Across the world by 1997 TVR Chimaera

Across the world by TVR Chimaera 2018 Ben BNC-TVR Coombs and Drive-My EN

Epic 27,000-mile pub crawl in a TVR Chimaera. What car would you choose for a 27,000-mile jaunt from the world’s most northerly pub to its most southerly? A TVR Chimaera, of course! Surely the definition of an epic drive. Words and photography Ben Coombs.


From Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego by TVR

The roof-down, sundappled cruise to the pub. It’s a cliché, but how far can you push that cliché? What if, in a moment of beer-fuelled optimism, you decide to drive to the bars at the opposite ends of the world?

Driving A TVR Chimaera Through Salt And Dirt In Pursuit Of A Cold Beer At The End Of The Earth
Driving a 1997 TVR Chimaera through Salt and Dirt in Pursuit of a Cold Beer at The End Of The Earth

Well, that’s exactly what I undertook: a 27,000-mile jaunt from the northernmost bar on the planet to the southernmost. Of course, this didn’t come about overnight. Nor am I some foolhardy Victorian-style explorer who launches himself suicidally into the unknown. So far I’ve covered about 90,000 miles in 80 different countries, and always in a vehicle that most would deem inappropriate… that’s half the fun!


I’ve driven from England to Mongolia in a 1991 Mini, crossed Africa in a Porsche 944 (which resulted in a book, Survival of the Quickest), done England to Singapore in a Corvette and Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, and explored Morocco in a Rover P6. It was while sitting on a barstool five years ago after getting home from one of my adventures – V8Nam: get a V8, drive to Vietnam, simple – that I had the idea for this trip.

Perhaps surprisingly, the red tape was way simpler than for my trips across Asia and Africa. Travelling on a UK passport, no visas were needed, and most countries operated a rather straightforward ‘Temporary Import Permit’ (TIP) system for the car. Insurance can also be bought at borders rather cheaply. The costs were less easy to rationalise, however. Even by camping, staying in hostels and eating cheaply, the seven-month trip would cost £24,000. It could be part-funded through sponsorship (thanks, Dartmoor brewery and ClassicLine insurance), plus a book and income from Pub2Pub Adventures, a business organising adventurous road trips for others. Maybe.

If the finances weren’t scary enough, then there was my chosen steed for the drive: my trusty, totally standard TVR Chimaera. Because… well, why not?

On paper, it all added up to the ideal trip for a mechanic, but sadly I’m not one. I do have some basic competence, thanks to years of tinkering with cars and doing these trips, but this is an area where I definitely view myself as ‘could do better’.

The starting point was a bar at Pyramiden – an abandoned Soviet mining settlement on the island of Spitsbergen in the Norwegian archepelago of Svalbard, only 700 miles from the North Pole. Just getting there required a 3000-mile drive from England to Tromso, Norway, before a flight into the High Arctic.

It was not as daunting as it sounds. The drive was on good tarmac, and had to be completed in a set time to catch the flight, so I just did it. When there are 27,000 unknown miles ahead, a relatively unchallenging 3000 to kick it off is nothing to fret about. In fact, it was a nice shakedown for the TVR.

After Pyramiden, all roads led south. Literally. For day after day, I cruised down through Norway; mountains and fjords competing for attention. I re-crossed the Arctic Circle and rolled on through breathtaking mountains into Sweden, where the landscape’s oscillations reduced as Scandinavia’s southern reaches beckoned. Northern Europe then passed beneath the unexpectedly reliable wheels, punctuated with visits to various points of interest along the way. Points such as Ferropolis, Germany, with its retired behemoths of the open-cast mining world, and Chantilly, France, where I met Porsche legend Philippe Delaporte and his globetrotting 928.


Then, at Southampton, after 6250 miles, the expedition went transatlantic and the TVR was shipped to the New World. We met again 3500 miles away in the port of New Jersey. Getting the car to the US wasn’t the easiest of jobs.

