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TVR Cerbera

TVR Cerbera Published: 9th Jul 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Each has its own merits
  • Worst model: Anything neglected
  • Budget buy: Speed Six
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes – it’s mandatory
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 4280x1865mm
  • Spares situation: Very good
  • DIY ease?: More than you’d think
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes
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TVR Cerbera

On the face of it, every TVR since the mid-1980s has been a supercar. Always made of glassfibre (so lightweight) and always packed with a potent engine, cars such as the Griffith, Chimaera and the ‘wedges’ with over four litres have also been terrifically fast. But the Cerbera was different – this was the car that raised the stakes for TVR, with more of everything on offer. There was more power and more speed, but in return TVR asked for more money – but this was a serious rival to the established makers.

The key thing about the Cerbera was that, apart from a young David Beckham having one complete with child seat, it was fitted with TVR’s first in-house engine; until this point the company had bought in engines from companies such as Ford and Rover. But the arrival of the AJP8 meant TVR was now building its own powerplants, with the units designed and built for ultimate power. The engines were developed within a racing environment (in the Tuscan race series), and if it could survive that, it could surely survive anything. Well, that was the plan, but time has shown that the AJP8 unit isn’t as straightforward and simple as TVR might have hoped and why you may prefer a simpler, cheaper Chimaera instead.


1996 Launched, the Cerbera was available in 4.2-litre V8 form only. This first incarnation of the AJP engine spelt 350bhp and 320lb ft of torque, which was enough to take the car to 180mph, while it could also catapult to 60 in little more than four seconds. Predictably there was no auto; all cars were supplied with a five-speed manual. And although there was no traction control system, a limitedslip diff was standard with Hydratrak an optional extra, although it was standard on 4.5-litre cars. This worked by allowing the inside wheel to spin away excess power long before the loaded outside wheel was able to lose traction – crude but effective.

1997 The 4.5-litre option surfaces, offering 420bhp and 380lb ft of torque with the headlines being 60mph in just 4.3 seconds before topping out at a staggering 185mph.

1999 If all this seemed just a bit too much, there was now the chance to buy a six-cylinder Cerbera. This was fitted with the straight-six that was to become TVR’s next home-grown powerplant. The 3996cc Speed Six was slower but not by much – hitting 60 in just 4.5 seconds and it could still kiss 180mph. Indeed, its 350bhp power output was identical to the 4.2-litre car, which by now was known as the Speed Eight.

2000 Hard core Speed Twelve is introduced wiith a pair of Speed Six engines mated together to create a V12. With 880bhp on tap, the car would prove to be lethal in the wrong hands – which is why TVR canned it before it had even got going. As a result just the one prototype was built – and it still survives.

2001 The final flourish for the Cerbera was the introduction of a Red Rose option pack boosting the 4.5-litre engine to 440bhp while there were also bigger brakes plus suspension upgrades to cope. All final models, including the last bespoke version made by Nikolai Smolenski, had blended lamps as standard. The Cerbera continued to be a part of the TVR line-up until the company closed down in 2006.


When Autocar drove an early Cerbera it was free of smog-reduction equipment so the AJP8 V8 was putting out more than the official 350bhp. But it was still clear that this was something special – something seriously rapid and the start of a new era for TVR. The new V8 was essential for TVR to perform on the world stage according to Peter Wheeler, who commented at the time: “You couldn’t have a Ferrari or a Maserati with someone else’s engine in it, could you?”

In its 1996 road test Autocar said, “The Cerbera’s chassis doesn’t simply represent a personal best for TVR; it is a night and day improvement over car in the Blackpool firm’s entire history”. The Cerbera was a different animal to the Chimaera it was broadly based upon. Autocar remarked : “The V8 has a beat like no other. To the Chimaera’s soft-noted, ratty rumble, the Cerbera offers an even, mean, gurgling growl, sharp little impacts on the ear drum that tingle. Haven’t moved an inch and already the Cerbera has asserted a different, unique character, unlike any TVR that has been”.

But it wasn’t just the sound that was an eye opener: “Go. Throttle wide open in second from 2000rpm, response thunderous, instant, Cerbera struggles briefly for grip, no peaks and plateaus, just a straight line of power, past 4500rpm and still, still the TVR pulls irresistibly, past 5000rpm, the Cerbera pulling like it’s still just 2000, and then, a gentle limiter fluffs at 7000rpm. The Cerbera is damned quick. Flexible, too.

