Trendsetter: The TVR Grantura 1800S

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By Ben Selby

When most of us think of TVR, we tend to daydream and wax lyrical about the funky plastic bodied sports cars of the nineties, with mad interiors, out there styling, and the kind of face bending acceleration which could rearrange your fillings. Oh, and who could forget that kick arse multi coloured paint adorning many Cerberas, Griffiths and Tuscan coupes?

For those overwhelmed by drama and wanting something totally unique, you would be hard pressed to beat those growly road warriors from Blackpool. However, those in the know would argue that the roots of TVR go beyond big power and big speed. Since Trevor Wilkinson established Trevcar Motors in Blackpool in 1949, TVR was more about taking the best aspects of British motoring and creating their vision of the ultimate road going race car.

This is where the Grantura comes in. Launched in 1958, the Grantura was nothing short of a bare essentials sports racing car for the street. Thanks to its compact dimensions, light weight and simplistic design, it set about forging the image of what we know TVR to be today.

The Grantura went through a number of styling tweaks throughout its life, and even turned a wheel in anger in a tonne of sports car events like Le Mans, the Targa Florio and Daytona. The car featured here is a 1965 MKIII Grantura 1800S, by far one of the greatest British sports cars you have probably forgotten about.

The MK1, MK2 and MK3 Grantura were available with a motely crew of engines, ranging from the 1.1L Coventry Climax four pot to the 1.6 litre unit found in the MGA. It was the MG engine which remained the most popular during this period of production, but by the time the 1800S was launched in 1964, the 1.8 litre MG four cylinder was saddled that gorgeous pint-sized coupe body. Speaking of the body, for the 1800S, the Grantura engine bay was made slightly bigger.

The reason for this was to accommodate the 289ci Ford V8 and running gear. Yes, you read right, TVR had their own Cobra beater in the form of the much-loved original Griffith, and one could argue this was the starting point of all big power TVRs for years to come.

This 1800S is one of just 126 ever built. Owner Darren is big fan of classic sports cars and once he saw the TVR, he knew he had to have it. However, how it came to be in his possession, all started with another car altogether. “I once owned an Alfa Romeo Montreal, while this was a great car, it just didn’t excite me as much as other cars, plus it was a bit too complicated for my liking,” Darren says.

“I knew this guy who had this particular TVR in his collection. One day he said to me he was after a Montreal, and would I be interested in swapping my car for something from his stable. He invited me around to have a look, but I said to him I didn’t need to look, I knew exactly which car I wanted. So, we swapped cars, but he said if I should ever sell, I must sell it back to him,” Darren said.

Styling wise, the Grantura appears to be a greatest hits version of sixties GT cars. One only need look at the clamshell bonnet in relation to the chopped kamm tail to seeing hints of E Type Jag and Lotus Elite. The side air vents seem to play homage the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, and that wrap around rear window screams Ferrari 250 MM. Maybe that is why classic euro fans like yours truly can’t help but be utterly smitten when getting a first glance. “I love this car because it is such a great combination of great sports cars of this era in a such a cool looking package,” says Darren.

Step forward to open that tiny hinged door, and you notice the window frame doesn’t exactly mirror the shape of the doorway itself, a dead giveaway that on a few occasions, production quality wasn’t exactly a priority. This is quickly forgotten when you sit inside, although due to this writer freak of nature body frame of small torso and long legs, the seat went back as far as possible. No knees around the elbow’s affair but for me, it was a firm fit.

The first thing you notice is the large three spoke steering wheel which sits in front of a white on black speedometer and rev counter. The other thing is the wide transmission tunnel housing the four-speed manual box. As a result, along with a rather petite pedal box housing a set of petite pedals, you do sit some what offset compared to the rest of the car.

Behind you lies a full-size spare wire wheel. “It is essentially a road going racer,” says Darren, “also, the heater is constantly on, and turning it off requires the driver to fold down a flap over the vents,” Darren laughs.

With Darren seated next to me, I reached into the driver’s door pocket and drew on a pair of sixties string back driving gloves, one does have to look the part you know. Choke out, turn key and that MG four pot burbles into life. Sure, it might not be the earth shattering V8 bellow we are used to, but it is a sweet sound nonetheless.

Engage first gear and we are off along probably the greatest driving road in the greater Christchurch area, the Summit Road. Snaking its way along the top of the Christchurch Port Hills high above the city, it is mecca for classic car drivers everywhere. For the Grantura, roads like these are hallowed ground.

The normal procedure when going through the gears in most classic British cars is to double clutch with each shift. Not so in the TVR. It slices from second to third like a hot knife through butter while the MG four pot sings right up to the 5,000rpm redline.

When going uphill, you don’t exactly have power on your side, it does only produce 79 horsepower after all, but this doesn’t really worry you, as you will have been grinning long before you reached in the incline. Once it flattens out, or better yet drops down, the Grantura can be coaxed into each switchback corner with a great level of carefree abandon. It wants to be driven hard this car, it begs you to give it the beans at every possible opportunity.

Thanks to the compact wheel base and great feedback from the unassisted steering, you change direction quick sharp, although you do feel every conceivable bump in the road. The Grantura is a physical driving experience, you won’t be setting speed records, but you will be having fun. “I thought at one stage about putting a 289 V8 in it, but I still quite like it the way it is,” says Darren.

The TVR Grantura is the very definition of a rare breed. While I was out and about with Darren and his 1800S, we were approached by a range of people asking the same thing, “what is that car?” When Darren responded by saying it was a 1965 TVR, they look on in wonderment. Life is measured in experiences, and the TVR Grantura 1800S is just that, a great classic experience.

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