Also, because I shipped the car ‘Roll on- Roll off’ rather than in a container, I wasn’t able to leave anything in it for the Atlantic crossing. That meant the tools and spares brought from England were limited to what I could carry on the ’plane across the Atlantic in hold luggage. Oh well, only 20,000 miles to go…

And so began the Chimaera’s extended vacation on the American landmass. Rolling out of the port in perhaps the only Wheelerera TVR in the USA, roof-down as the Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty flashed past, was a pretty serious life tick. Under a continuous barrage of thumbs-up from appreciative locals, I put the New York skyline in the rear-view mirror and set off east, first to Washington, then on to West Virginia’s Skyline Drive and the Appalachian Mountains, where some of North America’s most glorious driving roads lie smothered beneath a 35mph speed limit.

Such restrictions are doubly frustrating when you need to push on to catch a total solar eclipse in Tennessee. But I made it, before striking out along I-40. This two-lane blacktop rumbled to the V8 tune as I headed across the Dust Bowl plains of Arkansas and Oklahoma to Amarillo, Texas, where I dropped in on a grassroots Sunday-morning drag-race and ran the quarter-mile, logging the slowest time of the day in the process.

Soon the landscape got its game on, morphing into the American West we all know from a thousand movies. And I wasn’t afraid to entertain a few clichés. Like going roof-down in Monument Valley, bouncing the exhaust note off the walls of Zion Canyon, cruising nonchalantly down the Las Vegas strip or popping up to Rachel, Nevada, tucked away next to Area 51.

Then Death Valley beckoned. That’s Death Valley in mid-summer. All 50ºC of it, and the toughest test yet for the TVR. Blackpool’s finest took the arid, salty landscape in its stride, with no overheating and little complaint when faced with corrugated desert tracks. In California I diced with Porsche 911s on the Pacific Coast Highway, camped among the Joshua Trees of the Mojave Desert, and rolled through Beverly Hills, but all the while I felt the jungles of Central America calling.

Aross the border into Mexico, the world changed. The traffic became frenzied, kicking up dust between the battered buildings. Police pick-up trucks proliferated, machine guns mounted on their rollcages, while army vehicles pushed through the melée. I felt rather conspicuous in a shouty green British sports car – only a few people on this continent knew what it was, some from Gran Turismo, others through watching old Top Gear episodes. For them, a TVR was a mythical, angry beast from across the seas.

South across vast grassy plains and through mountain ranges to the Pacific beaches around Mazatlán, then on to the Mayan ruins that erupt from the jungle. Road conditions deteriorated, with mountainous speedbumps the ‘terrain’ that gave the TVR the most trouble on this trip despite at least 400 miles of unsealed gravel roads. Police checkpoints were regular, and all – predictably – showed interest in the TVR.

Having arrived at El Salvador to discover that right-hand-drive cars are illegal, I had to transit the country within 24 hours on a special permit by claiming to be a delivery driver taking the car to Honduras. I paused in Managua to change the TVR’s tired clutch – the only major job it required on the entire adventure. The frenzied traffic of the Nicaraguan capital was also where my only collision took place, when a taxi hit the rear three-quarter, scratching the glassfibre.

Costa Rica was even more averse to right-hand- drive vehicles than El Salvador and I had to arrange for a truck to carry the car across the country to Panama. But because the driver didn’t have the correct paperwork to complete the international transit and Nicaragua refused me re-entry, for eight days I was stuck between the borders, before finding another lorry going the right way. I loaded the car, completed the paperwork, and rolled away into the Costa Rica night. Except that Costa Rica’s customs complained to Panama about the TVR’s (completely legal) passage and they refused permission to unload the TVR. Oh well.

More hours of impasse followed, but the expedition had made some friends in high places. It’s amazing how helpful a border official can be when the Office of the Vice President calls up and ‘suggests’ they let the little English car in! I was back on the road for the first time in 11 days and, after a few days enjoying the scenery, it was time to drop off the TVR for its next sea passage past the impenetrable Darien Gap, to Colombia.

With Central America behind me, the first foray into South America offered pleasure and pain in equal measure. Pain from the day-and-a-half it took to get the car released from Cartagena; pleasure from the wonderful people, landscapes, towns and vibrant classic car culture. For Christmas at an Englishowned hostel, we upheld the tradition of Boxing Day Races by pitting the TVR against the hostel’s horse across a muddy field.

On the flip-side were the tortuous mountain roads on which a 20mph average was to be cherished, and a political landscape that, despite current stability, left you fearing that anything could happen.

