Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 G-Series vs. TVR 420SE

2017 Drive-my.com and Laurens Parsons

Both these sports cars are known for their edginess on the road, but will it be Britain or Germany that emerges with the driving edge? Words Chris Chilton. Photography. Laurens Parsons.


Can this Brit V8 contender topple Porsche’s finest? TVR vs. Porsche. 420SE puts up the British fight against Carrera 3.2. 

TVR 420SE: big-hearted British bruiser. Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 the scalpel-sharp superstar.  Who doesn’t love pop-up headlights on a sports car? They might interfere with the aerodynamics, but they look great peeking up from the TVR’s blade-like nose. In the electric glow of an urban Birmingham night, the Grand Prix White 911’s curves are both timeless and unmistakeable. A damp night combined with rear-engined, rear-wheel drive could spell disaster, but the Carerra feels surprisingly planted on bends. There’s much of the night about the 420SE; with its chiselled looks and V8 grumble, it has a brooding persona. Well, would you want to meet one in a dark alley?


Establishment Porsche battles outsider TVR out on the streets


Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2

It says so much of our collective familiarity with the 911 that of the two cars here today it’s the wedgy TVR that looks most-weird. But just imagine if you’d never seen a 911 before. How crazy it would seem, all upright windscreen and 1950s-esque raised wings and bug-eye lamps. A decade ago Porsche fans were furiously backdating post-’1974 ‘impact bumper’ 911s left, right and centre to get that early 911 look, but now cars like the Carrera 3.2 have really come into their own. Those bumpers – an answer to US laws demanding cars should survive a 5mph impact unscathed – were always so much better resolved than rival companies’ efforts, and this car’s Grand Prix White paint screams 1980s just as much as the similarly popular Guards Red did, but with a greater degree of subtlety and class.

Evolved from the 1978-1983 era 3.0 SC, the Carrera was available in basic and Sport versions. Standard cars ditched the SC’s cookie cutter wheels for now rarely seen 928-style teledials and retained the natural spoiler-free look. Sports got the slim whaletail, a matching chin spoiler and a set of Fuchs rims kept under control by four Bilstein dampers. With its contrasting black rim centres the car looks sensational, the white and black combo only reinforcing the no-nonsense German-ness of it all.

Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 G-Series vs. TVR 420SE

Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 G-Series vs. TVR 420SE

Old 911s feel so mechanical compared to modern cars, like some perfectly crafted piece of Edwardian engineering. You’re aware of it from the moment you reach for the door handle and tug the little catch behind it. Drop behind the wheel and the experience is equally ancient. The windscreen seems impossibly close, the arc of the floor-hinged pedals and the brake’s slack take time to get used to, and the ergonomics, with random switches added over the years hidden all over the place, are a bad joke.

I’ve driven a few of these and owned one myself from 2007 to 2008, but still don’t understand how to operate the heater. I sold it for £15,000 in an ‘I-turned-down-the- Beatles’ moment when the price uplift that was surely due didn’t come, and I thought the most sensible thing for a responsible new dad to do would be to stop frittering away money on cars. The most responsible thing would have been to hang on to it and ensure a more secure financial future so the little fella didn’t have to go down the pits at nine: the same car would be worth well over £40k today.

At least the driving experience still makes me smile. First there’s the churn of the flat-six, and the little shimmy as it jumps into action when you twist the key. Then there’s the knuckly feel of the long spindly gear change. Early cars still made do with the old 915 ‘box, which gives that authentic old Porsche (read: knackered old Beetle) sensation of stirring the leg of an OAP desperately in need of a hip-operation. But from1987 onwards, 911s featured the much more modern G50 transmission. We’re not talking Mazda MX-5 levels of shift nirvana, but you’ve got a better chance of getting the gear you want, and of buying a car with working synchromesh.

Keeping the SC’s 95mm bore but using the longer stroke of the Turbo engine helped lift power from 204bhp to 231bhp for the Carrera. It’s a massively useable engine that pulls in one long surge, and the newer Bosch L Jetronic injection ensures reliability, but it’s not as revvy or characterful as the older SC (although a decent sports exhaust definitely helps level the playing field). It’s Schwarzenegger’s coolly measured T800 to Robert Patrick’s frenzied T1000 from Terminator 2: it’ll win the fight, but it’s more stoic than heroic.

