It’s amazing how few TVRs have graced CC by their presence, for a marque that died comparatively recently. But then, it’s amazing how little TVR exported their products to the world beyond the British Isles, especially by the ‘90s. Fortunately, it seems at least one made it all the way to japan, that most Anglophile of countries, for your viewing pleasure.
For most of their history, TVRs were usually small, light, plastic-bodied sports cars powered by a variety of potent 4-, 6- and 8-cyl. engines bought from other marques, such as Coventry-Climax, Ford, MG, Triumph or Rover. The Blackpool-based company, founded by Trevor Wilkinson just after the Second World War, went through a very turbulent couple of decades making racers and kit cars. TVR went bankrupt and was bought by father and son Arthur and Martin Lilley, who moved to full-fledged sports coupés and convertibles, usually using Ford V6 engines. In 1981, the company was bought by Peter Wheeler, who continued the policy of his predecessors but switched to Rover V8 power.
By the early ‘90s, TVR seemed to be doing well enough for Wheeler to entertain taking the ultimate step towards complete independence from outside suppliers. Work started on a completely new home-grown V8 engine, the AJP8, originally with a view to return to racing. However, Wheeler soon figured that the V8 could be modified for civilian use. For road cars, the fuel-injected 75° V8 used a single OHC per cylinder bank and two valves per cylinder – nothing too complex, compared to some. The engine was entirely made of light alloy and weighed in at only 121kg (267 lbs.) Once the AJP8 was worked out, a DOHC 24-valve straight-6 was also designed.
Broadly speaking, the Cerbera looked like a tin-top version of the TVR Chimaera (above), which had debuted in 1991, powered by TVR-improved Rover V8s going from 4 to 5 litres. But under the skin, the Cerbera was all new. The prototype shown at the 1993 London Motor Show was still slated to have a Rover V8, but TVR put the car on hold until they were ready to launch it with their home-grown motor.
The finalized car was launched in 1996 with the new TVR engines: a 360hp 4.2 litre V8 was used for the Speed Eight initially, but it was very soon joined by a 420hp 4.5 litre variant. The 350hp 4-litre Speed Six was sold as the “gentleman’s GT” of the breed, with softer suspension settings and more comfort. All cars came with a Borg-Warner 5-speed manual, save for a few racing specials such as the mythical Speed Twelve. The AJP8 engine was only ever used on the Cerbera – all other TVRs that came after it used the 6-cyl. engine, barring a handful of V12 prototypes.
Compared to the Chimaera, the Cerbera’s wheelbase was stretched by 11 inches, turning the car into a (cramped) four-seater – something TVR had not done in a long while. Despite the added length, the Cerbera was just as light as the TVRs that preceded it – a little over 1100kg. The all-independent suspension was also new. The combination of a light car, all-analog RWD and a great big V8 made for quite an entertaining ride.
In the UK, these new big TVRs were something of a hit. I lived in London on the late ‘90s and I vividly remember seeing quite a few of these prowling the pavement of the West End, sometimes wearing an unlikely hue such as purple or gold. It’s fair to say that the TVRs of the late ‘90s were the ultimate poseur’s sports car, kind of like what Jaguars were originally. They cost a fraction of what Lamborghinis or Ferraris did, were very loud and blindingly quick (a top speed: 195 mph; 0-60 in 3.9 seconds), swathed in leather inside and sitting lower on the ground than anything but the Tube.
As far as ‘90s sports cars go, the original Cerbera was pretty decent-looking. I’m not at all keen on this era of automotive design, but this unlikely marriage of rounded shapes over an elongated frame kind of work for me. The roof in particular evokes French or Italian late ‘30s coupés, as well as post-war Jaguars. The front and rear styling are a bit less interesting, but not overtly offensive. Certainly, this early version of the Cerbera is better than the post-2000 facelift ones (above), which traded the big round headlamps for an acne-like infestation of LEDs.
The Cerbera lasted until 2003. A year later, Wheeler sold the company to Nikolay Smolensky, a young Russian oligarch, who proceeded to run the company into the ground. Production more or less stopped by 2007 and Smolensky sold the remaining assets (the name and a few blueprints, I imagine) in 2013. Rumours of a new model have circulated for some time and the Welsh government apparently bought a stake in the firm to bring the factory there. So yeah, it’s dead. This post could be turned into a chapter of the British Deadly Sins.
