1966 Triumph TR4A vs. 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series, 1987 Toyota MR2 MkI, 1992 Ferrari 348ts, 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

2018 Jonathan Jacob & Drive-My

Targa Time… Can the Porsche 911 Targa, Triumph TR4 Surrey Top, Ferrari 348ts, Toyota MR2 T-bar and TVR Tuscan successfully combine roofless rawness and coupé civility? And why now’s the time to buy them. ‘As time passes, they’ll look more classic than their conventional tin- or soft-top stablemates’ The targa roof’s modern-day obsolescence has made them late bloomers on the classic landscape. With their appeal growing by the minute, we take five of the best targa buys for a tour of the North York Moors. Words Sam Dawson. Photography Jonathan Jacob.

 

Best of both worlds:  Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa G-Type leads TR4A Surrey Top, Ferrari 348ts, TVR Tuscan and Toyota MR2 MkI T-bar on our Big Test…

Targas on tour The Big Test  Why 2018’s the year to get into our £5-50k summer sizzlers. Top five choices from Porsche, Triumph, Ferrari, and Toyota.


Targa. It’s Italian for ‘shield’ and conjures up thoughts of Sicilian and Tasmanian road races. Thanks to Porsche’s use of the term, it’s also become the de facto name for a solid removable roof. It’s a neat piece of design that means – in theory – you can enjoy both hardtop and roofless motoring on a whim. The dramatic microsystems of weather found in the undulations of the North York Moors should test this idea to its limits as we pit five different takes on the targa – front-, mid- and rear-engined – against this wind-chilled, often-unforgiving landscape.


1966 Triumph TR4A vs. 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series, 1987 Toyota MR2 MkI, 1992 Ferrari 348ts, 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

1966 Triumph TR4A vs. 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series, 1987 Toyota MR2 MkI, 1992 Ferrari 348ts, 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

Targas are also a form of engineering fairly recently lost to time. Once Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot perfected electric folding hardtops, new-car buyers didn’t want to fiddle with a lift-of panel any more. It leaves targa-topped classics with uniquely period appeal, so as time passes, they’ll look more classic than their conventional tin- or soft-top stablemates. Buy one now and you’ll be ahead of a market that’s seeing these cars as increasingly desirable.


1966 Triumph TR4A vs. 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series, 1987 Toyota MR2 MkI, 1992 Ferrari 348ts, 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

1966 Triumph TR4A vs. 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series, 1987 Toyota MR2 MkI, 1992 Ferrari 348ts, 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose The roads of the North York Moors, both secluded and exposed, tested our targas to the limit.


Our group of five spans prices from sub-£5k to £50k and applies the concept to everything from the traditional Sixties British roadster to the Eighties Italian supercar. But how will they fare?


1966 Triumph TR4A vs. 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series, 1987 Toyota MR2 MkI, 1992 Ferrari 348ts, 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

1966 Triumph TR4A vs. 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series, 1987 Toyota MR2 MkI, 1992 Ferrari 348ts, 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

 

1966 Triumph TR4A

Coachbuilt pre-war sedanca coupés aside, it was this Triumph with its so-called Surrey Top, and not the Porsche 911 Targa, that first popularised the lift-of roof. The name rather quaintly echoes a type of Victorian horsedrawn carriage first made in that English Home County and later widely adopted in the USA. Although it was sold as a factory model, the cars would be delivered as roadsters to dealers along with a Hardtop Kit to convert them.

Maybe it’s the way the glass curves behind my head as I slide straight-legged into the driver’s seat; maybe it’s the bonnet’s offset teardrop power bulge directly in line with the steering column and the slabby dashboard carrying big white-on-black Smiths instruments, but the TR4A puts me in mind of a Supermarine Spitire’s cockpit. It’s a sense heightened when you turn the ignition key and feel the engine’s torquey potential shudder through the cabin with a throbby, tappety chatter.


1966 Triumph TR4A

1966 Triumph TR4A road test Designed as a convertible with a hardtop added, rather than the other way round, the TR4A’s excellent handling is uncorrupted.

Second in our convoy behind the Porsche, I pull away onto the moors on a burbling wellspring of torque rather than yowling revs, punctuated by satisfyingly firm, well-defined changes on the overdriven four-speed gearbox when things start to get harsh above 3500rpm. The weighty yet similarly smooth steering conveys a sense of a car that’s heavier than, say, a Lotus Elan or an MG Midget, but still beautifully balanced. There’s no sense of wallow in the more challenging bends that snake between the craggy outcrops of rocks up here, the 165/80 R15 tyres providing a surprisingly soft ride while the independent rear suspension keeps the tail tidily in check as I chase the 911’s sloping rump.

Despite the aged aesthetics compared with the rest of our fivesome, the TR4A is a far more convincing sports car, as opposed to traditional open tourer, than I was expecting. There’s a lovely economy of movement to its gearing, pedals and steering – you direct it with your wrists rather than with elbows-full of lock.

There’s also something quite modern about its overdrive – get it up to third, and the torquey long-stroke engine means it’s all you usually need when accelerating or climbing slight inclines to keep up with the Porsche, yet licking the column stalk to switch on the overdrive is like shifting into fourth. It’s slightly jerky in operation, but the effect is like a modern paddleshift. Actually, it’s better than that. Overdrive of, hurling the TR4A into hairpins on the appropriately-named Knott Road, you don’t have the gear-hunting anxieties that plague those seven-plus-speed modern shifters. It does exactly what you want it to. Even the brakes are commandingly progressive.

