Perfect convertible for you Mazda MX-5 vs. MGF, BMW Z4 3.0i SE E85 vs. Porsche Boxster S 986, Honda S2000 vs. Vauxhall VX220T and TVR Tuscan Speed Six vs. Morgan Aero 8 2016 / 2017

Droptops For Drivers. Eight future risers from £1k-£40k to savour now. Fancy the wind in your hair, and want to make it a Modern Classic? Roofless people. It’s summer, so it’s time to go topless. These choices between £1k and £40k won’t interfere with your need enjoy the drive. Real drivers love it topless – we show you the most exciting £1k-£40k options. From £1000 to £40k, you’ll find the perfect convertible for you. Words: Ross Alkureishi. Photography: Charlie McGee.


T.A.D. It’s the unwritten rule of ragtop ownership: Top Always Down. We certainly subscribe to that school of thought, so we recommend that these eight convertibles, available for a variety of budgets, should only rarely be seen with their tops up. Should the British climate inflict its worst and you do have to raise the hood, at least they’ll keep you dry – unlike their classic forebears.

Perfect convertible for you Mazda MX-5 vs. MGF, BMW Z4 3.0i SE E85 vs. Porsche Boxster S 986, Honda S2000 vs. Vauxhall VX220T and TVR Tuscan Speed Six vs. Morgan Aero 8

Mazda MX-5 vs. MGF, BMW Z4 3.0i SE E85 vs. Porsche Boxster S 986, Honda S2000 vs. Vauxhall VX220T and TVR Tuscan Speed Six vs. Morgan Aero 8

If necessary, they’ll do the day-to-day deeds and yet, with a quick wash, you’ll still be able to turn up at a Goodwood Breakfast Club meet in something snazzy. Variety makes life a bit spicy, so, for that reason, our collection is eclectic. There are four-pots, six-cylinders and a thunderous V8, as well as delicate sports cars, roadsters and go-karts for the road. Each has visited the bottom of its depreciation curve and is on the cusp.

The very best – treasured by protective owners – will always attract a premium, but high production volumes for most means there are also plenty of good driveable examples out there. No matter which level of car you go for, buy it, drive it and cherish it, all in the knowledge that its value will gently appreciate.




For many, this pair is your entry point into open-tops. They’re so much more than that.

We’re in a golden age for value roadsters. Take a look at the classified ads and you’ll be bombarded with all manner of choices for less than £3000. The go-to cars at this price point have to be the Mazda MX-5 and MGF, yet you’d struggle to think of two more technically diverse rivals.

Looking at the Mazda MX-5 with fresh eyes, it’s hard not to conclude that Japan built the perfect British sports car. If you crack it open, you’d probably find a Lotus Elan. This isn’t an illusion, as it’s a proper old-school sports car. Save for power steering, there’s little in the way of driver aids, and its chassis is beautifully balanced, responding sweetly to the most delicate of driver inputs.

Mazda MX-5 vs. MGF road test

Mazda MX-5 vs. MGF road test

The MGF is as easy to underestimate as the Mazda MX-5. Despite being a great stab at a latter-day MGB, many will look elsewhere for their top-down thrills. Which is a shame, as its maker had finely distilled the ingredients of a charming British soft-top: just enough perk to keep you smiling, coupled with a decidedly comfy driving experience. In terms of performance, the Mazda, with 114bhp, is undernourished in this group. It runs out of puff long before test track tarmac, but the twin-cam-engine is a lovely spinner and does its work with a fruity exhaust note. Its lightness means sharp brakes stop it on the spot and you’ll never tire of working it hard. It has a notchy short-shift gear action akin to a microswitch computer joystick, as well as a tactile superiority to everything else on offer today.

The MGF enjoys a slightly gruntier engine than the MX-5. It’ll propel you from 0-60mph at 0.6 seconds faster; hunt out a VVC with 143bhp and that time drops to “to just” seven seconds. Power delivery is peaky – mildly hyperactive, compared with the S2000’s fizzing neuroticism – but it’s delivered with surefooted, mid-engined balance.

Yes, you did hear correctly: it’s mid-mounted, á là Muira, Esprit and other supercars, in a blimmin’ MG, ye gads. And With Hydragas suspension! This post-BL bitsa shouldn’t work, yet it does. OK, the power steering is numb, but lateral grip is hugely impressive and ride quality is notable, thanks to its unique front-rear interconnected nature.

The handling is benign, accurate, and once you’ve dialled-in to its rather numb steering, it’s a very effective way of demolishing B-roads very quickly indeed. Its compliant suspension and supple damping make an MGF unusually friendly, too – although it can bite back in the wet.

