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TVR Griffith and Chimaera buying guide

TVR may be consigned to the history books, but its cars still make a splash.

TVR Griffith and Chimaera buying guide

Introduction

If you listened to those who prop up the bar at the Red Lion, the chances are that you’d never even consider buying a TVR. After all, they apparently leak like sieves, are guaranteed to break down

 
They’ll take very hard use – but you have to service them much more often than a high-volume sportscar because they’re highly specialist
at least weekly and are driven only by those who are built like Viz magazine’s Buster Gonad. But the reality is rather different; not only are these cars more usable than you’d think, but they’re not inherently unreliable – as long as they are properly looked after.

Steve Reid of Classic TVR sums it up perfectly: ‘TVRs are too often bought by people who are used to the reliability of a modern mass-market car. They think they can get it serviced every 10,000 miles and thrash it mercilessly without it breaking. These motors will take very hard use – but you have to service them much more often than a high-volume sportscar because they are highly specialist machines.’

The unveiling of the Griffith prototype at the 1990 British Motor Show meant TVR could leave the Tasmin and S-Series cars behind, and move into a new era of much more powerful, aggressively styled models. This first offering was essentially a rebodied V8-S, with a chassis that could cope with little more than 240bhp.

TVR boss Peter Wheeler knew the Griffith would ultimately offer much more than this, so a fresh platform had to be devised. The solution was to base the new car on the Tuscan racer’s frame, and at the 1991 motor show a completely rejigged Griffith was unveiled. The first cars were delivered
in 1992, with either 3948cc or 4280cc Rover V8s, but within a year a 5.0-litre unit was the sole choice.

While the Griffith looks fabulous, it doesn’t offer much in the way of practicality – and even enthusiastic drivers sometimes need a healthy dose of usability. That’s why the Chimaera was devised; it’s a Griffith with a bigger boot and softer suspension, so it’s just as fast but easier to live with – and some would also say more discreetly designed, too.

With the apparent demise of TVR and the fact that it’s already six years since the final Chimaera was built (and seven since the last Griffith was produced), values for these cars are lower than ever. Indeed they’re still a bit unstable, with good 5-litre examples sometimes advertised for the same money as ropey 4-litre ones, so shop around to get the best model for your money.

An early (4-litre) Griffith is now down to around £10,000, but for little more you can have a 4.3-litre example, while £13,000 buys you a good 5-litre edition. Some optimistic dealers are still asking the thick end of £20,000 for a really good, low-mileage Griffith, but you don’t need to pay that sort of money; £16,000 will net you something that’s really superb.

If you’d prefer a Chimaera you’re in luck because values are down a bit on the Griffith. These cars are more common and seen as less of a driver’s machine, and as a result they’re not so sought after – especially as these recent TVRs are now occasional playthings for most owners.

A decent 4-litre Chimaera can be yours for just £8-9000, while 4.5-litre editions are typically £11,000 for something nice. Pick of the bunch is definitely the 5-litre model, but just 10 per cent of the 6000 Chimaeras built were fitted with this engine; if you want one you’ll need to find £15,000 if you’re not to acquire a liability. After all, you wouldn’t want to be joining the pundits at the Red Lion’s bar, nodding in agreement at everything they say.

Engine

The Rover V8 may be from the old school, but it’s reliable, easy to tune and dishes up plenty of horses. It is simply engineered and happy to keep going, too. The first thing to wear is the camshaft: whichever engine is fitted, this usually needs replacing after 50,000 miles, costing £1500.

Another common weakness is oil leaks – so don’t expect to see an exceptionally clean engine bay that looks as though it’s just been steam cleaned. It’s the rocker cover gasket that leaks, because the retaining bolts for the cover need to be tightened at every service – and they’re usually not.

Listen for blowing from the exhaust; not only do the gaskets fail, but the manifolds are prone to cracking and new stainless items are over £600 per pair. Things aren’t helped by the engine potentially getting rather hot, due to the failure of the relay that controls the radiator’s thermostatic fan. Even if all is well here, check that the coolant hoses haven’t perished; they’ll probably need renewing by now. The radiator also has to be treated as a consumable; they rarely last much more than 25,000 miles before the sides split and coolant ends up all over the place. A new one is around £270 and fitting it means a fair amount of dismantling, but the job is easy enough to do at home.

Although exhausts are durable, those on earlier cars have generally had to be replaced in recent years. You’ll pay around £500 for a new stainless system, and although this should be a fit-and-forget item, damage often occurs through grounding. As a result, it’s a good idea to get underneath and check that the exhaust hasn’t been bashed to within an inch of its life.

Transmission

The transmission is amazingly durable; it’s conventional and over-engineered, so unless the car has been absolutely thrashed or driven to the moon and back, it shouldn’t need anything major doing. The GKN limited-slip diff fitted until 1994 will whine when it wants attention, but it’ll keep going for ages before giving in. Later cars featured a Salisbury unit; whichever back axle is fitted you’ll need to ensure there are no oil leaks as they’re common and fixing them is pricey.

Clutches are durable enough, even on hard-driven cars, but the hydraulics can leak. It’s the master cylinder that’s usually the culprit, so check there’s no brake fluid dripping down the clutch pedal; new master cylinders are £55 apiece.