However, there is one major issue that undermines the TR4A Surrey Top as a true targa in the Porsche sense. Although this car can be configured as a coupé, the solid centre roof section won’t actually it in the boot or behind the seats. You have to choose to leave it at home and be prepared to erect a Lotus Elise-style combination of vinyl, poppers and tensioning rods if it rains. Tellingly, owner Jim Howie is wearing a big overcoat and a hat. At least unlike a conventional lift-of hardtop you could prop the roof section up in your hall rather than needing another garage space to leave a fixed-windowed hardtop on the floor. Unlike those hardtops, the roof section can be removed by one person too.


1966 Triumph TR4A

1966 Triumph TR4A road test Triumph beat Porsche to the Targa-top by a full five years, although Porsche made the style its own.

Elsewhere the design actually works well, largely because the car beneath the Surrey Top was designed as a convertible, rather than a destabilised coupé. There’s no scuttle-shake to interfere with the steering’s communication, and although the roof structure creaks and rattles like an old canvas-bodied glider on landing, it doesn’t cause buffeting, possibly because the glass-encased part of the roof with the potential to act like an air scoop is set sufficiently far back as to clear my head.

It was a bold experiment for 1961, and a rare one now too. The Surrey Top commands a £2-4k premium over the standard TR4A in the current market, depending on its condition, and is more robust than the traditional fabric hood. However, with the emergency vinyl section in place it’s no less leak-prone, so before parting with at least £25,000, check for rust in the chassis, boot floor, lower body sections, inner wings, sills and door bottoms – make sure you lift the carpets to check the state of the floorpans. Most of the typical rust on a TR4A can be superficial, but rot at the right-angled junctures of the chassis beside the rear wheels is a safety-critical MoT-test failing problem.

Thankfully the TR3-derived 2138cc four-cylinder engines are robust and simple units which respond well to uncomplicated servicing schedules. They are prone to minor oil leaks, so a few drips on the driveway are to be expected, but idling oil pressure below 60-70psi when cold and sub-30psi when up to temperature suggests a more serious leak, associated crankshaft wear, and an engine rebuild costing at least £3000.

That said, restoring a TR4A with a Surrey Top – or at least getting a scruffy one up to condition one – is a worthwhile exercise. They’re outnumbered nearly ten-to-one by vinyl-hooded roadster versions in the classified adverts, and most dealer-sold examples – for which £36,000 is the going rate – have attracted high-quality restorations. We found one, apparently in very good condition, for sale privately in Wales for £27,000 – comparable roadsters seem to be offered at about £20,000.

Originality is important. As the Hardtop Kit was a separately-issued option, it is possible to retro-it them, and this is popular among rallyists looking to pit their TR4As against the rough stuff, but British Motor Industry Heritage Trust (BMIHT) certificates will confirm whether or not the car was supplied with one when new. Further modifications like wider wheels, and changing the original seats for more comfortable and supportive Mazda MX-5 items won’t necessarily affect saleability, but they will detract from ultimate value.

This is the zenith of roadgoing four-cylinder TR desirability. The combination of TR5-bettering handling, Michelotti design and all-rounder configurability plus motor sport potential will only continue to climb in value.


1966 Triumph TR4A
1966 Triumph TR4A Originality is important. But modifications like wider wheels and MX-5 seats are a matter of taste and won’t affect saleability’ Triumph’s punchy four-cylinder delivers plenty of torque to ride on. Traditionalist, dialpacked interior has overtones of Spitfire.

‘The TR4A design works well, because the car beneath the Surrey Top was designed as a convertible rather than a coupé’


Owning a Triumph TR4A

‘I bought it in 1986, and I drove it all over Europe,’ says Jim Howie of his long-termer TR4A. ‘Surrey Tops are rare now – if you find an unused new-old stock kit, even if it’s not in great condition, it can still be sold for £2000, especially because they’re popular with people wanting to use TR4s in competition.

‘When I got it, there was no synchromesh, but it was soon rebuilt with overdrive – once you’re up into the top gears you can use that stalk like a gearbox in itself.

‘It’s essentially been a rolling restoration and I do all the work on it myself. It’s needed some lower-body rust repairs and a respray, but it’s been reliable and easy to live with.’


TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1966 Triumph TR4A

Engine 2138cc in-line four-cylinder, ohv, two SU HS6 carburettors

Max Power 104bhp @ 4700rpm / DIN nett

Max Torque 132.5lb ft @ 3000rpm / DIN nett

Transmission Four-speed manual with overdrive, rear-wheel drive

Suspension Front: independent, wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers. Rear: independent, semi-trailing arms, fixed-length halfshafts, coil springs, lever-arm dampers

Brakes Discs front, drums rear

Steering Rack and pinion

Weight 1071kg

Performance Top speed: 111mph; 0-60mph: 11.4sec

Fuel consumption 25mpg

Price new £968 (1966 UK)

Classic Cars Price Guide £12,000-£30,000 (2018 UK)

{module Triumph TR4}


 

1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series

Pulling into the tiny village of Rosedale Abbey for a breather, I switch over into the car that invented the Targa top as we know it – the Porsche 911. For decades, this was the cheapest way into this iconic car – the 911’s image as a hardcore driving machine meant rigid hardtops were always favoured over open-air variants, plus the Targa did away with those sensuously curved rear three-quarter windows which have been a 911 trademark since day one.

But as the sun glints of that vast expanse of glass, I’m put in mind of similarly transparent cars of the era lauded for their glazing, like the Jensen Interceptor, Mazda RX-7 and Citroën SM. A few years ago, pulled up by soaring prices for early 911 coupés, early Targas started attracting decent restorations. Perhaps it was the sight of those brushed stainless-steel roll hoops, but Targas have since closed the price gap to their fixed-roof brethren. Porsche has even brought the styling back with the 911’s latest generation.