Attacking twisty B-roads in an MX-5 is a very different experience to the MGF. You load up on what makes driving an open-top sports car such a joy. Tuck it tight into a corner and it’s easy to elicit a cheeky rear end slide, but it’s always controllable with an opposite lock-throttle combo. You can drive this car hard but safely, and the overriding feeling it provides is one of unburstable mechanical proficiency.

That was what attracted owner Steve Newin to his. ‘I wanted a sports car that was affordable. I looked at Midgets and so on, but I went for this because of the reliability,’ he says. ‘I saw it advertised for sale in Devon, one owner from new and 26,000 miles, but I couldn’t get down to see it. On my dad’s advice, I sent an AA man. His report said “if you want one, it’s the best you’re ever going to find”, and that was it. Since I’ve had it, it’s needed nothing.’

MGF owner Tim Morris had several MG models prior to buying his F new in 2000. ‘Once the children left, it was time to go back to a roadster and the MGF was the logical choice,’ he explains. ‘It’s had two head gasket failures in 120,000 miles and a bit of recent TLC – Hydragas displacers renewed with new old stock, and bit of rust repaired – but I still use it on a regular basis. It’s been to Monaco and Sweden, but the best was the “natter that matters” in the Alps taking in the Stelvio Pass and Lake Como.’

Buying an MX-5 is a no-brainer. Avoid poorly looked after £300-£500 cars in the small ads as they’ll sock you for considerably more in the long run. Specialists such as Bedfordshire-based MX-5 Works sell fully refurbished cars, with no faults, for £3000-£3500 – small money, given the level of driving pleasure on offer. It’s the classic roadster with a modern twist, and it’s simply delightful.

The MGF’s undemanding nature, tidy dynamics and decent luggage space demonstrate just why they’re such a popular modern classic. And the best of all is that you can currently pick up the finest examples of both MGF or the later steel-sprung MG TF from a phenomenally low £2000. Both are great to drive, and set to go only one way value wise, so it really is a great time to buy a bargain drop-top.

The MGF is an unusual sports car for having a supple ride and forgiving damping. It’s a surprisingly rapid and effective B-road blaster.

MX-5 leads MGF – on smooth roads, at least. The former feels alive, the latter more aloof. Both are great steers in spite of being so different in their appeal.

MARKET ANALYSIS MGF Sheer weight of numbers and a reputation tainted by head gasket issues means you can pick up low-mileage MGFs for less than £2000.

Buying sooner rather than later is a good idea as this situation cannot last. Expected price in 2020: £2000.

MARKET ANALYSIS MAZDA MX-5 There’s a growing demand for G or H-plate 1.6s, which can make £5000+ in top condition, but really nice later MkIs with less than 80k on the clock are still below £3000 – cheaper if you’re not hung up on mileage. If looked after, the running gear will easily top 200,000 miles. Expected price in 2020: £3500.


‘Rear sills rot from the inside out,’ says Matt Sulston of specialist MX-5 Works ( A proper repair will cost £360 per side.

Check underseal, because it will chip and flake of. ‘There’s an old wives’ tale that the Eunos Roadster wasn’t treated, but that’s untrue,’ says Matt. ‘Cleaning the suspension arms, repainting them and applying fresh underseal are key to keeping a car rust-free.’

On the 1.8, if the coolant hasn’t been changed regularly the radiator gets clogged up. A brand-new radiator with fresh coolant is around £180, fitted. ‘Timing belts and water pumps should be changed every five years or 50,000 miles,’ recommends Matt.


Exhaust (rear to mid section) £185

Uprated hood from £440

Brake discs and pads (front) £160

Brake discs and pads (rear) £155

Suspension droplink £25


Concours £7000

Good £3500

Usable £1500

Project £450


Engine 1598cc/4-cyl/DOHC

Power 114bhp @ 6500rpm

Torque 100lb ft @ 5500rpm

Maximum speed 114mph

0-60MPH 9.1sec

Fuel consumption 29-32mpg

Transmission RWD, five-speed manual


‘They’re prone to head gasket failure,’ says Kevin Marks of MGF and MG TF specialist Trophy Cars ( uk). ‘Check for oil in the water or vice versa. We fit a modified Land Rover multi-layer item for £595 and haven’t had one back since we started.’

Rusting underfloor coolant pipes are common and can lead to head gasket failure. Stainless steel replacements cost £65 or £125. ‘Holes in the hood, cracked rear glass or a ripped seat can be expensive,’ adds Kevin. ‘Budget £450 for a new hood and £150 for a re-trim.’

