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TVR Chimaera

Published: 16th Oct 2012 - 2 Comments

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Which classics still have the potential to get up and go? Robert Couldwell remembers the cars, the people… and how to make a classic hot car!

With a production run spanning ten years the Chimaera was one of TVR’s most successful models and justifibly so. Here was a car that boasted muscular looks and performance back in 1993 but was fairly civilised and usable – a modern take on the Big Healey in oh so many ways, not least the fact that this Blackpool blaster is one of the last old school sports cars, the like we won’t see again.

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Offered with modifid 4.0 (240 bhp) and 4.3-litre(280 bhp) versions of the Rover V8, the running gear was Griffith 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 less robust Rover one 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 surfaced. From late 1994 the 5-litre (325 bhp) was offered and at one time there was a mouthwatering choice of 4, 4.5 or 5-litre versions!

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 month’s later the boot hinges were hidden and in 2001 the headlights were faired in and the seats improved.

The biggest problem with these cars is ironically lack of use and subsequently care; there’s many ratty Chimaeras around meaning that a bargain buy may not be. Rust isn’t a major worry with the chassis but poor accident damage is. Mechanically the car fares rather better although certain spares are becoming scarce. TVR went for a contemporary interior and most of the instruments and switches are specific which can cause difficulties as replacements are hard to find. All cars had rather average quality leather upholstery which doesn’t wear particularly well and the dashboard is either covered in leather which doesn’t respond well to sunshine. Vinyl ones are better. Buy the best you can – it will reward you in the long run. You can pick up a decent example in the region of £8000 or less but top cars can add up to ten grand more.

This series is all about hotting up classics but it has to be said for many, a standard Chimaera in good order (and a refettle by a reputable specialist can work wonders) is fast enough. And if you want the pep of a 5-litre then it may be best to get one from the outset…

Hotting one up

Surely the only reason you could have for improving the already prodigious performance of any version of the Chimaera is to take it to track days. While TVR’s power claims for the Chimaera were somewhat optimistic the lowest powered 4 litre still produces around 215bhp in a car weighing barely a ton giving road-tested 0-60 figures below five seconds and maximum speeds above 150 mph. The 4-litre HC, the 4.3 and 4.5-litres are faster still but the real hot rod is the 5.0 with 0-60 in just over four seconds and a maximum of nearly 170 mph.

I asked TVR specialist and racer Doug Elwood of David Gerald Sports Cars (http://www.davidgeraldtvr. com) how you should improve the performance of your Chimaera and he said that if you have a 4.0 you should buy a 5-litre and if you already have one of those then you will need deep pockets to make it go much faster…

You can take two of the three cats out but that will cost £500 plus and Doug reckons the car will feel brighter but it won’t be much faster.

You can put in a more extreme cam which will compromise road driveability and you can add a mappable ECU and add a smooth bore inlet tract for a couple of horse power but you will have spent £2000 for little effect.

For track days Doug believes that provided your engine is performing to original spec you should concentrate on the handling and brakes. Make it faster on the corners rather than on the straights and you’ll be quick enough!

Another TVR guru is Dom Trickett who owns TVR Power which, until he bought it six years ago was a subsidiary of the TVR factory which modified every Rover V8 installed in production TVRs. Dom probably knows more than any one about the Rover V8 having supervised the development and modification of literally thousands of them. He also believes that the first place to go with improving a Chimaera is handling but does offer a wide range of engine upgrades. He aggrees with Doug that the first stop is changing the engine management system by installing the highly effi- cient MBE system which does away with the need for many of the standard engine bay peripherals which can cause problems in older cars, such as the air mass meter and stepper motor. In addition coil packs replace the standard distributor and a new programmable ECU complete with bespoke map is complimented by a brand new engine wiring loom. Also a trigger wheel is fitted to enable fully mappable fuel and ignition. This is not cheap at £2490 as a drive in-drive out fitment but it will improve the driveability as well as fuel consumption.

Next step is a complete engine upgrade at £3250 plus VAT which involves driving your car into TVR Power who will strip, inspect and hone the bores, replace main bearings, big end shells and rings, balance crank, rods and fl ywheel and replace anything worn. They will also uprate the cam, port the cylinder heads, cut three-angle valve seats and skim the block.

TVR Power will then give an impressive three year unlimited mileage warranty and the work will result in around an extra 20bhp, much better driveability and fuel consumption improved from around 22-26 mpg which will actually give a return on the expenditure. Similar upgrades are available for the 4.0 HC, 4.3 and 5-litre engines and there is even talk of a supercharger which would take the 4-litre to a genuine 300bhp for around £5000. Details of the various upgrades are shown on TVR Power’s excellent web site:

The standard cooling system is just about up to the job provided that the radiator which could be up to 20 years old is not silted up. Aluminium radiators can be fitted and the high efficiency fans fitted to later cars can be fitted to earlier ones.

