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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