Ecuador was next and threw up surprise after surprise. Moments such as dropping out of the twisting chaos of Quito, to be greeted by the 5900m-high pyramid of the Cotopaxi volcano, shimmering in the dusk. Or rocketing through the plunging canyons in the south of the country. Or even meeting up with the local Japanese Car Club, and its fleet of pristine Datsun pick-ups in Cuenca.

In Peru, more than 40 hours of driving lay between the border town of Huaquillas and the Bolivian frontier. And the first 20 presented a parched landscape, as smooth tarmac sliced through the sand while rubbish eddied in my slipstream. The second workshop visit of the trip took place in Lima, where rough running was traced to faulty resistors in the high-tension circuit. The car was soon ready for the final run down to that southernmost pub.

From Lima to Nazca, the odyssey took on a different dimension: a vertical one. A series of stacked hairpins and sweeping turns took me up onto the Altiplano, more than 4km above sea level, cruising past snowcapped peaks, lonely lakes and herds of llamas. It was rainy season up there, and I rolled on through the downpours towards Lake Titicaca, skirting around it on the way to the Bolivian border. Except I ran into road blocks in eastern Peru, where villagers were protesting about the arrest of their political leader by closing the main road.

Bolivia offered the opportunity to drive the fabled ‘Death Road’ to the north of La Paz. This unlikely 64km passage drops in altitude from 4700m to 1300m, and for most of its distance consists of a narrow gravel track clinging to the edge of a cliff. Bolivia is also home to the largest salt flat on the planet – the endless expanse of the Salar de Uyuni.

Because it was flooded with an inch of water when I arrived, it had become the largest mirror in the world. The sensation of driving through the sky is a most surreal experience. From Uyuni, 120 miles of gravel tracks led to Chile and the driest landscape on Earth: the Atacama Desert. For 1000 miles, I passed through a world that was baked dry of life, before green reappeared in Patagonia. For day after day I cruised its vastness on Ruta 40, often more than 100 miles between settlements, with one everpresent thought: ‘Please don’t break down here.’

From then on, every glance at the roadmap suggested I was closing in on my goal, as the continent narrowed and the churning seas of Cape Horn came ever closer. I had to take to those seas in order to reach the bar on the island of Puerto Williams, near the tip of Tierra del Fuego. The end of the world.

And there was time to reflect as we sailed for a day-and-a-half. My journey had taken in everything from high Arctic tundra to dense rainforest; barren desert to smog-choked city. Altitudes ranged from -86m in Death Valley to 4700m in the Bolivian Altoplano, temperature from sub-zero in the High Arctic to over 50°C in Death Valley. Conditions included cyclone season in Central America, the driest desert on earth and the occasional snowstorm. Petrol ranged from European ’1998 to filthy, low-octane Bolivian stuff, which needed a bottle of octane booster chucked in. My companions were similarly varied, as people joined me at various intervals. In Europe, I travelled in convoy with friends in a Nissan Micra, while others flew out and bought a tasteless 2006 Hemi Dodge Charger, in a virulent shade of Trump orange, to convoy from New York to Costa Rica.

While a second vehicle was present for much of the trip except South America, I wouldn’t describe them as ‘support vehicles’ because no ‘support’ was ever offered to the Chimaera, and generally the second car faired worse, especially the unreliable Dodge.

The only constant, therefore, was the beer. And I can tell you it never tasted better than that pint at the bottom of the world.


FOR MORE on the Pub2Pub Expedition and other trips, visit /  IMAGES ÁLVARO ANDRÉS PINZÓN, ANDRESPINZOOM.COM

Clockwise from Left Crossing the Arctic Circle; exploring a dried-up lake near Area 51 in Nevada, USA; Germany’s mining past at Ferropolis, near Berlin; Arctic Norway under the midnight sun. Below Leaving the tarmac in the Valley of the Gods, Utah, USA; beneath the Golden Gate Bridge; dropping into the world’s longest-running cars and coffee meet in Phoenix, Arizona.

Clockwise from below Changing the clutch in Managua, Nicaragua – the only major work the TVR required during its 27,000-mile trip; a pause in Panama City; rounding a corner to come face-to-face with the 5897m Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador. Above and right Passing a train in rural Ecuador; beware the sheep of southern Bolivia when en-route for the Chilean border; on the edge, descending Bolivia’s infamous Death Road. Clockwise from far left Out on the Salar de Uyuni – Bolivia’s famous salt flats; author Ben and the TVR on Bolivia’s Death Road – and its ominous welcome; letting the ferry take the strain; essential roadside maintenance; derelict steam locomotives in the desert near Uyuni.


