Arguably the best TVR to buy new – how does it hold up when bought secondhand?
By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, 29 October 2023 / Loading comments
- Available for £70,000
- 4.0-litre straight-six petrol, naturally aspirated, rear-wheel drive
- As thunderous as you might expect
- Best-built TVR ever
- Maybe the best handling one too
- Big bang for the buck – and the bucks are only going to get bigger
Ah yes, Blackpool. Britain’s equivalent of Coney Island, Bondi Beach or Phuket, but without the warmth. Still, Blackpool had one claim to fame that no other world-renowned resort could match: it was the home of TVR. The website you’re on right now started off as a meeting point for TVR owners, many of whom are still rumbling along here, so we’re not going to insult your or their intelligence with a potted history of a company founded by Trevor Wilkinson and Jack Pickard in 1946, taken to new heights of greatness/madness by Peter Wheeler in the 1980s and 1990s, before going bust in 2007. Instead, let’s get straight into the subject of this buying guide, the Sagaris – the last (maybe) and best (probably) TVR so far.
Crazy name, crazy car. Sagaris sounds like a starbase in an Isaac Asimov novel but the truth is that it was an armour-piercing battleaxe used by Persians and other Middle Eastern types in BC times. TVR’s version was announced a bit later in 2003, but it didn’t go on sale until 2005. Conceived as an endurance racing version of the well-proven T350C, its tubular steel chassis was cloaked in a fibreglass body that ‘looked like it had been designed by a lunatic and then hit with an axe’ (J Clarkson).
The engine was a 4.0-litre iteration of the Al Melling-designed Speed Six, a straight-six offshoot of the V8 AJP8 that Melling had created earlier for use in the Cerbera and the Tuscan racer. In Sagaris tune the 4.0 six put out 406hp and 349lb ft, which might not seem all that much in 2023 until you realise that a) it didn’t have a turbo, and b) the car only weighed 1,078kg. That was the stated weight anyway. Magazines going to the trouble of weighing the Sagaris test vehicle (which had air conditioning) found that it was around 100kg heavier than that, but the discrepancy didn’t really matter. Even if it had been 300kg heavier the Sagaris would still have been stupidly quick.
In common with other Wheeler-era TVRs, the Sagaris didn’t bother with namby-pamby stuff like traction control, stability control, airbags or even anti-lock braking. Besides keeping the weight down, the thinking there was that the absence of these life-saving devices would promote a healthy sense of self-preservation in the driver. Well, that’s one way of looking at it.
The Sagaris went on sale in 2005 at just under £50,000. Production stopped in 2006 at the 211 cars built mark, with seven race cars built in that year by the GTF team at the TVR factory in Bristol Ave, Blackpool and a promise of a Sagaris 2 by the then-new TVR owner Nikolai Smolensky. A small run of ‘RT’ (Race/Track) shells were made for a racing series but these were sold prior to the wind-up.
In 2013 you could get a decent Sagaris for £35,000. By early 2021 the cost of entry had gone up to £65,000. Two and a half years after that, in October 2023, you’ll need £70,000 for one. For a surprisingly small amount more than £70k you could potentially win a few races or dominate some trackdays by buying the first-ever GTF race car off PH Classifieds. We’ll link you to that one at the end. Before that though let’s take a look at what made the Sagaris so special, and at anything that might make it less than special as an ownership proposition.
SPECIFICATION | TVR Sagaris (2005-2007)
Engine: 3,996cc straight six 24v
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 406@7,000-7,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 349@5,000rpm
0-60mph (secs): 3.9
Top speed (mph): 185
Weight (kg): 1,078
MPG (official combined): 21.7
CO2 (g/km): 406
Wheels (in): 18 or 19
On sale: 2005 – 2007
Price new: £50,000
Price now: from £70,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The dry-sump Speed Six engine was a beast in both output and durability, as long as you gave it time to warm up before thrashing it. In 2005, and maybe even now, it was the world’s most powerful naturally aspirated six. The rods were forged, as were the aluminium pistons. It did acquire a reputation for valvegear wear but this had been sorted by the time the Sagaris arrived. Any untoward clonks and rattles would usually be coming from crumbling engine mounts on the hot (exhaust manifold) side.
You were well advised not to avoid checking the tappets every two years or 12,000 miles even though poor access made skipping it tempting. Oil loss could be down to an insignificant sump washer or a more significant front crank seal. For more and/or different performance, which would surely be out of curiosity rather than actual need, you could check out 4.3-litre or Chevy LS V8 conversions at £8,500 or £20k-plus respectively. For a lot less money you could go for an ECU upgrade to the newer ‘MBE’ unit.
