- Best model: 4.5/5.0 with leather
- Worst model: Anything in neglected condition
- Budget buy: 4.0 (240bhp)
- OK for unleaded?: Yes, timing adjustment
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): mm L4015 x W1865
- Spares situation: Generally okay
- DIY ease?: Some bits are
- Club support: Good
- Appreciating asset?: Good ‘uns will be
- Good buy or good-bye?: It’s a ‘modern’ Healey
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The Chimaera may have taken its name from ancient mythology, but there’s nothing pre-historic or false about this TVR and it could be the perfect modern classic
Pros & Cons
Chimaera is supposed to be the soft option to the brutal Griffi th, but it’s still a pretty hard core motor. This modern TVR is becoming particularly attractive to older classic car fans, who are drawn to its classic looks and are reminded of the Big Healeys of their youth. And, if ever a modern car has the spirit of a Big and beefy Healey, then it’s the Chimaera, which is available, literally, for pennies when compared to the Austin.
OPINIONS DIFFER ON WHAT’S THE BEST V8
Until 2004, when the company was bought by Russian banker Nikolai Smolenski (is it really that long ago?- ed), TVR had been through the most settled 20 years of its normally tumultuous life. However, its last saviour, the late Peter Wheeler, had just had enough of trying to keep the sports car maker going through all the diffi culties of modern motor manufacture. Having purchased TVR in 1981, Peter kept the company going in the short term by improving existing models and playing with different engine configurations and his fi rst real breakthrough was the 1989 Motorshow Griffith V8 concept. More than a hundred visitors ordered on the spot, but it took two years to get it to launch.
By August 1993 the Griffith had become uncompromising sports car. Wheeler identified that there was also a market for something ‘softer’, more practical and classic in shape, hence the Chimaera. Styled in-house the car was two inches longer than the Griffith and boasted a much larger boot.
Offered with modified 4.0 (240bhp) and 4.3-litre (280bhp) versions of the Rover V8, the running gear was Griffi th 4-litre with softer springing, Bilstein dampers instead of Konis, an anti-roll bar and catalytic converters. In February 1994 the Borg Warner T5 gearbox replaced the Rover one although it didn’t filter through to production cars until June and, in August of that year, the new ‘Serpentine’ engine employing a single poly-vee belt driving a new alternator, power steering and water pumps was fi tted, to provide better charging and reliability. From late 1994 the 5-litre (325bhp) was offered and at one time there was a choice of 4.0, 4.5 or full fat 5-litre versions to suit all types of speed freaks, while power steering became an option, before later becoming a standard fit.
There is little visible difference between the first cars and the latest; in 1996 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 were greatly improved in comfort.
It’s a measure how brutish these cars were that even the owner’s handbook gave details on how to drive the car best… and that’s with respect but not fear. Yes the tail can be played with, but adopt the recommended and time-honoured ‘slow in, fast out’ technique and the Chimaera is quite a placid understeerer. The power steering is geared at just 2.2 turns, resulting in the most wonderful response without over-sensitivity which can affect some set ups. Cars without it are much harder work – much like a Healey.
For a sports car with few compromises, the ride is amazingly compliant; this is no bone-shaker like a TR6 for example. You immediately feel at home in this car, with a precise, lightweight clutch action. The gearchange, while hardly being lightweight, is rifl e-bolt precise.
So let’s talk about performance – something any Chimaera has in spades. Even the ‘base’ 240bhp 4-litre rockets to 60 in under six seconds, and the ton in a wink over 11. The question is how fast do you want to go?
Even more important is the sheer usability of the engine, which provides masses of power, care of 270lb.ft of torque, in any gear, for safe overtaking; how does 50-70mph in top gear in 5.8 seconds sound? 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 option.
Thankfully, the ventilated brakes are just as exceptional, hauling the car down from high speeds without fuss, although bear in mind that no TVR has factory-fi tted ABS, so good old fashioned cadence braking is required.
As a tourer, the Chimaera is 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.
The hood is effective, too, but you won’t want it up most of the time, since it drowns one of the best sounding sports cars ever made!
Chimaeras are probably as cheap as they are ever going to be, so it‘s best to take the plunge now.
Chimaeras can be bought for as little as £6000 and as much as £18-20,000 and, with some 6000 made, there’s a car to suit most budgets. As with all prestigious cars sold at temptingly low prices, you get what you pay for, meaning that a bargain-buy probably won’t look so tempting once you’ve factored in costs to bring it up to speed; some spares can be expensive. It’s best to buy the best you can find, and this is probably the most cheapest route in the long run.
Typical price for a good car is around £9000-£12,000, irrespective of engine and spec (i.e. full not half leather trim). If you’re looking at a 4-litre and the vendor says it’s the higher compression engine option, for 275bhp, check it’s as described as the excellent owners club reckons that this figure was always pretty wildly optimistic anyway!
