Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

TVR Chimaera

TVR Chimaera Published: 9th Jan 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Anything cherished and original
  • Worst model: Poorly repaired crashed cars
  • Budget buy: You’ll be lucky!
  • OK for unleaded?: All Chimaeras are unleaded only
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): LxW: 4015mm x 1865mm
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: Yes, but remember it does 150mph
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes, and faster than you think
  • Good buy or good-bye?: The great British bruiser is alive and well
The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 20%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

Cut price old school super cars that are thrilling to drive yet surprisingly useable and easy to own with good specialist support. Standard of cars varies so watch when buying and go for condition rather than spec

If ever there was a car marque that polarised opinions it’s TVR. To converts it’s the greatest brand that ever existed, churning out one bargain jaw-dropping supercar after another. To the bar-room pundits TVR built unreliable cars that are nothing but a liability. The truth lies possibly somewhere in between, but we’d like to think it’s rather closer to the former end of the scale. After all, cars like the TVR Chimaera do look great, are spectacularly fast and can be picked up for surprisingly little cash. However, without regular attention from an acknowledged marque specialist, the Chimaera can prove to be a liability, and there’s no shortage of neglected examples out there.

History

1990 The Griffith 4.0 prototype is shown at the British Motor Show, based on the S-Series chassis.

1991 A reworked Griffith makes its début at the British Motor Show, this time based on the Tuscan racer chassis.

1992 The Chimaera makes its début, at the Earls Court motor show. It’s essentially a Griffith but with different bodywork incorporating a bigger boot for added usability.

1993 Chimaera goes on sale early in the year. Powered by a modified 4.0 (240bhp) and 4.3-litre (280bhp) version of the Rover V8, the running gear was Griffith 4-litre with softer springing, Bilstein dampers instead of Konis.

1994 Big brute Chimaera 500 makes its début, with a 5.0-litre Rover V8. A complete animal, these 5.0-litre cars are now the most valuable and also among the rarest of the range. The Borg Warner T5 gearbox replaced the Rover one on all models 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 fitted to provide better charging and reliability.

1996 The Chimaera is facelifted, with a fresh nose design based on the Cerbera’s later colour-coded rear bumper and longer boot lid. The mesh grille is also removed, with a horizontal bar now in its place instead. Door opening buttons were moved to the mirrors (a great party trick!-ed).

1997 A lustier 4.5-litre variant goes on sale; the original plan had been to fit TVR’s own AJP engine but it wasn’t ready in time.

1998 A facelift brings a rear angled number plate (it was previously back-lit) and redesigned rear lights.

1999 Further changes bring a vertical boot opening, upgraded fuel tank and wiper system plus improved seats with covered adjusters.

2001 The final Griffiths are made and the Chimaera now has Griffith-style enclosed headlights. Cerbera seats are now fitted, although not universally liked.

2002 Final Chimaera is built.

Driving and press comments

The Chimaera came out at a time when TVR was in its heyday. The momentum had built with the last of the wedges and really started to gather pace with the S series that culminated in the V8 S. By the time the Griffith arrived, followed soon after by the Chimaera, the Blackpool-based company had built up a major head of steam with a following that rivals could only dream about.

One of the greatest advocates of TVR was Fast Lane magazine, which was always happy to give coverage to this tiny car maker that made such amazing products. When editor Peter Dron first drove the 4.0-litre Chimaera for the magazine in May 1993 he didn’t mince his words: “It is an outstandingly good sports car, and few cars with fancy names, at double and treble the price, offer any competition to its performance… We managed 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds and 0-100 in 12.1, good enough to draw away from a Ferrari 348 and any Porsche bar the 911 Turbo… Nobody sells cars with this level of performance at such bargain prices. No wonder there is a waiting list; it’s surprising there aren’t riots”.

Despite remarks about how heavy the steering was (the £980 power-assisted option was seen as a must), the verdict came: “Overall, this is probably the best handling front-engined/rear-driven sports car in the world”.

By 2001 the Chimaera was on borrowed time and Fast Lane had long since shut up shop. A new generation of affordable sports cars had come along since the Chimaera had been introduced – cars like the Porsche Boxster, Mercedes SLK AMG and BMW M Roadster. They offered power, reliability, great dynamics and usability at prices similar to the TVR’s.

Despite its age, the Evo guys were clearly still impressed by the depth of the Chimaera’s abilities. Testing a Chimaera 450 against an SLK, Boxster and M Roadster, it was one piece of good news after another: “You have such a level of involvement and honest to goodness tactility that you can’t help but be seduced by its combination of pure, intimate steering, soft but malleable handling and magnificently flexible power… The gearshift is physical but precise and satisfyingly positive… The interior is also a high point.

