuscan undoubtedly contributed to the overall image that TVR was building during the Lilley era of ownership and assist the current company in marketing a long standing image for building pedigree high performance sports cars.
Guy Dirkin, Ph.D.
Great thanks to Guy Dirkin for sharing this 2-part story on the 1970 TVR Tuscan – the Fastest TVR of its Generation.
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The adventure continues here at Undiscovered Classics.