Wedge With An Edge

The Toyota MR2 (W10) is fast, fun and thoroughly under-rated – for now.

Now's the time to get onboard

Group B and class As. Big wings, bigger shoulders pads. Bad hair and worse top-lip topiary. The 1980s was about all those things. But more than anything, as far as we're concerned, it was about the hot hatch, the rocket-fast runabout that hammered the final nail in the sports car coffin – at least until the MX-5 came along to remind us how fun a properly engineered one could be.

But hang on a second, because there was another way in the 1980s, an affordable Japanese sports car that was giving hot hatches a hard time when the MX-5 was still a kernel of an idea in its chief engineer’s eye. How’s this for a wish list? A classic high-revving Japanese twin-cam motor mounted behind two seats, a chassis featuring fully independent suspension and massaged by Lotus, and sufficient nods to practicality to ensure your fun could last more than five minutes. The original MR2 was a genuine gamechanger.

But before we get too carried away, let’s concede one thing: there was nothing original about Toyota's 'Midship Runabout 2-seater', even if its mid-engined layout still seemed highly exotic in 1984. 

We’d had the Porsche 914 and Fiat X1/9 in the 1970s – and with less than 160bhp between them, they lack the MR2's vigour. And there was the Lotus Europa, but who wanted to drive a car that had a gearshift more vague than a Trump manifesto? What Toyota did is what the Japanese were so good at: taking a great but badly executed idea and doing it justice.

And of course serving it all up in a perfect slice of Yuppie couture. As shapes go, it’s as ’80s as a comically triangular double-breasted suit the Toyota salesman might have worn when he parted you from your cash. There are so many flat surfaces on the original MR2, it looks like it might have been a CKD kit. It’s more purposeful than pretty, but the detailing ticks every box its decade could come up with: pop-up lights, strakes, spoiler, body kit.

This one is a 1B-code MR2 – the facelift car with the teardrop alloys and bigger, colour-coded bodykit. Original 1A versions look more masculine, but still won’t totally sidestep the predictable hairdresser jibes from people who wouldn’t have a clue what makes a good car – and, quite possibly, a decent haircut. Anyway, if this is a hairdresser’s car, it’s one for the bloke who turned Elvis’s pomp into an army-spec crew cut. It’s sharp, focused and ruthless in the way it attacks a bit of road. 

At 975kg, the MR2 is light by modern standards, but not massively impressive by those of its day. A 205 GTI weighed 850kg, and even a voluminous Golf GTi MkII with the then-hot 137bhp 16v motor tipped the scales at 907. Blame the Toyota’s deceptively long Golf-matching toe-to-tail measurements and its five bulkheads. But don’t get too bogged down. What mass there is is apportioned perfectly. The 1587cc engine and five-speed gearbox, cribbed from the front-drive Corolla GT hot hatch, but also seen in north-south form in the rear-drive GT AE85/86 of drift fame, sit directly behind the seats, while the spare wheel is up front. The clever bit is the fuel tank, which is wrapped around the transmission tunnel – meaning no nasty differences in handling between leaving the filling station and arriving at the next one for another top-up.

The MR2 might be as long as a hatch, but it’s some 150mm closer to the ground. Yet tug open the frameless door to drop into the driver’s seat and even though the transmission tunnel is tall, you still feel like you’re sitting a touch too high. Maybe it’s the low scuttle. The visibility is incredible, though a glance over your shoulder throws up a looming spoiler that you mistake for another car the first time you see it.

There’s a lot of shiny period plastic in here, but what everyone notices first is the weird plastic half wing nut located on each side of the instrument binnacle; one to operate wipers, another for those flip-up lights. Then you spot the strange crosshair air vents pointing directly at you from under the dash, and that the wheel has a pronounced ’70’s-dish, before glancing through it to the instruments. 

They’re typically period-Japanese and uninspiring, until you see their scales: an ambitious 150mph speedo and a rev counter cordoned off at 7700rpm. Forget the 150mph unless you’re planning to max it out the back of a Hercules – you might squeeze the needle to 130mph with a hill, a decent wind and 90psi in all four corners, but check out that redline. That was heady stuff to a nation of car fans used to Ford’s asthmatic CVH. Hell, it seems pretty heady now in an era of turbo engines determined to prioritise mid-range torque over proper valve-moshing thrills.

The tiny key kicks that engine smartly into life and an exploratory throttle prod shows the response to be crisper than the final pound notes that were making their way into our pockets as the first MR2s came from Japan. The gearstick’s the tiniest of stretches away, its initially odd-looking, er, sheath making sense only by the time you’ve thrown a few shapes with the right hand, forearm sliding up and down the tunnel. Snick it into first and with a bit of judder as the clutch takes up, you’re away.

The 185-section tyres are narrow, but there’s no power assistance for the steering, so it needs a bit of muscling at low speeds. It’s a sweet little rack, though; responsive as you roll off the straight ahead, and though it's not quick measured between the stops, it feels swift as we barrel along.

You don’t steer the MR2 down roads like this, not with the big inputs old cars sometimes need. You just make gestures with the MR2; tiny nudges, so faint you’re barely aware you’re even making them. Lotus and Toyota were drinking buddies at the time and the way the MR2 flows down a road has Hethel’s fingerprints all over it. It feels primed to change direction. But it's composed, totally at ease as it gently bobs its way through mid-corner bumps at speed.