Bottom wishbones corrode and the subframe needs dropping, resulting in a £350 fix. ‘The body is good, but you might get surface rust, and engines are strong little units,’ says Kevin.


Alternator £99

Upgraded rear lights (pair) £30

Clutch (fitted) £350

Air filter £8

Stainless steel sports exhaust £375


Concours £2000+

Good £1500

Usable £750

Project £250


Engine 1796cc/4 cyl/DOHC

Power 118bhp @ 5500rpm

Torque 122lb ft @ 3000rpm

Maximum speed 120mph

0-60mph 8.5sec

Fuel consumption 32-36mpg

Transmission RWD, five-speed manual

“These great cars are both phenomenal value. We’re in a golden age for bargain convertibles.”

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At £5000-10,000, things get interesting. But which German drop-top rules the roost?

You can’t help but love the individuality of this pair. In the BMW corner, you have a chiselled Dan Dare of a roadster, angular, perfectly proportioned and with one of most muscular rear ends this side of the AC Cobra. Compared with the more rounded Boxster S’s 996-aping lines it still looks current and bang on it. The Boxster, however, is currently stuck in a no man’s land of old Porker and dated modern. Give it another few years and that perception will shift. But like the Mazda and MGF, both the BMW and Porsche are stonking value for money.

The feral 343bhp Z4M Roadster can’t be had for this budget, but the 3.0-litre incarnation is considered to have the best ease-to-live-with/performance ratio of the Z4 clan. Here in SE form, the suspension is softer than the sports versions, so you lose a degree of sharpness on better roads, but ruts and potholes don’t leave you with quite the same sensation of attempted upper and lower molar assimilation. Z4 fans avert your eyes now, please. While the M range- Topper may be out of our £10k budget, the equivalent Boxster S is anything but. ‘I picked this car up for £4700 months ago,’ says owner Jason Gibson. ‘There was more than 100,000 miles on the clock, but it had recently received a new clutch and intermediate main shaft.’

BMW Z4 3.0i SE E85 vs. Porsche Boxster S 986 road test

BMW Z4 3.0i SE E85 vs. Porsche Boxster S 986 road test

Seriously, as little as £5k for an icon with a flat-six engine, 276bhp, lithe handling and all the associated kudos is nothing short of miraculous. It’s hugely usable, too. Dynamically, the Z4 an absolute star. It drives with all the ease and efficiency of one of Munich’s finest saloons. Yet wind it up and the straight-six’s power delivery is lovely and smooth. Here in 231bhp form it will still crack 0-60mph in a handy 5.9 seconds. Overall, it just feels planted. It consigns the soggy dynamics of its Z3 predecessor firmly to the past.

Manhandling that fat sports steering wheel to tuck the nose into a corner is a pleasure. The steering is super-accurate, and while it’s possible to jiggle the bottom on exit, the dynamic stability control system ensures it never does so to the detriment of confidence – you can switch it of for some sideways action, but that’s best experienced on track. The Porsche is a revelation, too. When the point comes and you click with this car, it’s a case of sheer driving enchantment. There’s no 911 Rottweiler-like pretence at being your best friend, just before sinking its teeth into your arm as you swap tarmac for trees. Instead it fillets corners with the precision of a steak knife making short work of a fillet mignon. The speed-variable steering sends high-quality feedback to your fingertips, and measured responses are fully rewarded, allowing you to build turn-in speed.

But it’s the sonorous note of the Boxer engine that finally gets you. Sitting just behind your head, it builds turbine-like to a wail that titillates your ear’s inner hair cells; it’s the aural equivalent to the area on a dog’s belly that, when rubbed, elicits an uncontrollable reflex action of its rear leg. The BMW fights back with its lovely interior. It’s the best of the mass-produced cars here – brushed aluminium and leather abounds, combining with a purposeful instrument binnacle and low-set seating position that leaves you feeling as if you’re practically sitting on its rear axle.

Z4 owner Gary James adores his. ‘I’ve always loved the looks,’ he says. ‘Since I’ve had it, it’s been a joy to drive.’ There are rational and irrational reasons for going for the BMW. It’s light, agile and with good build quality, the rear-wheel- drive/big-six-up-front Z4 is a roadster firmly in the old school mould. It’s running costs are reasonable, and it’ll return more than 30 miles to the gallon.

The Porsche scores rationally, too. The luggage space is surprisingly good and ,on the motorway, it cruises with as much aplomb as full-on A- and B-road attacks. It’s more reliable than big brother 996, but, as with the Beemer, that badge invariably means that parts prices reflect it.