1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series

1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series road test The 911’s party trick is its stunning traction out of bends. The Targa suffers some scuttle-shake, although it’s easily ignored.

Owner Ian ‘Mac’ McLeod smiles as I negotiate the 911’s odd ergonomics. The combination of larger than expected steering wheel and odd floor-hinged pedals mean I have to slide the seat back so my knees can negotiate the wheelrim as I settle in, then slide it forward again in order to press the pedals down fully. The wheel can’t be adjusted, and partially obscures the speedometer. That said, once ensconced it feels right. The driving position is excellent, the seat’s embrace reassuring, and unlike crunchy 911 shifters of old this 1987 Carrera 3.2 features the G50 five-speed gearbox, which is as slick-moving as a Seventies Ford’s.

This is one of just 12 Supersport special editions, largely a Turbo with a normally-aspirated Carrera 3.2 engine. Pulling away up the hill from Rosedale, they add a great sense of rock-solid stable roadholding to the familiar 911 recipe, as though the huge tyres are reassuring extensions of the bucket seat’s back-bolsters. Climbing out of the village on New Road, the narrow road framed by the big headlight nacelles, the 911 seems to have lost the scary breakaway-threat of its old rear-engined physics even when decelerating, the tyres gripping the tarmac as the route gets twisty again. Obviously you have to respect it, especially keeping pre-corner high-speed braking in a straight line and accelerating only once you’re past the apex.

But the 911 makes this easy. Unburdened by engine weight, driveshafts or servos, the front wheels – even when shod with wide 205/55 ZR16s – deliver an uninterrupted stream of communication to a wheel that, although big, is firm and tactile. It’s also refreshing to sample this configuration of 911 with the smooth power delivery that only a normally-aspirated flat-six can provide. Rather than an explosive burst of mid-range torque, the urge pours slickly-oiled from the crankshaft, released with precision via the stiff throttle pedal. After years of never being entirely satisfied with 911s, I find myself in a state of repentance behind the wheel of the Carrera 3.2, and then quite unexpectedly, past 60mph as we surge across the Moors north of Thorgill as I head the convoy, something shudders through the steering column to spoil it: scuttle shake.


1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series road test

1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series road test The Supersport option’s wider track and tyres adds stability to the traditional 911 handling traits.

Unlike the Triumph, the Porsche was designed as a coupé and was effectively destabilised. The Targa’s roof itself is a brilliant piece of design – there are little extractor vents cut into the B-pillars which dissipate the onrushing air, preventing buffeting at high speeds. However, with nothing to brace the windscreen header rail and the roll hoop against each other, the chassis lexes. Putting on the Targa panel doesn’t help matters either – being vinyl on a tensioned frame, it bends with the structure.

Although the Targa may not be quite as pure a driving machine as its hardtop sister, it’s still very much a Carrera 3.2. Bodyshells were galvanised, but the coating began to breach after 20 years, leading to localised rust often in inner wheelarches, sills, headlamp bowls and the inner oval-shaped kidney panels behind the B-pillars. If you’re inspecting an earlier Turbo-look or Supersport edition – wide-bodied versions through Porsche’s Sonderwunsch special-order programme – check the top of the rear wheelarches for rust bubbles too, a sign that stones and dirt have led to the arches corroding almost all the way through.

You’re best of spending upwards of £25k on a corrosion-free 911 3.2 Targa because rectifying a cheaper one will gobble up half that amount and a neglected example will likely be suffering worn valve guides and snapped cylinder head studs.

Check for excessive smoke once the engine’s warm to avoid an £8000 rebuild. Make sure you can get your hand between the top of the rear wheel and the arch as well – the torsion bars are difficult to set up following suspension or engine-out work, and a car sitting too low is a sign of inexpert fettling.

Although the price difference between coupés and Targas has closed, the market for all Carrera 3.2s is highly mileage- and condition-dependent. Well-sorted, these are dependable classics that many owners used to commute in when they were new, and they often remained in daily use for longer than other sports cars of their era. Couple this to the near-20 years Porsche Targas spent as the floppier, leak-prone poor relations to their hardtop cousins, and a recipe for potential neglect once in the ownership of third-hand shoestring enthusiasts emerges.

There are still surprising bargains out there, and condition and presentation make all the difference. Esoteric Auto in Bedford has a 1989 Carrera 3.2 Targa – admittedly plastered in cosmetic modifications to make it look newer – for £29,995 with just 55,000 miles on its odometer. A private seller in Surrey has an all-original example with the same mileage up at £59,950 – the same price dealer Graeme Hunt is asking for the ex-Roger Clark 130,000-mile example. Whichever way you look at it, a good 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa is a very safe place for your money.


1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series

1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series Classic 911 interior has chaotically-placed instruments. Minus turbo, the Porsche flat-six delivers its power smoothly.


‘Although the Porsche 911 Targa may not be as pure a driving machine as its hardtop sister, it’s still very much a Carrera 3.2’


 

Owning a Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa

‘I bought it in 2001 – I was actually looking for a Boxster,’ says Mac. ‘My wife Sue and I went to Specialist Cars of Malton and the Boxsters were about £28k. But this caught my eye – just 201 UK right-hand drive Super Sports Targas were made – and it was £20k. These days you’d pay £55k and Boxsters are about £5k.

‘It hasn’t had any restoration work yet. It needed a new passenger-side door latch – a £100 scrapyard job – but on the day that was fixed the clutch went! It cost £2000 all-in. ‘It had 42,000 miles on the clock when I bought it, and it now has 97,000. The engine’s never given any trouble at all. It also returns 27-30mpg, and I don’t exactly hold back.’


TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa G-Series

Engine 3164cc horizontally-opposed six-cylinder, ohc per bank, Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection

Max Power and 231bhp @ 5900rpm / DIN nett

Max Torque 209lb ft @ 4800rpm / DIN nett

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Suspension Front: independent, wishbones, MacPherson struts, torsion bars, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: independent, semi-trailing arms, torsion bars, lever-arm dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes Discs front and rear

Steering Rack and pinion

Weight 1260kg

Performance Top speed: 149mph; 0-60mph: 6.3sec

Fuel consumption 27mpg

Price new £21,464 (1987 UK)

Classic Cars Price Guide £30,000-£65,000 (2018 UK)

{module Porsche 930}


 

1987 Toyota MR2 MkI

One solution to the 911’s scuttle-shake is, of course, a T-top. It’s a feature so American it made it into the lyrics of Darlington County by Bruce Springsteen. But it took the Japanese, thinking internationally, to take this proposed-legislation-dodging design and make it sell globally. Throughout the Eighties and Nineties, nearly all Japanese sports cars seemed to have a T-top option. The Mazda MX-5 was the exception which proved the rule.

Pulled over in a layby near the River Seven, I swap the Porsche for Nik Milford’s decade-owned, much-loved, 200,000-mile Toyota MR2 and feel immediately at home. I’ve owned two MR2s and the sight and smell of its angular, self-consciously futuristic, delightfully plasticky interior is instantly familiar, but the fresh air above my head isn’t.


1987 Toyota MR2 MkI

1987 Toyota MR2 MkI road test The wedgy Toyota MR2 MkI looks as low as an Esprit – in fact, Lotus engineers played a significant role in its development.

Unlike the Triumph and Porsche, the driving position is almost saloon-height. It’s a clever illusion actually – look at the MR2 side-on and despite its pop-up headlights it’s more oblong than wedge, its mid-body loftiness slimmed with black-painted pillars and frameless windows to the point where it looks as low and wide as a Lotus Esprit. The driving position is even better than the Porsche’s – arms and legs are straight-out again, but the wheel and gear lever are sited like a GT racer’s, with short, quick movements in mind. Look in the rear-view mirror and the view is dominated by a Sierra Cosworth-sized wing.

Through the open roof, you can hear the twin-cam engine fizzing viscerally, responding immediately to the throttle with an urgent Formula 3 rasp. Pull away and the unassisted steering lightens immediately to fingertip-guided friendliness, yet its feel and sheer directness actually compares well with the Porsche’s. Expectations may have been absent in 1984 when Toyota unleashed its ‘Midships Runabout 2-seater’ on the world, but behind the doors of the Sagamihara factory, Lotus engineers led by Roger Becker were working with their Japanese technical partners to ensure the new sports car drove like something from Hethel.

As a result, the MR2 rides better than any other car in our convoy. With MacPherson struts all round, its attitude and body control on the rutted, camber-switching lanes out of the Seven valley is more supple even than the Porsche’s, and it doesn’t squirm under braking either. Everything about the MR2 is thrillingly informative and precise. And then there’s the engine. That 4A-GE twin-cam revs close to 7000rpm, screaming like a superbike inches behind my head. It’s a very elastic performer, both peak torque and power arriving very high up that free-running rev range – 110lb ft at 5200rpm, 130bhp at 6600rpm – and it’s a joy to wring, partly thanks to an extremely light gearchange.

And as promised by that central roof spar, there’s no scuttle shake. Each of the curved glass roof panels its into a neat little bag and stows behind the driver and passenger seats rather than taking up what little boot space there is behind the engine. However, if you’re going to drive it with these panels of, you’re best of winding the windows down too. When they’re up, the close proximity of header rail, roll hoop, T-bar and glass forming a square above your head gives the wind plenty to bounce of, creating a vortex effect. Drop the windows down and the oncoming wind rushes past your shoulder, as it would in a traditional roadster. But no front-engined British ragtop ever drove as well as this.

With the explosion in values of many iconic Eighties cars, it’s only a matter of time before the scarcity of remaining Toyota MR2s MkIs means demand seriously outstrips supply. Unfortunately they suffer badly from corrosion – they were never treated to proper protection at the factory and rot hides behind the plastic aero-kit that clads the edge of almost every steel panel and the car’s substructure. By the time it’s visible it’s usually too late and it’s still uneconomical to do a full-body restoration.

The 4A-GE non-interference engine is unbreakable so long as it’s serviced regularly, but the gearbox strips its synchromesh if abused – if it pops out of fifth it’s a sign of an impending £500 replacement and installation.

Surprisingly for a car that once seemed fairly common, MkIs are now incredibly hard to find in T-bar form. Roof seals had a tendency to perish and leak rainwater into its unprotected sills, so they suffered corrosion-related attrition to a far greater degree than their coupé stablemates. That said, it seems MR2 owners are a remarkably honest bunch. All the private adverts we found selling MkIs detailed a litany of rust repairs and bodywork protection measures taken, and this straightforwardness plus the car’s ability to rack up massive mileages generates some real bargains provided you’re prepared to accept a car that isn’t mint. There’s currently a white 94,000-mile T-bar – just run-in by Toyota standards – for sale in Cheshire for £2000. The A-posts and sills have been welded and it’s described as ‘scruffy but sound’.

