Entering The Matrix With A Pair Of TVR Sagaris: Red OEM, Or Blue Restomod?
Photography by Virgiliu Andone
How far into the future should you project when designing a car? Conventional wisdom says no more than a couple of years, otherwise your work runs the risk of alienating your target audience with something too far ahead of its time. But what happens if your brand has customers who couldn’t care less about the status quo?
I’m talking about TVR drivers, and the simple fact that there aren’t that many of them may be the British sports car manufacturer’s biggest asset. Over some five decades of existence—though a bit spotty in recent years—TVR has built a reputation among those in the know for embarking on daring engineering, for patterns of seemingly annual technical revolutions, and never being too concerned about what their competition is up to. As far as car manufacturers go, TVR has long been an industry maverick.
And to keep up with the energy and zeal of the company’s engineers, TVR’s designers have had to look into the radical fringes of the imagined future, often coming up with cars that look more at home on the silver screens of science fiction films. TVRs look they are designed not by pencil lines on white paper, but by adding light to darkness, one excited pixel after another, ignited rather than drawn. The aerodynamic apparatuses, jawed intakes, and sweeping musculature are not to everyone’s liking—these are not sleepers—but they look right at home under the condescends and neons of the city at night. Part 1960s super GT and part 2049 futurism, the Sagaris is the definitive modern classic TVR.
Looking at an early 2000s Sagaris, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s all but brand new. Of course, the rarity helps, as you don’t get a chance to see many on the road, even in their homeland. But rarity alone can’t account for the presence of this car. There is a surreal wild nature conjured around it, and despite its voluptuous curvy bodywork, you feel like you should think twice before touching it. This car is as poisonous a predator as they come. While it’s actually rather easy to escape unharmed from an encounter with a Sagaris—they reward people who know how to drive truly analog cars—it is all but impossible to escape its spell once you get the hang of it.
Its talents are free of contrivances, devoid of tricks that make the car drive beyond your inputs. Just by stimulating your imagination and making you take stock of your abilities, the Sagaris becomes a revelation. It may be a hard car to get used to, but it’s even harder to get out of it and hand the keys over to someone else once it all starts to gel. “They don’t make cars like they used to.” Well, sometimes they do. And they have a lot more power and a lot more tire in the 2000s than they did in the 1960s, making the Sagaris something of an anachronism.
But only in terms of eschewing the modern comforts and performance enhancing gizmos that so softened its peers. Surrounded by the enigma of darkness late at night when most of the city is asleep, its cyberpunk silhouette projects itself into reality in a way that doesn’t happen in the daytime. It looks slightly dystopian out here in the emptiness amongst monolithic blocks of concrete and asphalt and glass, a vision of a barren future where the Sagaris roams for prey at high speed through the urban grid.
I tried to capture this feeling with a pair of these beasts, a red one, and its blue replicant. Red pill, blue pill, both representing one of the truest, purest sports cars of the naughts. The closer you get to them, the more you realize what makes them distinct from most modern cars. They have a huge presence, but, they are very small. Seems like a simple thing to point out, but it’s only when you see these things in context do you start to understand how mental these things are. Those are not 21” wheels, tricking you into believing the car is taut and nimble. These are simply 18s, and the car really is taut and nimble. No visual tricks. Just trick engineering. The red one, built in 2005, runs its standard four-liter high compression straight-six engine putting out 400 horsepower. An engine that you can’t see, unless you un-bolt the bonnet. TVR style is not just skin, or fiberglass, deep. It’s an attitude. These are built to drive, not to make it seem like you know how to drive. And the blue one pushes the performance envelop even further. For those in the know, the exhaust exits hint that there is something special going on here. Only on a TVR is a typical rear-exit exhaust an indication of a special model. And if you were hoping to be witnessing something truly unique, you won’t be disappointed.
The first TVR model to reach 200mph was the Typhon—the tiny little Sagaris will reach a pretty puckering 185mph—of which only three were ever made. Out of these three, only one was a TVR factory-supercharged version. The fastest ever factory spec. Due to TVR’s almost perennial financial troubles, the supercharged variant never went beyond that single car.
The blue Sagaris pictured here picked up that mantle, as it is loosely based on the supercharged Typhon spec, while adding even more spice to the recipe and making sure the extra power doesn’t disintegrate the drivetrain, melt the bodywork, or turn the car into an even more uncontrollable beast. It’s been created by TVR specialists Str8Six, the ex-factory techs who worked on the original.
The team never got over the disappointment from shelving the original project, but they aren’t just sitting around moping about it. With TVR now out of the picture, they took matters into their own hands. Starting with one of only six examples of the Mk2 Sagaris with the unbolted bonnet, this one harnesses a Rotrex C38 supercharger, held in by a bespoke anodised aluminium mounting bracket and custom pulleys. The engine is modified to now reliably produce 600 bhp, with forged pistons, steel crank and rods, cross bolted block and various other tweeks. Thankfully, the engine bay in the blue Sagaris can be easily revealed without going about unbolting things, so we can admire the custom carbon air box, housing the six additional fuel injectors that this thirsty mill demands.
Downstream, a Quaife gearbox had its casing modified to keep up with the extra torque. And similarly, the Quaife differential is also upgraded. Keeping all that power on the road is helped by Öhlins dampers all around, and six-pot brakes in the front and two-pots in the rear provided by AP Racing. The unmatched knowledge that the guys from Str8Six have of the platform allowed all the changes to be done without any holes or modifications being required to the body or chassis. Compared to the red one, the blue car feels the same at city speeds, but I am told it gets a “touch” wilder on the open road. Then again, we are comparing one TVR with another, it’s like comparing a pair of Ariane rockets.
A red original and a blue restomod, with superior strength, speed, agility, resilience, and intelligence. It doesn’t get any more Blade Runner than this, even if the colors are more of a Matrix motif. It works for the blue pill and red pill analogy as well I suppose, with the blue path being that towards unreality and enhanced capability, with red representing the truth, or in this case, the stock specification.
On a cold London night, the city soundtrack seemed made for this encounter. Every minute or so, jets landed across the water from where we were. Miraculously for this time of the year, it didn’t even drizzle, but that didn’t take much away from the feeling that we were in Ridley’s rainy dystopia. What broke the fourth wall was the reaction of the people. Far from being cold and distant, they warmed up at the sight of the cars. We were in Newham, one of the most diverse neighborhoods of London, in a sense a very similar demographic to the one in the film’s Los Angeles of the future. And yet there is a clear sign that this is very much Britain and nowhere else. Everyone here knows a TVR when they see one. It’s a mark of true design greatness that the undeniable aggression that the car projects doesn’t detract from the warmth of its character. It’s not an over the top tuner car, with no pedigree and a shallow raison d’etre. It’s a modern icon that already seems timeless. A beacon of pure driving fun that unites very different people in appreciation, while still looking like it is about to ingest anyone who gets in the way.