OH, HELLFIRE-RED beauty, glistening in the autumn sun! Black top down over your stunning body. Yeah, they were looking at you, oohing and aahing and holding up all that lunchtime traffic in front of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

I'd never driven anything so beautiful. They'd never seen anything so beautiful -- low, sloping front, tapered with sensual dignity.

So, they gathered 'round, all those FEMA people, touching your glass-reinforced plastic skin, asking your name.

"Tasmin," I said. "Tasmin?" one asked. "Say, man, that's British?"

"Uh-huh," I said. "British sports car . . . hand-made . . . from an outfit called TVR in England . . . Ford engine . . . Jaguar rear."

"Nice, man. Real nice," he said. "God, I love it!" a woman said. Oh, you little red devil.

Outstanding complaints: The Tasmin 280i convertible is not for everybody. It is, like many British specialty machines, a quirk-mobile. The doors on this mid-engine two-seater open only about 65 degrees -- not a car for wide-bodied types.

The automatic windows are not so automatic. In order to avoid peeling the rubber window seals when the roof is up, the doors must be opened part of the way before the windows are raised.

The windshield is angled severely over the passenger compartment. To get desirable head clearance, one must move the seat backward and then scoot down a bit, a la race-car driver -- great for performance nuts, lousy for tall people who just wanna have fun.

The climate-control system requires a bit of patience. One must read the operator's manual to fully understand the function of the system's dial and levers.

Luggage space is virtually nonexistent, especially when the hard-top portion of the two-part convertible roof is loaded into the trunk.

Outstanding praise: A body that belongs in the East Wing of the National Gallery, the centerfold of Playboy, or, hey, the centerfold of Playgirl, depending on one's view. It is the most asked-about car I've ever driven.

Credit the craftspeople at TVR Engineering Ltd. of Blackpool, England. They've been in business since the '50s, and they've been making these handcrafted beauties, the Tasmin series, since 1980. TVR's workers, who turn out about 600 cars a year, have leeway to put a bit of themselves into each job, and it shows. No two Tasmin cars are exactly alike. All the models I've seen are stunning pieces of art.

Acceleration, ride, and handling: Superior in all three categories. Rigid, tubular subframe completely eliminates body shimmy so often found in convertibles. Absolutely precise steering. Masterful traction at maximum legal highway speed in turns.

The Tasmin is powered by Ford Motor Co. of Germany's 2.8-liter, fuel-injected, V-6 gasoline engine. The four-speed manual trsmission also comes from Ford. The results: more than enough power to help you scoot, easy enough to repair to hold on to your loot.

Sound system: In this model, sound by Clarion. Ho-hum. Needs work.

Mileage: About 25 miles per gallon, combined city-highway, running mostly driver-only with top down. The Tasmin engine's throaty growl gives one the impression that the car drinks gasoline. But the car gets extra fuel efficiency from its well-shaped exterior and from its high-strength yet lightweight tubular frame.

Price-as-tested: $23,000. Great little toy.