But there’s nothing at ease about the frenzy under the engine cover. The gearing is short. So short we’re nailing this B-road in fifth gear and still the engine is singing away, 4k equating to little more than 75mph. There’s no trickery here, but later versions of the 4A-GE did get it. But another clever bit of kit gives a very similar sensation.

TVIS, or Toyota Variable Induction System, comprises of a quartet of butterfly valves that close off half of the eight intake runners at low speeds to boost torque. The 105lb ft peak sounds malnourished, but hit 4300rpm and those valves open, the engine note hardens, the push in the back too, and before you know it you're at 8000rpm and ready to throw another gear at the situation.Performance is bang on the money for an ’80s hot hatch and not too shabby a quarter century later. Period road testers recorded 7.9sec to 60mph and a 122mph top end. 

Developing 122bhp at 6600rpm, it’s peppy enough to keep you interested and modern cars honest, and not so brisk that you can’t flog every single one of those 120 nags at the slightest hint of an empty road.

But there’s nothing at ease about the frenzy under the engine cover. The gearing is short. So short we’re nailing this B-road in fifth gear and still the engine is singing away, 4k equating to little more than 75mph. There’s no trickery here, but later versions of the 4A-GE did get it. But another clever bit of kit gives a very similar sensation.

TVIS, or Toyota Variable Induction System, comprises of a quartet of butterfly valves that close off half of the eight intake runners at low speeds to boost torque. The 105lb ft peak sounds malnourished, but hit 4300rpm and those valves open, the engine note hardens, the push in the back too, and before you know it you're at 8000rpm and ready to throw another gear at the situation.Performance is bang on the money for an ’80s hot hatch and not too shabby a quarter century later. Period road testers recorded 7.9sec to 60mph and a 122mph top end. 

Developing 122bhp at 6600rpm, it’s peppy enough to keep you interested and modern cars honest, and not so brisk that you can’t flog every single one of those 120 nags at the slightest hint of an empty road.

Slowing down for a 90-degree right, you’re suddenly reminded of that unassisted steering, but also reassured by that weight build, that the front Goodyears are paying attention. The rears always have a good handle on the situation too, and are never going to be fully outsmarted by such a modest power output. But give it the lot as you see the corner open up and there’s just,  just enough clout to edge the rear end out of line enough to put a grin on your face. Maybe it’d be different with a supercharged version, whose 143bhp lopped a second off the sprint to 60mph, but only made it to the UK as a grey import. There was also a basic 83bhp 1.5 version wearing steels in place of alloys. Brits never got that either, or the optional auto box: the only major change to the UK range besides the 1986 facelift being the option of a T-bar roof in 1987.

Jonathan Hunt’s stunning T-bar we’re driving wears its 123,000 miles well. But then it ought to, given a previous owner spent £30k bringing it back to as-new condition in memory of its original owner, a family member. Big money yes, but almost all MR2s (apart from Jonathan’s other identical, but unmolested 28k example) will need some degree of rescuing these days. 

That's what makes them so compelling for those with an eye on the financial side – the very best examples will attract a premium, and many have been neglected.

The MR2 story didn’t end when the W10 ceased production in 1989, of course. Two more versions appeared, and on paper are faster.  But there’s something special about that first MR2. We still adore the MX-5. But it’s great to be reminded that there was, and is, another way.  


Buying a Toyota MR2 (W10)

The Toyota MR2 reminds us of one of the most exciting periods in car design, when it felt like anything was possible. Considering it came five years before the Mazda MX-5, and should represent the real start of the 1990s sports car renaissance, the MR2 is yet to gain the widespread recognition it deserves. Perhaps that's down to its less appealing replacements, but either way, the wind is changing, and enthusiasts are latching on to the car's considerable charms. 

Investment

The MR2 is considerably rarer than the MX-5, and although it's less timeless, we'd say it has a touch more Modern Classic appeal than its open-topped rival. Given that numbers are thin, with fewer than 1000 left on UK roads, it's easy to conclude that supply and demand economics will give this a higher and more quicker appreciating market value. As all things 1980s are super-cool, and this is as '80s as it gets, we see good long-term growth – expect the nicest ones to double in value in the next five years.  

What exacerbates this is that the gulf between merely useable cars and the very best is huge. So many have rotted away, and it's easy to understand why. Spotting a rusty MR2 is hard, and there are lots of places it can go – just look at our buying tips. In that sense, for the MR2 perhaps more than any other car we feature, we implore you to take along a specialist.

Don't be disheartened, however. As that chasm between good and excellent grows further, the very best will ramp up in value as the MR2's star quality becomes brighter.


