The Prototype and Pre-production Cars

This is a very grey area in the history of the TR8. As the name implies these cars were the first to be built and often used what parts were readily available. Apart from the mock up FHC built in 1973 and featured in William Kimberley’s book "The Complete guide to the TR7 and TR8", the first prototype that I am aware of is Ian Tinsey's HOJ 156W. This is a FHC built off line at Longbridge, circa 1976, as a “Methods Built” car to establish the build programme for the first 150 production TR8’s built in 1977. Many hand made parts were used and during its restoration in the 1990’s it became evident to Ian that further detail modifications would have been required to enable production to flow easily.

Although the first 150 FHC’s were all initially fitted with carburettored engines, moves were already afoot to complement these using a more efficient engine with electronic fuel injection. Four of these cars are known to the TRDC, one in Cumbria – X898 the only FHC experimental car known to exist, one in Portsmouth X919 a DHC – which was later fitted with other experimental modifications – one in Southampton, again a FHC, which was also fitted with an experimental aerial in its windscreen. A fourth in Scotland, again a FHC, this car, although designated with a TR7 chassis plate, I am sure was converted to V8 spec in the factory as it includes all the small detail parts that would not be easily available outside the factory. A fifth EFI FHC was believed to have been built but, at present, its whereabouts is unknown.

One of the first convertibles to be used for pre-production testing was in the batch of ten cars with the ACT prefix. This car, owned by a TRDC club member, was sent to the USA in 1978 for hot and cold weather testing. It remained there until 2000 when it was brought back to the UK, with all its detailed paperwork and reports, for a full restoration. A second car from this series was owned by John Eales, but little of its history is known.

Two other cars from the early production of the convertible were the demonstration cars. Both fuel injected, but one with automatic transmission and the other with a 5 speed manual gearbox. They had consecutive registration numbers and remained at the factory until it closed. As the idea of a UK spec TR8 became a real possibility two pre-production cars were built to UK specifications but with modified USA spec carburettored engines, manual gearboxes and USA derived Commission Numbers. These were followed by the experimental cars X921, X923 and X925. Finally, two “first offs” were built in the middle of 1980, again one automatic and one with manual transmission. These had the first genuine UK spec chassis and engine numbers. The whereabouts of the manual car is known, but the automatic version has still to be located.

Finally and probably most controversially, is the pre-production TR8 Spider convertible. This I first became aware of in 1997 when it was re-imported from the USA. It had all the hallmarks of the TR7 Spider with a V8 engine. A letter to BMIHT produced a trace certificate confirming that the car had been built in May 1980 to V8 Spider spec for the North American market. So I think we can assume that this was a pre-production car as, to my knowledge, no production TR8 Spiders were built. Sadly this story has a twist in its tale. As its existence had produced so much controversy, Phil Humphries of the TRDC contacted BMIHT some time ago to get an updated certificate and view the build sheet. All that could be found at that time was a production card for a TR7 Spider with a similar VIN number. When the first Trace certificate was applied for, Anders Clausager was the Archivist so I can only assume that when he left BMIHT the information relating to this car was lost as it cannot now be located by the present staff. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, this is a very grey area of TR8 history so that all information should be analysed and not just discarded as fiction just because no hard evidence can at present be found. I am sure that there are further examples of these cars still in existence - they only have to be found.

NOTE Since writing this article, more information has come to light and the validity of the Trace Certificate has been confirmed.