Read 224 times Last modified on Tuesday, 03 July 2018 16:49

People in this conversation

Comments (14)

  1. Ben Coombs

So, we’re planning a journey from the northernmost pub on the planet, to the southernmost. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Here’s what’s involved:

World map

Firstly, we’ve had to figure out exactly where the planet’s northernmost and southernmost bars are located. According to our research, the northernmost bar, and hence journey’s start, is the hotel bar of an obscure former mining settlement called Pyramiden, on the remote island of Svalbard, deep in the Arctic about 400 miles north of Tromso, Norway. Founded in 1910, Pyramiden was once a bustling mining settlement of around 1,000 residents, and boasted, among other things, the world’s most northerly swimming pool, grand piano…and bar. The settlement ceased to be viable after the fall of the Soviet Union resulted in an end to the subsidies required to maintain this Soviet outpost on the edge of Europe, and the town was abandoned in 1998. Since then, it has survived as a ghost town, frozen in time amid the permafrosts and polar bears. However, for a few months each summer, the settlement’s hotel is opened to accommodate passing adventurers, scientists and tour groups, and provide them a place to sleep amid the ruins; and a place to get a drink in the evening – the hotel bar.

So there’s the starting point. The ghost town of Pyramiden, located 78 degrees north – or to put it another way, 120 miles further north than Top Gear reached on their rather awesome ‘North Pole’ expedition. But what of the finishing point? This is in the barren wilderness of Tierra del fuego, at the southernmost tip of the South American continent, where the southernmost ‘licensed premises’ on the planet lies.

But how to get between these two arbitrary points on the world’s surface?

Well, that’s where the fun starts! The first leg of the journey will be from Pyramiden to Longyearbyen, capital of the Svalbard Archipelago. There are no roads linking the two locations, but fortunately the terrain means there are a few exciting options for the leg one’s more of transport – sea kayak or snowmobile being two of the more likely options.

From Longyearbyen, the expedition encounters its next obstacle – the small matter of a 400 mile trip across the Arctic Ocean to mainland Norway. This will be the first of several ocean crossings, and dictates the starting date of the journey, as sea ice blocks access to and from the islands for a large portion of the year.

Once the expedition reaches mainland Europe, normal service is resumed – road trip mode is engaged. Over the course of a few weeks we’ll travel down Norway’s stunning Arctic highway and across Northern Europe, eventually finding ourselves back in the UK, all set to ship the expedition’s TVR across the Atlantic, before we follow it across the pond

After waving at the Statue of Liberty as we arrive in New York, Pub2Pub returns to its road trip roots, driving across the States and down to Mexico. Central America promises to be a fascinating place to experience, a heady trip down the pan-American highway, with its mix of beaches, volcanoes, rainforests and ruins which only ends in Panama, at the impenetrable Darien Gap.

Said 150 mile section of rainforest acts as a natural barrier separating Central and South America, and necessitates another aquatic excursion, shipping both car and crew across the water to Colombia, from where our road heads south. Equador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina will all pass beneath our wheels as we push on, taking in such incredible landscapes as the Atacama Desert, Machu Pichu, the Bolivian Salt Flats and Patagonian Grasslands in the process. And so the expedition arrives at the most southerly city on Earth – Ushuaia.

And from there, Pub2Pub will begin its final leg, taking to the water for one last time as it crosses the Strait of Magellan, to Tierra Del Fuego, where nestling not far from the storm-strafed waters of Cape Horn, the last licensed premises on the planet awaits.

So there you have it – the Pub2Pub expedition. 30,000 miles, 22 countries, 3 continents, several ocean crossings and more awesomeness than you can shake a stick at.

  1. Vitro Nilssen Clark    Ben Coombs

My sticker made it into a photo on a petrolicious article. My life is now complete.

Great to spend Christmas with you guys, Cheers!

  1. Paul Walton    Ben Coombs

Epic tour! I am waiting your next 360 deg trawel!