“From about 2000rpm in any gear, the Cerbera responds with a sharp poke of acceleration and then just locomotes all the way to the limiter. In its wide maximum thrust powerband, from about 4000 to 7000rpm, the TVR is truly astonishing, more race than road car”.

All this and a test economy of 17.8mpg too although the AJP engine needs a diet of supergreen.

Just to put those comments into context, Ferrari didn’t have a production car that could get to 60mph as quickly as a Cerbera. The Porsche 911, Honda NSX and Nissan Skyline were all slower – it may have been the baby of the family, but the Speed Six was not slow. With softer suspension and a slower steering rack, it’s the Speed Six which provides the best proposition if you’re not into track days and you plan to buy a Cerbera for longer-distance drives.

But while all Cerberas were ludicrously quick and the brakes were fabulously reassuring, refinement was not forgotten. By stretching the Chimaera’s chassis by 11 inches, there was decent rear seat space in the Cerbera, even if it was still tight for four fully grown adults. “You might think, given TVR’s reputation for producing raw driving machines, that such a consideration might not be high up the priority list; you’d be wrong. The suspension is noisy but you always hear more than you feel,” Autocar remarked.

That first test left the testers in awe of the Cerbera’s talents, but the same magazine was somewhat less impressed at the prospect of running one on a longterm basis. It tested a Cerbera over a year and 20,000 miles, its test-bed being a 1996 4.2-litre model that had already covered almost 30,000 miles and it didn’t take long for the car to disgrace itself with wayward electrics. The fan went through the radiator when the car was driven over a speed hump, the ECU failed after it overheated because of a faulty engine temperature sensor and the immobiliser kept immobilising the car when it shouldn’t have done.

“If TVR could only match its ingenuity with quality, the Cerbera would be as fine to live with as it is to look at,” warning “Anyone considering a Cerbera should do so with their eyes wide open”.

When the Cerbera Speed Six was unleashed in 1999 it was clearly aimed at a very different market – more Scot or Cannes instead of Knockhill or Croft, according to the weekly. “The Speed Six is a different car from the V8 Cerbera, designed for different people… The Speed Six is significantly slower than the V8-engined Cerberas. At the Millbrook proving ground it registered a 0-60mph time of 4.5 seconds with 100mph arriving in 10.2 seconds. Half an hour later a 4.5 V8 Cerbera recorded 4.1 seconds and 8.9 seconds on the same strip of tarmac. But the Speed Six remains intoxicatingly, spine-chillingly quick. No production Ferrari can match the Six’s 0-60mph time. Nor can a Porsche 911, Honda NSX or Nissan Skyline.

“The six is so much more drivable than the Speed Eight that the ultimate performance deficit is all but negated on the road… The suspension has been softened and retuned plus a slower steering rack, with 2.4 turns between locks rather than the 2.0 of the V8s. Subtle though these changes are, they’re enough to transform the personality of the car,” the weekly concluded.


Leicestershire-based TVR specialist James Agger ( worked for a large TVR main dealer when the Cerbera was new; he set up his own independent TVR dealership in 2002. He probably sells more Cerberas than anybody else; every month he sells at least one and when we spoke to him for this article, he had four in stock.

Says Agger: “Before you buy any Cerbera you need to establish who has maintained it. This is a very complicated machine and not many people know how to keep them running properly, we’re constantly learning. Of all the TVRs, this is the most expensive one to run, which is why some owners skimp on maintenance, so check that any potential purchase hasn’t been neglected.

You can buy a good Cerbera for somewhere between £15,000 and £20,000, but don’t forget that the running costs can be pretty high. Budget £3000 for maintenance each year. Anything less than this is a bonus to ownership, but if several jobs are needed at once, the bills could be much higher”.

Despite its complexity, there are jobs you can do yourself. There’s lots of help and advice from owners’ clubs, forums and a new TVR website (http://www.tvrparts. com). Have no fear over the demise of TVR because you can still buy pretty much anything you’re likely to need to keep a Cerbera running.

Agger’s affection for the Cerbera is clear, largely because of its amazing interior and incredible performance. As he asserts, few cars worth under £250,000 can keep up and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see such affordable performance ever again – to match a Cerbera’s pace you’d need to spend upwards of £70,000 elsewhere.