MR8.JPG

Modern Classics' view

 

We've tipped some very interesting cars as Clever Money buys, and the MR2 sits naturally among the M3s and RSs of the Modern Classic world. It's great-looking, fabulous to drive, and is regarded as both a gamechanger when new, and a desirable car to those in the know now. Running one shouldn't be arduous, as long as you keep it dry and you're happy to treat it like the weekend classic it deserves to be. We'd almost say forget the AE86, save your money, and go for an MR2 instead. Almost…


Essential Checks

MR7.JPG
  •  Rust is the key with the MR2 (W10). It can strike in many places but the two key areas to check are the wheelarches and the sills. Check the point where the B-pillars meet the sill, as this is a common rot spot. It's tricky, but try to check the lower edge of the sills, inside the rear wheelarches and where the B-pillars actually meet – the seals may be bubbling out. Grasp the black triangle/rear sideskirt section and try to twist it, looking out for movement or crunchy noises from rotten metal. If the car's missing its mudflaps, that could mean the metal fixing points have rusted away and the mudflaps have fallen off. New wheelarches and B-pillar/sill sections are available from MR2 clubs. The A-pillar/sill meeting point can rot due to water/leaf build-up behind the front wheelarch liners.
  •  Behind the nosecone there's a strong steel crossmember. This can rot badly and will be an MoT failure. Remove the plastic cover above the radiator if it's still there and check from above and below. Squeeze and wiggle the narrow bits of nosecose around the sidelight/indicators, and if they crunch you're got rot. The area around the crossmember can rot too, an indicator of incorrect jacking. With the front boot open, check that any corrosion on the radiator is surface-deep only and that neither of the two cooling fans are seized. The headlights can corrode too; check by switching the headlights on, turn the headlight switch into the dashboard and then turn it one more stop counter-clockwise. Next, undo the plastic cover either side of the headlamps by unscrewing the two bright screws that hold each cover layer on. Corrosion should only be surface at best, and check the pivots haven't gone frilly.
  • The front boot floor can rust, though getting the plastic liner off to check is a fiddly job. Front boot seals can also leak. If you've managed to get the lining off without breaking the clips or someone's face in abject frustration, check the heater piping, clutch and brake master cylinders and piping for leaks. Check for corrosion in the rear boot by pulling up the lining, as water can collect here. From here, you can also investigate the tops of the rear wheelarches for rot and accident damage from here while you're at it.
  •  The front of the roof could be corroded where the windscreen meets it, a sign the glass has been replaced and the bodywork mounting point is damaged. If the car has a sunroof, the blocked drain tubes can cause corrosion to the inch of metal pointing out at either end of the dashboard. Check for flakes dropping from the roof. T-Bars are prone to leaks; take a glass of water with you to spot for drips into the cabin. 
  • There are many different versions of the W10 MR2, but they're generally split into two flavours: 1A (1985-1987) and 1B (1987-1990). There are several differences between each version which complicates parts compatibility, and there may be some A and B hybrids featuring bits of both. The 16 Valve inscription on should be blue for pre-1987 models, and red for post-1987 cars. 1987 cars can be either.
  • MR2s have a choice of two transmissions depending on which version it is. The 1A has the C50 transaxle gearbox, which is well-known for jumping out of fifth gear. This happens because the main input shaft and ouput shaft bearings wear away over time, necessitating a new or rebuilt gearbox. You can take preventive measures, however – changing the engine mounts, fork and hub can ease pressure on the shafts. On the test drive, try to drive quickly and then lift off the throttle quickly and get back on the power. Even if it doesn't jump out of gear, check how much the gearlever moves when backing off the throttle – anything more than 20mm is a sign of wear. Also check that the clutch master cylinder fluid is at the right level and not black or dark brown. The 1B gearbox (C52) is much more robust. 
  • For a 1980s car, the electrics are fairly solid but there are a few issues. The electric aerial is prone to failure, and a bush in the windscreen wiper linkage can cause sloppiness; fixing this can cost upwards of £100. The heater fan control resistor pack can fail – check how easily you can change the fan speed. The electric windows can become jerky thanks to the mechanism stripping its cogs. 
  • The 48-GE engine is a robust unit, but it's not without its faults. Head gaskets can go, so check for oil leaking out of the sides of the block. The engine bay cover doesn't keep the rain off, so check for corrosion around the alternator and battery. It's an easy fix, however, and don't be put off by a dirty-looking engine; it's meant to be that way. If you're hearing a tapping/chattering noise then the tappets may have gone out of alignment. This can be fixed by replacing the valve shims. The cambelt should have been changed at 60,000-mile intervals. Look for a sticker on the cambelt cover if it's a Toyota-supplied belt, and paperwork to back it up. 
  • If the car's overheating or you see clouds of steam in the mirror, you could have an airlock. Try turning on the heater – if it doesn't blow hot air, then the airlock's in the heating system. If the engine's got an unruly idle, then this points to air pockets passing over the coolant temp sensors, messing with them and the ECU. These symptoms could be a sign of head gasket failure.
  •  If there are peculiar clonks or judders from the front of the MR2 over lumpy bits of tarmac then it could indicate worn anti-roll bar droplinks, bushes, tie-rods or steering rack. 

CLUBS AND SPECIALISTS

MR9.JPG
  • mr2oc.co.uk
  • mr2dc.com
  • toyotaownersclub.com
  • mr2-ben.co.uk
  • tbdevelopments.com
  • pacific-works.co.uk
  • primemr2.com
  • roguemotorsport.com

MODIFYING

  • A good stainless steel exhaust is highly recommended as the originals are prone to rotting. A smaller steering wheel may aid access for those not sized like a jockey. 
  • If you fancy going for full-on madness, some have fitted the 3S-GTE engine from a Celica or turbo-model Mk2 MR2s. Some hardy souls have even fitted the 3VZ-FE V6 from the Toyota Camry...


