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TVR Chimaera

Published: 20th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • A service history is critical with this car. Shabby cars run on a shoestring will be real liabilities as repairs on this TVR can cost big money. For this reason check the car’s history and be wary of track day heroes that lost a few battles.
  • For the same reason look for track day damage! The Chimaera took taming and many got the better of their drivers. Poor panel fit, uneven tyre wear, evidence of localised resprays and new looking suspension/steering parts all suggest a shunt of some sort. A computer data check, revealing the car’s history should reveal all.
  • Rust may be a problem as these TVR chassis weren’t that well protected when new and the powder costing can peel away allowing moisture to creep in. A crawl underneath is wise, if only to also check for unknown past accident repairs.
  • Although worked on by TVR, the engine is still a Rover V8 which means clogged up hydraulic tappets, camshaft wear, oil leaks and blowing exhausts; the latter not simply the pipework but sometimes also the manifolds.
  • Transmissions take a pounding but are robust. GKN axles can whine – harmlessly – and leak oil. Clutch hydraulic leaks aren’t unknown and it’s usually the master cylinder at fault.
  • Suspensions can suffer from worn bushes while the powder costing on the front wishbones can be suspect. Brakes are okay although hard/track use will lead to undue wear or overheating damage.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 4/5

    Shattering pace on all. Handles well but needs respect in wet

  • Usability: 3/5

    Okay as a daily driver but car is best suited as a weekend toy

  • Maintaining: 3/5

    Not terribly high tech so DIY possible but needs expert touch

  • Owning: 4/5

    Fuel and insurance costs reasonable – good club support, too

  • Value: 4/5

    Can be great value but beware of some tatty overpriced cars

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Big bold and beefy, no wonder the TVR Chimaera is the modern day Big Healey reckons one time owner Robert Couldwell

Who would associate the name Trevor with a thunderous, tyre burning, over-engined muscle car? Well, it’s thanks to TreVoR Wilkinson, a part-time pram salesman, that this wonderful survivor still exists. He could not have realised back in 1947 how famous those three letters of his Christian name would become. TVR has had many proprietors since, the most successful of which was Peter Wheeler who owned the company from 1981 until 2004 when it was bought by trainee Russian oligarch, Nicolai Smolensky who, sadly wasto prove unable or unwilling to keep the outfit going. It was Peter Wheeler who really put TVR on the map when he developed the Griffith which took the1990 Motor Show by storm. In 1993, after the success of the Griffith, Peter identified a market for a slightly softer, more practical evolution which could just as easily have been called the Austin-Healey 4000 so close was it to the spirit of the ‘60s Big Healey. It was the car that the Healey 3000 would have become if it had been developed over the 30 years since its demise. Uncompromising, hairychested,super fast, ultra responsive and with not an airbag or electronic driver aid in sight. The Chimaera is actually a lot more practical and easy to live with than the Healey was with no ground clearance or cockpit heat problems. Compared with the awkwardly-shaped Healey boot, the Chimaera’s is positively cavernous. The hood arrangements are down to personal preference; the Chimaera’s is better when closed as, thanks to the removable fibreglass panel it is just like a coupé. That advantage turns to disadvantage as it has to lifted off, slipped into its bag and put in the boot. Okay if the boot is empty but not great when it is full of luggage. The later Healeys on the other hand have traditional folding hoods. Its similarity to the 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 they could! Then one day in the 90s they had a ‘road to Damascus’ moment – they heard a TVR Griffith or Chimaera, were reminded of their young adulthood and knew they just had to have one.

Which model to buy?

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, a non-enthusiast probably wouldn’t notice the difference between the first and the last and condition counts the most. There are no less than five engines to choose from, all based on the ubiquitous Buick-derived Rover V8. If you are not used to supercar performance the lowest powered 240bhp, 4.0-litre will feel frighteningly quick with 0-60 in just 4.8 seconds, 0-100 in 11.1, 50-70 in top in5.8 and a 155 mph top speed. As is the way of the world, once you get used to it you begin to yearn for more but that’s no problem as there are four more powerful engines to choose from: 4.0 HC 275bhp, 4.3 280bhp, 4.5 285bhp and the ultra scary 5.0 325bhp with 169 mph and 4.1 seconds to 60 mph. All good stuff then! 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. The Griffith had been totally uncompromising and while the Chimaera running gear was similar, the car was softened. Bilstein dampers replaced Konis, an antiroll bar was fitted along with catalytic converters. Purists might say that a proper sports car shouldn’t have power steering but that in the Chimaera, which was originally optional and standard from 1994, is so good that you just don’t notice it. It is best to avoid the early cars which had the Rover SD1 gearbox which in February 1994 was replaced with a much slicker and stronger Borg Warner T5 unit. 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 fitted to provide better charging and reliability. From late 1994 the 5.0-litre (325 bhp) 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 1996 the door opening buttons were moved to the mirrors, the boot lip lengthened, the rear panel colourkeyed and the grille divided. In February 1998 the number plate lights were changed, in February 1999 the boot hinges were hidden and in 2001 the headlights were faired in and the seats improved, and not before time.