They’re diverse, but choosing between the Z4 and Boxster is surprisingly difficult. For those who like their soft-top thrills strictly traditional, then go for the staid layout of the Z4, but if Stuttgart has always caused a strange stirring, then go for the Boxster S, and experience one of the most precise top-down-driving experiences there is.

MARKET ANALYSIS PORSCHE BOXSTER Ignore dealers who think that all Porsches are worth £10k+. You can find lots of sharp Boxster Ss in the £7500- £8500 range.

Lesser Boxsters are taking the price hit so these shouldn’t fall much further. Expected price in 2020: £7500

MARKET ANALYSIS BMW Z4 E85 With enthusiast attention focused on paying something like a 30-50% premium for the 3.0 Si model, the not-much-slower 3.0 SE looks like a real bargain at £5500-£7000 for the really good stuff. But there are lots about, so they’ll fall further. Just look at Z3s. Expected price in 2020: £4000

The Boxster S is a seriously accomplished B-road tool, but is also surprisingly easy to live with when performing day-to-day duties.

Sitting almost on top of the rear axle gives the driver a unique insight into the Z4’s incisive dynamics. This SE version won’t shake you too much.


‘Check the convertible hood is working smoothly and quietly,’ says James Blackwell of BMW specialist Munich Legends ( uk). ‘The roof motor is vulnerable to water ingress if drain channels get blocked. Anew one costs £324.’

Front wishbone bushes wear, causing vague steering and brake judder; James recommends Powerflex upgrades.

Both four- and six-cylinder engines suffer from perished gaskets (rocker cover, VANOS solenoid and oil filter housings), so check for oil leaks. ‘Avoid the four-cylinder engines,’ says James. Electrics are reliable, as is running gear, but they do suffer from noisy or stiff steering columns, as the gears on the electronic steering assist system dry out.


Replacement hood £1251

Bonnet £997

Front wing £298

Clutch £205


Concours £8000

Good £6000

Usable £4500

Project £2000


Engine 2996cc/6-cyl/DOHC

Power 231bhp @ 5900rpm

Torque 214lb ft @ 2750rpm

Maximum speed 155mph

0-60mph 5.9sec

Fuel consumption 30-34mpg

Transmission RWD, six-speed manual


‘They suffer from rear main oil seal issues,’ says Warren North of specialist Jaz Porsche ( ‘It’s known as sweating, where oil collects between the gearbox and the engine. The seal is £15, but it’s £670 labour on a manual car and £1150 on a Tiptronic.

The air/oil breather canister often fails. ‘White smoke on start-up is an indicator, as is struggling to get the oil cap of when the engine’s running,’ says Warren. ‘Budget £360 for a replacement.’

They go through coil packs rapidly, so watch out for misfires. Replacements are £48 and there are six in total. ‘Coil springs break,’ cautions Warren. ‘If a car’s sitting lower on one side, then you’ll need to change the pair. That’ll cost £600, fitted and with wheel alignment carried out.’


Front wing £420

Hood rear screen £450

Hood £1800

Headlight £660


Concours £12,000

Good £9750

Usable £5600

Project £3500


Engine 3179cc/6 cyl/DOHC

Power 252bhp @ 6200rpm

Torque 228lb ft @ 4700rpm

Maximum speed 164mph

0-60mph 5.5sec

Fuel consumption 26-28mpg

Transmission RWD, six-speed manual

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Big revs and thrills are the story for those looking at these quirky £10k convertibles.

It’s time to look at the less obvious ways of blowing £10k on a drop-top. Yes, the BMW and Porsche are both great all-rounders, but sometimes it pays to drive something more focused. That’s when these cars come into their own.

The S2000 flies under the radar. It’s handsome from most angles, although if designer Sigeru Uehara had been a little less rigid, he could have offset that sloping linear profile.

But the sheer efficiency of design means it’s a left-field choice. You may think it lacks personality and the cabin doesn’t dispel that notion, although its ergonomics are well thought out and it’s a snug – if slightly uninspiring – place to be. Yet it’s definitely comfortable, with superbly supportive leather bucket seats and a small, tactile sports steering wheel.

Honda S2000 vs. Vauxhall VX220T road test

Honda S2000 vs. Vauxhall VX220T road test

Comfort is not a quality the VX220 Turbo has in any Meaningful way. It’s cramped and noisy, crashing, bashing and tramlining its way over Britain’s imperfect road surfaces. To buy one for your daily commute is akin to taking up self-flagellation for relaxation.

But if it’s performance you’re after then say hello to one distinctly bad-boy Grffiin. It’s a car that gives you a driving hit in its rawest form. Already a capable performer in 2.2-litre naturally-aspirated form, the 2002 introduction of the 197bhp 2.0-litre forced induction model propelled it into supercar-slaying territory, with 0-60mph taking 4.7seconds.