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TVR Gems

After almost a decade’s wait, a new TVR is almost upon us.

It will need to be amazing to top this extrovert quartet of the company’s greatest modern classics from its golden era


As we approach the 10th anniversary of the July 2007 closure of TVR, a bright new hope for the company’s future is about to emerge. New owner Les Edgar is finalising plans for an affordable, Cosworth-powered TVR. 'Affordable' is the key word – because the firm's greatest hits, featured here, were just that. So, while Edgar looks forwards, we’re keeping an eye on the rear-view mirror, in which the S-series, Griffith, Chimaera and Cerbera loom brightly.

The architect of TVR’s greatest hits was, Peter Wheeler. He saved the company from death in 1982, and after developing the Tasmin into a series of V8 monsters, he brought the firm back to basics with the S-series in 1986. This move to retro design would evolve into the wonderful Griffith.

Even before the 1990 Birmingham show spotlights had faded on the Griffith’s debut, Wheeler knew he was on to a winner. So it proved – at its peak in the mid-90s, TVR was selling 2000 cars a year. Little did we know it would be TVR's high watermark.

Fast forward 10 years and TVR was ailing. It was building the Tamora, T350 and Sagaris, and sales were sliding. The company was under a two-pronged attack from mass-produced rivals such as the Porsche Boxster and the products’ own growing reputation for unreliability.

Wheeler’s winning touch was lost for good when he sold TVR to Nikolai Smolensky in 2004. Within months, he was laying off staff and making pie-in-the-sky plans for TVR’s future that never reached fruition. When production stopped three years later, it looked like the end was nigh. 

Since then, the TVR legend continued to grow, the Griffith being the halo car – its desirability continues to ramp up.

But is the Griffith alone in deserving such adoration? After all, the S-series led to that car’s launch, while the Chimaera outsold them all. As for the Cerbera – that could leave supercars trailing in its wake. 

Each one is a great Modern Classic – as well as great ways to remind new boy Edgar what he needs to do best if he truly wants to resurrect the legend. 


TVR S

1986-1994

Why it's here

It kicked TVR in an entirely new direction after a wedge-dominated 1980s

Peter Wheeler’s love of 1960s sports cars has a lot to answer for. He masterminded the launch of a new and interesting retro-styled roadster to tug at those heartstrings – little did he know the S-series would profoundly shape TVR's future.

It was a genius new entry-level model created by revising the 3000S. It caused a stir at £2000 less than a Tasmin, and from its show debut was rushed into production, helped by 250 pre-orders even before the floodlights had dimmed. 

The styling was oh-so familiar thanks to dusting off those old moulds, and the under-the-skin story was familiar too. The Ford Essex V6 was replaced by a Cologne, and the only significant advance over the old 3000S was a new semi-trailing arm rear suspension layout.

The S-series worked wonders for TVR’s profitability, and it chimed with the dearth of affordable roadsters at the time. It was regularly updated too, with the original 2.8 upgraded to 2.9 litres for the S2, while the later S3 and S4 were given longer doors and more lavish equipment. 

"As an introduction to modern classic TVRs, there’s a lot going for the S-series – a nice one can be yours for refreshingly very little money."
 

Given that there was so much shared hardware with the wedges, the arrival of the V8S in 1991 was hardly a surprise. It was powered by the Chimaera's 4.0-litre V8 and packed 240bhp, aided by gas-flowed heads, high-lift cams and a higher compression. It could outdrag a 911, clocking the 0-60mph run in 4.9 seconds and 0-100 in 12.9. Yet it cost no more than a Rover Sterling.

 Our 1992 S3C isn’t quite in the V8S’s league. But it's fun and feels more classic than modern to drive. Its steering is delicious and overall it feels planted and secure. The 150bhp it’s endowed with feels about right for the levels of grip available.

That's why we love the S3C –it's likeable and a great-looking weekend toy. It has faults – the dashboard is slabby, the interior more cramped than we’d like and scuttle shake whittles away your confidence. 

But as an introduction to modern classic TVRs, there’s a lot going for it. There are a few well-known weak points, and if you don’t mind it not being concours a very nice example could be within your grasp for refreshingly little money. What a great way to celebrate your first TVR summer.


Essential Buying tips

 It's no surprise that we'll start with the overall condition of the chassis. Get the car on ramps and look closely at the outriggers, trailing arms and rear seatbelt mount – rust here is a gamechanger. If the chassis is rotten, replacement is your best course of action and you'll need to budget for around £3000.

 The S-series' V6 is a well-known quantity. You'll be looking for oil pressure between 50-70psi, and looking around the oil filler cap for signs of a blown head gasket. Also get a compression test for the same reason – 120psi is a sign of a healthy engine. Look also for evidence of annual coolant changes, and that the cooling fan kicks in as it should. Running temperature should be 90°C at all times, although if it's a touch cooler, don't worry.

 Electrics are always a worry. Check the alarm/immobiliser works as it should. Then check the wipers work as this is a common failure, and also make sure the electric windows and door mirrors operate as they should.

  • Is the paintwork good? Are the carpets in one piece? Problems with both will be costly to sort. Also, make sure the doors haven't dropped. Is the roof in good condition? The plastic rear screen?
  •  Does it leak? Best not, of course, but evidence of water ingress points to a failure of the door and window seals, which are prone to perish.
  • Look for play in the steering – bulkhead bearings wear out and make the system woolly. 

