112,000 Miles in a TVR S3
This information has been gathered from personal experience and is believed to be accurate but there is no guarantee that this is the case. Anyone using this information does so on the understanding that its use is completely at their own risk and that no legal liability of any kind will be accepted by the author for errors or ommisions or consequential damage to persons or possessions. Prospective users should make their own considered judgement or seek specialist advice as to the accuracy or otherwise of any statements made before using this information in any way.
The First 60,000 Miles
H 408 WDM, an early TVR S3 was bought privately in 1992 with 13,000 miles on the clock. Over the years another 101,000 were added during which I experienced periods of frustration, the odd fright but generally very enjoyable motoring. When sold at 114,000 miles the car was performing rather better than when purchased at 13,000, the following jottings will hopefully explain why.
The car was only used between May and November, mainly for commuting the daily 100 mile round trip to Newcastle. Living in rural Northumberland these journeys were a mix of twisty A roads, dual carriageway with a few miles of city crawl. All maintenance/repairs were carried out personally but I do have the advantage of decent workshop facilities including a 4 post lift and a friendly TVR dealer, just 25 miles away.
The first problem encountered was contrary to most TVR owner’s experience, the car would not reach working temperature, resulting in very rough running. Changing the thermostat had no effect. On closer inspection the stat housing had a few surface high spots from a poor casting and these were suspected of causing the stat to stick open. It was easier to reduce the diameter of the thermostat by a few thou rather than tackle the housing - this cured the fault instantly and the car warmed up within 3/4 miles as it should.
The chassis and the petrol tank were rusting quite badly so both were de-rusted, painted with Bondaprimer and then treated with Waxoyl. The tank coating was still fine at 110,000, but the chassis coating only lasted a few months. I now prefer to de-rust, apply two coats of Bondaprimer or Unidox Primerfollowed by a top coat of ordinary household enamel. Many proprietary paints have been tried but my experience is that good quality enamel gives better protection. The most prone areas of the chassis are just behind the front wheels here the chassis takes the full force of mud grit etc. blasted against it. A sheet of 16- gauge aluminium was cut and bent to protect the front cross member and secured with self-tapper’s to the chassis. This proved most effective. I found that the de-rusting/painting process needed to be repeated annually to maintain protection.
At 45,000 miles one sunny day while driving up the M6, disaster struck. The brakes completely failed. Only rapid pumping of the right foot and manic application of the handbrake avoided a hefty laundry bill. No leaks were apparent from the calipers or wheel cylinders so the master cylinder seals were replaced. This made little improvement. Further inspection revealed that the plastic unions on both the master cylinder and the reservoir had imploded thus blocking fluid from reaching the master cylinder. (See Photo’s) It was assumed that the heat from the exhaust manifold had softened the plastic so much that sharp braking had caused them to collapse. Apparently this is not an isolated occurrence.
A new master cylinder at £200 would have cured the problem but it seemed a bit steep as all I really needed were a few 20 pence unions that were not available. The solution was to replace the reservoir with a steel unit from an old Landrover and a friend turned some new master cylinder unions from brass. These were fitted and the problem was cured.
The brake pads and linings seemed to last for ever perhaps my atypical route to work with little braking during the journey accounted for this. I first changed the disk pads at 68,000 miles not because they had worn down but that I felt it would be prudent to replace them. The rear brake slave cylinders were replaced at 57,000 miles due to leaking seals.
The flimsy sun visors developed brewers droop but a simple cure (for the visors) involved winding two layers of masking tape around the spindles. Simple but effective.
A constant irritation was the bombardment by flies and other debris through the ventilation (fresh fly) vents. By stretching a thin layer of synthetic cushion wadding inside the entry ducts on the bonnet, this debris was very effectively filtered and the cabin was much cleaner. The airflow is reduced but by restricting the wadding to a thin layer the ventilation was still quite adequate.
At 60,000 the steering became ultra sensitive, the slightest road undulation throwing the car all over the place. As the car had just passed its MOT I did not suspect the normal front suspension wear points. After changing the steering rack, checking the tracking and castor/camber angles all to no avail it turned out to be a worn top ball joint that had escaped the MOT tester.