Where it does excite is in the performance (6.3 seconds to 62mph said Porsche, 5.4 seconds to 60mph said Autocar).The handling is also refreshing and plays against the 911 stereotype. With those fat back tyres and all that weight over the rear end, you’re far more likely to feel the front end wash out than the back, and the lovely unassisted steering – weighty at parking speed, but just about perfect everywhere else – will give you plenty of warning of that while you watch through the incredible Cinemascope glasshouse. The A-pillars are so slim they’re barely there at all. Which means parking is a cinch. As is piling in your shopping. Or your kids.

Practical, fun, appealingly different from pretty much every other car on the road, effortlessly cool and a rocksolid investment: this Porsche really does it all.



As 1980s as a bubble perm and ’tache combo, and to your average man in the street in 2017, quite possibly about as visually appealing, a TVR ‘wedge’ is a time capsule. While the Porsche’s datedness seems to have morphed into vintage cool, the wedge is trapped forever in the decade where excess meant success.

This super rare 420SE certainly has a handle on excess. Maybe not as much of a handle as the expensive part-Kevlar SEAC cars with their wraparound front bumpers and whaletail spoilers, but the ‘cow catcher’ protruding from the under-bumper recess, the side skirts, glitzy polished wheels and dubious-looking rear diffuser lift the car way above the meek looking 1979 Tasmin that sired it. The shovel nose wasn’t a TVR trademark, of course.

Back when this car first appeared as the Tasmin and through to the dawn of the 1990s, wedges were everywhere in car design. Never mind that popping up those headlights ruined the aerodynamics like throwing up a McLaren’s airbrake, they looked so cool. James Bond drove a wedge, a Lotus Esprit. Lamborghini sold them too, though only the Italian sounds anything like as good as this 420SE. It is evil, plain and simple, rugga-chuggarugga-chugging through its pipes as it idles in the cold Birmingham night air.

Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 G-Series vs. TVR 420SE

Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 G-Series vs. TVR 420SE

But it wasn’t always that way. The first wedges had simple Ford V6s and there was even a eunuch 2.0 Pinto version. But in 1983 Wheeler struck gold with the genius idea of subbing Rover’s ex-Buick V8 in to recapture some of the sprit of the original ’60s’ Griff.

The 350i made 190bhp, which could be pushed right up to 275bhp in the 390i courtesy of a 400cc capacity hike, gas-flowed heads and a hotter cam, while seven TVR owners, including this one, went further still, requesting a swept volume stretch to 4228cc and power to 300bhp by ticking the box marked ‘420SE’.

That much poke in a glassfibre-over-steel package weighing just 1150kg (the 231bhp Porsche weighs around 1210kg) predictably makes for performance as sizzling as any Blackpool summer. We don’t have any exact numbers for the 420SE, but contemporary issues of Car magazine suggest 5.1 seconds to 62mph for the 20bhp weaker 390SE. As you can see, our midnight battle took place under heavy weather – a big V8, a short wheelbase, rear wheel drive and, well, it’s a TVR… a scary prospect?

In fact it’s surprisingly easy to drive. Not unlike a Toyota Supra or a Porsche 944 or any other relatively sane frontengined, rear-wheel drive car you could have bought at the time. There’s a stretch to the gearlever, and a slightly undefined gate to deal with. You need to tickle the revs too, as you ease out the clutch, or the V8 dies away.

However, the power steering is weighted just right and with 290lb-ft of torque, it’s impressively tractable prowling around town. And that’s despite the hilly cam buried in the bowels of the aluminium block. Sometimes V8s can feel as flat as a 12th century globe. All torque and tug, and no reason to rev them out to a redline that would be a disgrace for an asthmatic diesel.

Sometimes they go the other way, sacrificing all the bottom end they’re famed for in the pursuit of top end thrills. But this one is as right as baby bear’s porridge. It doesn’t idle like it’s about to shake itself to pieces or fall in a hole when you ask it to deliver with less than 4000rpm on the dial. But it’s definitely got an appetite for revs.

