These things don’t often end well.
We once pitched a new 266bhp Peugeot RCZ R against a used 503bhp Jaguar XKR – both worth about £30,000 at the time – and the Peugeot came away with a very bloody nose. It was a good car, but simply not good enough against Jaguar's bristling super-coupé. Goliath flattened David and his little sling.
This time, our plucky underdog is the Subaru BRZ – the modestly powered but endlessly exploitable compact coupé. Its opponent streaks in from left field in a cloud of combustive noise: it’s one of Peter-Wheeler-era TVR’s finest, the Tamora-derived T350t (the wee ‘t’ denoting a targa-style top, as opposed to the T350c coupé). Fewer than 500 T350s were built, but there are a few in the classifieds, mostly priced at around the same £26,495 being asked for a new BRZ.
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The privately owned T350 we’ve generously been lent is worth a little more – about £32,500 – because it carries both Red Rose and Lightweight specification. Red Rose means its six hot Lancashire pots have been stroked, raising engine capacity from 3.6 to 4.0 litres and power from 350bhp to 380bhp, plus heftier brakes, a big-bore exhaust and a viscous limited-slip rear differential. The Lightweight spec means vinylester bodywork rather than the standard GRP, saving about 30kg. That leaves the 197bhp, 1242kg Subaru 142kg heavier yet half as powerful. In starker terms, it’s 159bhp per tonne versus 345bhp per tonne.
The BRZ is 266mm longer, too – mainly because it has two small rear seats – but both cars still look little and lithe, the Subaru’s à-la-mode lumps, bumps and angles contrasting with the TVR’s smooth yet aggressive, Kamm-tailed form.
Their interiors give the biggest clue to their original RRPs: the TVR cost twice as much new. What isn’t high-quality leather is Alcantara – there’s even hide on the standard-fit roll cage – and surprise and delight are both delivered by the mostly unlabelled aluminium switchgear. Push this, turn that, watch the multi-coloured LEDs light up. It’s a joy. The seats have been reupholstered, but the sterling condition of the entire cabin belies the odometer’s 58,000 miles.
The Subaru’s seats are leather and Alcantara, too, and of decent quality, but the rest is a medley of unattractive plastics – some softish but mostly brittle-feeling. The rock-hard, perforated leather-effect door inserts are a particular lowlight, while the mismatched switches range from rudimentary to passable. It’s best to accept these economies and console yourself that fancier finishes would add weight. The BRZ’s boot is smaller than the T350’s fairly generous, glass-hatched space, but you can drop the Subaru’s one-piece rear seatback panel for extra room.