TVR Griffith (1992 - 2001) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

The TVR Griffith was the car that pushed TVR into the big league of performance car manufacturers when it was unveiled in 1990. The wedge-shaped cars of the eighties were nearing the limits of their development and a new direction needed to be found. The Griffith embodied all of the innovation, design flair and sheer bloody-mindedness that TVR has come to stand for. Ferociously quick and hairy of chest, the Griffith is a car that doesn't suffer fools gladly. Although TVR boss Peter Wheeler won't thank us for reminding him, TVRs of the early nineties had a mixed reputation for reliability, but there are legions of Griffith owners who can attest to miles of trouble-free motoring. As long as you choose carefully and budget extra time and money for upkeep, you shouldn't go too far wrong.

Models

Models Covered: (2 dr roadster 4.0, 4.3, 5.0 petrol)

History

At the end of the eighties, TVR found itself with two product lines, the wedge-shaped Tasmin-based cars and the newer, but retro-styled 'S' models. As tastes changed, the wedge shaped cars were starting to date badly, and the more rounded 'S' models were starting to outsell them. TVR unveiled the Griffith at the 1990 British Motor Show, with a 4-litre version of Rover's trusty V8 engine mounted on a strengthened TVR 'S' chassis. Public reaction was encouraging with over 300 orders being placed for the new car. The only problem was that even in this form, the 'S' chassis was only ever going to be able to handle around 270bhp, so TVR had to go back to the drawing board and use a shortened chassis from the Tuscan racer, a car which produced well in excess of 400bhp. With TVR now content with the basic foundation of the car, some styling modifications were made and the first cars were delivered to happy owners in early 1992. Demand for the Griffith dictated that over 70% of the Blackpool factory's production capacity was instantly devoted to Griffith construction, the fact that the Griffith 4.0 was over £2,500 cheaper than the outgoing 400SE 'wedge' effectively sounding the death knell for the older car. For about the price of a 400SE, customers could order the Griffith 4.3, again using the Rover V8 but this time with a bored and tuned version which developed 280bhp. Over seventy percent of Griffith customers opted for the larger engined car. Production of UK Griffiths was temporarily suspended in November 1992 to allow the factory to clear the foreign orders backlog and ramp up production of the new Chimaera model line. In 1993, TVR launched the Griffith 500. Originally due to use the AJP8 engine of TVR's own design, the Griffith again relied on the Rover V8, due in no small part to the development of the AJP8 falling behind schedule. The car received a facelift with driving lamps mounted low in the front air intake, and OZ wheels were fitted as standard. AT the same time tyre sizes, spring rates and shock absorber settings were adjusted across the range to calm the rear suspension's inherent jitteriness. The 4.0 and 4.3-litre cars were axed in 1993, leaving the Griffith 500 the sole model carrying the flag. With the arrival of the Tuscan Speed Six in 1999, the Griffith's days look numbered.

