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TVR Chimaera

TVR Chimaera Published: 12th Jul 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

TVR Chimaera
TVR Chimaera
TVR Chimaera
TVR Chimaera
TVR Chimaera
TVR Chimaera
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Why not own a...? TVR Chimaera

No disrespect intended, but let’s face it, you wouldn’t associate a Trevor with a thunderous, tyre-burning, muscle car, well would you? The exception was TreVoR Wilkinson, a part-time pram salesman, who, back in 1947, dreamed up this specialist sports car maker, that 70 years on, is finalising its long awaited rebirth.

However, it was Peter Wheeler who really put TVR on the map when he developed the brutal Griffith which took the 1990 Motor Show by storm. In 1993, a slightly softer, more practical evolution was introduced called Chimaera – yet could just as easily have been called the Austin- Healey 4000 so close was it to the spirit of the ’60s Big Healey.

Chimaera was the car that the Healey could have become if it had been developed over the 30 years since its demise. Uncompromising, hairy-chested, super fast, ultra responsive and with not an airbag or electronic driver aid in sight to dilute the joyous driving experience.

Such similarities to the Big Beefy Healey might explain why so many Chimaeras are driven by men in their fifties and sixties. Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s they were either driving Healeys – or wishing that they could! Then one day in the 90s they had a ‘road to Damascus’ moment: They heard about a TVR Griffith or Chimaera, were reminded of their young adulthood and knew they just had to have one.
Does that include you now too?

Model choice

As is usually the case, the latest cars are the best, particularly in this instance where the general feeling is that the early cars do not look as good as the latest. Having said that, many probably wouldn’t notice the difference between the first and the last and condition counts the most by a long chalk.

With no less than five engines to choose from, all based on the ubiquitous Buick-derived Rover V8, you’re spoilt for choice and all are bloody quick! Indeed, if you are not used to supercar performance, then the lowest powered 240bhp, 4.0-litre with (0-60 in five seconds, 0-100 in 11.1, 50-70 in top in just 5.8 and 155mph top speed) is ‘ample’ to say the least! But as is the way of the world, once you get used to it you begin to yearn for a bit more: 4.0 HC 275bhp, 4.3 280bhp, 4.5 285bhp and the ultra scary 5.0 325bhp sporting 169mph and 4.1 seconds to 60mph are the options although experts view TVR official power figures with due scepticism…

While based on the Rover V8, these engines were heavily modified at TVR’s engineering centre in Coventry and generally the least modified, the original 4.0, is the most reliable as well as being certainly quick enough already. While some say that the smooth 4.3 is a good all rounder, the general view is that the 4.5-litre is the best of them all if you can run to it and easier around town to drive than the smaller unit, for some strange reason.

The Griffith had been totally uncompromising and yet the running gear remains identical, apart from a rear anti-roll bar that was standard on the Chimaera and not introduced on the Griffith until the 500 variant was launched in 1993. Bilsteins and Konis were virtually interchangeable between the models, depending upon what was available at the factory to fit.

The main reason why a Chimaera is said to feel “softer” is probably due to the different size/profile tyres. Purists might argue that a proper sports car shouldn’t have power steering, but that in the Chimaera, which was originally optional until 1997/98 (but most had from ’95 onwards), is so good that you just don’t notice the assistance except when you want it.

There’s nothing wrong with the early cars, despite what you may be led to believe, says the owners’ club but the Borg Warner box – which incidentally wasn’t fitted until April 1994 is better, it admits. In August of that year the ‘Serpentine’ engine, employing a single poly-vee belt driving the alternator, power steering and water pumps was fitted to provide better charging and reliability.

From late ’94, the 5-litre (325bhp) was offered and, at one time, there was a wide choice of power. There is little visible difference between the first cars and the latest; in ’96 the door opening buttons were moved to the mirrors, the boot lip lengthened, the rear panel colour-keyed and the grille divided. In February 1998 the number plate lights were changed, 12 months later the boot hinges were hidden and in 2001 the headlights were faired in and the seats improved, and not before time.