SPECIFICATIONS - 1992 TVR S3C

Engine 2933cc/V6/OHV
Power 150bhp@5700rpm
Torque 162lb ft@4300rpm
Maximum speed 130mph
 0-60mph 7.5sec
Fuel consumption 20-26mpg
Transmission RWD, five-speed manual


Griffith

1991-2002

Why it's here

Beautiful to behold, a joy to drive and with a wonderful V8 burble – it was the car that put TVR well and truly on the map

The Griffith was a legend the moment it was born. It caused a sensation when it was new, and is still the hottest classic property. Just look at it – it's a car that looks right from any angle, a car oozing sex appeal. No bumpers, no door handles, nothing to take away the smoothness of its lines.

As a car to take over from the freakishly fast V8 wedges, the Griffith had it all. No wonder that 350 orders were taken for it at its motor show debut – people's jaws dropped and their wallets opened.

Under the skin it was heavily based on the Tuscan racer – its chassis was strengthened and revised from that car, and its V8 was more than familiar. But it was slung far back in the chassis to give near perfect 51:49% weight distribution. 

The Griffith went on sale in 1992, and it immediately became TVR's best-selling model, with more than 600 cars made in the first year alone. As with the wedges, it was developed throughout its life, and offered with a variety of power outputs. A £2404 option from launch was the 4.3-litre 'big valve' version, like James Agger's lovely 1992 example in these images. With 280bhp it proved such a popular upgrade that the majority of customers specified this engine over the standard 240bhp 4.0-litre.

"It was the Griffith, with its astonishing speed and feisty handling, that established TVR as the widowmaker".

It didn't stop there – the 5.0-litre Griffith 500 was launched in 1993. It was this car that, more than any other, established TVR as the widowmaker thanks to its astonishing acceleration. It could crack 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds, 0-100 in 10.2, and had a maximum speed of 167mph. But the performance isn't what makes the Griffith so edgy – it's the hyper-responsive handling.

As the 1990s wore on, the Griffith would be overshadowed, first by the Cerbera and then by the production Tuscan – both powered by the new-generation AJP engines. But its beauty never subsided.

By the time the final 'Griffith 100' model was announced in 2000, it was already firmly established as an all-time British sports car icon. Perhaps that's why values are on the up today, and loving owners are keeping hold of their cars. It's a true Modern Classic – sometimes an attention-seeking cantankerous plaything, but always a car enthusiasts desire with all their heart. 


Essential Buying tips

 The TVR Power-tuned Rover V8s are available in 4.0-, 4.3-, 4.5- and 5.0-litre forms, as well as 'big valve' conversions. All are appreciative of regular oil changes, and are prone to camshaft wear. Look for oil leaks around the rocker gaskets and make sure there's good pressure. Don't think because it's a 'Rover' rebuilds are cheap – they aren't.

 Cooling is critical on the Griffith, so look closely for signs of leaking radiators. Make sure the cooling fans cut in as they should. If there's any sign of problems you need to suspect head gasket failure – that's a £1000 fix. An aluminium radiator, which costs around £500, is a good sign.

 Like the S-series, checking for chassis rust is an absolute must. The chances are that if it hasn't received new outriggers, then they will be rusty. It's a tough item to check, and you'll need to get it on the ramps or remove the body(!). But at £2000 to fix you'll want to be sure it's right. 

  • Watch for dodgy panel alignment – accident damage – and paint damage, such as stone chips, because a good repair is difficult. 
  • Check the condition of the hood, plastic rear screen and targa panel, as they're not cheap to refurbish. Worn seals will let water in.
  • Check for suspension clunks, as the chances are it'll have worn ball-joints or wishbone bushes. Koni dampers were used on early cars, but the later Bilsteins are a superior set-up. 

SPECIFICATIONS - 1992 TVR Griffith 4.3

Engine 4280cc/V8/OHV
Power 280bhp@5500rpm
Torque 305lb ft@4000rpm
Maximum speed 167mph
0-60mph 4.5sec
Fuel consumption 17-22mpg
Transmission RWD, five-speed manual


Cerbera

1996-2003

Why it's here

A new dawn for TVR – with a brand-new engine, supercar performance and dramatic styling like no other

If the Griffith was TVR's ultimate page-turner, then the Cerbera was its gamechanger. In 1996 it turned TVR into a supercar maker capable of eating the best of the establishment for breakfast.

It was a star of the 1994 London Motor Show, with TVR taking 200 deposits – enough to convince Peter Wheeler he had another hit on his hands.

Two years later it went on sale, and made headlines for the performance it offered at the price. At the heart of the Cerbera's fabulous performance was its new 4.5-litre 360bhp AJP8 (later Speed Eight) power unit. Developed by Al Melling, it was built as a response to BMW's takeover of Rover. It was a race engine for the road, with a flat-plane crank and a specific output of 93bhp per litre. Top speed was quoted as 185mph and it did 0-60mph in 4.3 seconds.

In 1999, TVR added the Speed Six, an entry-level 4.0-litre with 350bhp. The character and soundtrack are very different to the AJP8, but performance is almost identical to the 4.2. Reliability was dreadful, but subsequent fixes have made it good. 

