It must have seemed strange that, when the Tuscan Speed Six went on sale in 2000, its big selling point was its new engine. After all, there were perfectly good 4.2- and 4.5-litre V8s in the range that offered between 360 and 420bhp. Suddenly buyers were presented with the option of a new straight-six 3.6-litre pushing out 360bhp.
But the Tuscan Speed Six was positioned as the grand tourer of the TVR range, and one that Peter Wheeler considered perfectly practical to use as a day-to-day car. Of course, having two seats, no airbags, no ABS and no traction control made it a tough sell on wet days in a more safety-conscious world, but at least there was a removable targa panel for when the sun came out.
It wasn’t a replacement for the Griffith – as it wasn’t a full convertible – nor did it supersede the Cerbera, even if it did go on to out-live it. The Tuscan was a new model in its own right, and part of Peter Wheeler’s masterplan to turn TVR into Blackpool’s answer to Ferrari.
After years of V8 exclusivity at TVR, there’s something quite misplaced about the Speed Six’s soundtrack. When it’s fired up, the engine barks into life and settles into a race car-like idle. Like the AJP V8 engine, the Speed Six is incredibly throttle sensitive, and responds with real vigour to a jab on the gas.
Any thoughts that Wheeler’s grand tourer is going to be a relaxing drive are rapidly banished when you go for a full-bore acceleration run. It’s faster than the original Cerbera, reaching 100mph from rest in 8.5sec; while the top speed was claimed to be 185mph. When really pushed, the Speed Six sounds magical, more musical than the V8 cars yet equally loud and blood-curdling. But you need to dial-in more than 4000rpm to really get flying.
There are shift lights, but you won’t need them. Instinct will drive you into changing gear at the right time, landing you back in the power band; right place, every time. Calm it down, and the Speed Six is tractable and slick-shifting – and it rides with noticeably more compliance than the Cerbera.
Maybe it really is the perfect all-year-round tool after all. The arrival of the Tuscan and Cerbera Speed Six heralded the upward push in TVR list prices. Increased sophistication came at a cost – not least one of unreliability, from which TVR’s reputation sadly began to suffer.
In 1994, BMW bought Rover and, for many in the specialist sector, it looked like the venerable V8 engine had a limited lifespan ahead. For TVR, which was selling cars exclusively powered by the ex-Rover V8, it was clear that the company needed to find an alternative, especially as tougher EU emissions regulations were on the way. The obvious solution for TVR might have been to buy a newer engine off the shelf – but what happened next shows just how much capacity the company had for thinking outside the box.
TVR contracted engine designer Al Melling to design a brand new V8. It was planned to power the Griffith, Chimaera and Cerbera, but also to be sold to other performance car manufacturers who’d found themselves in the same position. Melling and John Ravenscroft designed a racing engine for the road under the codename AJP8. It featured a flat-plane crankshaft, a 75-degree vee angle and sequential fuel injection.
Claimed outputs for what became known as the Speed Eight were 360bhp for the 4.2-litre, and 420bhp for the 4.5-litre. Delays in its introduction meant the Griffith and Chimaera missed out, but it found its way under the Cerbera’s bonnet, which became one of the world’s fastest supercars.
Despite its effectiveness, the engine went out of production alongside the Cerbera in 2003 (with a respite for 2006’s anniversary-edition Cerbera). It was replaced by the Speed Six (above), which had first been shown in 1997 in prototype form before powering the Cerbera (alongside the Speed Eight) two years later. Again, it was an in-house design, and was favoured by TVR for its next-gen models, as it was easier to package in the front/mid-engine configuration that the T-cars (Tuscan, Tamora, T350) demanded.
Once again, Melling built the prototypes, and once again its DNA was very much race-inspired, with throttle-body fuel injection and dry-sump lubrication. The 24-valve all-alloy engine was extremely light and, just like the Speed Eight, had a very high specific power output (between 350 and 406bhp was claimed). There were significant reliability issues with the early engines: metallurgical failures and poor lubrication led to a number of blow-ups. Ultimately TVR’s brave attempt to become a fully fledged supercar manufacturer by making its own engines was compromised by the Speed Six’s problems.
Subsequent development work by TVR Power (which is still going strong as an independent concern) has produced a core-exchange 4.5-litre Speed Six with a reliable 392bhp at the wheels. It’s this development work by TVR Power that keeps many of the newer cars in top form, and has allowed the company’s mighty engines finally to release their potential.
All The TVRs - The Full Story - All The TVRs
Rumours abound that TVR is about to stage a comeback. What better time to recall the past glories of Blackpool's best?
A breakdown of TVR historic milestones.
Grantura Mark lll, Mark lV 1800S - TVR's Grantura Mark lll, Mark lV 1800S
There’s an appealing delicacy about the TVR Grantura that shouts ‘drive me’.
Griffith, Tuscan, Vixen - TVR's Griffith, Tuscan, Vixen
It’s a case of ‘more of the same’ for the next generation of TVRs.
Griffith, Chimaera, Cerbera - TVR's Griffith, Chimaera, Cerbera
It’s time to get controversial.
Sagaris - TVR Sagaris
All of Peter Wheeler’s TVRs were blessed with ferocious acceleration, a glorious soundtrack, and price tags that meant his cars were within the reach of hard-working enthusiasts.
Tuscan Speed Six - TVR Tuscan Speed Six
It must have seemed strange that, when the Tuscan Speed Six went on sale in 2000, its big selling point was its new engine
The Tuscan challenge - TVR The Tuscan challenge
TVR had been actively involved in motor sport pretty much from its inception.
Taimar, Tasmin, TVR S - TVR's Taimar, Tasmin, TVR S
Looking at the Taimar and the S3, it’s difficult to believe that more than a decade separates them – or that they book-end the glorious white 350i that’s thundering around our temporary paddock at the Bruntingthorpe track.
T350, Tamora - TVRs T350, Tamora
After a ten-year production run, the Griffith needed replacement.