Coupés have survived in bigger numbers and are attracting high-quality home restorations and price tags of £6000. The rarity of a T-bar finished to this quality should push that figure even higher. Even then, it’s still the best-value targa-topped classic here. Corrosion might have demolished the bangers, but £2000 will get you a nice MR2 runner and £5000 nets a show winner. This situation simply can’t last much longer.


‘The scarcity of MR2s means demand will soon seriously outstrip supply – MkI T-bars are already incredibly hard to find’


1987 Toyota MR2 MkI

1987 Toyota MR2 MkI Driving position and control movement is hard to improve on. The 4A-GE: inspired by the Lotus Elan, revs like a superbike.

Owning an MR2: Nik Milford

‘I bought it ten years ago from a neighbour – I’d wanted one for quite some time,’ says Nik. ‘It’s been one of the most reliable cars I’ve owned – when it passed 150,000 miles I applied to Toyota for a recognition badge, and again when it passed 200,000. The next stop is 300,000 but it’s no longer a daily driver. It still works hard though – I’ve even made a bike rack for it.

‘It has needed quite a few rust repairs, mainly to the underside, but it’s fairly simple to patch up. The engine has a slight oil leak but that’ll be another relatively straightforward job – I just need to keep topping it up until I get round to it, but the engine can cope in the meantime.’


TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1987 Toyota MR2

Engine 1587cc transverse four-cylinder, dohc, Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection

Max Power 130bhp @ 6600rpm / DIN nett

Max Torque 110lb ft @ 5200rpm / DIN nett

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Suspension Front: independent, MacPherson struts, lateral links, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.

Rear: independent, Chapman struts, lateral links, trailing arms, toe links, coil springs, telescopic dampers

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear

Steering Rack-and-pinion

Weight 950kg

Performance Top speed: 121mph; 0-60mph: 8.9sec

Fuel consumption 25mpg

Price new £9000 (1987 UK)

Classic Cars price guide £1250-£4500 (2018 UK)


 

1992 Ferrari 348ts

As I pull in to the bumpy car park of the Lion Inn at the wind-blasted top of Blakey Ridge, the MR2’s windscreen frames the wide, grilled, red-glowing afterburner rump of its unlikely nemesis: the Ferrari 348ts. Odd though it may sound, Eighties road-testers found the Toyota’s handling so commendable, its engine so tractable, that the £9000 Toyota often unexpectedly worried the 348’s predecessor, the £32,000 328, in racetrack handling tests. Come 1989, both MR2 MkI and 328 were replaced with cars considered ill-handling by comparison, but in reality they were very different cars – the 348ts was £79k for starters. Was it just misunderstood? Owner Ian Christie is keen to see the 348’s reputation rehabilitated, and he should know – it shares garage space with a Ferrari 550 Maranello and a Ferrari 360 Modena, both considered among the finest-driving Ferraris of recent decades.


1992 Ferrari 348ts road test

1992 Ferrari 348ts road test Side radiators with slatted gills and red-on-black design language mean the Ferrari 348 is often mistaken for a Testarossa. But there’s a lot of 288 GTO in there too.

The ‘ts’ stands for Trasversale Spider, referring to the transverse gearbox, but then Ferrari complicated matters by releasing a canvas-hooded model simply called the Spider. Ergonomically it’s the most awkward car here. With the roof panel stowed in a Cavallino-branded bag behind the seats, there’s no scope for adjustment, forcing my legs into a knees-splayed posture to clear the lovely thin-rimmed Momo wheel. Pedals, as ever with mid-engined Ferraris, are offset by the wheelwell.

But there’s something about the 348 that seems completely removed from the 328 lineage. Its side radiators with their slatted gills and the angular red-on-black design language of its interior are clearly derived from the Testarossa. And yet despite its broad-shouldered stance it avoids that car’s mid-engined GT softness. There’s a potential clue to the 348’s character in the big, square face-level door mirrors: with its longitudinal V8, could it be a mass-produced take on the 288 GTO recipe?

Fire the engine and GTO comparisons strengthen. The V8 snorts with the same deep, bassy yet crisp-edged blare. As I turn out of the car park and head south down the Ridge towards Ryedale, the steering feels heavy thanks to a lack of assistance, coupled with 215/50 ZR17 front tyres. But it’s responsive and tactile through that soft Italian leather wheelrim.


1992 Ferrari 348ts road test

1992 Ferrari 348ts road test It’s still less nimble than an MR2, but the 348 brought a taste of the 288 GTO to Ferrari’s volume market.

The road starts to open up ahead, and I can’t resist – I reach a straight, clack the notchy but satisfyingly precise gearchange down a ratio, pull out, and leave the others far behind. On a road like this, a Ferrari simply can’t be pottered along at 40mph. Unlike an F40, on which this F129 V8 engine is based, the 348 is normally aspirated. While you don’t get the sudden 3000rpm-plus mid-range shunt of Cape Canaveral acceleration you find in Ferrari’s turbocharged supercars, there is a wonderfully crisp and linear power delivery, solid with torque throughout the rev range, screaming its 300bhp through the air en route to a 7200rpm peak and 170mph potential. And of course Ferrari never lopped the roof of its Group B-derived monsters. The howl of the V8, with nothing substantial between its exhaust pipes and your ears, coupled with the sheer speed at which the air soaring of the steeply-raked windscreen hits your scalp before being channelled down the cockpit’s extractor-vents lends the 348ts a naturalistic intensity even its blue-chip predecessors couldn’t manage. It all adds to a sense of ferocious rawness.

But the 348 always had a problem, supposedly. That rawness extended to its chassis, and a propensity for alarming rear-end wander. The problem, however, wasn’t solely with unforgiving suspension geometry, but yet another Japanese nemesis, this time from Takanezawa: the Honda NSX.

