TVR Cer­bera

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What kind of man bought a TVR in the Nineties? Prob­a­bly one without a fam­ily – un­til 1996 that is, when the 2+2 Cer­bera ar­rived. It’s the car Peter Wheeler wanted to build, and sud­denly nu­clear man could get his off­spring in the rear, mis­sus in the pas­sen­ger seat and ex­pe­ri­ence his own dose of Black­pool bru­tal­ity. It also her­alded a new age for the com­pany, in­tro­duc­ing in-house-de­signed power units; first with the 4.2-litre AJP8 V8 (en­larged to 4.5-litre in 1997) and then in 1999, the dry-sump 24-valve twin-cam AJP6 Speed Six that pow­ers the car I’m test­ing to­day. Named af­ter Cer­berus, the myth­i­cal three-headed dog of Hades­guard­ing fame, de­void of ac­cou­trements (in­clud­ing door han­dles) it’s ac­tu­ally quite a sleek, smooth-lined crea­ture. Yes, this later ex­am­ple, with its quad head­lights, is more ag­gres­sive-look­ing than the Chi­maera-ap­ing orig­i­nal. But that fa­mil­iar low roofline still lends it the feel of a chop-top hot-rod spe­cial and vis­ually there’s noth­ing to sug­gest it’s about to bark ‘your name’s not down, you’re not com­ing in’, be­fore rip­ping your head off. Of course looks can be de­ceiv­ing. Pop the but­ton un­der the wing mir­ror – you’ll never tire of that – lower your­self down into the most be­spoke in­te­rior here, a com­bi­na­tion of sweeps, swoops, brushed alu­minium switchgear and rimmed di­als in­clud­ing two di­rectly un­der­neath the steer­ing wheel.

Hit the starter but­ton, blip the throt­tle and re­lease Beelze­bub in au­to­mo­tive form. The whole tubu­lar steel chas­sis re­ver­ber­ates un­der­neath you, and in true Tvr-owner fash­ion David Kelsey’s car runs with straight-through ex­haust pipes. The stumpy gear lever re­quires a short throw for the Borg Warner T5 box’s syn­chros to slot home, and we’re off. Throt­tle travel is long, bor­der­ing on epic; if the 3200GT is hair-trig­ger, then – just like the Lo­tus Carl­ton and ZR-1 – ac­cess­ing the Cer­bera’s power is the equiv­a­lent to cock­ing a 12-bore shot­gun. Do you want it, do you re­ally?

An­swer the call with your right foot and it’s pure TVR; tor­rents of power are vis­cer­ally un­leashed as the twin ex­hausts bel­low for all and sundry to hear. It’s con­cur­rently heart-pound­ing and smile-in­duc­ing. On the short sprint none of our other cars can live with it; the ’Vette is its nat­u­ral com­peti­tor but at just 1130kg it shows the 442kg-heav­ier Yank just how light a glass­fi­bre-bod­ied car should be. That’d even­tu­ally did­dle the Brit by 10mph at the top end, but by then you’d have had your fun and reigned mat­ters in us­ing the servo-as­sisted an­chors.

That’s the beauty of the Cer­bera. There are no driver aids at all; just you, all that power and a bond of trust signed be­tween driver and car. Re­spect is the es­sen­tial element here – par­tic­u­larly, but not solely, in the wet. An in­ju­di­cious throt­tle squeeze is all that sits be­tween you and havoc. De­spite hav­ing a six-inch-longer wheel­base than the Grif­fith and Chi­maera, and do­ing the GT bit with aplomb, this re­mains a sports car at heart.

With lock on it un­der­steers ini­tially, weight­ing up the steer­ing be­fore bring­ing on the power to slide the tail out. Pure hooli­gan

man­ners, and some­thing best ex­pe­ri­enced here on track. Get back on the straight and it’s foot down to mod­u­late the au­ral good­ness re­quired in the cabin. TVRS from this golden pe­riod – Grif­fith, Chi­maera, Cer­bera, Tus­can and Sa­garis – re­main true im­pact cars.

‘There are two ar­eas that re­quire scru­tiny when buy­ing a Cer­bera Speed Six – the en­gine and the chas­sis,’ says Ja­son Clegg of mar­que spe­cial­ist Str8six (str8six.co.uk). ‘The six-cylin­der en­gine had re­li­a­bil­ity is­sues when new, so look for a spe­cial­ist re­build in the his­tory file. Chas­sis pro­tec­tion wasn’t as good as on a main­stream car, with out­rig­gers and main rails prone to cor­ro­sion. Re­pairs can be costly depend­ing on what’s needed, but you’re look­ing at up to £20k for a full chas­sis and me­chan­i­cal restora­tion.’

The truth is, there’s prob­a­bly never been a bet­ter time to own a Cer­bera; think of the first 15 years as live prod­uct test­ing, leading to both the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and rec­ti­fi­ca­tion of faults to en­sure a car that to­day will do ev­ery­thing you want but with no TVR own­er­ship shenani­gans – or scratch that, and insert ‘min­i­mal’ in­stead of ‘no’.

An in­ju­di­cious throt­tle squeeze is all that sits be­tween you and havoc. It does the GT bit, but it re­mains a sports car at heart’

Rrest­e­duc­ing these cars to their sta­tis­ti­cal high­lights and choos­ing one based on whether it gazumps the other on pa­per would be like pulling the pret­ti­est lass in a pub. The short-term plea­sure might be high, but would it still be­witch when you re­alise you can’t have a con­ver­sa­tion? My go-to cars would nor­mally be the Maserati and TVR; both are wild at heart and adren­a­line-thump­ing brutes – the lat­ter win­ning by a nose in terms of sheer fe­roc­ity – but they’re also sig­nif­i­cantly more highly strung than the of our cars. Shorn of con­tro­versy, the Lo­tus Carl­ton still amazes with its sheer clout and the busi­ness-like man­ner in which it goes about its high-speed... busi­ness. How­ever, for me it just lacks a bit of drama by to­day’s stan­dards. The ZR-1 is the curve ball. Ev­ery time I climb in one, I think that for the out­lay this is a bar­gain; yes, there are com­pro­mises, left-hand-drive-only be­ing the big­gest, but it’s still one se­ri­ous weapon. It’s just not quite enough to snare me. The sur­prise to­day is go­ing against what I’ve stated above – the pret­ti­est lass in the pub is the As­ton Martin DB7 Van­tage; I’ve fallen for its sul­try looks hook, line and t’other. The beauty is that it backs those up with a glo­ri­ous en­gine and en­tranc­ing sound­track, so yes I can for­give it those hum­ble roots. All of the cars in our 170mph club ar­rived be­fore the ad­vent of trac­tion con­trol, and along with their per­for­mance that’s their big­gest pull; buy one, and you too can ex­pe­ri­ence the last of the old-school mod­ern clas­sics.

The Speed Six en­gine had four valves per cylin­der Or­ganic de­sign means the quirky cabin de­sign has aged quite grace­fully

The small­est-en­gine Cer­bera shouldn’t be un­der­es­ti­mated – it’ll crack 170mph and hap­pily em­bar­rass cars with twice the cylin­der count on its way there

Thanks to: Dave Jones, Chris Done, The Au­to­bahn­storm­ers Car Club (au­to­bahn­storm­ers.org.uk), lo­tus-carl­ton.co.uk, Maserati Club UK (maser­at­i­club.co.uk), The Clas­sic Corvette Club UK (corvet­te­club.org.uk), Clare­mont Corvette (corvette. co.uk), TVR Car...

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