Trimmed in hand-stitched leather, audaciously sculpted and dotted with wonderfully expensive-looking aluminium bezels, the Chimaera feels far and away the most special car to be in. The hood is another beautifully simple design… When you’ve got a roof this good, who needs a heavy, complex electric system?”

The TVR has been long hailed as the modern Healey and there’s more than some truth in this. Prodigious power and bare minimum driver aids means it serves up similar character as well as demands from the driver but don’t think that it’s a rough neck because there’s enough room and refinement make them fine civilised tourers and good for up to 25mpg. Another point in the TVR’s favour – and this is purely subjective – is that, unlike many TVRs, it doesn’t shout medallion man and is quite classy.

Values and marketplace

James Agger Autosport, based in Leicestershire, is one of the UK’s most prolific TVR specialists and they buy, sell and maintain them for customers both at home and abroad: “The Chimaera still represents great bang for your buck; these cars are fast, usable and they’re all continuing to appreciate, so running costs aren’t ridiculous. They have a huge smiles per miles factor which is very hard to beat in the current market for the money”.

He goes on to say that the 4.0-litre cars account for the great majority of Chimaeras available – perhaps as many as four out of five. The 4.3-litre cars are very rare as they were an early edition along with the 4.0 HC variants. While cars with the bigger engines are sought after, there’s never any need to feel short-changed by a 4.0-litre engine – it’ll still be ferociously quick. Some TVR specialists reckon the 4.3 is a better bet due to its torquier engine. That said, condition and past history counts for most and it’s better to buy a nice clean Chimaera 4.0 rather than a tatty 4.5.

Agger concurs: “The key is to buy the best car you can find as this is now far more important than the specification; condition is key.

“Post-1997 cars are the best sellers as they have cleaner lines with the positioning of the door release under the mirror, a more bespoke dash layout, plus the design of the rear number plate and lights on the 1998 models are a lovely detail”.

Most of Agger’s customers buy their Chimaeras for high days and holidays, covering a relatively low annual mileage. But that’s not to say these cars won’t take plenty of regular use. They’re surprisingly practical and comfortable enough to swallow huge mileages in a day, so they’re well suited to long-distance drives as long as the exhaust noise doesn’t become too much. Any Chimaera worth buying will cost at least £10,000 unless you drop on a bargain – which is unlikely. This buys a higher mileage car that’s been looked after and doesn’t need anything to give reliable use.

At the other end of the spectrum is a top notch low-mileage late car which could go for as much as £30,000, although few cars ever attract bids of over £25,000 due to their scarcity.

Says Agger: “Most of these cars are well known to the club and specialists, so asking around should give an insight to its history if you’re unsure. Any car that’s been for sale for ages is either overpriced or has something not quite right with it. A good Chimaera for sale at a fair price will always find a buyer pretty quickly.

“Two-thirds of the Chimaeras we look at aren’t good enough for us to sell, and we only look at cars that we know are a good bet to start with. However, while there can be a lot of ropey Chimaeras out there for sale there are some superb cars too. The key – as ever – is to buy one that’s had the right owner for a long time; one who has lavished money on it in the right areas.

“Buy a car from someone like this and in the long term it’ll be cheaper to run, better to drive and more reliable too”.

Improvements

Start with a thorough service and sort out by a TVR expert. If you’re a complete power junkie, it’s possible to upgrade the V8 by fitting a supercharger, or if you’ve got one of the smaller engines you could just slot a five-litre lump in and tweak that in the conventional manner as there’s no shortage of tuning gear for all engines and pockets, starting with simple induction and exhaust upgrades.

However, upping the power means better anchors are also needed; a Wilwood kit is available with vented discs front and rear plus four-pot callipers, for around £1100. Some upgraded systems produce a car that’s less balanced to drive, so know what you’re buying before parting with your readies.

Whether a Chimaera is standard or tuned, it’s always worth beefing up the cooling system. A decent start point is a switch to manually over-ride the factory switch, should it fail. Also recommended is a good quality radiator; a two-stage fan-cooled aluminium unit is the best route to take, for around £500.

Go for a griffith?