Suspension, steering and brakes

The biggest problem with the suspension is that of worn bushes, although renewing them is cheap and easy. The best solution is to fit new bushes with the nylon washers as used on the later 500. Corrosion of the front wishbones is another problem, as the powder coating was of a poor quality. Replacement upper units complete with bushes cost £65 apiece, while the lower ones are double this.

Although power-assisted steering wasn’t actually available until 1995, many earlier cars have had it retro-fitted. The surgery is complex but worthwhile, even though it costs around £2000. If the system is already in place and makes odd whirring noises on full lock, just make sure the reservoir hasn’t been over-filled: it often is.

Even if the car is being hammered, the brakes are up to the job of stopping it squarely and without fade. That’s why there’s no need to upgrade the system, although it’s obviously essential that everything
is maintained in tip-top condition. Some uprated set-ups produce a car that’s less balanced to drive, so know what you’re buying before parting with your readies.

It’ll be no revelation that the tyres have a lot to contend with, so make sure they’ve still got some tread left. New ones are typically £175 apiece, but if you replace the tyres on a car whose alignment is out, they’ll wear extremely quickly and you’ll be back to square one. In the same way, be wary of a motor that’s just had a new set of boots; it may be that the suspension is out and the tyres are wearing unevenly.

Bodywork, electrics and trim

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the bodywork and chassis can throw up some pretty major problems, not least of all from accident damage. With no gadgetry to keep unskilled drivers out of trouble, there are plenty of Griffiths and Chimaeras that have made intimate contact with the scenery.

Once the GRP has got damaged, it’s usually a case of replacing panels wholesale. It’s not just about poor crash repairs, though; rust and age also take their toll on the glassfibre bodywork and the steel chassis. The nose is susceptible to stone chips, so it’s quite normal to have to fork out for a front-end respray – at £1000 a time. You also need to examine the corners very closely for evidence of scrapes, which occur all too easily because there are no bumpers.

While the glassfibre shrugs off minor knocks quite happily, it will only take so much before the bodywork erupts in a series of cracks and crazing. The Griffith 500 featured a different nose from the earlier cars, and for several years only the later panels were available. Therefore, if an early car has a later nose, you know it’s been pranged; the earlier front is available once more now, though.

The 500 features a grille that stretches from one driving light to the other, whereas the earlier one has separate nacelles for these.You’ll need to get underneath and check the state of the chassis; its powder coating gets chipped and cracks, leading to corrosion. Annual Waxoyling will keep rot at bay, but it’s accident damage you also need to be wary of.

A major knock will push everything out of true, meaning that new panels and a fresh frame will be required – although it’s surprising just how big a shunt it takes to cause distortion of the chassis. Everything is available to effect proper repairs, but the costs will soon mount if everything needs doing.

The TVR’s electrical system is pretty robust where most of the major components are concerned, but it’s usually the smaller stuff that packs up. That’s why you need to make sure that the switchgear all works okay, along with things like the electric mirrors and powered side windows.

Starter motors aren’t especially long-lived, so if the car still sports its original unit there’s a good chance that a new one will be required before very long. They get cooked by the exhaust system; a reconditioned motor is £100, while a new one costs three times that. Also check that the speedometer works as it should. Because they’re cheaply made, they frequently pack in – and that then throws into doubt the mileage displayed.

Interiors are generally hard-wearing, but if they have regularly got wet because of the roof having been left down in the rain, rotten carpets could be the result. A cabin retrim is unlikely to be needed, but you should make sure nothing is damaged anyway as the cost will be high if you have to rectify it. Pay particular attention to the state of the roof, which should be fine but which can suffer from perished seals. That’s why you need to make sure there’s no water in the footwells.

Conclusion

You needn’t be put off by a relatively high-mileage TVR, but it has to have a fully stamped service book, with the work carried out by a specialist who knows what they’re doing.

It doesn’t matter which Griffith or Chimaera variant you buy, because they are all mind-bendingly quick. Condition is more important than model, age or – to a degree – mileage. We’ll leave the final word to Classic TVR’s Steve Reid: ‘The Griffith offers amazing value, but I reckon that prices could drop even further before they start climbing again. If you can find a really good one for the right money, dive in. It’s the same for the Chimaera, which is even better value, more practical and largely the same as the Griffith underneath the skin. You will not get more performance for your money – anywhere.’

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TVR Griffith and Chimaera buying guide
  TVR Griffith and Chimaera buying guide
TVR Griffith and Chimaera buying guide
  TVR Griffith and Chimaera buying guide
TVR Griffith and Chimaera buying guide
  TVR Griffith and Chimaera buying guide
TVR Griffith and Chimaera buying guide
  TVR Griffith and Chimaera buying guide
TVR Griffith and Chimaera buying guide
  TVR Griffith and Chimaera buying guide
TVR Griffith
1993 TVR Griffith 500

Specifications

Engine 4997cc V8, overhead valves, 16 valves. Alloy block and heads. Multi-point fuel injection, normally aspirated
Power 340bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque 350lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual
Suspension Front: Independent with coil springs, double wishbones, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: Independent with coil springs, double wishbones, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes Front: 259mm ventilated discs. Rear: 271mm solid discs. Servo-assisted
Weight 1075kg (2365lb)
Performance 0-60mph: 4.2sec, top speed: 161mph

 
 
 
 

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