I jest. The Cerbera is not a Deadly Sin, as far as I know. It sold quite well and, aside from the 6-cyl. cars (which were notoriously unreliable, at least initially), no major vices appear to have tarnished their stint in TVR’s range. These will soon be available for import in the US under the 25-year rule, so I’m guessing prices are going to go up in the next few years.
Buyers beware, however: the plastic body often hides a corroded tubular chassis, and “hand-made” English cars can present interesting challenges. Regardless, the TVR Cerbera will probably retain its title as the cheapest supercar of the late ‘90s. What was it they said about getting the smallest house in the nicest neighbourhood?
Great find. I’ve seen a couple of these around here too. I remember a TV Detective show about 10 years ago used one but the actor/driver accidentally drove it into a crowd of spectators – and the show was cancelled.
I think he forgot he was driving such a high-performance car…
It’s bizarre to me seeing TVR Cerbera in pictures, all my memories are from low poly count PS2 graphics from back in the day. TVR must have been very generous with licensing to video game developers back then, every racing game had them. I found the Cerbera grotesquely ugly personally – the doors and glass are absurdly long, and that roofline doesn’t do it for me – but they were always portrayed as the most violently fast cars in every franchise, so I grew quite familiar with those taillights, and am feeling the nostalgia.
Our local Ford dealer tried selling TVRs briefly in the mid-80’s, as far as I can tell, little came of it. I hadn’t paid attention to TVRs again until my kids got me a PlayStation with Gran Turismo, where I surprised to see such modern cars instead of the kit cars that I remember from the 80’s.
Another surprise was the movie “Swordfish” from the early 2000’s, featuring a slick-back haired John Travolta driving around in a (I believe) a Cerbera 4.5.
I thought the cars were greatly improved. However, watching Wheeler Dealers I came to find out that they could be horribly rusted underneath those beautiful bodies. So much for any dreams of ever finding a TVR like this, even after the 25 year rule…
Tuscan Speed Six. The Tuscan had the targa roof and the insane rear LED lighting pods in the back window.
Funny, I first saw TVRs in Gran Turismo as well.
I liked the looks of the Cerbera.
I really like the featured car, even it’s oft-mentioned gap between fender and door.
The color works well on it too.
I remember sitting in the drivers seat of a Grantura at the Motor Show, and being shocked that the steering wheel was offset to one side while the pedals were offset to the other side.
The early cars were honest, but I always thought they became too pretentious under Wheelers’ watch – even switchgear was bespoke, when borrowing from Ford or Toyota would have been cheaper and more practical.
The last TVR, the Sagaris, was nevertheless something I lusted after.
Well, if it was good enough for Kevin McCloud..
(from Ep 7, series 73)
[camera zooms in off boom past Cerbera outside Buck House to KM]
“Do you know, in the end, after all my doubts, it turns out I really admire what Wheeler has done here. Sure, the new owners will have to rebuild the car as often as they drive it. Sure, it’s silly money for a car made from the same material as your kitchen bin-liner.
But making a virtue of production panel gaps by vastly exaggerating them? Reinventing a cliched and tough old engine as a delicate ripsnorter? Forgetting the doorhandles? That all takes courage.
It would have been easier just to buy the Ferrari, the Porsche, the Lambo, and sure, they’d any of them be quicker, better built, have actual resale value. And, coming from professional stylists of the top rank, be much better-looking.
But how dull is it to drive the best? Who wants useable dullness? No, TVR have gone quite the other route, and that, well, THAT has made all the difference.
You see, they’ve researched and lovingly collected every detail from the darkest days of hand-made British sports cars, and melded them into this. Leaky, unreliable, and dubiously-styled it may be, but it will sit kerbside forever as a monument to the eccentric madness that has made this country exactly what it is today.
And there are very few people who will admit to doing that.”
[camera booms away again over TVR to beyond Buck house. Cue title music]
I realize I’m taking a risk by saying this, but the first rear-three quarter shot reminds me of a Dodge Viper crossed with a final-generation Pontiac Grand Prix.
I can totally see that!
Let me echo that.
The gap between the door and front fender do this car no favors whatsoever.