When the Griffith was launched it went down a storm with the press and owners alike. They loved the ludicrous performance, gorgeous styling and keen pricing. But there was a fly in the ointment; there just wasn’t enough practicality. As an out-and-out sports car the Griffith ticked every box, but anybody wanting to use one on an everyday basis was going to be left frustrated. TVR’s response was to introduce the Chimaera, with a significantly bigger boot, softer styling and a more spacious cabin. Even in period many TVR owners bought their cars for occasional use only; now these cars are all classics you’ll struggle to find anybody who uses one really regularly.

If you want a car for long-distance touring a Chimaera is a great option, but if you’re looking for a classic sports car for B-road blats and practicality isn’t really an issue, then the Griffith fits the bill perfectly. However, if you want a Griffith instead of a Chimaera you’ll need to budget more to buy something really good. You’ll be doing well to pick anything up worth owning for less than £25,000 – that’s around £10,000 more than an equivalent Chimaera is worth.

What To Look For

Running gear

  • 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 limited-slip 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 hard-driven cars, but the hydraulics can leak. 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 suspension bushes wear, but renewing them is cheap and easy. The best solution is to fit new bushes with the nylon washers as fitted to the later cars. Corrrosion of the front wishbones is another problem as the powder coating was of a poor quality. Replacement upper units without bushes cost £100 apiece 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. 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.

Engine

  • The Rover V8 may be 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 sometimes needs replacing after 50,000 miles; it’s a £1500 job.
  • Another common weakness is oil leaks, so don’t expect to see a sparkling 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; the gaskets fail, the retaining bolts seize (an engine-out job to fix) and the manifolds are prone to cracking. 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 radiator’s thermostatic fan. Although the exhaust system 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.
  • 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 on a DIY basis.

General

  • All Chimaeras need to be serviced every 6000 miles or 12 months. James Agger charges £408 for a 6000- mile service and £576 for a 12,000-mile service.
  • 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, so if the car still sports its original unit there’s a good chance a new one will be required before long. 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; they frequently pack in, and that then throws into doubt the mileage displayed.
  • Interiors are hard-wearing, but if they’ve regularly got wet because of the roof having been left down, rotten carpets could be the result if the car has the wool option. Retrims are unlikely to be needed, but make sure anyway as the cost will be high if anything is damaged. Pay particular attention to the state of the roof, which should be fine, but which can suffer from perished seals. That’s why you need to make sure there’s no water in the footwells.

Body and chassis

  • 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 Chimaeras 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 a series of cracks and crazing.
  • 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 if it’s saveable but may not be.
  • 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 strong chassis. Everything is available to effect proper repairs, but the costs will soon mount if everything needs doing so weigh up that apparent ‘bargain’.
  • Outriggers are always a concern 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 a mirror unless you lift the body. Outrigger replacements are available without lifting the body for around £1800; they offer a comforting fall back if you later find out the chassis isn’t as good as it looked when you bought your Chimaera.

Three Of A Kind

AC Cobra
AC Cobra
Considering the TVR’s budget status, you won’t pick up a real Cobra of any vintage for the same sort of money. But there are some superb kits around that offer the same sort of glorious V8 soundtrack, eye-popping performance and those classic curves. You need to buy with care, but there are some really well built replicas out there that offer superb value.
MG RV8
MG RV8
The MG shares a lot with the TVR as it also packs a Rover V8, a chassis that’s not very sophisticated and classic lines thanks to the RV8 being based on the MGB that first surfaced as far back as 1962. However, the MG is more civilised than the Blackpool tearaway, with its old-school leather-clad cabin. But crucially, you still get that all-important V8 noise.
BMW M Roadster
BMW M Roadster
If a V8 in the nose isn’t essential, this BMW might be just the ticket. Despite packing a mere six cylinders the M Roadster can despatch the 0-62mph spring in just over five seconds, is restricted to 155mph, but can give close to 30mpg on a run, although the straight-six produces 321bhp it doesn’t have the TVR’s effortless torque, and it weighs rather more too.

Verdict

Ask any of the chaps at James Agger Autosport and they will say that if you buy a really good Chimaera – one that’s been loved by the owner and a TVR specialist too – you’ll soon get why TVR has so many fans. Sure it’s something of a blunt instrument, but a Chimaera is something to savour on that cross-country blat. Avoid cars that have been used only very occasionally, clocking up few miles from one MoT to the next, and make sure any potential purchase has had all of the correct work undertaken. It’s these low-mileage cars that can be the most unreliable; regular use reduces the chances of electrical gremlins, oil leaks and the brakes seizing up. Cars that have enjoyed proper preventative maintenance and future-proofing will be the easiest cars to own.



User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.

Latest Issue Cover - Click here to subscribe

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 25%

Subscribe