The standard Sagaris wasn’t a car for long, lazy cruises uninterrupted by over-frequent fuel stops. The official fuel consumption sounded all right at 21.7mpg, a reflection of the car’s low weight, and some owners did get 20-25mpg, but for those keen to explore the car’s personality it was nearer to 15mpg. The tank’s meagre 12.5-gallon capacity meant that 200 miles between fills wasn’t really an option. One car magazine got a 15mpg average, 10mpg in town and 8mpg at the track. The CO2 figure for the supercharged 6.2 V8 Dodge Challenger Hellcat was 299g/km. For the TVR it was 406g/km. While we’re on the subject of fuel, the pumps could go on these, but fitting a new one was a half-hour DIY job for anyone with the ability to twirl a couple of spanners.
The Sagaris transmission was a five-speed Borg Warner T5. Pro road testers didn’t seem to complain about it much but some owners described it as ‘agricultural’. If acceleration through the standard gearbox sounded like it wasn’t going to be mad enough, new buyers had the choice of paying TVR £1,530 for a close-ratio alternative. The press test car had that ‘box and used it to do the 0-60 in 3.9 seconds (still in first gear), 0-100 in 8.5 seconds (still in second) and 0-150 in 20.0 seconds. Both gearboxes were strong but the fingers in the twin-plate clutch weren’t. Original clutch slave cylinders were prone to leakage but the ones you can buy now are better. Impending trouble in the clutch area was flagged up by increased difficulty in getting first or reverse (which had no synchro). Motorsport-spec clutches start at just over £1,000. AP units are a couple of hundred quid less than that.
Quite a few manufacturers have used exhaust tailpipes as a design feature but none of them went to the extremes of the Sagaris’s pipes, which were more sideways than side. They sounded predictably awesome most of the time but the press car (and maybe all of them) had a less than awesome resonance in the oft-frequented 70-80mph speed band.
Service timings were meant to be variably indicated on the panel between the main clocks, but sensible owners stuck to a 6,000-mile schedule. Str8six in Thame do fixed-price servicing for Speed Six-engined cars. The 6,000-mile visit is £475, the 12,000 £785. That one includes the valve clearance check and any adjustment required, along with a final setup and tune. Str8six’s hourly rate is £85. All these prices are exclusive of VAT.
Despite or perhaps because of the absence of electronic driver aids, the Sagaris double-wishbone chassis worked remarkably well. The spring rates were twice as stiff as any earlier TVR’s to minimise rear-end squat and front-end dive. Such heavy-dutiness on such a light car should have made delivering a decent ride quality next to impossible, but the combination of Bilstein dampers and TVR smarts made it more than livable. Gaz Shocks do well-rated replacements now.
Earlier TVRs had steering that was quite scarily light at speed on a bumpy road, with a level of kickback that could really get your attention, but the Sagaris’s lower-geared (but still fast) electrohydraulic rack gave it a much more planted feel even if the actual steering lock was very poor. Four-wheel alignment is always worthwhile on a Sagaris. Str8six do it for £180 plus VAT, or £130 plus VAT if it’s done in conjunction with a 6,000 or 12,000-mile service.
Brake power and feel at the pedal were tremendous, but with no ABS the front wheels inevitably locked up if you stood on it. You’d be stopping at an eyeball-lengthening rate but it paid to learn cadence braking, not just for reduced tyre and splitter wear but also for lower laundry bills. A Hydratrac limited-slip differential was standard equipment. Power oversteer was easy to provoke and control. Have a look at the tyres on any car you buy to make sure they’re not old. New ones will make quite a difference.
A big thing in the Sagaris’s favour was its compactness. That, and the rearward location of the engine, made it much more wieldy on British roads than quite a few other higher-profile supercars. Small stature didn’t mean small presence though. It looks just as stunning now as it did getting on for twenty years ago. Underneath, remember that the powder coating was more or less the only protection the tubular steel chassis had against the elements. Any breach in that coating will let water in with the usual rubbishy outcome, so vigilance is a must.
Some Sagaris bodyshells had problems with bubbling, requiring at least one of them to go back to Blackpool for a full repaint. Some suffered from rear-side window pop-out as a result of poor gluing. There wasn’t much clearance between the front splitter and the ground, with no nose lift option to help you at low speeds, so protection film was a must. Scraping could happen at higher speeds too, which was fine if you were an F1 driver (Hamilton or Leclerc at the ’23 US GP excepted) but quite scary-sounding for the rest of us.
Those dragon’s-back lumps atop the front wings were just that, lumps. On the prototypes they let the air through, a reminder of the car’s racing design, but factory testing showed that these vents were also very good at firing road debris at the screen. Leaving them as closed lumps removed that distraction, allowing you to concentrate on the engine hatch in the bonnet which wasn’t always that good at not flapping about. The arcing tailgate hinges were works of art but you couldn’t see them as easily from the driver’s seat as you could that dratted engine cover.
