GmUAp83s Can be thirsty work for the car too
Can be thirsty work for the car too
Can be thirsty work for the car, too.

Tasty Cheddar and a cracker with bite

Car: 2003 TVR Tuscan S

Drive: Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England (23km each way)

Pix: Dawn Green


When a car’s owner cautions, “Take it easy if the roads are damp, especially on roundabouts – I’ve lost it there,” you better believe it.

In this instance, said owner is talking about the immaculate 2003 TVR Tuscan S he’s entrusted me with for the day.

Right now, his advice is mighty sage as raindrops are fallin’ on my head through the open targa roof.

And the Tuscan and I are just a few miles away from tackling the writhing B3135 through grey-stoned Cheddar Gorge in Somerset — one of the UK’s best drives. 

Can be thirsty work for the car too
Can be thirsty work for the car, too.


If you think he might have been talking it up a bit, then consider this: TVRs have a reputation for not tolerating fools or the cack-handed.

They’re wonderful but warped speed machines, partly because of an extravagance of power (big, torquey normally-aspirated motor), race-biased lightness (extensive alloy and glass fibre) . . . but more so – get this – a complete absence of driving aids. 

That’s right, circa 21st century, here’s a performance sports car sans ABS, traction and electronic stability control or airbags. As the Divinyls’ old song goes, ‘It’s a fine line between pleasure and pain’.

In a TVR, that might be a few millimetres of throttle travel.

Turn the key, the fuel pump whirs, and an instant later the 4.0-litre, normally-aspirated straight-six erupts with a kick-ass roar before settling into a lumpy idle. Even then, at just 700 rpm, it seems to be overbrimming with intent. 

Try out the floor-hinged pedals and it’s immediately apparent things are offset to the right, an ergonomic imperfection that I imagine I won’t have time to dwell on when things get busy. Very busy.

Dip the well-weighted clutch, short-throw the gear stick into 1st, lean on the throttle pedal and get ready to stare down the Medusa. Which brings us back to our drive along the B3135, from Cheddar to Ashwick.

As it turns out, the rainfall, while enough to have us diving into the Tuscan’s deep boot to fish out and fit the roof panels and rear windscreen – is not enough to slicken the road. Ye weather Gods have smiled. 

Regardless, it’s with profound respect and senses hot-wired that I point the Tuscan’s handsome nose towards the first of many curvaceous sweepers – some wickedly off-camber – that scribe the near-vertical, 137m cliff-faces that line the road.

Four kilometres on, bluff rock walls give way to steep, grassy slopes and the hairpins expand into sweeping horseshoe bends.

Vital statistics – 23-16-22 (kilometres/gradient percentage/number of curves).   

The sign says
The sign says


I’m feeling out the level of road grip as much through my hips, held tight in the seat, as my clammy hands on the wheel.

The steering is q-u-i-c-k, and rolling the throttle on in 3rd, even though there’s mechanical LSD to apportion power to the ground – the rear feels ready to kick out at the tiniest lack of circumspection on my part. 

Not surprisingly, the gorge has a speed limit and steady line of oncoming traffic, so it’s not a time for infinite self-indulgence.

That said, I find myself and the Tuscan consuming the blacktop in one power-assisted swoop after another, surfing the wave of brawny torque that peaks with 427Nm at 5250 rpm.

When the curves run out before Ashwick, what else to do but turn around and do it all over again?

Respect the centre line
Respect the centre line.


We roll back into Cheddar village on over-run, the Tuscan all bombast and bad attitude hollering through its huge, carbon-can dual pipes.

It’s then that we see the hordes of day-trippers flanking both sides of the main street, standing transfixed, their collective gaze directed up the road towards the hell this barrage of mortar fire is coming from.

I try to look sorry about disturbing the peace.

From Cheddar, we head north-west towards Minehead. About 25km out, the A39 rewards my palms, and the Tuscan is in its element. A race car for the road, a description so overused it’s been hammered into a cliché – but so apt for the Tuscan. 

The throttle response is immediate, close-ratio gear shifts precise, mechanical front grip absolute, suspension travel minimal, yet yielding a compliant ride, braking herculean. All delivered to the soundtrack of Lucifer’s hammer.     

In time-honoured traveller fashion, we interrupt the flow to rest and recuperate at The Hobby Horse Hotel (true name).

It’s a convivial place and the TVR is centre of attention. When it’s time to leave, the barman and small group of imbibers wave us off.

“Take care of my car, now,” calls one. 

Tuscan S takes on Cheddar Gorge 2
Tuscan S takes on Cheddar Gorge.


We run along the Bristol Channel, flanked by OMG views from the cliff tops, to Porlock or, more specifically, Porlock Hill, to storm the UK’s steepest A-road, once used by car makers to test the durability of their products.

The TVR makes a molehill out of a mountain, dispatching the imposing one-in-four gradient with contempt. 

By now, caution has become less measured. Punching out of the 2nd gear corners, I find I’m pointing the car as much with the throttle as the steering wheel — and loving it.       

Lynmouth comes and goes and we set sail south-east and inland.

The drive becomes gorge-like heading down the B3234 and then B3223 towards the village of Simonsbath — and a free-spirited run across Exmoor, of Lorna Doone novel fame.

Out here, under a big sky and wide-open expanses, it’s time for reflection. 

In the last decade and then some, mainly through my day job, I’ve been lucky enough to drive a lot of cars. But I’ve not bonded with many like I did the Tuscan S.

This is a car demanding respect at all times. Observe that, and something very special happens. 

Yet, even as confidence and competence grows with familiarity, I reckon the Tuscan would always have a challenge in reserve.

I’ve come to conclude that, with a TVR, you answer to no one – except maybe the magistrate.

Refreshed and ready to roll
Refreshed and ready to roll


Say Cheese, Please

The village of Cheddar (population 5000) goes back to medieval times. But few material signs of its origins remain, apart from market cross and circa 14-15th century church.

The trifecta that has made Cheddar something of a must-do for visitors is, of course, its gorge (and cracking road), caves and famous cheese.

Cheddar, you may or may not know, is the most widely purchased and consumed cheese in the world.

The two main caves open to the public, Gough’s and the smaller Cox’s, are on the south side of the gorge and within the village.

Discovered in 1903, the former leads around 400m into the rock-face, and contains a variety of large rock formations and chambers of various sizes. 

While it’s been suggested the caves might have been used for maturing cheese in ye olde times, we weren’t quite expecting to find several truckles (traditional, cylinder-shaped blocks) of local cheddar stored away inside Gough’s Cave.

Modern hygiene is practised, you will be relieved to hear, and the truckles are up off the ground and inside wire mesh-enclosed cabinets.

Travelling towards the light
Travelling towards the light.


2003 TVR Tuscan S

Basic Price: £49,995 new ($A100,00)

Engine: 4.0-litre, DOHC inline 6-cyl

Power: 294kW @ 7000 rpm

Torque: 427Nm @ 5250 rpm

Transmission: 5-spd manual

Weight: 1100kg

Drive: Rear-wheel

0-100km/h: 3.8 secs

Nardi Personal steering wheel
Nardi Personal steering wheel.


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