"Although it's named after Cerberus, the mythological multi-headed canine, there's nothing dog-like about the way it drives."

The fantastic interior design started in the Griffith was developed to a whole new level here. The dashboard is dramatically sculpted and its instruments are scattered strategically behind the button-laden steering wheel. You even have a pair of rear small seats, just in case you want to frighten three (short) mates at high speed.

Although it's named after Cerberus, the mythological multi-headed canine, there's nothing dog-like about the way it drives. The AJP8 thrives on revs and the long-travel throttle controls all it with surgical precision. It coughs and pops on the overrun, sounding like a true racer, but the handling is less hair-trigger than the Griffith and far more benign in corners, thanks to a 6in longer wheelbase – a true driver's car.

It's also a gilt-edged Modern Classic. Considering its 180mph+ potential, it's terrific value – a good one is a quarter of the price of a Porsche 996 Turbo and it'll outrun the 911, so you'll forgive its inferior quality. Projects are cheap, but specialist support is excellent, and there's a great social scene – you'll always have friends with a Cerbera.


Essential Buying tips

 

 The AJP8 is a very different beast to a TVR Power V8, so look at an intensive maintenance routine to keep it happy. The tappets need re-shimming every 24,000 miles, and clearances every 12,000. It's known for leaking oil from the front cover. Also, setting up the throttle bodies need specialist knowledge.

 The gearbox is the well-known Borg-Warner T5, which isn't known for being troublesome other than the odd synchro issue. Clutch life is short at 25,000 miles or so, and failures tend to be down to failed fingers on the pressure plate’s diaphragm spring – bank on £1400 for a replacement. 

Unsurprisingly, the Cerbera suffers from a number of electrical maladies. Check the operation of everything, especially the door-opening buttons and immobiliser, as there's nothing more embarrassing than being stranded next to a poorly TVR. Other common maladies, such as windows, wipers and boot lock, are simple to repair. As are the car's ECUs, which are a well-known quantity within the specialist community.

Listen out for clonks from the suspension, which is usually down to worn bushes. The power steering system often leaks.

The usual bodywork checks will reveal any major issues, while the chassis can rust very quickly once it loses its powdercoating. Check the outriggers and look closely at all of the chassis tubes –replacement runs to £4000 plus labour.


SPECIFICATIONS - 1997 TVR Cerbera 4.5

Engine 4475cc/V8/OHC
Power 420bhp@6750rpm
Torque 380lb ft@5500rpm
Maximum speed 180mph
0-60mph 4.1sec
Fuel consumption 20-24mpg
Transmission RWD, five-speed manual


Chimaera

1992-2003

Why it's here

Allegedly the Griffith's more civilised brother, it's just as exciting but a whole lot more usable. It was also tweaked by a canine…

The Chimaera isn't just a great TVR because Peter Wheeler's dog is said to have modified the styling model's front end. It's also a driver's car par excellence, with all of the excitement of a Griffith, but at a much more palatable price.

Riding high from the success of the Grifffith, the Chimaera was unveiled at the 1992 Birmingham motor show as a sensible TVR. So its boot was larger, the interior more accommodating and the ride settings a little more palatable on British roads. 

It was powered by the same TVR Power Rover V8s as the Griffith so the reality is that this is no soft option at all, just one that's easier to live with – even if it's not quite as beautiful as its poster boy cousin.

That said, a Chimaera is the perfect introduction to the world of TVR, and that's evident from the moment you press the electrically operated door release and climb in. In base form, the 4.0-litre V8 pushes out 240bhp, which in a car that weighs less than 1100kg is more than enough to be interesting but not so fast as to be terrifying. 

"With such a melodious noise, you'll enjoy driving the Chimaera without resorting to giving it full beans at every opportunity."

There's the same deliberate gearchange, the amazing soundtrack, and the lengthy throttle reining it all in without resorting to any electronic trickery. In other words it's friendly without playing it safe and boring.

The handling feels benign thanks to progressive damping, and quick steering – it will swap ends with the same eagerness as the other cars in our foursome. But with such a melodious soundtrack, you'll enjoy driving one without resorting to giving it full beans at every opportunity.

It could be argued that the Chimaera is the most compelling Modern Classic TVR. After all, it's exciting, looks great, sounds wonderful and is still bought for sensible amounts of money if you're not too fussy.

You can work on one yourself, although specialist attention is the way forwards for long-term happiness, and as long as you've chosen well, a Chimaera should be a solid, reliable (yes, really) summer fun car. As a modern classic, it presses the right buttons. 

But it's not the one we'd take home. 


Buying tips

 In addition to the checks underlined in the Griffith section, it's worth ensuring that it cold starts without hunting, and once warm the V8's oil pressure runs at about 25-30psi. Coolant temperature should be between 80-90 degrees, depending on traffic, and the fan should cut in beyond the upper number.

 As it's the same chassis as the Griffith, the same checks should apply. But it's worth noting in addition that the factory coating isn't that durable, and if it drops off it's vulnerable to rust. As always, get the car on ramps, and look it over thoroughly – especially those outriggers.

 Forget the idea that just because it's a TVR the panel fit and paintwork aren't good. Panel gaps should be straight and true, and the paint should be smooth and even. Many cars will have been partially resprayed – but if there are misaligned panels, make sure it's not hiding crash damage.