What You Get

Seat yourself behind the grippy little sports steering wheel and you know you're in the cockpit of a car that means business. A twist of the ignition key brings further enlightenment; exercising the big V8 will not be a task for the faint-hearted. Be in no doubt, a TVR Griffith isn't really much good as an only car. Nor is it meant to be. This is a two-seater only of course and the boot space is tiny. So buy yourself a day-to-day car and store it in a covered, dry place like a fine-wine to enjoy whenever the mood takes you. If you're affluent enough to be able to do that, then you're fortunate indeed. After all, much of the enjoyment of owning a Griffith 500 can be gained without even gunning the engine into life. The gorgeous shape is pure automotive sculpture, the sweeping lines complemented on later models by a tasty set of OZ seven-spoke alloy wheels. Inside, set amongst the walnut and leather, the gearknob and some of the switches are fashioned out of alloy (though there are no graphics on them to explain what they actually do). Apart from this, the choice is yours. One of the great attractions of a TVR has always been the way that the finished car can be trimmed exactly to the individual customer's taste. Before you take delivery, you`ll be offered a mind-boggling array of interior trim and exterior colour choices so that the car can be built just as you want it. In fact, so wide is the selection on offer that TVR say the chance of two identical cars ever leaving the factory is remote in the extreme. The fascia isn't as barmy in its design as the Cerbera or Tuscan models, but some buyers will consider this a plus. As a true throwback English sports car, the Griffith has few peers.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Talk to the owner to find out how they have looked after the car, look for furlongs of bills, receipts and history, and inspect the car thoroughly. Check to see if the car in question has ever been recorded as an insurance total loss, as many TVRs unfortunately end up being crashed. In fact, it's said that one of the leading insurers quoted a statistic that over 70% of total-loss accidents involving TVRs didn't involve any other vehicle. Rear wheel drive, big power and no anti lock on the brakes demands a disciplined, classical driving style. If you prefer to chuck your car into corners in a gung-ho fashion, jumping on the gas early and braking deep into the bend, Mitsubishi make a very nice model called the Evo VI. Nevertheless, you should look carefully for signs of crash damage such as misalignment, paint overspray and non-contemporary parts. Electrics are a particular TVR bugbear, and lighting and locking systems should all work well, but there are well known fixes to those that don't. The central locking transceiver is in a rather inconvenient place, and you may see the owner hunched over the front wing with the 'plipper' if the batteries in the unit are anything other than 100%. Early cars may well have problems with boot and bonnet latching and alignment. Look at front wishbones, as they often become warped, especially if the car has been used on a track. Engines are probably the least troublesome aspect of the Griffith, although they do consume oil quite greedily. As one TVR service agent put it, "To compare a TVR with a normal car, multiply its mileage by eight." That said, ask a Griffith owner whether they'd buy another and they'll usually want to trade up the TVR range to a Tuscan or Cerbera. Such is the magical appeal of the marque that most are prepared to live with the niggles in order to hear the battle cry of the engine and to feel the fearsome acceleration.

Replacement Parts

Trying to establish definitive parts prices for Griffiths is tricky, due in no small part to the fact that the vehicle has undergone a series of tiny ad-hoc improvements and changes throughout its lifetime. Without a quotable chassis number many parts prices will fluctuate hugely. Check your local dealer for details.

On the Road

Despite its fearsome reputation, the Griffith can easily be driven around using the vast torque the V8 engine generates. In this mode, it's a relaxed, if loud cruiser. That would be wasting the huge performance that's on offer, and with a rest to sixty time of 4.1 seconds and a top speed of 167mph, a Griffith 500 will want to party. Unleashing that power is at first terrifying, then exhilarating and finally ends up being addictive. The Griffith will goad you into prodding that accelerator pedal into the carpet, listening to that fantastic bellow and watching the bonnet rise like a powerboat as the rear tyres struggle to deploy the sheer grunt. On a wet motorway, it's quite easy to drop the Griffith into third gear at 80mph and wonder why the revs are soaring before realising that even with a moderate throttle opening, the rear tyres are spinning furiously. Be a little more heavy with the gas pedal and you can replicate the effect in the dry. Sitting so close to the back axle gives Griffiths a distinctive feel, the early cars being notably more fidgety than post 1993 examples. Sooner or later the car will tempt you into some heroic opposite-lockery, but the surge in torque from the engine makes the Griffith difficult to catch if you do unstick the back end. The ultra-quick steering is also unforgiving of anything but neat and accurate correction. If you can afford a new set of tyres, it's probably best to explore this aspect of the Griffith's personality on one of the commercially available 'airfield days'. There you can learn the car's handling characteristics in relative safety.

Overall

Best to go for as late a Griffith 500 as you can afford, leaving something in the bank for servicing and insurance. Even then, you'll probably need another everyday car, but you'll get to develop a relationship with your Griff, understanding its foibles, quirks and character. See as many as you can, arm yourself with at least £20,000 and buy the best you come across. One thing's for sure. You'll never forget it and unless you're spectacularly unlucky it's doubtful you'll regret it.