The Honda was just as fast, but was as reliable as a Civic, and designed to be so user-friendly as to be exploited by rank novices, and emerged at the same time Porsche’s 959-derived four-wheel drive system found its way into the new 964 to take the risk out of piloting a 911. The slightly light-feeling rear end, created by the strongly-centred weight distribution of the 348, a lack of rear downforce and the sense that the entire car is pivoting around the driver’s seat with alert immediacy when you turn the wheel, will be familiar to anyone who’s driven a Lancia Stratos or a Lamborghini Countach. But those cars were never built in any great numbers, whereas with 8844 made the 348 traded blows in a semi-volume market where user-friendliness was increasingly important if the car was to avoid garnering a reputation for being dangerous.

What the 348 is, then, is the last of a unique breed of Italian supercars. The sort collected in person from the factory by passionate enthusiasts willing to forgive departing chunks of trim and disparate service networks. In the company of things like Miuras and Berlinetta Boxers, its targa roof is almost unique, but as with those glorious dinosaurs you have to concentrate on every last millimetre of the intense, exhilarating drive or it’ll bite. There’s no button to press to find a friendlier mode or a low, lazy cushion of torque to cruise on. In a world where everything seems to have an electronic menu to navigate, the 348ts is as shocking to the system as a pint of espresso.

The world is slowly waking up to the 348’s charms, but starting at less than £50k it’s still one of the cheapest ways into a Ferrari. Provided the 6000-mile services have been adhered to the engine is very reliable, although its heat cracks the rustproofing on the rear subframe, causing it to rot. The design means this subframe can actually be unbolted and replaced or treated away from the car, but it’s an engine-out job that’s going to cost at least £1200. The galvanising breaks down around wheelarches and sills too, causing rust to bubble out around the lower body, threatening a £15,000 bill if it’s extensive. The clutches are the weak link, sometimes prone to oil seal breakdown between clutch and flywheel – a rattling sound is a sign of an impending £1200 job.

That said, while they’ll never be cheap to run, 348s aren’t expensive to live with by Ferrari standards. Compared with the newer cars with their sequential paddleshift gearboxes and electronic drive modes, they’re relatively simple mechanically and many former Ferrari apprentices have set themselves up as independent specialists who know all the simple fixes Ferrari once charged huge amounts for. Those clutches, for example, used to cost in the region of £5000 to replace. These days £5000 is basic engine-rebuild territory at an independent.

Regardless of whether running costs are gradually deflating, insulating yourself against sudden mechanical shocks carries a hefty premium when it comes to buying. Privately-sold examples in genuinely very good condition command almost a blanket £45,000 – including this one, which, coincidentally, has just arrived in the classifieds ads – whereas a dealer selling with a warranty will want at least £10,000 more.

Any mileage this side of 50,000 is considered moderate – 348s were never daily-drivers the way 456s were – and mileage exerts a strong influence on value even today. Castle Classic Cars in Sussex is looking for £65,000 for its 24,000-mile 348ts, whereas the going rate for dealer-sold cars is typified by the 40,000-mile Giallo Fly example at Mather Collectables for £56,000.

Despite spending a brief spell in £25,000 territory, the 348 is far from the cheapest Ferrari – it is massively undercut by the Mondial if you fancy a V8, and by the V12 456. However, as a car with a direct bloodline to the 288 GTO and F40, plus a reputation as the last of its kind before the F355 took a new user-friendly direction to counter the NSX, it’s a deeply compelling way to spend £45k.


1992 Ferrari 348ts road test
1992 Ferrari 348ts  Knees splayed, pedals offset – but it’s definitely worth putting up with. The exhaust note is harsh, but power delivery is crisp.


‘The 348 is the last of a unique breed of Italian supercars. In the company of others, its targa roof is almost unique’


Owning a Ferrari 348ts

‘My wife and I actually went looking for a Testarossa before we bought the 348,’ says Ian. ‘She wanted something with that side-straked Eighties styling and a 12-cylinder engine, but it only took a test drive and we were hooked on the 348. It’s a very different beast to a Testarossa, much sharper. It’s also easier to live with, more compact and better for exploring local roads.

‘I haven’t had any problems with it, although I did adjust the rear suspension geometry for more rear grip, a common ix most 348 owners will have done by now. Without that, they’re a bit twitchy but it’s a set-up rather than a design issue. The biggest issue I have is explaining to people who watched Miami Vice 30 years ago that it’s not a Testarossa!’


TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1992 Ferrari 348ts

Engine 3405cc V8, dohc per bank, Bosch Motronic 2.7 fuel injection

Max Power 300bhp @ 7000rpm / DIN nett

Max Torque 229lb ft @ 4000rpm / DIN nett

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential

Suspension Front and rear: independent, unequal-length double-wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes Servo-assisted discs front and rear, antilock braking system

Steering Rack and pinion

Weight 1493kg

Performance Top speed: 170mph; 0-60mph: 5.5sec

Fuel consumption 21mpg

Price new £79,000 (1992 UK)

Classic Cars Price Guide £35,000-£60,000 (2018 UK)


 

2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

Having left the rest of the pack behind, I pull into the village of Ryedale, lined with stone walls and bisected by little streams bubbling beneath the roads. Coaches disgorge European tourists into the nearby Folk Museum, but before getting their ill of rural rusticana they divert to the other side of the car park to get a better look at this row of striking classic sports cars.

