The small English brand TVR is on the verge of being reborn (some say) with a « new generation » Griffith, based on a chassis created by none other than Gordon Murray. Bankrupted by its last owner, the Russian Nikolay Smolenski, TVR had nevertheless experienced a golden age in the 90s with three fantastic models: the Chimaera, the Griffith and the Cerbera. The latter inaugurated a V8 and an inline ‘home made’ 6 cylindre (which contributed to weakening the firm from Blackpool) proposing a fiery four passenger ride.
Peter Wheeler was a chemical engineer but also a big fan of cars in general and of the TVR in particular (of which he was a loyal customer). Taking advantage in 1981 of the difficulties of the brand, he gathered his savings and a few investors in order to realise his dream: to buy his favourite brand from its then owner, Martin Liley. The manufacturer had lost a lot of money developing the Tasmin while the oil shocks of the seventies had taken their toll in shrinking the sports car market.
The revival of TVR
Once at the controls, the chemist rolled up his sleeves, not hesitating to meddle in mechanical and technical design. Abandoning the Tasmin’s styling, by then a bit too marked and dated, he launched in 1986 the « S-Series », simple cars, powerful, pretty to look at and relatively affordable, which used a V6 from Ford, but also a V8 from Rover. Thanks to this first model, TVR would finally pull itself out of its financial slump due to stable production (2,604 units produced between 1986 and 1994) that allowed the firm to turn a small profit.
This mooted success gave encouragement to Peter Wheeler who then decided to push for greater success in the 90s. His first launch was the Griffith, an elegant sports two-seat roadster, available only with the V8 from Rover, presented in 1991. All in the same stride, the Griffith saw itself paired with a sister two-seater convertible based on the same chassis and endowed with the same V8, although slightly less powerful to run more like a GT: the Chimaera, sold 407 units against 228 of the more powerful Griffith in 1993. It would even become the brand’s biggest seller with 5,526 units in total produced in Blackpool between 1993 and 2003.
From the Griffith to the Cerbera
This success had an enticing effect on Peter Wheeler, giving him more ideas for expansion: why not a 2 + 2 version of the Chimaera? The Cerbera (to stay in Greek mythology) prototype was presented in 1994. Its extremely positive reception made the small team even more ambitious. With record breaking sales, TVR was finally gaining recognition beyond the Channel. The time had come they thought to spread their wings and develop their very own in house engine for the TVR range.
Instead of developing one engine, the team sought to develop two: a V8 (the SpeedEight) and a straight 6 (the SpeedSix). At first, the particularly light super-square 4.2 litre block developing 365 hp, proved particularly fragile. A year after its release, it was replaced by an all aluminium evolution, increased to 4.5 litres and 420 horsepower, also particularly light. The second, released in 1999, was the entry-level of the Chimaera: the 6-cylindre in line 4.0 litre, producing 350 hp.
New engines for the SpeedEight and the SpeedSix
First presented in 1994, it was not until 1996 that the car entered into production, in order to allow time to develop the SpeedEight engine. Without reaching the sales figures of the Chimaera, the Cerbera did meet with some small success, with 419 units sold in 1997. Unfortunately, the unreliability of the first version of the SpeedEight engine damaged the model’s reputation. Despite the new V8 and the release of the SpeedSix, sales collapsed in 1998, to become minute from the early 2000s, eventually retiring from the range in 2003, after only 1,490 units in total being produced.
This is a shame as this car, once equipped with a reliable engine, proved particularly powerful, well finished, luxurious, original and « so British”, having never been officially imported into the French market, explaining its extreme rarity in France today. Moreover, it exists only in right-hand drive (although some models have received aftermarket conversions to LHD). Choosing a Cerbera is to dare to drive (no ESP, no traction control, no excessive electronics), to standout in the crowd and to accept the vagaries of the artisanal craftsmanship of the 1990s (like the Venturi in France). The automobile is a business of choice, and the Cerbera is a radical one.