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TVR Griffith

Cheapskate snake Published: 24th Feb 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

TVR Griffith

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 5.0-litre
  • Worst model: 4.0-litre
  • Budget buy: 4.3-litre
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L3900x W1869mm
  • Spares situation: Generally good
  • DIY ease?: Very good
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes; prices are picking up
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Look at it as a cut price Cobra..
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TVR’s Griffith is a cut price Cobra in the making and there’s no better time to buy one than right now. Here’s all the griff on how to do it right Listen to those who prop up the bar at the Red Lion pub and the chances are that you’d never even consider buying a TVR – ever. After all, they apparently leak like sieves, are guaranteed to break down at least once a week and they’re only driven by those who are built like Viz magazine’s Buster Gonad. But the reality is rather different; not only are these cars more usable than you’d think, but they’re not inherently unreliable – as long as they’re properly looked after. The problem is that TVRs are too often bought by people who are used to the reliability of a modern mass-market car. They think they can simply get in and drive it, get it serviced every 10,000 miles and thrash it mercilessly without it breaking. In reality a Griffith will take very hard use – but you have to service and care for them much more often than a highvolume sports car because these are specialist machines – a bit like the Lotus Elan which celebrates its 50th this year. Buy a TVR with your eyes open and you’ll see just how fabulous a Griffith can be. Indeed we reckon it’s a cut price AC Cobra and more in tune with modern roads.

Pros & Cons

Fast, great value, looks superb, well supported by specialists, lots of cherished cars available
Scary on challenging roads, early cars not that well built, many crashed at some point


The unveiling of the Griffith prototype at the 1990 British Motor Show meant TVR could leave the Tasmin and S-Series cars behind, and move into a new era of much more powerful, aggressively styled cars. This first car was essentially a rebodied V8-S, with a chassis that could cope with little more than 240bhp. TVR boss Peter Wheeler knew the Griffith would ultimately offer much more than this, so a new platform had to be devised. The solution was to base the new car on the Tuscan racer’s frame, and at the 1991 motor show a completely rejigged Griffith was unveiled. The first cars were delivered in 1992, with either 3948cc or 4280cc Rover V8s, producing 240bhp and 270lb ft or 280bhp and 305lb ft respectively.

In that first year of production, a couple of dozen big-valve 4.3-litre cars were also made, along with a tiny number of 4.5-litre examples. But by 1993 Griffith UK production had been halted, although export cars continued to be built. The stoppage was for the factory to gear up for Chimaera production; by the time the Griffith reappeared later in 1993 it was available in 5-litre form only.

From this point on, there was relatively little development of the Griffith. From 1994 a tough Borg Warner T5 gearbox was fitted in place of the less robust Rover unit originally fitted, and from 1995 power steering was available as an option – although it would become standard from spring 1999.

In anticipation of the impending introduction of the Tuscan in 2001, TVR introduced the run-out Griffith 500 SE, with 100 examples offered. These initially sold well, but with a price tag almost the same as the much better developed Tuscan’s, sales ultimately proved hard to come by. These newest cars are also the most sought after now though, so if you get the opportunity to buy one for the right money, seize it with both hands.


You need only the briefest of stints behind the wheel of a 4-litre Griffith to appreciate that the smallest engine offered is all you need. Sure it sports just 240bhp, but with a 1045kg kerb weight there’s no shortage of urge.

The 4.3-litre unit that came later offers a useful (but not especially necessary) increase in go, while the 5-litre unit that appeared in 1993 could be seen as nothing less than overkill. But hey – too much power is not enough, and if you want something stupidly quick, the 5-litre is the one to go for; it’ll dismiss the 0-60 sprint in little more than four seconds and can top 160mph, while all the time looking gorgeous. But it can be very scary to drive…

When Autocar tested the Griffith 4.3 in 1992, it would be one of the fastest cars driven by the magazine that year. Capable of 0-60 in 4.7 seconds and 30-70 in just 3.9 seconds, the magazine called it ‘hair-bendingly quick’. However, while the car was astonishingly fast, the chassis was criticised for being too crude to cope with the surfeit of power.

So when the Griffith 500 appeared with its 340bhp and 350lb ft of torque – using much the same chassis – it was no wonder that Autocar felt this was a car with too much power. At that time, the magazine had only ever driven one production car that was faster, and that was the Jaguar XJ220 – which cost more than ten times as much. Faster than an Aston Martin Vantage, Ferrari 512TR or Chrysler Viper, the Griffith was ludicrously great value for money, but lacked the sophistication of its more costly rivals.