Seeing one in your rear view mirror is intimidating, as it has a menacing presence; it’s low, wide and mean. It’s down to personal taste whether its lines are more aggressive and preferable to the rounded Elise Series-1.

The S2000 can’t hope to compete on these terms. However, character it certainly has. Spark it up, and the digital dashboard is the first indicator. With the push of a button the hood mechanism lowers in seconds and we’re ready for some fun. The four-cylinder engine comes with a high-revving reputation, but nothing prepares you for it. Most drivers will be hampered by a wired-in instinct to shift cogs at the 5500rpm mark. You have to fight this urge – this is where the fun begins, as Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing kicks in. As the tachometer rockets towards its horizon, peak power hits at 8300rpm and it fizzes towards that ridiculous 10k redline.

There’s a very healthy 240bhp on offer, but that’s offset by a lack of low-end grunt, so to make rapid progress you drive it with a permanent foot to the floor. It has other positives: the gearshift is of the short, snicky nature that the Japanese engineer so well, the brakes are pin-sharp, and with 50-50 weight distribution, it’s nicely balanced.

The VX220T is in another league. With 245bhp and 275lb ft in something that weighs just 870kg, from the moment you climb over the wide sill and lower yourself down into the minimalist cabin, you know what’s coming. As the speed builds, your backside feels like it’s barely clearing the asphalt surface, while the steering changes direction with video-game precision.

Nail the throttle and the turbocharger kicks in instantly, pinning you back in your seat as the sports exhaust barks under load. The gearshifts pass so quickly you’re barely able to focus on their soggy Corsa-esque nature. Lay of the power, let your facial muscles relax from their new perma-grin default setting and glory in the calm before the next storm of torque application.

The VX220T simply swallows corners whole, with phenomenal levels of adhesion – only the Le Mans racer based Aero 8 is able to keep on its vertical tailpipes through here. You have to temper your enthusiasm though, its reputation as a devourer of both journalists and owners is well earned. And remember: when understeer kicks in, you need to apply throttle rather than lift of.

Still, as an all-rounder, you have to hand it to the S2000 in this pairing. ‘If you want a car where you can jump in and drive to Russia and back, then go for an S2000,’ says Kris Baillie of Edinburgh Honda Specialists. Gary Tree, owner of this car, backs that sentiment: ‘I’ve owned mine for eight years, and in that time I’ve just put on tyres and serviced it.’ Your biggest challenge with a VX is finding a standard car. Our car has been ‘lightly’ modded, with a Stage 2Courtenay Sport package, rear diffuser and aftermarket front grille. ‘I had a normal-spec VXT,’ says owner Andy Rich. ‘But once I sold it, I knew I wanted a bit more performance.’

From an investment perspective, a standard VX220T is the smart buy of the pair, and from a performance point of view it’s on a different planet. The Honda is ‘focused’ in other ways, though, such as its hair-trigger handling, but we can live with that in exchange for its amazing engine. Some period road tests suggested its manic power delivery could be tiring, but that’s subjective. Two things are for sure: the S2000 offers a fun factor of 10, coupled with second-to-none reliability, but it isn’t the VX-shaped investment.

MARKET ANALYSIS HONDA S2000 You are looking at £7500-£9500 for one of the best S2000s. This is an undercover cult car, not subject to the same rules as rival roadsters. We expect prices to remain steady. Expected price in 2020: £9000

MARKET ANALYSIS VAUXHALL VX220T The VX220 Turbo stopped depreciating some time ago. Not surprising, as fewer than 2000 were built and they have so much to offer. Good ones can change hands for £15,000. Expected price in 2020: £16,500

Vauxhall leads the way with supercars laying speed, but the Honda’s amazing VTEC engine provides plenty of thrills thanks to dizzying revs you can dial-in.


Kris Baillie of Edinburgh Honda Specialists says: ‘Look through the alloy wheels and check for corroded brake discs. If they are, or they pull to one side, then the brakes have seized. That’s a good indicator of overall condition.’ Check sills towards the rear quarter panel. ‘Water gathers inside the rubber seal where it meets the rear wheelarch, and it rusts from the inside out,’ says Kris. Repairs here cost around £360 per side.

Check for water ingress into the cabin. An upgraded replacement top with glass screen starts at £360.

‘The engine should be quiet and smooth,’ advises Kris. ‘And check for corrosion on alloy wheels, although they’re easily refurbished at £70 each.’