Behind the wheel?

Viewed as a modern Healey the TVR has much appeal

The fifty years of sports car making behind the Chimaera shows and this is one of those cars in which you feel immediately at home. The driving position is excellent and the relationship between steering wheel and gear lever, throttle brake and clutch pedals is perfect. If there is a criticism it is those seats which seem to lack both thigh and lumbar support. The clutch is remarkably light with a progressive action and the later Borg Warner gear change is rifle-bolt precise. The power steering is geared at just 2.2 turns lock-to-lock resulting in the most incredible response without twitchiness. The car 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 amazing grip, even in the wet, naturally with this sort of power to weight ratio care has to be taken in slippery conditions. The handling is totally neutral with no sign of oversteer in normal fast driving. However, on a circuit the tail can be hung out at will with very predictable correction. There is very little roll and by any standards the ride quality is quite remarkable. 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 cross country journeys are very rapid thanks to the instant overtaking with very little use of the gearbox.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. The Chimaera makes a wonderful noise whether burbling around in town the note reverberating from buildings or under hard acceleration when the noise hardens into a howl. However, once cruising on a motorway it all settles down and allows long journeys without tiredness. This is a Healey 3000 on steroids but without the old car disadvantages

Ease of Ownership?

Even in its least powerful form the Rover V8 is still turning out 100 bhp more than in the equivalent Range Rover or MGB V8 form and is not a simple lump like the Healey’s six. TVRs hardly enjoy the best reliability records but they aren’t as dire as some paint then out to be. The secret lies in the TLC – you know the sort people had to lavish on Lotus Elans. Chimaeras need proper care from a TVR specialist and a full service will cost around £700; for that money you’re also buying a lot of peace of mind. Properly maintained these V8 are long lasting and the only issue is that they chuck out a lot of heat which can cause coil leakage and problems with starters, clutch cylinders and the fan switch. One pain is the positioning of the battery and fuses all but inaccessible at the end of the passenger foot well. This also has the effect of reducing legroom for taller passengers.

The Daily Option?

Many Chimaeras are used as everyday drivers and for twopeople they offer draught proof comfort in all weathers with lots of luggage room behind the seats and in the boot for long continental trips. There is even room for the obligatory golf clubs but the noise of the engine might just put a few of the elderly members off their swings as you drive up to the club house. The only time when it is better not to venture out is when there is salt on the roads as the powder coating of the chassis is prone to peeling with resultant rust woes. A good regular jet wash and annual rust prevention with Waxoyl or similar is wise. Being relatively under-stressed these engines can offer good economy with up to 26-28 mpg available when driven with reasonable restraint. Obviously driven flat out this will drop to the mid teens, but that’s entirely to be expected with this sort of grunt. The TVR has few, if any competitors and certainly none of this performance that could be used as daily drivers for anyone but the wealthy. You have to think Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini unless you are prepared to take on a Marcos or V8 Morgan neither of which is really practicalenough for everyday use. One problem of everyday driving is stone chips owing to the amount of exposed bodywork at the front and the soft nature of fibreglass.

Timelines

1993

Introduced as a 'softer' take on Griffith with a choice of initially 4348cc and 4280cc engines. High spec plus luxury trim.

1994

Gearbox is changed from stock Rover SD1 unit to superior Borg Warner T5 transmission. Late in the year a 5-litre (325) engine becomes optional.

1996

1998/1999

In February 1998 the number plate lights were changed. In February 1999 the boot hinges become hidden.

2001/2002

The headlights are faired in and the seats at last improved. Final run out cars before range was dropped in 2002.

We Reckon...

Viewed as a modern take on the Big Healey, the TVR holds a lot of appeal. There’s the same brutish feel which needs to be shown who’s boss, although the Chimaera is obviously much faster and more civilised. Durability can b e an issue with TVRs so doesn't expect to run one like an MX-5 but when all is said and done – and if you like those overtly medallion man looks – for the money the Chimaera takes some beating.



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