So if you’re after a Griffith for the effortless acceleration on offer, and you’re confident it’ll be an open-road car only, you won’t get more bang for your buck. Where it falls down is when the conditions get challenging; there are no electronic aids to keep you out of trouble. However, it’s not just when exploiting the available performance that you can come unstuck; in stop/start traffic the Griffith can be a nightmare too. With its oldschool engine the car can be a real pain in urban driving, with a refusal to pull cleanly at low revs and driveline shunt galore. Intriguingly, Autocar reckoned TVR had ‘gone too far’ with the 500, and should have refined the 4.3-litre model instead.

So before you jump in with both feet, opting for a 5-litre Griffith, make sure that it really is the model you want.


With the demise of TVR and the fact that it’s already a decade since the final Griffith was built, values for these cars are lower than ever. Indeed they’re still a bit unstable, with good 5-litre cars sometimes advertised for the same money as ropey 4-litre examples, so shop around to get the best car for your money. An early (4-litre) Griffith is now down to around £10,000, but for £3000 more you can have a 4.3-litre example. This is one of the most desirable thanks to its lack of catalytic converters, is very free revving, and about as quick as a cat-constrained standard 500, while £18,000 should buy you a good 5-litre edition.

Some optimistic dealers are still asking the thick end of £30,000 for a really good low-mileage Griffith or one of the last 100 limited editions, but you don’t need to pay that sort of money; £24,000 nets you something really nice.

TVR specialist James Agger comments: “The TVR market was hit as badly as any other non-essential car product when the financial crisis hit, and this produced some very realistically priced TVRs for a while. There was a surge around 18 months ago, but things have stabilised this year and a decent Griffith is now a solid investment as the market is now being fuelled by foreign buyers due to the low value of sterling, and cash customers who see Griffith ownership as a more enjoyable way of storing their savings.

“Expect prices to rise, especially as the first cars are now creeping towards classic status and will therefore make them more attractive to buyers in the UK as well as the USA, where Federal laws get far less stringent at 21 and 25 years old’.


If you’re a complete power junkie, it’s possible to upgrade the V8 with a supercharger, or if you’ve got one of the smaller engines, you could just slot a five-litre lump in. However, better anchors are also needed; a Wilwood kit is available with vented discs front and rear plus four-pot callipers, for around £1100. Some upgrades produce a car that’s less balanced to drive, so know what you’re buying before parting with your readies. Standard or tuned, it’s always worth beefing up the cooling. A decent start point is a switch to manually over-ride the factory switch. Also a good quality radiator; a two-stage fan-cooled aluminium unit is the best route to take, for around £500.