From the start of my ownership the car had always tended to be quite rough when cold, especially at low revs, with quite violent juddering of the drive chain. This usually disappeared when traveling at a reasonable speed with a warm engine. Two factors were found to be causing this:
(1) The multi-way plugs and sockets located around the top off side of the engine that connect sensors and injectors to the Electronic Control Unit (ECU).
(2) The throttle Position Sensor (TPS)
The multi-plugs are of questionable quality and frequently produce intermittent connections resulting in juddering at low revs. By replacing them with waterproof connectors (see supplier) this problem was completely eradicated. The TPS is a frequent culprit, a quick check is to unplug the TPS and see if the engine runs more smoothly, if so the TPS is likely to be faulty. The ECU will revert to a less dynamic mode and will substitute a fixed value for the TPS, the engine will then not be running as efficiently as it can but if the TPS was originally faulty the engine should run a great deal more smoothly. A new Ford TPS can then be fitted. I changed the TPS three times during my ownership.
Of all the remedial steps taken during the 11 years of running the S3 these two have had the most profound effect on overall smoothness of acceleration and performance.
The Next 40,000 Miles
During the 100,000 miles, the TVR S3 only let me down twice. The first incident I should have predicted. There had been a smell of ozone in the car for several weeks and this usually signifies arcing electrical contacts. One morning while negotiating Newcastle traffic, the car suddenly cut out and coasted to a halt. The engine could not be turned over and it seemed as if everything had died. A bit of logical fault-finding located the problem – another connector had failed, actually burnt out. This time it was the plug/socket connecting the ignition switch to the loom within the steering housing. As a temporary fix I bypassed the offending contacts and was able to get going. Later at home I removed both plug and socket and soldered and sleeved the cables together. No more problems! If the ignition switch had ever needed changing it would only have been a five minute job to re-solder the connections.
The second breakdown was more serious but it did result in the quietest, most economical run ever – on the back of an RAC transporter! I had attempted to start the car for my 50 mile commute home, the engine turned but it just wouldn’t fire. No amount of fiddling and swearing would fire it up; the fuel injection system had shut right down. As it was getting dark I called the RAC. The friendly patrolman did his diagnostic bit and announced that the ECU was faulty, he even phoned through to the RAC technical centre who confirmed that the ECU had died.
A few days later with the help of a Gunson Fault Code Reader for Ford EEC 1V ECU,s ** plugged into the diagnostic socket the problem was traced to the Throttle Position Sensor (TPS), as it had only been replaced a few weeks earlier I initially ruled this out but sure enough by unplugging the TPS the engine fired first time and ran O.K. Measuring the TPS on the bench with an Ohmmeter I discovered that the TPS had shorted out. Presumably this had caused the ECU to shut down. As explained previously the engine will run without the TPS in circuit but in a less efficient manner. I mentioned the problem to my local TVR dealer and they confirmed that the Ford ECU’s are actually very reliable and that in their experience the ECU is very unlikely to be faulty. At around £600 a throw I wonder how many have been changed in error?
** Probably now obsolete but do turn up on eBay. There are two types the 5 pin version for non-catalytic converter 2.9 engines and the 3 pin for 2.9 engines with cats.
One useful tip gleaned from the RAC patrolman was the use of a device, an injector pulse tester that indicates whether or not an injection pulse is present at each injector. The relevant injector is unplugged from its loom connector and the tester simply plugs into the socket. An LED (Light Emitting Diode) flashes when a pulse is present. The Lucas YWB185 device is shown below:
Lucas Injector Harness Tester The Lucas device may now be difficult to source but Sealey market a similar tool,the VS213 Noid Set that is actually 6 separate indicators to fit a whole range of harnesses, but check it will fit the Ford loom fitted to the S3.
The S3 was always laid up over the winter months but this did cause a few problems. The brake discs tended to rust quite severely even to the extent of separating the two halves of the disc. The tell tale sign is a dramatic vibration through the pedal as the brakes are applied.