Although the Sagaris was nominally based on the T350/Tamora, that didn’t translate into full parts commonality. If you wanted a rubber door cap for your Sagaris, for example, which quite a few owners did as they had a habit of disappearing and there were no original parts to be had anywhere, you couldn’t just use your mate’s spare Tamora cap because it wasn’t the same part. Luckily PHers Leo02 and Glow Worm have very recently set up a 3D print project for these and other TVR body parts. Go here if you’d like to know more.
There’s nothing quite like a TVR cabin. Any car where you needed to be told in advance where the door release was had to be special. In the Sagaris’s case it was a button to the right of the radio which, unconventionally for a TVR, was very conventionally mounted on the dash. That was a pity because if the radio had been put somewhere more TVR-ish, for example bolted to the handbrake or stitched to the driver’s seat by your crotch, you would have been able to put your ciggy out in the old-school ashtray that was rendered inaccessible by the radio.
We called it a cabin just then but it was more like a cocoon, and a very comfortable one too with full leather as standard. It was nicely built too, which must have come as a shock to some owners of earlier TVRs, although the wiring behind the dash was still haphazard in the best TVR style and not immune to breakage. The windows might not always work, the headlights might blink when the car hit a bump and you might get some quease-inducing water temperature readings which usually turned out to be a function of electronic confusion rather than blown head gaskets.
The markings on the speedo were two-figure numbers going up in steps of two from zero to 20 and the tacho needle went counterclockwise to 9. The castellated aluminium knobs for the lights were wonderfully nuggety and the seats were hard but supportive. The driving position was tough to criticise. If it wasn’t right for you the pedals were adjustable. As an unexpected bonus, the 495-litre boot was big and easy to use.
The DVD-based navigation system was a £2,000 option. A digital radio was £480, xenon headlights £585. Most owners regard air con as essential. That was a hefty £1,930 extra when new, so not everyone went for it, but the whiff of glue should have disappeared from most cars by now.
If the only thing standing in the way of you and a Sagaris is TVR’s slightly dodgy reputation as a manufacturer, we would say don’t let that happen. Whatever you might think of the Smolenski era you have to give the company credit for the introduction of more rigorous testing and durability standards. These may have been in train before the Russian arrived but they resulted in what most would say was the best-built – or just best, full stop – TVR.
There weren’t really any model-specific issues with it. The cars that are intact today – which is the majority of them, as we’ll see in a couple of paragraphs’ time – will have been well looked after to reach their current state. Decent maintenance from a good specialist is all they require, and very few owners are likely to have given that idea a swerve.
There’s a good supply of parts from Powers Performance and what used to be TVR Power, now Racing Green. For some of the bits that aren’t readily available, enterprising owners have been getting into 3D printing. Which brings us to the reassuringly huge amount of TVR knowledge that’s out there, much of it available either directly or indirectly through PH or via Facebook. For six-pot TVRs like the Sagaris you can also draw on the expertise of people like Str8six.
Sagaris values are going up, and there’s no reason to suppose that the rise is going to plateau anytime soon. Although around three out of every four Sagarises built are still either registered or SORN’d in the UK, the total number is still small (fewer than 150 in the first quarter of 2023) and still reducing, albeit more slowly, which is normally one of the signs of more careful stewardship. As mentioned in the overview, the entry price for a Sagaris as of October 2023 is (or was, depending on when you’re reading this) £70k. We reckon that’s a bargain for the railgun performance and the cheek-puffing character.
As you might expect from the spiritual home of TVRs, the overwhelming number of cars for sale in the UK will be found on PH Classifieds. At the time of writing, there were four £70k entry point cars to choose from. If you think you’d like to own the most viewed Sagaris ever, you’ll be wanting PN05 OUL, the original TVR press car and star of many a magazine test and YouTube video. Now wearing 44,500 miles but still looking good in Chameleon Orange with black hide, it comes with a 12-month warranty, a new MOT (we guess – in Oct ’23 it was showing as having expired three months earlier) and a £69,950 price sticker.
Just for fun, we looked up the MOT history for the other press car, the blue one (PN05 OUX) that appeared in the TG studio and on their track. Its test certificate expired ten years ago in August 2013, one year after the mileage had been noted at 27,400. There was nothing on the history back then to suggest any major problems so presumably it’s either been written off or put into storage.
This Red Glow Sagaris at £69,995 has a lower mileage (29k) than the orange press car and comes with a similarly interesting history, its owners having included a TVR boss (Les Edgar?) and Gordon Murray, who used it to inspire his work on the hopefully upcoming Griffith.
There were seven more Sagarises on PH in October ’23, ranging up to just under £90k for this ChromaFlair-painted 13,000-miler with John Pogson-tweaked suspension. Let’s go out with a bang with that GTF racer we promised you earlier. 550hp and 450lb ft from a 6.8 Chevy LS2 V8, 900kg… hmm, wonder how hard it would be to make that fully street legal? It’ll cost you £85k to begin the process of finding out.
(Image credit: Hilton & Moss)
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