Behind the wheel

Always good start, particularly in a high performance car, the driving position is excellent and the relationship between steering wheel and gear lever, throttle brake and clutch pedals is spot on. If there is a criticism it is those seats which seem to lack both thigh and lumbar support but that’s subjective. The clutch is remarkably light with a progressive action and the later Borg Warner gearchange rifle-bolt precise.

The power steering is geared at just 2.2 turns lock-to-lock resulting in Lotus Elan-like responses, although cars without PAS can be heavy to manhandle. A good Chimaera that has a straight chassis just goes where it’s pointed and, thanks to those fat low profile tyres, for many the levels of grip are rarely taken to the limit on the road. That said, while car has grip galore, even in the wet, naturally with this sort of power to weight ratio, care has to be taken in slippery conditions.

The handling is nicely neutral with no sign of oversteer in normal fast driving or rack day circuit stuff. There is very little roll and by any standards the ride quality is quite remarkable. For a sportster with few compromises, this is no bone-shaker like a TR6.

Then there is the performance. Even in 4.0-litre form the Chimaera is right up there with Porsches and Ferraris. The car is just effortless and even when conforming to the national speed limits (ahem), cross country journeys are very rapid thanks to the instant overtaking with very little use of the gearbox. The ultimate is the 5-litre but, unless you’re into track days (something the Chimaera is ideal for, it has to be said), you have to question whether you need anything larger than the 4.5-litre.

The ventilated brakes are perfectly weighted and haul the car down from high speeds with no drama. The lack of ABS encourages high driving standards and a return to cadence braking in the wet or on loose surfaces. As a tourer, the Chimaera becomes remarkably well suited. The good ride, allied to a plush comfy cockpit makes GT motoring highly satisfying and fairly cost conscious; expect 20-25mpg on an early car if you don‘t hare around all the time and as much as 30mpg + if you’re careful, reckons the owners’ club – which is excellent going for such a serious sports car. This is a Healey 3000 on steroids but without the usual old car disadvantages.

What to pay

While in the region of a healthy 5250 were made and the majority survive, some probably require a significant amount of work to make good, usually to the chassis where rust can be hidden to such an extent that only a full body removal will reveal the true extent of horrors.

This is true of at least 15 percent of them, says the club, but specialists claim a higher percentage. Don’t be put off by this though as top TVR specialists are highly experienced at rectifying chassis corrosion issues.

Around £15,000 is needed to buy good models as even immaculate looking examples, many priced at around the 10 grand mark, still need copious amounts of TLC. For a variety of reasons, owners are starting to lay up their cars rather than use them like they used to with some 500 placed SORN last year alone according to DVLA figures. The TVR Car Club makes the point that, a large number of TVRs are SORNed from November to March and then brought out again for the summer. What will happen as a consequence, reckon specialists, is that good, honest UK Chimaeras will diminish, so values will rise as a result.

David Gerald TVR has looked at the feasibility of marketing reconditioned cars in the past but says the cost of restoration pushes screen prices to around £30,000 to make the job worthwhile – and there’s not many enthusiasts ready to pay that amount for a Chimaera. Yet.

Making one better

Let’s be honest here, any Chimaera is quick enough so rather than trying to tune and improve this already pretty well sorted sports car, simply ensuring that the basics – such as suspension geometry is up to spec and recommended quality tyres are employed – make the best mods of them all. This, along with a good session at a TVR specialist, may be all that you need.

Assuming the chassis is sound and geometry spot on, poly bushing is a sensible first step although unless we’re talking track days, many TVR experts believe original spec ones provide the best set up. New dampers come next and the likes of Gaz, Gold Pros, AVO and Nitron are the top choices but the last type cost a cool £1000 a set. The Ford brakes are adequate but there’s also a host of brake upgrades to opt for, such as the Alcon four piston brake kit that require no adaptors to fit but are really only needed for serious track days, reckons

With Ferodo DS pads, 13 per cent reduced pedal travel and five per cent less pedal effort are claimed along with improved feel; a worthy and much cheaper track day mod.