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 than the smaller unit.
You mean you want more speed? For the vast majority of us, a good Chimaera is quick enough for today’s roads and, in all honestly, as these cars become more scarce originality will come to the fore. Rather than trying to tune and improve this already well sorted sports car, we’d make sure that the basics, such as the TVR’s suspension geometry, are up to spec along with a good session at a TVR specialist.
Obviously the chassis can be poly-bushed but unless you are looking at track days be careful not to spoil the TVR’s agreeable ride. Checking that the car still has the proper, expensive, Bilstein dampers and that they are in good order is a wise move but some say the modern alternatives from the likes of Gaz, Gold Pros, Nitron and AVO are better. Top quality tyres used to mean Bridgestone S02/but these haven’t been available for about five years. Current favourites seem to be Toyo T1Rs but it is proving increasingly difficult to get any tyres in a Z speed rating in the original sizes. Most specialist insurance companies acknowledge this and will approve the fitting of lesser V rated tyres.
But do talk to your insurer first!
What To Look For
- First things first – join the club. The TVR Car Club (TVRCC), who helped greatly with this feature) is only too willing to put potential new TVR owners right.
- As we constantly stress, it’s vital that you get the feel of a specialist car to set a datum and the Chimaera is certainly no exception, as standards can vary enormously. Test drive as many as you can, to distance yourself from the thrill of driving one to actually sensing its condition!
- A popular track day car, ensure that you’re not going to be lumbered with a tired out wreck that’s been trashed. True, build quality has never been a TVR strong point but there is a perception that build quality is poorer than it actually is and not borne out by members’ feedback says the club. The number of reliable cars far outweigh the vociferous minority of unreliable ones, it adds.
- Of course the biggest worry is landing a crashed car; a computer data check from the likes of HPI will put your mind at rest. See that the car runs straight and true, without odd tyre wear, plus look for signs of repairs (ie new panels, chassis parts etc).
- 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 cars 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 say that 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 as it could save you thousands in the long run. However these are not that easy to come by. The TVRCC has the details of a number of specialists that members have recommended who provide a nationwide inspection or car sourcing service.
- Look also for previous patchwork repairs to the chassis frame, signalling bodged shunt repairs. Check for rust while you’re at it, especially at the suspension points as the front is prone to this.
- 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 really good may well have been resprayed.
- That Rover V8 is an all time great and, even in high power TVR tune, is still as strong as an ox. Just the usual checks will suffice on this unit, although trouble areas include the hydraulic valve lifters sludging up (infrequent use or oil changes), camshaft wear and weak head gaskets. Oil pressure should be a steady 25-30lb although a hot engine filled with a 5W40 fully synthetic oil could easily be below this figure at idle, safely.
- Overheating isn’t a big Chimaera issue, but look for tell tale signs of water loss which will cause the head gaskets to let go and perhaps take the heads with them. Abused track day cars will suffer the most. A good engine will run at 80 degrees – 90 when idling and see the fans cut in properly. If the car runs hot, penny to a pound is the ‘otter’ switches failing.
Three Of A Kind
Jaguar XK8Developed and launched in tandem with the Aston DB7 both have the same brutish feel of the TVR while the Jaguar uses the lust of an excellent V8. A far superior car to the XJ-S it replaced the XK8 is also now superb value for money and of course, has a far more widespread specialist network than TVR. Supercharged XKR has the pace of the hottest Chimaeras and is much easier to maintain as a coupe or cabrio.
MGR V8A classic sportster of the old school that’s not dissimilar to the TVR, not least because they share the same power plant. The MG is a softer more civilised option although with almost 200bhp is no slouch either. A more antiquated drive but for many the MG has more acceptable styling and perhaps class. Amazingly the RV8 is no dearer to buy than a V8 or even a normal MGB for that matter.
TVR CerberaIf the Chimaera is too hard core then there’s the Cerbera. Launched in 1996 it’s a hard top 2+2 take on the Chimaera with greater usability and TVR’s own sparkling if expensive to fi x AJP engines (‘Speed Six’ is a traditional six pot, AJ a V8). Rear seats are kid’s stuff only and while the interior looks plush it is no more a grand tourer than the Chimaera, which is also cheaper to buy and maintain (engine).
They’ll never be another modern classic like the TVR Chimaera – the PC brigade wouldn’t allow it! So, make the most of this modern Big Healey while prices are more than reasonable. A good one will deliver classic car thrills twinned with today’s conveniences, which in no way dilute the TVR’s raw pleasure. And, unlike the last TVRs, the Chimaera looks quite restrained, too – almost classical in fact.