  1. Paul PB Bussey    Ben Coombs

Epic road drive, rare car and rare people. How I can invest in yours next road-trip?

  1. Gitter Max

I had my share…and still have, of road trips in South America, the longest was Buenos Aires to Lima, back in 1986. Now, for the last 15 years, regular trips between Buenos Aires and Rio de janeiro, Sao Paulo, Curitiba, and Florianopolis. A 32.000 km. endeavour is admirable, and even more in a car in age of respect, and not intended for the long run as…a diesel W123. I’d enjoy so much such a trip,or at least part of it…if i could, if I had time…hope he finishes the trip with no incidents, and collect a lot of memories to… Read more »

  1. Vitro Nilssen Clark

I would love to do even a small part of Ben’s journey! I’m interested in his chariot of choice though. Is the TVR noted for it’s reliability or is it just the car Ben happened to own at the time? Is that the Buick/Rover V-8 under the hood? Good luck Ben, and as a Jazz D.J. once said, “Here’s wishing you blue skies and green lights.”

  1. Alvaro ZON Pinzón

This TVR Chimaera Is Driving Across The Globe And I Hopped In The Passenger Seat

It was early in the morning the day after Christmas when I headed to El Dorado airport. I was to fly to Armenia, the city in Colombia, not the country on a different continent. After arriving, I spent an hour or so between hailing and riding along in a taxi to my hostel on an unpaved road to meet with Ben Coombs, who daily drives a rarity in this part of the world: a 1997 TVR Chimaera.

It’s got British plates, it’s right-hand drive, and it’s affectionally called Kermit so it’s not the typical South American commuter car, but with a V8 and roughly 240hp produced in its lightweight package, the tight mountain roads in the Andes are a great place for this car. And this car’s been to a lot of places.

I say that because about six months earlier, Ben announced and soon commenced a pretty serious road trip. He would take his convertible sports car from a starting point 100km south of the north pole, drive down through continental Europe, to the UK where it the car would be shipped to New York before being driven across the States to California, then of course through Mexico and Central America to Cartagena, Colombia and finishing with a trip down the Pan-American highway to Patagonia. 32,000km across a total of 21 countries by the time he’s finished.

I joined him about two weeks ago, and even after crossing half of Colombia, then through Ecuador and into Peru, I am still unsure why I’m here. Sometimes people offer you a ride in their TVR on their way across the world and you just jump in for a little while. Apparently.

I’m not sure how much longer I can afford to continue along this route, but I have already amassed plenty of memories since I first joined Ben in Armenia, where for two days we shared in the experience of other overlanders like him who’d spent months or years traveling around the world in more purpose-built machinery.

From there we went down to the city of Buga, where we met with my friend Felipe who is in the process of restoring a couple of interesting cars like a Renault 5 and a BMW 2002 Touring among them, then continuing on our the way down we stopped in the city of Cali where we meet with my friends Cesar and Juan. They invited us to visit some garages and local car collections which we stuck around for a few of before a nonstop leg to Pasto, then across the border into Ecuador, then a few stops along the way that included the active volcano Cotopaxi. We also made a pit stop in Cuenca, where we met up with a Japanese classic car club. Eventually we made it to Peru, and in Lima we arrived in time for the start of the Dakar Rally.

The TVR was recently dropped to be inspected by a Land Rover garage, but hopefully it will come out in fine shape and its journey will continue along the final chapter of that ambitious route.

  1. Gitter Max    Alvaro ZON Pinzón

Thanks! Very cool side-story of main article...

  1. Tony Saggu

Well it was a 'breakdown' because the clutch was like forced to be replaced because of the hard use in this particular long journey which pushed not just the clutch but all the car parts to wear more in all sort of tuff conditions, (for more info.. watch old top gear trip to Argentina..) but let's say if same car was used for a shorter trip or just sitting inside a garage, i really don't think it would need the clutch replacement at all.

  1. Chris Mr Hrabalek

Yes, someone in the comment section has made a mistake and it is you Bogumil.

The article says " to Puerto Williams in Tierra del Fuego, Chile." It does not say Tierra del Fuego island, because Tierra del Fuego isn't an island, but a region. There is an island in Tierra del Fuego called Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. There is also an island called Isla Navarino. That is because Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago, a group of islands.

