Currently reading: When TVR made an undrivable sub-tonne 660bhp V12 supercar
The 7/12 was a "wild" road racer that even intimidated Martin Brundle, before it was deemed unsafe

TVR stole all the attention at the 1996 British motor show with the shock unveiling of the 7/12, a crazy creation even by the British sports car maker’s mad standards.

Based on the newly introduced Cerbera, a rival to the Porsche 911 and Toyota Supra, with its fantastic 4.2-litre V8 turned into a 7.7-litre V12, it weighed less than 1000kg – thanks to a composite body shell, a steel tubular spaceframe chassis with an integrated roll cage and a spartan interior – while making 660bhp and 660lb ft of torque.

“I’m very serious about this car, said TVR chairman Peter Wheeler. “We are going to go GT racing with this car – and to enter, those cars have got to be road cars.”

The GT racing in question was the top-line BPR Global GT Series, whose 1996 grid was studded with such GT1-category stars as the 911, McLaren F1, Dodge Viper, Ferrari F40, Lotus Esprit and Jaguar XJ220.

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“It’s not intended to be a sophisticated road car,” said Wheeler. Indeed, he seemed wary of his creation, adding: “We’re not going to sell to any rich kid that can afford it. It will be priced so that not too many people want to buy it.” His target was £130,000, or £251,300 in today’s money.

“Because it’s not for consumption by a wide band of customers, we can afford to be wild,” Wheeler added of the ‘eye-catching’ in-house styling.

A year later, our Steve Cropley headed up to Blackpool to “fan the flames” left by the bombshell news of what had since been renamed the Speed 12. After all, Woking’s legendary 240mph F1 had a 20% inferior power-to-weight ratio. So 0-100mph would take only 6.0sec.

It was enough to send you to outer space, to take your brain to another dimension. Which is why deposit holders included Keith Flint and Liam Howlett of The Prodigy…

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“Clearance will be minimal and the nose spoiler will crunch regularly, but other compromises may intrude more,” wrote Cropley. “Such as the bellowing engine, the minimal padding of the buckets, the restrictions of the harness and the difficulty of getting in and out of a cabin with a fat chassis tube running diagonally across its door aperture. But for some owners, these things will be nothing but encouragement."

Five months later, we collared development driver John Kent at Croft. “The engine is a jewel, refined and tractable through the rev range, but it really comes alive above 5000rpm,” he said.

“It feels staggeringly fast. As for the rest of the car, we’re clearly at the bottom of a very steep learning curve. But the basics are absolutely spot on.”

By this point, TVR had a major problem: the GT1 class was done and dusted, manufacturers having exploited regulatory loopholes to create prototype-level cars, sending costs through the roof.

TVR was undeterred, though, and at the 1999 British motor show presented the road-ready but GT2-compliant version, now weighing 1100kg and costing £160,000 but getting 880bhp from that V12. “It’s going to be extremely hairy,” acknowledged Wheeler.

Too hairy, perhaps? Long-time Formula 1 driver Martin Brundle certainly seemed to think so after a shakedown at Croft.

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“It’s quite different from what I’m used to, because there’s less grip the faster you go,” he said. “The brakes and turn-in are good but it needs more downforce at the front. The rear is also very stiff; if it starts bouncing, it jolts you and makes your foot bounce on the accelerator, which exacerbates the effect. And there’s also quite a bit of high-speed understeer.”

Wheeler subsequently terrified himself, and concluded that it was simply too powerful, unusable on public roads. Production was cancelled and all deposits were refunded. Flint and Howlett had to find inspiration for ‘Take Me to the Hospital’ elsewhere. TVR did sell one of its three road-going prototypes in 2003, but Wheeler personally vetted potential buyers.

Yet this isn’t our story’s end: in 2019, some former TVR engineers announced a recreation named the TR Speed 12 Turbo, with a body and a chassis of carbonfibre and an Aston Martin-derived 1025bhp V12. If you have a million quid and a screw loose, do enquire…

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LP in Brighton 14 June 2024

It may have been undrivable and unreliable, but at least back then TVR was capable of building some sort of a car and persuading a few hairbrained enthusiast to actually buy the thing!