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Griffith, Chimaera, Cerbera - TVR's Griffith, Chimaera, Cerbera

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It’s time to get controversial.

The Griffith is the greatest car ever built by TVR. It might not be the fastest, nor is it the best to drive, but it did more to put the Blackpool company on the map than anything that preceded it. Heart of the Griffith’s appeal is its beautiful styling, which is gorgeously curvaceous and yet pure in its minimalism – quite simply, it’s the best-looking and most elegantly resolved British post-war sports car of them all.
 
That beauty extends to the interior, which is dominated by a swooping dashboard and simple ergonomics (see over the page). The switches were made by TVR and not lifted from any major manufacturer’s parts bin. And the devilishly simple two-piece hood comprises a folding rear section and a targa panel, and takes seconds to fold down.
 
Fine details, too, abound in the Griffith. The doors don’t have handles: they’re opened by stylish chrome lifters and the mechanisms are stashed in the rear quarter panels so they don’t rattle. The front and rear lights are nothing special, but because they’re mounted behind clear Perspex they form part of an organic whole. Even the CitroΫn CX door mirrors look as if they were purpose-designed, rather than afterthoughts.
 
When it was first revealed at the 1990 Birmingham Motor Show, TVR took 350 orders for the Griffith, even though it was at least a year away from production. Despite being a product of the 1990s, it didn’t rely on any new technology – the chassis was tubular steel, as used in the Tuscan Challenge racer; the body was glassfibre; and the engine was the ex-Rover V8 in either 4.0- or 4.3-litre form, mounted a long way back in the nose.  It took what TVR had been doing for years and made it perfect.

When something looks so right, there’s always a danger that the driving experience can be a letdown. Not in this case – it’s a hairy-chested beast that demands concentration from the driver. The steering is weighty but accurate (and far better if unassisted), and the throttle has a long travel and metes out power progressively. Get it right, and you can dance a Griffith with your right foot; get it wrong and you’re in the scenery. This one bites back.

It’s a similar experience in the Chimaera. The Griffith’s sister car was supposed to be a softer companion, blessed with a larger boot and interior. But underneath its more restrained styling, the 1992 car shared the same chassis and engine choices. And the same challenging handling.

We haven’t mentioned straight-line performance yet. All you need to know is that the Griffith and Chimaera are quick. Blisteringly quick. When Autocar magazine strapped its timing gear to a standard 4.3-litre Griffith, it managed the 0-60mph sprint in 4.7sec, and 0-100mph in 11.1sec. That was with 280bhp and 1045kg. The 5.0-litre Griffith 500 was even quicker, with 320bhp to play with.

But that’s small beer compared with 1996’s Cerbera. This was the car that Peter Wheeler conceived to turn TVR into a fully qualified supercar manufacturer. It was powered by the all-new 4.2-litre 360bhp AJP V8 engine designed by Al Melling especially for TVR, and the body was an equally new closed coupe with 2+2 seating (the first TVR with rear seats since 1981). It was more familiar under the skin, with a tubular spaceframe and double-wishbone suspension.

Even today, the interior looks amazing with its curved instrument binnacle and sculpted facia. The steering wheel houses buttons for all major functions, an ergonomic innovation that car makers are only just cottoning onto in 2010. But then, the Cerbera was a machine at least a decade ahead of the game when it went on sale.

It has more ability on the road than the Griffith and Chimaera, thanks to its more rigid body and longer wheelbase, and its behaviour on bumpy British roads is much more consistent. But then it needs to be, given the speed – which dominates all impressions of the Cerbera.

That flat-plane V8 might not have the musicality of the ex-Rover V8, but it gives the Cerbera mind-bending acceleration. Consider these figures for a moment: 0-60mph in 4.0sec; 0-100mph in 9.1sec; 0-150mph in 22.5. In 1996, you needed a McLaren F1 to convincingly beat that. Given that the TVR cost £39,950 and the McLaren £627,000, the Cerbera’s grunt was one hell of an achievement by TVR.

The unholy trinity of the Griffith, Chimaera and Cerbera was hugely successful for TVR. Not always reliable, and never boring, for many they were as good as it got for TVR.


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