  • Watch for kerbing of the wheels, and that the correct Bridgestone or Toyo tyres are fitted. And make sure that there's a spacesaver spare.
  •  Ideally, it should have been serviced at least every year/6000 miles – and by a TVR dealer or a good, recognised specialist.
  • Additional things to look for that apply to all the cars in our foursome: check front ball joints by rocking the steering wheel while at rest. You'll feel the clunk. Check tyre wear for misalignment. 

SPECIFICATIONS - 1999 TVR Chimaera 4.0

Engine 3947cc/V8/OHV
Power 240bhp@5250rpm
Torque 270lb ft@4000rpm
Maximum speed 152mph
0-60mph 4.7sec
Fuel consumption 18-24mpg
Transmission RWD, five-speed manual



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Renault Clio Williams back at F1 HQ

Papa's New Bag

One of the finest hot hatches of the 1990s is one of the shrewdest buys of 2017. We take a Renault Clio Williams back to the F1 team's HQ to show you why it's such a clever money car!

It’s in a particularly challenging series of S-bends where the Renault Clio William s stakes its claim as the bestever hot hatch. The corners, wellsighted and open, are a third-gear delight – where much of the mid-curve fine adjustment is done using the throttle, its 16-valve four-pot singing bet ween 4000 and 6000rpm. Steering, suspension and engine synchronise wonderfully; the Clio taking on the form of a balletic Sports Blue stimulation machine.

Many a pub argument has been fought to a bitter, inconclusive end over the vitally important issue of the greatest hot hatch – but after flinging it through those bends, we’ll wager a stiff one on the Clio fighting off all comers. Which is an interesting position, given that very few people would come close to describing the early 1990s as anything other than a hot hatch dead zone – a trough after the peaks of the mid-1980s.

And that would be true, had Renault not brought us the Clio Williams in 1993. The car might have been named in honour of Renault's Formula 1 partnership with Williams Grand Prix Engineering (see box-out), but its roots lay in Group N rallying. In a nutshell, this 2.0-litre version of the Clio 16S was a homologation special – and as such, it gained a number of rallying modifications before being coloured up in blue and gold to reflect its super successful F1 alliance.

The standard Clio 16S's 1.8-litre 16V ‘F7P’ engine gained a new crankshaft, pistons, camshafts and con rods. Power increased to 145bhp at 6100rpm for a 130mph-plus maximum speed. Under the skin, it also received a reinforced front subframe, bespoke front struts with new springs and dampers, with uprated front anti-roll bar and rear torsion bars. To give it even more incisive handling, the front track was widened by 20mm.

"Looking at the Clio Williams today you can't help conclude that they absolutely nailed it."

To make the Williams more special than the 16S, Renault stripped it of fripperies. Out went the ABS, electric mirrors, sunroof, and audio system. Today, omitting kit and slapping an RS or Clubsport badge on a car while charging a premium is common practice. Back then it was rather gauche – but Renault did brilliantly with the Clio Williams, and set the template for years to come.

Looking at the Clio Williams today, more than 20 years from its launch, you can’t help but conclude that theyabsolutely nailed it. Perhaps more so than any other hot Renault hatch, this side of the mid-engined R5 Turbo. With those flared front and rear arches, gold and silver Speedlines and contrasting Sports Blue metallic paint, it looks a million Euros.

Inside is equally a treat, with its Williams stitched grey interior and figure-hugging velour seats with blue inserts and matching instrument dials. Lovely. And unlike the car it replaced, the much-worshipped Renault 5GT Turbo, the Clio's interior feels well-made and wouldn’t fall apart with one well-placed kick.

It’s fitting that we’re driving it on some surprisingly challenging back lanes in deepest Oxfordshire. We’re within walking distance of the Williams F1 team’s HQw in Grove, home to not only a race team, but its priceless collection of competition cars. Is our humble Clio worthy of the same stylised ‘W’ badges you find at the race team’s HQ front gates on its tailgate?

From here, we’d say a resounding ‘yes’. The roads are narrow, the surfaces are not exactly smooth, and would challenge a modern hot hatch, let alone one that’s been around the block more than a few times. But the alterations to the Clio's suspension set-up certainly created a car that's great, almost brilliant, to drive – not that the original 16S was a slouch to drive.

Within minutes of the first time you fire it up, you’ll feel confident and ready for fun. The engine responds crisply, with eager throttle response, and it just feels alert, almost angry, even at idle – which sounds busy, but nicely insulated. Perfect for a hot hatch, then.

The seating position is unsportingly high, with offset pedals, but the view out is excellent, which works well here. Slim A-pillars and that lofty view in the snugly supportive bucket seat mean you can place the Clio with real precision. It’s here, on what you’d describe as typical English B-roads, where the Williams is at its entertaining best – and you’ll be on it in no time, getting this French hot hatch to dance on tiptoes, but never stumble.

The steering, although lacking the effusive road feel of a 205 GTI (but better than a R5 GT Turbo), is accurate and allows you to hit every apex beautifully, time and time again. Plant the throttle while kissing the kerb, and you'll marvel in the Williams' brilliant traction, allowing the engine's ample torque to slingshot you to the next corner. Threading a series of bends into one flowing direction change becomes second nature – and an absolute joy. 

