TVR shows it can still provide the best of British

OFTEN owners of any of the interesting products produced by the British TVR marque have to put up with the question, ''Is it a Triumph?''.

The truth is that the only connection TVR has with Triumph is that, back in the early 1970s, TVR used the 2.5-litre, in-line six-cylinder Triumph TR5 engine to power the TVR Vixen 2500M. TVR is a car-maker in its own right.

It makes traditional British roadsters designed to carry two people in style.

Its cars have plenty of character and give their drivers enormous satisfaction.

The original TVR was designed in the 1950s by Trevor Wilkinson about the same time that the great Colin Chapman launched the Lotus car.

TVR is probably the only remaining maker of innovative, but traditional sports cars in the British tradition.

Over the years, TVRs have been powered by engines from the MGA, MGB, Coventry Climax, Triumph, Ford (including the powerful Ford 289 V8 shoehorned into the original TVR Griffith), the Rover V8 and now the TVR-developed AJP V8.

During the 1980s, it had reworked the Rover V8.

Only in the past decade has TVR developed its own engine. Recently, its work culminated in the powerful, all-new TVR AJP engine.

It is interesting that of all manufacturers that supplied TVR with engines, only Ford and Rover remain.

The original sports car-makers have all but disappeared, or been absorbed by multinational giants.

Aston Martin and Jaguar are now owned by Ford of the United States.

The specialist marques - Caterham, Marcos and Westfield - remain as small companies catering to hardened enthusiasts.

Only TVR remains as a maker of progressively modern, mainstream, but traditional British roadsters.

The Vixen, 2500M, 3000M, the Tasmin and 350i models have been TRV's most popular and important sports cars.

Their modern equivalent is the TVR S series.

This line of cars includes the TVR V8S, which has old-fashioned looks based on the TVR 3000S convertible of 1978.

However, the car that many believe decided TVR's place in the sports car world was the Tasmin.

This 1980s car spawned a variety of derivatives, including the 350i, 390i and the 450 SEAC.

The 450 SEAC was capable of more than 270km/h, and could cover the zero to 100km/h dash in less than five seconds.

The Tasmin's wedge-like appearance was designed by Andrew Winterbottom, who also styled some modern Lotus models, including the Elite and Eclat.

With the Tasmin, TVR managed to broaden its appeal and win more recognition as a maker of serious, but enjoyable, sports cars.

Each month, TVR builds only a small number of cars, each to exacting customers' specifications.

The factory claims it can finish each car in any colour, with matching leather interior, and either wood or aluminium dash and doors.

The 350i was the mainstay of TVR production throughout the 1980s.

Enthusiasts treasure its high performance and its exclusivity.

A flame-red 350i has arrived in Hong Kong from the UK and will join a handful of TVRs here.

The car arrived from Yorkshire last week, and its owner, Mark Ford McNicol, said he was eager to complete the registration and paperwork and get the car on the road.

A quick drive at the container terminal with the car under trade plates was enough to remind Mr McNicol of his 350i's quality.

Even though it had been months since it left Yorkshire, the car started the first time.

Driving any 350i requires strong arms and legs to handle the unassisted steering and stiff, heavy clutch.

Right from starting the TVR, the driver has an idea of its power from the roar of its V8.

The car cruises with powerful ease.

TVR has made its cars easy to maintain, whereas they once required a great deal of care and attention.

Since the 1980s, TVR has also concentrated on making its cars ''user-friendly''.

Each has a collapsible roof, reasonable storage space, reliable mechanics and rust-roof Kevlar and plastic bodies.