More speed wanted? You can take two of the three cats out of the exhaust (although in view of emission legality it’s not worth the hassle), put in a more extreme camshaft, add a better, mappable ECU system of which there are several types – but all are pricey tweaks. The standard cooling system is adequate although it’s always worth considering uprating if replacements are needed (see our summer cooling feature elsewhere in this issue for top tips).

Maintenance matters

First the good news. Spares supply is not the problem it once was thanks to TVR Parts who claims it has a line of 2500 bits although some items are still scarce.

Even in its least powerful form, that tuned Rover V8 is still churning out a fat 100bhp more than in the equivalent Range Rover or MGB V8 form and while it’s 50 years old, is not such a simple lump like the Healey’s ‘Austin six’. TVRs hardly enjoy the best reliability records to compound issues but they aren’t as dire as some paint them out to be. The secret lies in care from TVR specialist where a full service will cost around £700; for that money you’re also buying a chunk of peace of mind.

Properly maintained, these V8s are long lasting and the only issue is that they chuck out a lot of heat which can cause coil leakage and a myriad of problems with starters, clutch cylinders and the fan switch.

One problem caused by everyday driving is stone chips owing to the amount of exposed bodywork at the front and the soft nature of fibreglass but that’s small fry compared to the chassis rot that may be present but sadly hidden. The outriggers are the worst culprits but to ascertain the true extent of the tin worm, it’s necessary to lift the body away – pricey!

New frames aren’t too exorbitant at £2000 (about the same price for a proper outrigger replacement, incidentally), it’s the labour intense nature of the job (remember the Wheeler Dealers’ Cebera?).

It’s well worth joining the club. The TVR Car Club (TVRCC), is only too willing to put potential new TVR owners right even if you don’t own one yet and at a little over a quid a week is a bargain. Specialists worth knowing include TRV Power, Central TVR, Racing Green Cars, Fernhurst, and V8 parts suppliers Rimmer Bros.

In conclusion

Rightly viewed as the best modern take on the Big Healey, this TVR holds lots of appeal. There’s the same Healey-like feel although the Chimaera is obviously much faster and more civilised. Don’t expect to run one like an MX-5 but when all is said and done, for the money, the Chimaera is in a class of its own. Mark our words, they’ll never be another modern classic like TVR’s Chimaera!

Buying tips


As we constantly stress, it’s vital that you get the feel of a specialist car to set a datum and the Chimaera is no exception, as standards can vary enormously.

True, build quality has never been a TVR strong point, but there is a perception that it is poorer than actually so, not borne out by members’ feedback says the club. The number of reliable cars far outweigh the vociferous minority, it adds.

2. Body & chassis

Glassfibre bodywork can’t rust, of course, but the stout metal chassis can – and does – despite powder coating. The worst areas are the chassis outriggers and to repair these properly can cost the thick end of £2000. Some may even be on their second repair so check for bodging to save costs. If that bad perhaps a new chassis is best, even at almost £4000 fitted (or around £1800 bare).

Experts add checking for the dreaded tin worm isn’t easy and even some MoT examiners can fail to spot outrigger rot. You really need to get underneath to check properly. If you’re in doubt have a TVR specialist thoroughly examine the car. The TVRCC has details of a number of specialists that members have recommended who provide an inspection or car sourcing service.

Look also for previous patchwork repairs to the chassis. Check for rot too especially at the suspension points.

Apart from door drop, the shell is quite durable and cracking/crazing only affects the most neglected. Stone chip damage to the snout is common, as are poorly repaired prangs. Rosso Pearl reds, while popular, don’t look so good as the years go on as they are prone to fading. Anything A1 may have been resprayed.

3. Running gear

Even in high power TVR tune, Rover V8 is still as strong as an ox, although trouble areas include the hydraulic valve lifters, sludging (infrequent use or oil changes), cam wear and weak head gaskets. Oil pressure should be 25-30lb but a fully synthetic oil could easily see below this figure at idle, safely.

Overheating isn’t a big Chimaera issue. A good engine will run at 80 degrees – 90 when idling and see the fans cut in. If not, it is the ‘otter’ switches failing.

Rest of running gear requires only normal checks. Clutches take a pounding and a loose feel on the move is worn bushes and dampers; a sign of quite hard use.


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