On a give and take road like this, the Clio is clearly faster than a standard 205 GTI or Renault 5GT Turbo. It feels more stable, planted and capable of absorbing the odd mistake without punishing you severely. Yet it’s full of nervous energy, and completely stimulating. There’s more lateral grip, its brakes are much closer to the performance on offer, and they will resist fade much more effectively.

"Plant the throttle whilst kissing the kerb, and you'll marvel in the Williams' brilliant traction"

As your speed edges higher, respect for the Clio will change to love. It’s the combination of its short-throw, wonderfully mechanical gear change, well-weighted steering and torquey engine that will do it for you. Fast becomes effortless. But it's not the speed that impresses, but the balance and traction, both of which are so beguiling. As for overtaking – as long as you have it fizzing above 3000rpm, the Clio will rocket past most cars.

Cambered and lumpy roads really flatter the Williams, and although we were dreaming of the Route Napoleon when we set off this morning, we’re more than happy with our Oxfordshire rendezvous right now. Its suspension is firm for low-roll cornering, but it's beautifully damped, too. It’s capable of rounding off all but the sharpest irregularities, and allows you to crack on where stiffer cars will bounce you into slowing down.

We haven’t spoken too much about its performance yet. Not because it isn’t quick, but in the shadow of the Williams factory, on these narrow roads, it doesn’t seem that relevant. It’s fast enough without being scary.

Renault's performance figures bear this out. The maximum speed is 134mph and 0-60mph time is 7.8 seconds, which puts it in the same area as a modern VW Golf GTD. But you can guarantee the VW driver wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on under his tyres – unlike the Clio driver. Even by 1990s standards, it wasn’t that fast.

But despite that, we’d take the Williams every time. Its F1 connection may well be the inspired creation of a creative marketing department, but we love it all the same. When it elbowed its way into the hot hatch arena in 1993, it found itself without any rivals, and did much to restore the market sector’s credibility after a sustained attack from the insurance industry and the arriviste roadsters and coupés, spearheaded by the brilliant Mazda MX-5 and (less so) Vauxhall Calibra.

Williams and Renault in motorsport

When Renault and Williams partnered up in Formula 1 in an arrangement that lasted between 1989 and 1999, they enjoyed a remarkable period of success.

From the off, this was a partnership that looked set to do well – it was the end of the turbo era, and with its new V10 RS1 engine plus drivers Thierry Boutsen and Riccardo Patrese, Williams-Renault was up with McLaren-Honda and Ferrari at the sharp end of the grid (after finishing seventh in the Constructor’s Championship with a Judd V8 engine the previous year). So much so that the much-fancied Belgian driver managed to take two wins in the team’s maiden season.

 It was just the beginning of what would prove to be an amazing era for the company in F1 and the British Touring Car Championship. In 1990, Boutsen and Patrese returned with an evolution of the previous year’s car, winning one race each.

In 1991, Williams-Renault entered a new era of high tech. That year’s challenger, the FW14, boasted a semi-auto gearbox, active suspension and the grid’s most powerful engine. All that stopped Williams cleaning up was the car’s poor reliability.

 The following year, and with the more highly developed FW14B, Williams swept all before it to take the championship, with Mansell taking nine wins. For 1993, Alain Prost joined the team, and with new team mate Damon Hill, swept to the constructor’s title and ten race wins between them.

 The 1994 season looked set for a repeat with Ayrton Senna joining Williams. But that was the year where much of the tech – including active suspension and ABS – was shorn. Senna struggled to catch Michael Schumacher in his Benetton Ford and in the third race of the season, Imola, he crashed fatally. Damon Hill took on the mantle of team leader, manfully fighting Benetton for the rest of the season, losing out when Schumacher rammed him off track in Australia; Damon would eventually take the title for Williams-Renault in 1996. Although Jacques Villeneuve scored a memorable championship win in 1997, the Anglo-French partnership went downhill in F1 from that point on, petering out on the back of Ralf Schumacher and Alex Zanardi’s 1999 campaign in their Williams-Supertec (arebadged customer Renault V10).

Today, you can see these cars and more at the Williams collection at Grove (williamsf1.com). You’ll need to pre-arrange a visit but it’s well worth making the effort to do so.

The Modern Classics View

Today, it’s considered a hot hatch great – but we’d go further and say it’s up there with the VW Golf MkI, and Peugeot's 205 GTI and 306 Rallye as one of the very best. In a decade that was starved of talented affordable hot hatches, the Williams came in and kicked at an open door to take class honours. And we’re eternally grateful for that. As a modern classic, it has almost everything going for it – it's quick without being anti-socially fast, and it handles so brilliantly, you’ll feel good even when going shopping.

It's special, is appreciated by true aficionados, and is already heading in the same value direction as the Renault 5GT Turbo – and we already know it’s better than that. Should you buy one to invest in? Well, with 30 per cent increases in value in the past three years (for the best examples), your head will say you’d be mad not to. But in truth, your heart will have won you over at the very first corner – so much so, that you’ll never look back.


Specifications Renault Clio Williams 1

Engine 1998cc/4-cyl/DOHC
Transmission FWD, 5-speed manual
Power 145bhp@6100rpm
Torque 129lb-ft@4500rpm
Weight 1024kg
Performance 0-60mph 7.8sec
Top speed 134mph
Economy 25mpg


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