Why you need a Cerbera
It’s tempting to look at the TVR Griffith and the wedges that came before it and see one giant leap for TVR-kind. But the Griff and the wedges weren’t really that different beneath the skin. The Cerbera though, that was a seismic shift and the real star of TVR’s magic late ‘90s early ‘00s years.
The 180mph Cerbera was crazy at every turn. It made Ferrari’s F355 look plain, and plain slow. It had an interior straight out a Philip K Dick spaceship. And it compounded the craziness by doing the two things no low volume sports car should ever do: come chock-a-block with electrical systems and an engine designed in-house.
Now, as then, the Cerbera is the total antithesis of Porsche’s predictable 911, but with two little back seats and a decent boot, you can almost convince yourself it’s as useable.
Don’t expect Cerbera ownership to be plain sailing. There’ll be days when you curse the day you clapped eyes on the thing. But there’ll be others when you wonder why it took you so long. Jason Clegg, who worked at the TVR factory in Blackpool and now runs specialist Str8six (www.str8six.co.uk), is our guide to finding a good one.
Early cars got a 4.2-litre AJP-V8 producing 360bhp, but a 420bhp 4.5 joined the line-up in 1997, and this could later be boosted to 440bhp when you ordered the Red Rose package, which also brought bigger brakes and suspension upgrades.
Don’t get too hung up on the spec though: although both could get to 60mph in the low-4sec range, customer cars rarely made the power quoted and a shortage of 4.2 blocks from 2002 onwards means cars purporting to be 4.2s were actually given 4.5 blocks anyway.
So where does that leave the 1999-on Speed Six? With softer suspension and slightly slower steering it’s more GT-like in character but still capable of reaching 60mph in less than 5sec. It’s probably the best Cerbera of the lot.
From 2000, headlamps switched to Tuscan-style projector units, which were blended into the wings in 2002.
What goes wrong?
This being a TVR, there are numerous opportunities to give the inside of your wallet plenty of fresh air, starting with the body. ‘Because they’re plastic, Cerberas wear well and can look very good,’ says Clegg.
But look carefully for sink marks and cracking as clues to previous accident damage. To repair damage properly involves grinding back the section and building it up again, but bodgers often just skim it with filler.
And checking the condition of the chassis, specifically the outriggers and top chassis rail, is difficult but essential. ‘Later cars are better,’ says Clegg. ‘Cars from ‘98-‘99 are worst. The powder coating peels off, while Speed Six cars have added problem of the exhaust manifold burning it off.’
Cowboys will simply cut holes in the floor to access the chassis for repair, but the body really needs to come off to do it properly, meaning sorting the outriggers is a £3k job.
Engine-wise, the crankshafts on early 4.2s could shatter, though most will have now been line-bored and fitted with the larger bearings from the 4.5 to fix them. Head gaskets rot if decent anti-freeze hasn’t been used – and changed regularly – and tight fisted owners will skimp on the 12k valve clearance check. If left too long, the valve seats get burnt away. A full rebuild on a V8 is over £7000…
An early Speed Six is an even bigger worry. ‘They improved dramatically from late 2002,’ says Clegg, ‘but I wouldn’t touch an early car that hasn’t already had a rebuild.’
And finally, electrical problems are common so check absolutely everything works.
Make it better
According to Clegg, some of the most effective ways of improving your Cerbera are actually the most straightforward, like carrying out a full alignment check at every service, and refreshing the suspension with new bushes and Bilstein dampers.
Some of the ‘90s colours, including the mind-bending chameleon paint finishes, can look quite dated, so a repaint will give a Cerbera a more modern feel, and an interior re-trim can have the same effect.
What to pay
Cerberas have commanded strong money for the last few years and the relaunch of TVR this year is only going push the old cars back into the spotlight. Prices vary wildly: a desirable Red Rose-spec or very late car with low miles in the right condition might set you back well over £30k, but you’ll still find plenty of cars in the low-to mid 20s range, and the odd decent private one below that.
Don’t be tempted by one of those slightly well worn examples that hover in the low teens though. ‘A cheap Cerbera is not a good buy because they cost an arm and a leg to put right,’ says Clegg. ‘You could easily sink £10k into a bad one and it still wouldn’t be as nice as the one you should have bought.’
Don't say you haven't been warned...