The Rosso Corsa Ferrari crackles like a disturbed hornets’ nest, but the visitors’ attention is drawn strongest by Stuart Gadd’s lustrous blue TVR Tuscan Speed Six. Hardly any were sold outside of the British Isles, but its sheer pull is due to more than that – it really is the most striking-looking car here, attracting the kind of attention only Lamborghinis usually muster.


 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose The Tuscan was the first TVR to sport truly otherworldly styling inside and out, courtesy of Damian McTaggart.

Absolutely nothing about it is conventional. Stylist Damien McTaggart allowed his creativity to run unhindered by the focus-group approach of volume manufacturers. Headlights are vertically stacked in a nose as low as the Ferrari’s at the end of a two-piece bonnet with deep coves leading to near-horizontal radiator fans. Indicator units hang from the roll bar like a rallycrosser’s brake lights, and of course being a 2000s TVR, there’s an electric release button hidden underneath the door mirror instead of a door handle.

It’s no less anarchic within its caramel leather innards. There’s a stylishly industrial approach taken to its controls, with knurled bespoke gold-anodised aluminium and a semi-exposed pedalbox with, unexpectedly, floor-hinged Porsche-style pedals.


 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose Turn-in is so sharp it can be disarming, but the supple, well-damped TVR was developed on and for roads like these.

Problem is, not all of it works. While the straight-legged driving position seems superb, the pedals descend at an odd angle that strains your ankles. The bonnet takes ages to unfasten, half the cockpit switchgear is unlabelled and the column stalks are made of unrolled sheet metal with an edge sharp enough to lacerate your fingers if you press them at the wrong angle. Stuart laughs out loud as I spend five minutes looking for the internal door releases too – they’re in the middle of the dashboard and look like they’ve got something to do with the stereo.

All this is forgotten the moment the ignition key is turned and that Al Melling-designed four-litre TVR strikes up a symphony of savagery. I briefly touch 3000rpm as I scoot into the centre of Ryedale, and the exhausts crackle and bang on the overrun as I slow down.

Past a lazy S-bend flanked with waterfalls, the limit lifts as the road climbs out of the village towards Kirkbymoorside. The Tuscan accumulates speed in a similar manner to the 348 – urgently, without concession to lesser-reflexed mortals, yet with a normally-aspirated linear smoothness, even more so thanks to the straight-six layout beneath that two-piece bonnet. Well, it’s only revealed when you lip up the rearmost section – in the name of chassis balance it’s set far back in a front-mid configuration, and sends a pleasing amount of heatsoak into the footwells.


 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose Driving a TVR always raises a smile, but whacky instruments can be hard to read in a hurry.

The flat nervousness with which it turns into bends is also reminiscent of the Ferrari, but similarities end there. It’s very clearly a car designed for British roads, and these North York Moorland runs are very similar in their topography to those of the Lancastrian Trough of Bowland where the Tuscan’s race-derived chassis was honed for the road. You can feel it in the progressive damping that makes the Ferrari and Porsche feel jiggly by comparison, and that solid-feeling yet independently-sprung rear suspension that makes the TVR compact and fluid. And thanks to its separate-chassis construction there’s no scuttle shake either as the roof structure isn’t load-bearing.

With 400 thoroughbred racehorses to control, there’s not much scope for throttle adjustment in high-speed corners – you have to commit and hold your line or risk a swift exit in a cloud of tyre smoke – but the TVR works with you, especially with the optional Gurney lap helping to tie the rear end down in high-speed corners. There is one aspect that isn’t quite so co-operative, though. The instrument cluster looks like a pressure gauge from a steampunk airship – its backlit green-on- gold numbers are barely legible and the ancillary gauges may as well not show anything at all. The speedo needle moves in disconcertingly jerky increments, and the two-digit LCD tachometer is an incomprehensible blur under acceleration. You really have to concentrate on the road when you’re driving a TVR, but when a speed camera hoves into view the dashboard is positively panic-inducing at times.

Being built up to 2006, the Tuscan was one of the last targas. The roof improved upon the old TVR semi-targa arrangement (which combined a solid roof section braced by a canvas-clad hinged roll hoop) in that the removed roof panel sits on top of, rather than underneath, the luggage in the boot. While the Tuscan’s fixed rear window improves massively on its Griffith predecessor’s rear visibility, it also puts your head the wrong side of something that acts as a windbreak. High-speed buffeting, especially on the exposed tops of Yan Brow, is pronounced, and my ears ring for ages after a sustained blast.

However, TVRs always have and always will place excitement above perfection. The fact you can get one for £25k – and draw attention in car parks – makes a compelling ownership case too.

You’ll have to look for breached powder-coating on the chassis and associated rust, because this can be a sign of accident damage as well as ageing. Panel it is a giveaway too – prepare to reject a car you suspect of having been crashed, even if it is temptingly priced. Thankfully, parts for the bespoke TVR Speed Six engines aren’t as hard to come by as you might think, thanks to a dedicated community of specialists, but they can be troublesome. Cam lobes and followers are prone to wear, so listen out for a harsh tapping sound. Heavy coolant use indicates head gasket failure – to the point where some specialists have re-engineered the Tuscan and its relatives to take a simpler Chevrolet V8 instead.


 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose A long blast in a Tuscan will make your ears ring – there’s a lot of buffeting.

Rebuilding the Speed Six runs to £5500. However, with interest in TVR increasing and prices of these wild 2000s cars potentially rising to match, originality will be crucial to value in future.

‘If you’re looking for a private-sale bargain, buy with caution. Something that’s well used and regularly serviced makes sense’

Perhaps the trickiest issue facing the potential buyer is figuring out which version you want. The Rover V8 was axed in favour of bespoke power units for this replacement for the Griffith, and the states of tune available were bewildering. From 1999 it only came with four-litre, 360bhp engines with the optional in-house Red Rose tuning knocking this up to 380. The range was refreshed two years later with the Red Rose tuning normalised with the 390, then the 400bhp R variant and a new entry-level 350bhp 3.6.