Bystanders get the best deal when it comes to engine noise, but it still sounds pretty epic inside. Doesn’t look that impressive, mind. This was a time when fuddyduddy wood was considered OK for the under-70s car buyer, before TVR had started playing with modern curvy dashes, and started making its own handsome aluminium switchgear and covering the bits it did pinch, like indicator stalks, in natty clothes. Yes, it looks old in here, and not in a cool 1960s’ chrome and Bakelite way. But maybe, like the wedgy styling, that’s part of the appeal.

As is sniffing out the source of all those pilfered parts. The boot hinges are from an Imp, in case you were wondering, and the rear lamps… apparently they’re Renault Fuego. Ah, the great pleasures denied drivers of ordinary mass-market sports cars.



Fun can be had with the TVR, spotting parts bin pilfering. The 911 is more bespoke

Antique centre The 911’s 1960s’ origins are still very apparent in its cabin layout. The centre console looks like an afterthought, while the long gear lever isn’t quite what you’d expect from something so overtly sporting.

Fuchs flare Porsches and two-tone Fuchs alloys are a match made in Teutonic heaven, especially when they contrast so well with the rest of the car.

Whale to go The spoiler only featured on Sports Carrera 3.2s. Downforce is reassuring.

Horses fan Tweaks to the engine raised power by 27bhp over the previous 911 SC, although it feels less revvy.

Marque of distinction Practically the only thing to interrupt the smooth flow of air over the ‘boot’ is the Porsche shield.

Gauge it No surprises inside; the comprehensive instrument panel follows 911 tradition.

Rover poke The modifications to the 390SE’s Rover V8, to stoke it into the 420SE, were by customer request only and a mere seven examples were produced. The extra 383cc resulted in about 25bhp and 20lb-ft of torque.

Rear aspect Those back lights come from a Renault Fuego, a car arguably now much rarer than the TVRs they adorn. Best of luck if one of them gets cracked.

Less clever Trevor Walnut veneer and bits from mainstream motors add luxury but don’t feel that sporty. Expression of excess Polished alloy wheels sit well on the 420SE.




Before you open your-wallet wide, spend £180 on an inspection at a specialist or classic car-friendly garage.

Look for rust on the chassis outriggers. Doing full-length outrigger repairs doesn’t require taking the body off, but it’ll still set you back £2400. To keep rust from returning, have the chassis cleaned and oiled. Budget £180 for a simple job to £480 for a proper steam clean and wax oil.

Electrics can be a problem on cars that sit idle for long periods. Regular use keeps gremlins at bay. Engines and gearboxes are strong but you might need to do the clutch, and that’s an engine-out job. Expect to pay £1200.

Parts bin heritage has its upside when it comes to the brakes: the stoppers are Ford-based up front and from a Jag at the back. Replacing the pads all round should only cost £240.

Rear suspension bushes can take a beating. The parts aren’t expensive but cost depends on the time taken.

Advice and prices supplied by Fernhurst TVR (fernhurst-tvr.co.uk). All costs quoted include VAT and fitting.


The venerable flat-six is tough, but not indestructible. Expect a top end refresh (£6690) around 100,000-120,000 miles.

At this age, it’s not so much ‘if’ a 3.2 has rusted, but ‘by how much’. Check below the headlamps, around the windscreen, and the ‘kidney bowls’. A serious body resto will run in to five figures.

Earlier 3.2s with the 915 gearbox can suffer synchromesh issues on second gear, and feel very obstructive. Later G50 ’box cars feel more modern, but a good 915 is fine. If a rebuild is necessary, you’ll need to budget around £3750 all in.

The Carrera’s suspension is relatively simple, but worn dampers and shot anti-roll bar bushes will make it feel very sloppy in action.

Carrera brakes are relatively cheap, but the calipers can stick if the car has stood for too long. A replacement set of front discs and pads will be £420 fitted.

Exhaust replacement is expensive. Poor cabin heating will probably be due to tired heat exchangers. These are around £1560 per side fitted. Advice and prices supplied by Redtek (Redtek. co.uk). All costs quoted include VAT and fitting.