Discs and pads £250

Servicing £110

Brake caliper £120

Starter motor £165

Alternator £208


Concours £8000

Good £6000

Usable £5000

Project £4000


Engine 1997cc/4-cyl/DOHC

Power 240bhp @ 8300rpm

Torque 154lb ft @ 7500rpm

Maximum speed 150mph

0-60mph 6.2sec

Fuel consumption 24-30mpg

Transmission RWD, six-speed manual


‘Look out for cars that have been poorly repaired,’ advises Mark Watt of Courtenay Sport ( ‘Unlike a metal car, damage can be easily repaired with a new front clam, headlights and crash structure.’

Cat D cars needn’t necessarily be discounted. ‘If it’s known and repaired properly, that is – although I’d want before and after pictures,’ says Mark.

Engines are very strong, but smoke on cold start-up could indicate worn valve stem seals. Turbochargers can smoke due to wear or else just fail.

‘The cambelt needs changing every four years or 40,000 miles.’ says Mark. ‘Airflow meters fail, causing the engine to idle roughly and perform poorly.’


Front clamshell £1500 (if available)

Headlights £1000 each (if available)

Crash structure £700

Radiator £360

Cambelt change and water pump £320


Concours £15,000

Good £10,000

Usable £7500

Project £3000

SPECIFICATIONS (standard car)

Engine 1998cc/4-cyl/DOHC

Power 197bhp @ 5500rpm

Torque 184lb ft @ 2000rpm

Maximum speed 151mph

0-60mph 4.7sec

Fuel consumption 27-32mpg

Transmission RWD, five-speed manual

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It’s a battle of the Brits to find the hairiest, hairiest open-top of them all – for £30k or so.

Even in subdued metallic colours, a TVR Tuscan looks wild. But here with its sculpted lines finished in Lamborghini Arancio Atlas and contrasting black go-faster stripes, it’s visual dynamite. A sextuplet of headlights, perforated front grille and spectacularly rippled rear end lend it the look of a genetically modified Griffith. But that’s nothing compared to the elephant in the room – the Morgan Aero 8’s bug-eyed visuals. At launch, it received a right royal pummelling, with a certain BBC television programme’s presenter repeatedly invoking Deliverance banjo music to cast aspersions on the purity of its bloodline.

The Morgan Motor Company finally relented and, in 2007, redesigned the front end to incorporate forward facing MINI headlights, rather than the original in ward looking Beetle items. So where does that leave it today?

TVR Tuscan Speed Six vs. Morgan Aero 8 road test

TVR Tuscan Speed Six vs. Morgan Aero 8 road test

Actually the Series-1’s pre-laser correction aesthetics have mellowed and it doesn’t appear as awkward as it once did. ‘I actually prefer it to the later cars, with its rare centre-lock magnesium Oz alloys,’ says owner Lee Fulford. ‘I owned one and sold it, but immediately regretted it.’

So, for once, the TVR appears to be having sand kicked in its face. OK, it’s not a true convertible, but it’s a targa. And you could go on a month-long tour of Europe and take along enough clothes for two. And, lest we forget, it was the car in which Hugh Jackman and John Travolta mounted a guns-ablazing getaway in the 2001 heist thriller Swordfish.

It’s exciting when you crank up that straight-six. The gearchange is satisfyingly chunky and at low revs there’s an almost calming mechanical chuntering. Lay on the power and there’s a visceral bellow, with instant throttle response and 310lb ft of torque allowing this 1100kg to hurl you forward maniacally. ‘I’m thinking of tweaking the exhaust system,’ says owner Mark Brown. ‘As it’s quieter than I’d like.’ Only a TVR owner would say that with a straight face.

As a non-S, it has 360bhp, but it will still crack 0-60mph in 4.2sec, on its way to 180mph. With no driver aids, it’s a proper old-school lairy boy, which in a straight-line means you can, and do, give it the full beans repeatedly. Even sitting at lights it causes engagement of your inner devil, as you can’t help but blip the throttle.

The Morgan is more sophisticated and the driving experience is dominated by inspiring dynamics. The sheer width and structural rigidity of its aluminium chassis ensure it glides ferociously round corners. Get your calculations wrong and huge AP Racing ventilated discs allow you to reel in speed in the blink of an eye.

Utilising M62 BMW’s 4.4-litre V8, there’s 282bhp and 317lb ft available. Such is its flexibility you’re able minimise the number of times you rattle through the Getrag gearbox’s cogs. Who’d ever have thought that big lump could sound so glorious? The Tuscan takes the aural honours on the overrun, but on start-up and under load, the deep resonant bass of the Aero 8 wins tailpipes down.