‘The TVR is compact and fluid. Thanks to its separate chassis there’s no scuttle shake, as the roof section isn’t load-bearing’


 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

Bespoke engines were a brave step for TVR, but shouldn’t put you of. 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose Go on, guess which one of those buttons opens the driver’s door…

In 2004, with TVR under Nikolai Smolensky’s ownership, the basic Tuscan, now a 4.3, was softened, with electric power steering and Red Rose tuning down at 380bhp, intended as an entry to a range of extreme road-racers which never quite happened. This, coupled with the choice of aftermarket rebuilt engines claiming better reliability, makes buying a TVR Tuscan a confusing task. Original-specification early four-litres command £28,000-£30,000. Schmoo Automotive in Leicester has a range of warranted examples to choose from at this level, whereas newer 4.3-litre Tuscan 2s like the striking Cascade Chrome example at Hertfordshire’s Bespoke Performance will go for up to £44,000. If you’re looking for a private-sale bargain buy with caution.

Everything we found for less than £20,000 came with descriptions admitting to things like ‘light glassfibre damage’ (translation: ‘someone crashed it’) or long periods spent of the road despite temptingly low mileage. Something well used, regularly serviced and lovingly enjoyed will make far better sense.


Owning a Tuscan Speed Six

‘All my cars get driven hard on track, including this one,’ says Stuart Gadd of his Tuscan. ‘It had got a bit tired, so it’s been fully renovated with a complete respray in its original colour – TVR actually used BMW Estoril Blue. It’s had a full retrim, period-optional Jade R alloy wheels and a Nitron three-way adjustable damper upgrade. It’s also got the optional Gurney lap and race-derived front splitter to increase high-speed downforce.

‘The engine’s been fine – they’re actually simple compared with modern electronically-controlled performance engines. The cabin electronics have been OK so far but if they do go wrong they can lead to big bills – replacements simply aren’t available so they have to be repaired by a skilled electrician.’


TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

Engine 3996cc in-line six-cylinder, dohc, MBE Systems sequential multi-point fuel injection

Max Power 400bhp @ 7000rpm / DIN nett

Max Torque 315lb ft @ 5000rpm / DIN nett

Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Suspension Front and rear: independent, double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes Discs front and rear

Steering Power-assisted rack and pinion

Weight 1090kg

Performance Top speed: 180mph; 0-60mph: 3.9sec

Fuel consumption 20mpg

Price new £48,800 (2001 UK)

Classic Cars Price Guide £20,000-£27,500 (2018 UK)


 

Conclusion The Big Test Targas on tour

It may not be immediately obvious, but now really is the time to buy a classic targa. The practical benefits are obvious. Highlighted by the changeable British weather, especially during the first half of this year, the ability to convert your sports car from raw roadster to snug coupé in a quick visit to a layby, with a solid roof and fixed clear glass rather than a lapping hood, fiddly press-studs, complicated framework and milky Perspex screen genuinely broadens its appeal and usability.

But there’s more. As we can see in the new-car market, the targa is a design feature that’s fast disappearing in favour of automation. Even the new Porsche 911 Targa 991/2 is just another electric folding-hardtop car nowadays. Only the concertedly lightweight Lotus Elise and Exige and Alfa Romeo 4C Spider keep the faith, and even then they’re Triumph-style Surreys unless you buy an accessory hardtop from an options list.

This means that, like pop-up headlights and vinyl roof coverings, Surrey Tops, Targas and T-bars are going to help to date a car’s design, lending it greater classic appeal. For decades they’ve been the poor relations, with a foot in both coupé and roadster camps. But with the aircooled Porsche 911 Targa’s astonishing reversal in fortunes, the tide is turning.


1966 Triumph TR4A vs. 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series, 1987 Toyota MR2 MkI, 1992 Ferrari 348ts, 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose

1966 Triumph TR4A vs. 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series, 1987 Toyota MR2 MkI, 1992 Ferrari 348ts, 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose The 348 should look worried – the MR2 was considered capable of out-handling its predecessor on track.

A Targa is no longer merely a cheap way to own a 911. It’s happening with the other cars in our quintet too. We can see how rarity and rallying usefulness already puts a price premium on Triumph TR4A Surrey Tops. Leak-led rusty attrition means an MR2 T-bar is a rare thing and a restored one has the potential to outstrip coupé prices. Despite the desirability of the GTS Ferrari stretching back to the days of the Dino 246, it became a memory in 2000 with the advent of the soft-top-only 360 Spider and was well and truly conined to history with the folding-hardtop 458, making the 348 and F355 the last of their breed – and that’s always a selling point for classic Ferraris. It doesn’t look like the new TVR Griffith, revealed at the 2017 Goodwood Revival, will feature an optional lift-of roof panel either.

Choose your targa well, and you’ll beat the market.


‘Like pop-up headlights and vinyl roof coverings, targa tops help date a car’s design, lending it greater classic appeal’

1966 Triumph TR4A vs. 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series, 1987 Toyota MR2 MkI, 1992 Ferrari 348ts, 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose
1966 Triumph TR4A vs. 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 Targa Supersport G-Series, 1987 Toyota MR2 MkI, 1992 Ferrari 348ts, 2001 TVR Tuscan Speed Six Red Rose / Five takes on a design theme lost to time – which would you pick?


How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 1

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

RECOMMEND BLOGS