Our Cars : Project Tomcat

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Update: 1 February 2009

T16-Series engine with Garratt T25 turbo is an amusing combination...
T16-Series engine with Garratt T25 turbo is an amusing combination...

The Tomcat is now on the road. Rather like getting a chocolate gateaux out of the freezer, and having to endure the agonizing defrost period before being able to eat the thing, I decided to wait until the beginning of February before taxing my new toy. So, it wasn’t until a week or so after getting the car home that I could actually drive it on the Queen’s Highway… but once installed with a £185 VED disc, amusement wasn’t far behind.

Actually, the amusement started before the Tomcat had even turned a wheel in anger. The Monday following its arrival at AR Towers, I called up Adrian Flux to get the thing insured. Being on the right side of 40, but with a fair bit of experience behind the wheel, and over ten years’ no-claims bonus, I had assumed things would be a formality. But after a the usual questions, I was presented with one that knocked me for six: ‘Have you owned a high performance car before?’ After a pause of about ten sounds to recompose myself I said, ‘Err, a Saab Aero. Does that count?’ It did, and things carried on as before.

When I’d finished my grilling, the quote came back at £330, with 5000 miles per year maximum, and with the fitment of a Thatcham Approved immobiliser. There are probably younger readers of the site now thinking how reasonable that is – but considering I’d just insured a Saab 900 T16S Aero (which is worth considerably more, and isn’t that much slower) for £200, you can see why I was surprised. Perhaps the Tomcat’s a massive insurance risk.

Actually now I’ve driven the thing, I can see why the premium is so high. It’s a mongrel of a car – you floor the throttle coming out of any tight corner, and it tugs at the wheel like a stray on a leash. You want power understeer? You got it – despite the fitment of that TorSen diff. You want lift-off oversteer? Absolutely, Sir – just be ready for it when it happens. Of course, that was me exploring the limits in a reasonably controlled envirnment, but it’s clear that this car is overpowered. Amusingly – no, laughably – so. So, does that diminish its appeal? Absolutely not. In fact, I have to say that in the couple of days, I’ve been a Tomcat driver (as opposed to owner), I haven’t had so much fun in ages.

Of course, being powered by that T16 engine has its upsides. When you’re not in the mood to play, it’s torquey and very unobtrusive to drive. Combine that general lack of temperament with the long gearing, and it’s a very accomplished motorway cruiser. Sadly, the targa panels generate far too much wind noise – and I do find myself wondering whether there’s a way of curing that? And the average brakes? And the rattly door/window/shell interface when you shut the door…

Okay, so there’s a legion of problems that need sorting – some are built in; others have been picked up over the years. But on the whole, I think it’s going to be fun, this one…

So what do we actually need to do to complete it?

1) Investigate ABS light – Not yet done
2) Cure various rust patches – Not yet done
3) Decide whether the original wheels are worth repairing – Am working on this

And in addition…

4) Cure the random stutter under load
5) Replace the camshaft oil seal
6) Replace the brake pads
7) Oil and filter service
8) Try and quieten down those targa panels at speed…

Immobiliser is an annoyance, but may have to stay thanks to the demands of the insurers.
Immobiliser is an annoyance, but may have to stay thanks to the demands of the insurers.
More rust to consider. This looks urgent.
More rust to consider. This looks urgent.
We need a new keyfob - but it's an infra-red one, not a radio one...
We need a new keyfob - but it's an infra-red one, not a radio one...
The only modification on the car is this stainless steel exhaust system. It's quiet, and will be staying.
The only modification on the car is this stainless steel exhaust system. It's quiet, and will be staying.
Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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