What To Look For

  • The Rover V8 may be from the old school, but it’s reliable, easy to tune and dishes up plenty of horses. Simply engineered and happy to keep going, the first thing to wear is the camshaft. Whichever engine is fitted, this usually needs replacing after 50,000 miles; it’s a £1500 job.
  • Another common weakness is oil leaks – so don’t expect to see an exceptionally clean engine bay that looks as though it’s just been steam cleaned. It’s the rocker cover gasket that leaks, because the retaining bolts for the cover need to be tightened at every service – and they’re usually not.
  • Listen for blowing from the exhaust; not only do the gaskets fail, but the manifolds are prone to cracking and new stainless items are over £800 per pair without cats. Things aren’t helped by the engine potentially getting rather hot, due to the failure of the relay that controls the rad’s thermostatic fan.
  • Check the coolant hoses haven’t perished; they’ll probably need renewing by now. The radiator also has to be treated as a consumable; they rarely last much more than 25,000 miles before the sides split and coolant ends up all over the place. Reconditioning them costs around £150, and fitting it means a fair amount of dismantling, but the job is easy enough to do at home.
  • Although exhausts are durable, those on earlier cars have generally had to be replaced in recent years. You’ll pay around £650 for a new stainless system, and although this should be a fit-and-forget item, damage often occurs through grounding. As a result, it’s a good idea to get underneath and check that the exhaust hasn’t been bashed to within an inch of its life.
  • The transmission is amazingly durable; it’s conventional and over-engineered, so unless the car has been absolutely thrashed or driven to the moon and back, it shouldn’t need anything major doing. The GKN limitedslip diff fitted until 1994 will whine when it wants attention, but it’ll keep going for ages before giving in. Later cars featured a Salisbury unit; whichever back axle is fitted you’ll need to ensure there are no oil leaks as they’re common and fixing them is pricey.
  • Clutches are durable enough, even on harddriven cars, but the hydraulics can leak a bit. It’s the master cylinder that’s usually the culprit, so check there’s no brake fluid dripping down the clutch pedal; new master cylinders are £75 apiece.
  • The biggest problem with the suspension is that of worn bushes, although renewing them is cheap and easy. The best solution is to fit new bushes with the nylon washers as fitted to the later 500. Corrrosion of the front wishbones is another problem as the powder coating was of a poor quality. Replacement upper units without bushes cost £100 a piece while the lower ones are double this.
  • Although power-assisted steering wasn’t available until 1995, many earlier cars have had it fitted. The surgery is complex, but worthwhile even though it costs around £2000 to install. If it’s already fitted and there are odd whirring noises on full lock, just make sure the reservoir hasn’t been over-filled, as it often is or that the drive belt is slack (can give a ‘kick’ on full lock).
  • It’ll be no revelation that the tyres have a lot to contend with, so make sure they’ve still got some tread left. New ones are typically £125 a piece, but if you replace the tyres on a car with alignment that’s out, they’ll wear extremely quickly and you’ll be back to square one. Be wary of a car that’s just had a new set of boots; it may be that the suspension is out of alignment and the tyres are wearing unevenly.
  • The bodywork and chassis can throw up some pretty major problems, not least of all from accident damage. With no gadgetry to keep unskilled drivers out of trouble, there are plenty of Griffiths that have made intimate contact with the scenery. Once the GRP has got damaged, it’s usually a case of replacing panels wholesale.
  • It’s not just about poor crash repairs though; rust and age also take their toll on the glassfibre bodywork and the steel chassis. The nose is susceptible to stone chips, so it’s quite normal to have to fork out for a front-end respray – at £1000+ a time.
  • You also need to examine the corners very closely for evidence of scrapes, which occur all too easily because there are no bumpers. While the glassfibre shrugs off minor knocks quite happily, it will only take so much before the bodywork erupts in cracks and crazing. The Griffith 500 featured a different nose from the earlier cars, and for several years only the later panels were available. Therefore, if an early car has a later nose, you know it’s been pranged; the earlier front is available once more though. The 500’s nose features a grille that stretches from one driving light to the other, whereas the earlier one has separate nacelles.
  • You’ll need to get underneath and check the state of the chassis; its powder coating gets chipped and cracked, leading to corrosion. Annual Waxoyling will keep rot at bay, but it’s accident damage you also need to be wary of. A major knock will push everything out of true, meaning new panels and a fresh chassis will be required – although it’s surprising how big a shunt it takes to cause distortion of the chassis. Everything is available to effect repairs, but the costs will soon mount if everything needs doing.
  • Outriggers are the main problem as they hold all the dirt and stones kicked up by the front wheels. It’s hard to check accurately as the problem usually starts on the top of the outrigger which you can’t see without lifting the body. Outrigger replacements are now available without lifting the body for around £1500; they offer a comforting fall back if you later find out the chassis isn’t as good as it looked when you bought it.
  • The electrical system is robust where the major components are concerned, but it’s usually the smaller stuff that packs up. That’s why you need to make sure the switchgear all works okay, along with things like the electric mirrors and powered windows. Starter motors aren’t very long-lived, they get cooked by the exhaust; a reconditioned one is £100 while a new one is three times that. Also check that the speedometer works as it should; because they’re cheaply made, they frequently pack in, and that then throws into doubt the mileage displayed. Interiors are hard-wearing, but regularly got wet.

Three Of A Kind

Would you compare an MG to a TVR? Well with a 185bhp 3.9-litre Rover V8 and rear-wheel drive, plus classic lines thanks to a bodyshell that can trace its roots back to the early 1960s, the RV8 is in theory rather TVR-like. But it’s not as raw as the beast from Blackpool; for an MGB-based machine the RV8 is actually rather fast yet pretty civilised and cracking value for money.
Morgan Plus 8
If you want raw, then this should do the trick. Like all the cars here there’s a Rover V8 in the nose; early cars displaced 3.5 litres but later ones are 3.9 or 4.6. You’ll be doing well to find anything very early; that’s no bad thing as the later Plus 8s are better built, marginally more civilised and even faster. Restorations are usually expensive even if parts supply is generally fine.
TVR Chimaera
If the Griff is the poor man’s AC Cobra then the Chimaera is the modern Big Healey. The Griffith’s practicality is relatively limited, and even TVR enthusiasts sometimes need a dose of usability. That’s why the Chimaera was devised; it’s a Griffith with a bigger boot and softer suspension, so it’s just as fast but easier to live with and some would also say more discreet yet is as much fun.


You needn’t be put off by a relatively high-mileage Griffith, but it has to have a fully stamped service book, with the work done by a specialist who knows what they’re doing. Any Griffith trusted to ‘a bloke under the arches’ is to be avoided – as is one with an incomplete history. These cars need plenty of TLC on a regular basis, and high-mileage cars are relatively common because they’re so easy to use every day. It doesn’t matter which Griffith you buy, because they’re all mind-bendingly quick. Condition is more important than model, age or – to a degree – mileage. However, if the car has been twice round the solar system, even gently, there’s obviously going to be plenty of wear to the major (and minor) mechanical components. The Griffith offers amazing value, and if you can find a really good one for the right money, dive in because you won’t regret it. You won’t get more performance for your money – anywhere.”

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