Puerto Williams is a town south of Ushuaia in Chile (not Argentina) on Isla Navarino. A quick google search for Puerto Williams will show all of this to you. And there is a pub in Puerto Williams, the Arbol. It even has a Facebook page.

  1. Chris BAVARIA Nicholls

Well tank you to clarify all that, I never been there myself, but looking at the map, then reading back the article and searching again with the Google maps I did magnify as much as my PC graphic card could zoom and there when those cities/villages appear not so big on that particular area on the map, is quite easy to get confused with so many islands.. so, tanks again man.. I do hope someday i will go there in a short vacation myself looking mostly for the wild landscapes pics and the museum in that region I hear that are simply to epic to be missed, once in a life time experience..

  Comment was last edited about 7 months ago by Chris BAVARIA Nicholls Chris BAVARIA Nicholls
  1. Stephen Bayley

Actually, it's closer to

Chile than Argentina
, so by their rules that means it belongs to Chile.

  1. Susanne GLAMM Roeder    Stephen Bayley

Tierra del Fuego is a massive island divided between Chile and Argentina but if you look with Google maps you will not find any civilians village or routes on Chile side bellow lake Galpone.. which is just a lake and has nothing around just mud.. so, on the other side...

Ushuaia town port is the Port Williams CL mentioned in the article & also acording to Google maps.. and that is located in Argentina, and that is where that man probably went to a pub most likely in his TVR Chimaera.. to the end of the world..

  1. Zend Guard

Mad dogs and Englishmen – and Africans

I’ve never written to a magazine before, but ‘Never say Aikona’, as they say in Mashonaland East.

Reading Robert Coucher’s guest editorial and his column in Drive-My reminded me of a couple of things, so forgive me for the rambling but I hope it might strike a chord with a fellow Southern African.

First, congratulations – to create something like Drive-My that never existed before and have it still alive 15 years later is no mean feat. Everybody talks a good book about what they might do, but few go on to actually do something about it.

Magazines carry no end of articles about trillion-dollar shiny machines that, however glamorous, are way beyond the grasp of the everyday man. So your recent features on a £4k Roller driving to the Northern Lights, the loon who restored a basketcase 1930s BSA with hessian sacks, and the bloke who circled the globe in a TVR [all pictured above], bring these fabulous human stories to life.

I am biased, of course, for keeping any car alive north of the Limpopo, back in the day, required huge ingenuity, bloodymindedness and sheer blind faith – plus coathangers, sticky tape, chickenwire and your girlfriend’s tights.

But Coucher’s column about the Renault 4 he owned in Africa… jislaaik, he catalysed some memories. My first prang aged 13 was in an R4 ‘borrowed’ from an unknowing mother, which I ploughed into the back of a truck outside Meikles Hotel. Imagine my embarrassment as they all came away from their teas on the verandah to offer assistance.

I rolled a Peugeot 404 outside Marandellas a little later and it all went downhill after that. The next R4 met its demise in Chiswick but a few years on, after much lager and curry-wurst in the car park at Essen, I bought an incredibly delightful one-owner 4TL with 25,000 klicks on the clock. They may be basic but they never fail to put a smile on your face, and the only taxis in Salisbury in the 1970s were Rixi Taxis’ R4s.

The R5 was a rite of passage for any young man. On one trip back to Harare the accelerator cable snapped; two attached coathangers, one end baupered to the carb, the other end punched through a hole in the bulkhead and fashioned into a handle, and voilà… a hand-throttle! Then there was the fun of learning to co-ordinate the timing of your left foot and your left hand, all the way to Harare.

As for the Renault 8 – my little brother is driving a pimped-up version at 3am, decides he’s Jody Scheckter and tries to navigate the little bridge at Shalford on three wheels. He nearly makes it but not quite, instead clipping the bridge and rolling the little Renault with a good degree of theatre, and his mate in the passenger seat (a guy called Rupert with a huge Afro – remember, it was the ’70s) goes straight through the windscreen. Little brother, lying semi-conscious in the wreckage, assumes Rupert has had his chips, but no. Suddenly, in an ethereal scene, Rupert rises from the tarmac and he has a huge glistening halo – but as it turns out, he’s standing under a streetlight and there are a million bits of glass from the windscreen stuck in his Afro.

There are no comments posted here yet