It’s a raw, but always rewarding, driving experience. The transmission is bolted direct to the chassis, so there’s a lot of drivetrain noise. The cabin – beautifully finished with engine-turned dash, leather and wood – is pretty tight for two, and you’ll get a bag-and-a-half in the boot, while the hood is prone to water ingress. But who needs a roof?

The TVR is a rewarding drive, too. It’s solid feeling, but quick steering allied with twitchy chassis characteristics mean that, when things gets twisty, a more cerebral approach is required. Changes in camber are unnerving, and you’re never sure quite where its limits lie. Is a tree-lined track the place you’d want to find out? No, thank you.

‘I know that TVRs have a bad reputation for reliability,’ says Mark. ‘But I’ve never had any issues. There were problems with some engines when new, but most have been rectified by now. ’He budgets around £750 per year for servicing, and loves the sound, power and general look of the Tuscan. ‘I certainly get a lot of attention in it.’

As for the Morgan, this 21st-century Malvern marvel will take touring and track days in its stride, and as with other models in the range, depreciation barely registers. With modern BMW running gear, it’s supremely reliable, yet inevitably it all comes back to how it looks. ‘My friend’s daughter calls it my Cruella De Ville car,’ says Lee. Quite. As for calling a winner in this pairing, that’s down to how much you want to really stand out from the crowd.

There are 1930s styling cues here, but trust us when we say that the Morgan goes round corners like a proper GT-style race car. It doesn’t sound half bad either.

TVR is ahead as you’d expect, with a 0-60mph time of 4.2 seconds and a 180mph maximum speed. The soundtrack is impressive, just as long as you like it very loud.

MARKET ANALYSIS TVR TUSCAN The weapons- grade Tuscan went from zero to classic status about as quickly as it hits 60mph, and unusually for such a young car, they are actually fetching more today than they did four years ago. Good ones start at £19k, but you can pay twice that for the best. Expected price in 2020: £35,000

MARKET ANALYSIS MORGAN AERO 8 There aren’t a lot of Series 1Aero 8s around, and that helps keep prices up. Almost all appear to have covered a limited mileage. Expect to pay £39k or more, and be prepared to travel for the right car. Expected price in 2020: £37,500


‘You must check the Anderson connector,’ says Dom Trickett of TVR Power ( ‘They erode and the live wire falls onto the chassis. Replacements cost £42.’ Chassis outriggers rust, and the area around the catalytic convertors needs to be checked as they burn out and blow onto the steel tubing, causing it to rot. There are more parts available now than when TVR was trading.’

Improper servicing causes a lot of issues. ‘History is important, especially if it’s had an engine rebuild. We’ll recondition an engine for £5400 and provide a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty, or if the customer comes to us for servicing for life, then it’s five years and 100,000 miles.’


Bonnet £2000

Clutch slave cylinder £210

AP Racing twin plate clutch £792

Rear screen £144

Wheel bearing £108


Concours £25,000

Good £17,000

Usable £13,000

Project £8000


Engine 3996cc/6-cyl/DOHC

Power 360bhp @ 7000rpm

Torque 310lb ft @ 5500rpm

Maximum speed 180mph

0-60mph 4.2sec

Fuel consumption 18-22mpg

Transmission RWD, five-speed manual


‘Early S1s had OZ alloys,’ says Nick Carr of Brands Hatch Morgans. ‘They’re prone to stress cracks and can even be bent. Replacements are not available, and originals can cost £1000 per set.’

The mechanical coupling on the power steering pumps can fail. An upgraded electric steering kit was available but has been discontinued, so parts now have to be sourced individually, meaning costs vary due to what’s available.

‘Some cars have minor corrosion issues around the front end and rear lamps,’ says Nick. ‘Replacement hoods are not available for the Series 1.’ Mechanically they’re very strong. ‘You get Morgan-type issues,’ adds Nick. ‘Gauges that don’t work and rattles, but they’re very good.’


Brake pads (front) £125

Service (small) £600

Service (large) £1000

Handbrake shoes £202


Concours £45,000

Good £40,000

Usable £35,000

Project £30,000


Engine 4398cc/V8/DOHC

Power 282bhp @ 7000rpm

Torque 317lb ft @ 3900rpm

Maximum speed 151mph

0-60mph 4.8sec

Fuel consumption 18-22mpg

Transmission RWD, six-speed manual

“The TVR takes aural honours on the overrun, but under load, the bass of the Aero 8 wins easily”

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These eight convertibles are a million miles away from your humdrum saloons and hatches. But it’s the details that will truly delight you – and here are the best bits.

Light of your life The Boxster’s dash is a delight to behold, with overlapping gauges, stylised script, and a playfully curved bank of warning lights.