How Did It Drive?

Bloody well is the short straight answer! If you look at this TVR as a modern Big Healey then you’re on the right track. Shorn of modern driving aids, the Chimaera is a real ‘driver’s car’ in every sense of the word with shattering performance and surprisingly forgiving handling if given due respect. Cockpit ergonomics are fi ne, so they make excellent tourers. Really, the Chimaera is a classic for the future and it makes sense to buy and look after one now.

Handling The Power...

Let’s be honest, the Chimaera was built by a company steeped in racing heritage and handles pretty well to start with. If there is a fl aw it is, as is so often the case, the shock absorbers and both Doug Elwood and Dom Trickett highly rate the Nitron adjustable units, a set of four costing around £1000.

Polyurethane bushes have become fashionable as a quick upgrade to classic car suspension but neither Doug nor Dom recommend them. They have the effect of stiffening the suspension and Dom says that fl exibility in the chassis frame was designed to be part of the suspension and that stiffening through the addition of poly bushing is counter productive. They both say that the standard bushes are good quality and hard wearing, so leave them alone if okay. For track day use the brakes can be improved further although in view of the car’s light weight it is important to preserve the front/rear balance. Both David Gerald and TVR Power offer upgrades for around £1500 which include grooved discs important Doug Elwood says these are much stronger than drilled items. There are also Brembo and Tarox upgrades available from various stockists. Another route from David Gerald are the Alcon four piston brake kit that require no adaptors. With Ferodo DS pads 13 per cent reduced pedal travel and fi ve per cent less pedal effort are claimed along with improved feel.

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User Comments

This review has 2 comments

  • Well written and researched article. Still I have a couple of points to make:

    * Chassis rust *is* a worry with these cars now that the newest ones are knocking on 10 years old. The preparation of the chassis before powdercoating left something to be desired and particularly 1997-'98 cars seem to be badly affected. By now, you should budget for a replacement of the outriggers if the work hasn't been done already. They may look OK from underneath but in the majority of cases the tops of the tubes in the corners where road salt, grit and grime accumulate have already gone - compromising strength and safety. Although the main strength is in the tubular backbone, the outriggers have the lower front wishbones bolted to them at the rear and also carry the seat belt mountings at the rear...

    * The 5 litre engine is structurally weaker than the others due to a combination of factors, and utlimately only marginally more powerful than 4.3 or 4.5 litre variants. What it does have compared to the latter is more and more brutally produced low/midrange grunt - a mixed blessing in a car weighing barely more than a tonne with limited suspension travel and the wheelbase of a Citroën AX...
    All engine variants can gain about 10-15 lbs/ft of torque and a similar amount of hp with slightly better response and driveability with a combination of upgraded induction trumpets and intake hoses for a few hundred pounds. Beyond that, upping the performance ante gets rather involved and expensive rather quickly... Upgrading the engine management can yield considerable driveability and reliability benefits, although in fairness the CUX14 fuel injection is smarter than most people give it credit for - it's ignition control that can be regarded as a bit antedeluvian by today's standards...
    For road use, the brakes can be improved quite considerably by using a modern uprated pad compound eg Ferodo DS2500 or the equivalent by Pagid/Carbone Lorraine et al. A lot of the 'big brake' kits on the aftermarket are a bit overkill for such a light car and only add to the cars' ultimate lack of composure by increasing unsprung weight... Same with bigger wheels and tyres - they might modernise the cars aesthetically but you wouldn't want to drive a car equipped with them quickly on an average B-road...

    Overall I feel the Chimaera represents stunning value in the classic sports car segment. It's a raw, physical, old-school experience but all the better for it - you don't have to travel at the speed of light to be truly involved and entertained, for starters - but it's very useable on a day-to-day basis and a rather comfortable place to be at the same tiime. Then there is the way it looks and sounds...

    Happy motoring,

    Eric van Spelde
    Speed Eight Performance

    Comment by: Eric van Spelde     Posted on: 16 Nov 2012 at 01:48 PM

  • I recently bought a 93 Chimaera with 94000 miles on the clock. Just completed body off rebuild and engine top end. Always wanted to rebuild a fast car to have that feeling of being totally involved as you drive down the road. The Chimaera is so cheap right now that I managed to buy and rebuild (using garages) mine for under 7K ! Oh, and I drive it every day no matter what the weather.

    Tony Perry

    Comment by: Tony Perry     Posted on: 10 Dec 2012 at 09:57 AM

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