Agger comments: “The Speed Six is worth less than an equivalent V8 Cerbera, but don’t be put off by the smaller engine. There’s still ferocious performance on tap and the six-cylinder cars are more comfortable with their softer steering and suspension. The Speed Six is more of a GT than the V8, but with 350bhp it’ll still do 180mph – many people assume they want a V8 when actually they’d be better off with a Speed Six. I recently sold a Speed Six for £16,000, but if it had featured a V8 instead it would have been worth £21,000. But few owners really use the available performance because you have to take to the track to realise a Cerbera’s potential, and most owners don’t do that”.

According to Agger, if you’re buying a Speed Six you should budget to spend at least £15,000, but if you want a V8 edition of the same age, then bank on spending upwards of £20,000. The best cars are a shade over £30,000, and as Agger confirms, the best cars are only going to go one way – and that’s up. Values are likely to be boosted soon by the fact that some countries allow cars to be imported once they’ve reached 25 years old. For the Cerbera that’s still a little way off, but once the global market opens up a bit more, that’ll only push values up even further.

Continues Agger: “Most Cerberas are bought for occasional use, but an annual service will still be necessary – preventative maintenance is key if problems aren’t going to crop up. The Cerbera makes a great family performance car if you’ve got small children. The rear seats are surprisingly usable, especially in pre-1999 cars, although you won’t fit four adults into a Cerbera whatever anyone tells you.”

He adds: “After 1998 there were far fewer V8-engined Cerberas built, as the factory pushed the dealers to sell and stock the Speed Six. Then, when the six-cylinder-only Tuscan was launched in 2000, it was seen as the future and stole most Cerbera sales so very few were built. There are more V8 Cerberas about than Speed Sixes. The later the car you buy, the better-built it’s likely to be and the less harsh it is to drive. However, an early car that’s been doted on by its owner is going to be a better purchase than a later one that’s been neglected”.


With so much power to tame, it’s essential that a Cerbera’s suspension is in top condition, so if the dampers or springs are tired you should think about fitting some upgraded replacements. Nitrons or Bilsteins are the favoured options; fit a set of the former and you’ll have bump and rebound adjustability, while you can also set the ride height too. You’ll pay £1200 for a set of four, on top of which you’ll have to pay for fitting and setting up.

If for some reason you feel the Cerbera’s performance is somewhat anaemic, the AJP8 engine can be tuned, but you’re better off going for a 4.2-litre engine as there’s more scope for upgrades. However, quite a few later 4.2-litre engines have the 4.5-litre crankshaft. Where the bigger engine is concerned, you’re generally limited to mapping and induction modifications to release more horses.

If you do make any changes, make sure they’re reversible. For many Cerbera buyers, originality isn’t important because sympathetic upgrades are desirable. But for others, a specification as close as possible to factory is key, so don’t get carried away making changes.

What To Look For


As with any specialist car, try several before you buy to set a datum as they will vary and if you feel unsure have a specialist give an expert opinion.

This was the most complex TVR yet, in terms of the electrical system – and as a result it can be pretty temperamental. The items most likely to give problems include the remotely operated doors, windows, wipers and lights. The cable that sends the messages from the steering wheel also plays up; refurbished items are available for around £100, but are a pain to install.

That wacky interior generally wears well, but there are weak areas. The handbrake gaiter tends to get baggy while the driver’s seat bolster and the centre console arm rest both wear. Retrims are straightforward enough; some of TVR’s original trimmers now run their own businesses. Instead of just patching things up, many Cerbera owners use the opportunity to invest in a complete retrim.

If you’re tall you should fit into a Cerbera just fine, as this was a car designed to accommodate a very lanky Peter wheeler. But the shallow glasshouse can make the cabin feel cramped, so while you’ll fit in, you might still find long-distance journeys uncomfortable.

Engine life can be extended by regularly replacing the coolant, using top-quality anti-freeze. If this isn’t done, the head gaskets are pretty much guaranteed to fail by rotting at some point.


The glassfibre shell is well-made and if the car isn’t pranged it should last well. Look for low-speed parking knocks which cracks the glassfibre; proper repairs are involved. Check for high speed accidents which have wrecked the chassis!

You can buy repair sections but blending them in takes time and skill; by the time you’ve painted everything as well, a seemingly small repair can become very costly. Fixing a bashed front corner for example, can easily add up to £5000.