Interesting that you would say that as just like the Viper, this car totally eschewed any type of “driver aids”, much like the Viper.
Anti lock brakes? I seem to remember reading that this car didn’t include them….even as an option. The same thing with traction control.
And the doors on these cars were opened via a pushbutton on the underside of the door mounted rearview mirrors?
Such a shame that glass reflection made a good picture of the instrument panel impossible. Aside from switchgear made exclusively for this and no other car, I vaguely remember something special about the controls for the lights and wipers.
I agree, and I also see a gen2 Miata/MX5 or X100 Jaguar XJ with a severe glandular problem.
First, I am a fan of any supercar that is painted in a muted color.
Second, I find this really attractive – in a whole variety of ways.Thanks for this dive into TVR.
When I was in England on a vacation in 2009, I saw this TVR Sagaris in Castle Combe. There’s a race track there, which may or may not be related to why I saw the car parked in that cozy hamlet. Needless to say, it looked as if a spaceship had landed.
Looks even better from the back….
I always felt the the forward door cut on these made them look like they’d been in an accident.
There are other cars that came from the factory looking like they’ve been wrecked; the original Hyundai Santa Fe’s rear door and the Alfa Romeo 75’s (Milano in the US) rear end come to mind. That might make for a fun QOTD…
Those cuts are an old theme in concept cars, and always a bad idea. Several of GM’s Motorama cars had symbolic open wheel wells, and Brooks Stevens’s bizarre sportsters did the same. It can’t be an aid to streamlining, and it’s bound to gather dirt and rust.
Open wheel racers and envelope bodies are opposites. Chrysler’s Prowler did the open wheel thing properly and honestly. These concept cars are trying to have it both ways, and failing.
TVRs did sell well for a while until most owners realised that they completed journeys on the back of an AA breakdown truck. A TVR or a Porsche…a no-brainer.
A TVR, of sorts, did in fact recently appear here on CC. One of the US dealerships featured in vintage dealership postcard feature, included a TVR, or more likely a Griffith, as they were sold here in the ‘60’s.
My introduction to this car was Wheeler Dealers (Season 10, Episode 6). It was crazy because the frame had rusted, and Edd had to take the entire body off of the chassis in order to replace it, and then reattach all of the powertrain components to the new chassis.
The doors on these are super long, stretching the entire cabin. But it does mean that all four occupants can enjoy open-window motoring. Few cars still offer that (E-Class Coupe, S-Class Coupe, Continental GT, Wraith).
Always an individual choice, and you could tell by the colours chosen that the cars were not selected on any rational basis. By the 1990s, they were invariably striking visually, but technically conservative and as others have said, bereft of modern features we take for granted.
Exciting, dramatic, unpredictable, to look at and to drive. Nice interiors, with no wood but with dramatic shapes and bespoke and nicely machined control knobs and the like.
Rumour had it that the foglight recess was “styled” when Peter Wheeler’s dog bit a chunk out of the model, and it was accepted. When challenged on this, Wheeler said the dog was now working in accounts…… it was that sort of car and company.
Wheeler clearly saw the saw of the future and sold at the top of the market.
There is supposed to be a revival happening, with a Gordon Murray designed car with a Cosworth engine…… brave investors only I suspect
“Certainly, this early version of the Cerbera is better than the post-2000 facelift ones (above), which traded the big round headlamps for an acne-like infestation of LEDs.”
I wholeheartedly agree, but ‘acne-like infestation of LEDs’ – sheer gold!
You know, that’s what I had in my head when I called these grotesque, I remember disliking them a whole lot more when I was a kid. Here I thought the design might have grown on me, and I had matured but no, this example just had nicer headlights than those goofy later ones have.
Can tell you they look so much better in the flesh. Test drove a 4.5 in 2000. Scared the shit out of me so bought a 4.5 TVR Chimaera instead as it was the softer option!
Read 285bhp and 1000kg no ABS no airbags but luckily they did power steering by then. Still hit 60 mphin 4.7nsecs though with no traction control. Suprisingly never missed a beat and was epic sound through tunnels. Just did not have the balls for the cerbera, it was a different level of fast for the time 0-100mph in just over 8 secs. Pretty much needed a Mac F1 to go faster back in the day. Happy memories