As the 1980s drew to a close, TVR was in need of a new model, and fans of the marque had their patience rewarded when the gorgeous Griffith was finally revealed at the 1990 British Motor Show. With curvaceous new bodywork and stonking V8 engines, this was a sports car from the old school – but with up-to-the-minute styling. And it arrived at a time when convertible sports cars were few.
After years of making slightly gawky-looking but incredibly effective sports cars, the Griffith finally pushed TVR into the big leagues. The car was still hammered together in Blackpool, and made use of the brawny Rover V8 engine retaining what people loved about TVRs of old, while attracting a whole new clientele to the brand.
Today, if it’s performance and road presence you want without the nannying interference of electronic driver aids, then the chances are you’ll be smitten by the Griffith’s sledgehammer approach. Make no mistake, this is a seriously desirable sports car that provides a huge amount of performance per pound – and it’s one you really can’t afford to ignore, especially as prices continue to rise.
Which one to go for?
There were various different engines, trim levels, as well as spec changes over the years, so you have a large choice. Which one you go for however is usually determined by how much money you have got to spend (see prices below). Although you might initially want to find one of the most potent models, every Griffith is a joy to drive, and as long as it’s in good condition you’ll have a great time.
Parts availability is generally good. Original power-assisted steering racks are unavailable, while some gearbox and heater parts can prove hard to find, but there is little else to concern buyers on this front. A thriving owners’ club scene for TVRs of all flavours means help and advice are never far away – and that’s always a plus with specialist cars such as the Griffith.
Performance and specs
1995 TVR Griffith 500
Engine 4988cc V8, OHV
Power 340bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque 350lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual
Top speed 167mph
Dimensions and weight
• The Griffith used GRP panels attached to a powder-coated steel spaceframe, but care is needed if you’re to avoid landing yourself with a money pit.
• The single most important thing is the condition of the chassis. Cars from the mid-'90s will likely have rot in the outriggers, which is difficult to spot. Removing the body is the only effective way to tackle this. Look at spending around £1700 for this. The best thing is to assume a car is rotten unless you are certain that it has been fixed properly.
• Wonky body panels could be a sign of accident damage, and watch out for stone chips around the bonnet and headlamps. The front of the car will most likely have been repainted at least a couple of times. Check the quality of the finish it it has been done recently, as a poor quality finish will chip quickly.
• It also pays to take a good look at the hood, the lift-out targa panel and the plastic rear screen, as refurbishment isn’t cheap. Worn seals will allow water ingress, so check the interior for damp and any damage to trim and carpets.
• Engines are the trusty Rover V8, in 4.0-, 4.3- and 5.0-litre forms (a very small number of 4.5s exist as well), with Lucas engine management. Smaller engines pushed out 240bhp and 280bhp respectively, the bigger unit managing a lustier 340bhp. A big-valve conversion (badged BV) was offered on the 4.3 giving 300bhp, but it’s worth making sure this is genuine whatever any badges might say.
• Regular oil changes are the key to longevity with these engines, so a record of regular specialist servicing is really the greatest way of picking up a gem. Many owners also carry out basic maintenance themselves – some of whom keep a detailed record.
• Leaking radiators can lead to overheating with disastrous consequences for the head gaskets, so check that water temperature and oil pressure are healthy on the test drive. Budget for more than £1000 to replace both head gaskets if the worst happens.
• Cooling has never been the Griffith's strong suit, even when new, so fitting an aluminium radiator for around £600 is a good move, and a bonus if it's already been done by the last owner.
• A smoky exhaust should ring alarm bells, and indicates a generally neglected car.
• Most cars will have stainless steel exhaust systems by now, which are generally very long-lasting. They do have a nasty habit of being bashed under the low car, so it's worth checking that it's in one piece. Manifold cracks aren’t unheard of either, so it's a good idea to listen out for any blowing sounds when the car is both cold and at full operating temperature.
• Rocker cover gaskets and sump joints regularly leak oil – the former is an easy fix, while the latter can be cured by fitting a gasket (it was just a silicone joint originally). Because of this, finding a spotless engine bay is unusual. The rocker cover gaskets are designed to be re-tightened at each service, which is often missed by non specialists.
• Camshafts are generally the first thing to fail, and will need to be replaced at around 50,000 miles, regardless of which version of the engine is fitted. Replacement is a surprisingly labour-intensive job – so budget for around £1100 if original parts are used (best advice is to avoid cheap components).
• If the car has had a replacement starter motor recently, then it's a good sign. Due to the heat from the exhaust, the motor gets cooked, and generally won't last more than about five years.
• Early cars used the Rover-derived LT77 transmission, with the preferred BorgWarner T5 box used in the 5.0 and all models from 1994. All cars came with a limited-slip differential – GKN on early cars, Salisbury from 1994; despite a tendency to whine at high mileages, these are trouble-free.
• It’s worth opting for a post-1995 car with standard power steering, as the unassisted set-up is arm-achingly heavy at parking speeds. Some earlier cars have also had the system retrofitted, just listen out for any odd noises coming from the rack on full lock.
• Check on the test drive for suspension clunks that signal worn ball-joints or wishbone bushes. Koni dampers were used on early cars, but the later Bilsteins are the better arrangement. The front Wishbones are also prone to corrosion, due to poor rust protection from the factory.
• The standard brakes are generally very effective, so as long as they are in good condition there's no need to upgrade them. Any brake judder means the discs are ready for replacement though.
• Inside you’ll find a stylish cabin, trimmed with leather and wood veneer. It is really just a case of ensuring all the gauges and switches work (particularly the optional air-con). Walk away from any car with bodged wiring and check for general wear, or damage caused by water leaks. A hood and seals in good order should prevent the latter, but bear in mind that a re-trim could run well into four figures for high-spec cars with leather and Wilton carpets.
1990: Griffith revealed at the British Motor Show, based on the chassis of the V8S model.
1991: First deliveries of 4.0- and 4.3-litre models. Production cars use a development of the Tuscan racer chassis.
1993: Griffith 500 introduced with 340bhp, brake/suspension upgrades and catalytic convertors.
1994: All models change from the Rover SD1 gearbox to the BorgWarner T5 unit.
1996: Speed Six models announced with TVR’s own straight-six engine, but it never enters production.
2001: TVR announces the end of Griffith production.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
The noise and performance of a well-sorted Griffith are seriously addictive, but this is definitely a car that should be bought with the head and not the heart. While the reputation for iffy reliability isn’t completely unfounded, the Griff is more robust than you’d think. Condition is all.
Prices for the best cars are likely to rise in coming years, so find one that’s been looked after, experience everything it has to offer, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t buy one before. There’s a vast discrepancy in price between early cars in scruffy condition and excellent later examples. You can expect to pay around £25,000 for the best examples, and potentially more than £32,000 for a last-of-the-line LE.
Those below the £12,000 mark will likely require a fair bit of work, so a cheap car could well prove costly in the long run. Spend nearer £23,000 for one that’s been well looked after and you shouldn’t go far wrong. Dealers often hold the best examples, although privately sold cars are fine as long as you are absolutely sure of the provenance and condition.