Owners and trade view


‘I bought it just before the 911’s 50th anniversary and thought prices might rise,’ says Alan Purcell. ‘But I didn’t expect them to go this crazy.’ That uplift meant Alan had no hesitation about opening his chequebook further when a planned £2000 paintwork fix turned into a £10k body resto. The 3.2 is spared daily duties – Alan has a 986 Boxster for that, while wife Gina, another committed Porschephile, owns a 911 SC and 964 C4.

TRADE VIEW: Philip Raby at Philip Raby Porsche

+‘These have long been considered starter 911s, before prices went up. They’re fairly rock solid, and easy to live with, with no real quirks.’

‘Even with their galvanised bodies, these cars can rust and putting them right properly isn’t cheap. The 915 gearboxes need to be treated gently. There’s nothing good now for under about £30,000. Anything cheaper, you have to ask yourself why.’


‘This is my fifth wedge, and my 15th TVR,’ says serial TVR buyer Glen Wilson of his 420SE. Bought a year ago ‘in a bit of a mess’ after being laid up for five years, it’s had an electrical overhaul, new air-flow meter, fuel pump and a gearbox rebuild. Now it’s fit and strong: a recent dyno test proves the 4.2 V8 is delivering 287bhp. Wilson also has another rare wedge, a very special 420SEAC currently being readied for restoration.

TRADE VIEW: Dr Mark Kent at Bespoke Performance

+‘The wedges are going to go up in price, but only the ones that are really good. People should think about restoring them’

‘Their biggest failing has got to be the chassis, which rusts. The glassfibre bodywork doesn’t, of course. So the best ones to go for are those that have had a body-off restoration. They also don’t drive as well as 1990s TVRs, but they can be improved.’


The Modern Classics view

TVR wedges are more niche interest than the recent revelation that Crain Communications has merged Plastics News Europe and Plastics and Rubber Weekly (in case you didn’t know). A big deal for a few, but for most, about as on the radar as a stealth fighter in a fake nose and glasses disguise. Unfortunately, despite being feted when new, the V8 wedges live under the shadow of the sexier, less dated cars that followed – the Griffith, Chimaera, Tuscan and Cerbera. And that’s a shame because the wedges deliver a similar driving experience, are much rarer, and when it comes to boring mates in the pub, telling them that your car is reputed to be the first model ever to have a bonded windscreen is unlikely to be bettered.

They also cost buttons, in relative terms. Glen’s SE, one of only seven produced, remember, would have cost something over £25k when new, but today, despite having been lavished with care to bring it back to its former glory, is likely worth at most £15k.

For £15k you’d struggled to buy a viable project 911 in even the most undesirable spec ever built. Well, OK, maybe a Sahara Beige 2.7 Sportomatic Targa might be available, but one of those makes a TVR wedge look universally loved. Costing just under £40k when new in the late 1980s, the 911 was always considerably more expensive than even the unhinged TVR SEACs, but now has streaked ahead in value of cars like our 420SE, meaning you’d need at least £30k for anything decent, and more like £40k+ for a car similar to Alan’s with the right spec and in decent condition.

That being the case you’re less likely to be cross-shopping now than you would have been in 1988, but speaking hypothetically, which would you rather have? The TVR’s a curio, raw and exciting; the Porsche predictable, but just so effortlessly cool, usable and reliable enough that you’d never think twice about jumping in it and heading off for that notional trip to the Alps.

I’d still take the 911, just as I did when I bought mine. I look and I look at the TVR’s angular shape and fussy spoilers again and again, but I don’t think I could ever truly love it. But Glen does, more than any of the umpteen more modern TVRs he’s owned. For people like him, cars like the 420SE are proper undiscovered treasures.

Thanks to The Independent Porsche Enthusiasts’ Club (tipec.net), the TVR Car Club (tvr-carclub.co.uk), Philip Raby (philipraby.co.uk) and Dr Mark Kent (bespoke performance.co.uk) Redtek (Redtek.co.uk)

{CONTENTPOLL [“id”: 103]}



Maximum speed

Fuel consumption



300bhp @ 5500rpm

290lb-ft @ 4500pm


RWD, five-speed manual

7 (UK)


231bhp @ 5900rpm

209lb-ft @ 4800rpm

RWD, five-speed manual

500 (est, UK)

Concours £15,000 £34,000
Good £10,000 £25,000
Usable £7000 £16,500
Project £4000 £10,500

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