The exhaust system also collects condensed water, I drained over a pint after one winter. The original steel system lasted about 7 years (68,000 miles) which I thought pretty good. The replacement stainless system was much noisier and had a habit of blowing the top off the central rectangular silencer box, I became quite adept at Mig welding the top back several times. One thing often overlooked with SS systems is that although the metal may last virtually the life of the car the inner sound deadening material will only last a few years. During one of the silencer top re-fixings I fished out the old fibre glass wadding, it was nearly solid and wringing wet. After a visit to the local fibre glass fabricators I came away with a pile of fibre glass matting off-cuts big enough to choke a horse, all for a donation to their biscuit fund. The repacked silencer was a revelation, proving that the gradual degradation generally goes unnoticed at least by the driver.
The electric radiator fan failed at 78,000 miles, no prizes for guessing that it was the connectors that had failed.
Radiators seem to have a hard life in TVR's the average life expectancy for the S3 was about 30,000 miles. I had the radiator recored three times.
At 99,000 miles The car was given a treat by overhauling the suspension: springs, shock absorbers, bushes and ball joints were all replaced. The handling was transformed, it felt like a different car.
Around 100,000 miles while recommissioning after a winters lay up the brakes seemed to require a lot more pedal pressure. On investigation the brake servo from the top seemed fine, but when viewed from underneath........ rather a different story:
Top View of Servo Underneath
The replacement was liberally treated with underseal to prevent a re-occurrence.
The oil pressure sensor was another item that failed twice. The first one leaked oil so much that I thought it was a major engine oil leak. At 112,00 miles the oil pressure reading started to fluctuate and I initially thought the engine required a major overhaul, but no, it was simply a faulty sensor.
At 114,000 miles the S3 was running perfectly it burnt hardly any oil between changes and without doubt ran much smoother than when purchased at 13,000 miles. The only reason for selling was that I fancied a Griffith. The S3 was eventually sold to a gentleman of the cloth who I understand enjoyed the car for 6 years, apart from normal servicing a clutch change was the only major item he required. The car now has a new owner who apparently uses it regularly.
Regular maintenance is definitely the key especially regarding engine oil changes, I always used fully synthetic and did not pay £30+ for 4 litres. I used a fully synthetic blend from a local oil supplier at a fraction of the price. For my type of driving it has proved most satisfactory.
Footnote: Who said TVR's Dont pull the birds? If TVR had used Japanese electrical connectors this article would probably have only been a few lines!
Finally a big thank you to the three main driving forces behind TVR:
The late Trevor Wilkinson, Martin Lilley and the late Peter Wheeler all ex MD's of TVR who between them and their staff created some splendid original vehicles, a pity one of these are still not at the helm!
The Fourth owner Rory Yardley has kindly continued the story :
The Next 12,000 Miles
It’s fair to say that H408WDM has not been collecting the miles at quite the same rate as under Paul’s stewardship. The ‘gentleman of the cloth’ had added another 6000 miles in the 5 years he had the car and when I bought the car the mileage stood at just over 120K. The good reverend had some other interesting cars, one of which being a pre WW1 Renault that his family had owned from new, adorned with the first Cumbrian number plate AO1.
I’ve put another 6000 miles on the car, mainly using it for sunny day commutes to West Cumbria, a 90 mile round trip across two sets of Cumbrian fells. Its been very reliable, although my definition of reliability is that I’ve always got home under my own steam! The two minor breakdowns suffered were a cracked clutch pipe and a broken throttle cable. In the first case I got home by starting the car in third and not stopping at any junctions and in the second, we rigged the cable back to my car school passenger, who operated it by hand through the passenger window. By the end of the journey he was getting the power on nice and early in the corners, and blipping the throttle on the downchanges!
Obviously the car is getting on a bit now, and I’m slowly working through a rolling restoration. The chassis has needed some welding, although Pauls regular Hammeriting and Waxoyling have helped. I’ve replaced the shocks and springs, clutch master cylinder, steering column bearing and front brake discs. Otherwise its been mostly cosmetic. The drivers seat has had the foam replaced, the dash re-veneered (in real wood!) and I’ve swopped the droopy original mirrors for the chrome bullet type. I also swopped the original fixed aerial for a telescopic chrome item. I think the chrome mirrors and aerial go with the petrol cap and door handles; they add to the retro look of the S.
Big jobs to come include a bonnet repaint (120K miles worth of stone chips would appal many TVR owners!) and finally fixing the drooping drivers door.
To sum up, an S is simple, reliable, easily fixed, and they make a great noise. I cant think why prices remain so low!