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...