The big AP stoppers The Morgan’s race developed brake discs and callipers not only look good, but have astonishing stopping power.

Parts bin joy The MGF’s interior is a surprisingly cohesive piece of design considering most of it was sourced from elsewhere in the Rover Group’s portfolio.

A good fingering The Mazda MX-5’s exterior door handles are among the most elegant units you’ll ever come across. They were inspired by the delicate items you’d find on 1960s sports cars.

Perfect convertible for you Mazda MX-5 vs. MGF, BMW Z4 3.0i SE E85 vs. Porsche Boxster S 986, Honda S2000 vs. Vauxhall VX220T and TVR Tuscan Speed Six vs. Morgan Aero 8

Let there be light Why make do with a pair of headlights when six will do. The TVR looks like the devil’s own work, and it’ll undoubtedly scare small children.

Pure ‘n’ simple It’s hard not to adore the VX220T’s pared-back interior. There’s not an ounce of unwanted weight, trim or equipment in there. You’ll also enjoy feeling your bottom almost scrape the tarmac.

Bangle jangle Chris Bangle’s Daring BMW designs have aged well – the Z4’s headlamps were daring when new, but look quite routine now. Who’d have thought it?

Bespoke love The Morgan Aero 8’s dashboard reflects the car’s low-volume, handbuilt origins. The hand-turned aluminium looks fantastic, and the old-school dials buried in it look fantastic.

Speedy Six TVR did a very brave thing when it went down the route of building its own engines, but we’re so glad it did. Here’s power, noise and drama in a singular package.


Verdict / The Modern Classics view

Never have drop-tops been so accomplished and, in some cases, inexpensive. Each of our selected cars offers a distinctive and heady experience, but the one you choose will depend on budget, taste and personal preference. What do you covet: get in and go reliability, relaxed cruising, nut-job performance or badge-kudos?

The Tuscan, Aero 8 and VX220 Turbo are all fierce, special-occasion cars. They’ll excel at weekend blasts, road trips or track days, but are a little too compromised for everyday use. The remainder of the mass-produced Japanese, German and lone Brit offerings live up to their accepted stereotypes with incredible reliability, Teutonic build quality and quintessential links to a bygone era. So which to go for? In the from-£1k shoot-out, both choices have excellent spares back-up and club scenes, but it has to be the MX-5, as it’s just so slick and enchanting. The surprise is that the MGF isn’t that far behind, especially when you factor in prices.

In the from-£4k German faceoff, both cars offer exceptional build quality and stunning dynamics, but be prepared to pay the parts prices. The Boxster S can be had for silly money, it’s equivalent to a top-of-the-range BMW and it’s damned good. The clever money says the Porsche is a great long-term bet and dynamically brilliant to boot.

Perfect convertible for you Mazda MX-5 vs. MGF, BMW Z4 3.0i SE E85 vs. Porsche Boxster S 986, Honda S2000 vs. Vauxhall VX220T and TVR Tuscan Speed Six vs. Morgan Aero 8

Giant test Mazda MX-5 vs. MGF, BMW Z4 3.0i SE E85 vs. Porsche Boxster S 986, Honda S2000 vs. Vauxhall VX220T and TVR Tuscan Speed Six vs. Morgan Aero 8

At £10k, it’s more difficult. These two are niche buys and it’s definitely down to what you want. The Honda is a fizzer that’ll still do the daily commute with aplomb, while the VX220 Turbo is quite simply mad, bad and distinctly dangerous to know. Factoring in investment makes this an easy victory for Vauxhall.

At the top level, the best Aero 8 examples are considerably pricier than equivalent Tuscans. Both cars attract phenomenal levels of attention and reward you with perfect heartrate-pounding, adrenaline-secreting ratios. No matter the speed, the Morgan always feels assured, while the TVR lives on a serrated knife-edge. Life’s short, so we’d plump for the Tuscan, especially in that colour.

Overall winner? No doubt about it: the Mazda MX-5. It never fails to elicit a smile, as it’s just a sweet, perfectly balanced machine. Buy the earliest one you can find, cherish it, and remember: top always down.

‘Each offers a distinctive experience, but the one you choose will depend on budget, taste and personal preference’

Thanks to MX-5 Owners’ Club (mx5oc., MG Owners’ Club (mgowners, BMW Car Club (bmw, Independent Porsche Enthusiasts Club (tipec. net), S2000 Owners’ Club (, VX220 Owners’ Club (, TVR Car Club (tvr-car-club., Morgan Sports Car Club (mscc. 


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Additional Info
  • Drive: RWD