You’d think that a car as recent as the Cerbera would have a really well protected chassis, but that’s not always the case. Corrosion is most likely in the outriggers and top chassis rail, and checking these isn’t all that easy – but it’s essential.

If corrosion has struck in the outriggers or top chassis rail, the bodyshell has to be removed to properly repair things. As a result you can expect upwards of £5000 getting the work done – which is why some specialists cut holes in the floor and install new corners if caught in time.

Cars built in 1998 and 1999 seem to suffer the worst for rusting while early Speed Sixes suffer because the exhaust manifold burns off the coating. Cars built after 2001 are better protected as the powder coating was tougher, while the later Speed Six featured a heat shield.


All Cerbera derivatives feature a five-speed Borg- Warner T5 manual gearbox which sends the power to the rear wheels. It’s a tough transmission but on high-mileage cars the synchromesh is likely to be tired on fifth gear. The gearbox might also whine more than you’d expect, but unless it’s really been abused it’ll carry on for ages.

If you’re buying a low-mileage early car on its original clutch you might find that the diaphragm fingers snap, but replacement AP units are available for £900 fitted. The hydraulic slave cylinder can leak and that costs the thick end of £500 to fix, as it’s located inside the bellhousing so there’s much labour involved in fitting a new one.

The suspension bushes have to cope with a lot, which is why they need to be kept in tip-top condition. Factory-spec bushes are the best option as polyurethane alternatives can’t cope with the high under-bonnet temperatures. Rebushing the whole car will set you back around £1200, plus another £600 for the three bushes that locate the differential.


That clever engine was lauded as something of an achievement when it was unveiled, but in reality it can be quite a liability, and things can go expensively wrong even if properly maintained.

Also key is a valve clearance check every 12,000 miles. With everything else that should be done at this point, a £1000 bill is to be expected, which is why some owners don’t bother. The result of this neglect is likely to be burned-out valve seats which will then require an engine rebuild. By the time an AJP V8 has been rebuilt the bill will come to over £7000 – which suddenly makes checking the valve clearances at service time a very cheap option!

The early 4.2-litre engine was fitted with a crankshaft that featured an undersized main bearing, which got overloaded and could lead to the crankshaft flexing then shattering. Most have now been rebuilt with the larger bearings from the 4.5-litre engine.

The Speed Six engine can be even less reliable, especially those produced before 2002. Make sure it has already been rebuilt; if not or if you can’t find any paperwork, expect to fork out around £3000 for a top end rebuild or around £6000 for a complete one at some point. However, many engines have been rebuilt without any paperwork given by TVR Engineering!

Three Of A Kind

With a 450bhp 8.0-litre V10 engine the Viper sounds ridiculous, has the looks and performance to match plus you’ll have one of the rarest supercars around. Plus old-school simplicity means reliability is pretty good for a road-going rocket-ship. But you’re paying for the engine and that incredible bodywork; build quality can be terrible and the interior isn’t exactly luxurious. But if you want a muscle car, few are as muscular as this one.
The Corvette has long been seen as America’s only credible sportscar, in that it goes very quickly, has that fabulous V8 growl and it’s pretty good through the bends too. Like the Viper it comes with left-hand drive only, but you soon get used to that. Choose from coupé or convertible bodystyles – they both use the same mechanicals. That means in regular form there’s a 350bhp 5.7-litre V8 that gives a 175mph top speed. Which should be plenty.
If you prefer your muscle cars to carry the Union Jack rather than the Stars & Stripes, the Esprit is for you. For years its credibility was diminished by the fitment of four-cylinder engines, so when a Lotusdeveloped 3.5-litre twin-turbo V8 arrived in 1996, it was long overdue. Rated at 350bhp, the boosted Esprit could despatch 0-60mph in just 4.4 seconds and there was a 175mph top speed. The holy grail is the 50-off Sport 350; good luck finding one.


The Cerbera is ferociously fast and not easy to tame. But if you’re tempted, make sure you buy on condition rather than spec as all Cerberas are quick, but if you buy a neglected car it will come back to bite you. Bizarrely, some that supposedly feature the 4.2-litre V8 are actually fitted with parts from the 4.5-litre, so make sure you know what you’re getting. Buy a good one and the running costs should be covered by rising values in the coming years. But even if you make a loss, well what a way to blow your savings!

Classic Motoring

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