TVRs are misunderstood – mocked for parts bin engineering and poor build quality by their detractors, and adored by those who own them.
We take a late Griffith 500 on a homecoming trek to Blackpool in order to find out whether the ageing prize-fighter is still a prestige or past it?
IT’S 3.30pm, and I’m stuck in the middle of the dreaded school-run in one of the most physically demanding cars money can buy – my clutch leg is aching, my left hand is getting sore from using the manhandling the meaty gearbox’s aluminium knob and everyone is staring at me because the hood’s down. Because I’m behind the wheel of a TVR Griffith, and this is Blackpool, all the attention is positive, and of course, I’m loving it.
It’s hard not to feel special when you’re adored by a loving public – it’s just that every time someone in the crowd yelps, “Wow – a TVR”, I realise it’s for the car and not my film star looks. A quick blip of the throttle for pleasure lifts those fleeting moments of doubt.
Like many TVR enthusiasts, I’d long since dreamed about taking a Griffith up Blackpool’s Golden Mile – and that desire within me heightened each time another bad news story about the company surfaced (see box out). However, whatever happens to TVR in the post-Smolenski era, there’s no doubting the overwhelming warmth these cars are met by from the man on the street – and let us not forget, it’s these dreamers who will part with real cash in order for a piece of the action.
What’ll she do Mister?
In automotive terms, the TVR Griffith is an antediluvian creation – first shown in 1990, it was met with immediate acclaim – so much so that by the time it hit the marketplace a couple of years later, a very healthy waiting list had built up. Fast forward 17 years, and the passage of time has done little to dent the impact and drama of the Griffith. From the ground-hugging swooping nosecone to the pert and rounded rear-end, the scoop-cut body is a mobile piece of drama.
It’s a pure design – no doubt – and in the age of almost excessive vehicle legislation, the Griffith harks back to design classics such as the Series 1 Jaguar E-type.
Looks are one thing, but if you want to make a real impact – fire up a Griffith and blip the throttle a couple of times. The pregnant rumble that blasts from the stainless steel tail pipes is enough to rattle crockery… in the next county.
The TVR Power re-engineered Rover V8 of our Marello Pearl car might be simple, but there’s no substitute for cubic inches. It kicks out a very reasonable 320bhp, and combined with a kerb weight of a mere 1060kg, power to weight ratio is on the far side of ballistic. Claimed performance figures are enough to keep all but the fastest of modern supercars honest. As far as I’m concerned, none of that matters, because it could top out at 90mph, and I’d still forgive it – because of the music it makes.
After a short briefing by TVR Specialist, James Agger, who loaned us the late model Griffith 500 (which could have been yours for £18,995) – it was time for the off. Pulling away for the first time, it soon becomes clear – at UK B-road speeds, anyway – the Griff is actually a very tractable and half-way civilised top-down roadster. Yes, it rumbles along, but the ride is surprisingly compliant, and the quick rack power steering set-up well weighted and accurate.
However, cruising isn’t what TVRs are about – and as the road opens up, its time to turn up the wick. Floor the throttle on the first available clear straight, sees that charismatic exhaust rumble converted into a full-blooded wail – but we reckon it’ll be the full force of acceleration that catches your attention. Traction off the line is excellent, and the Griff flings itself at the horizon with real force – your only respite being each long, slow, deliberate, gearchange…
On the motorway run north, the Griff felt planted and assured – and even with the top down, buffeting wasn’t too bad at all, as long as you snuggle down into the seat – and you’re not too tall. The good-looking cockpit is certainly an inviting place to spend time, and the fat-rimmed Personal Grinta wheel falls nicely to hand, with the rifle-bolt gear knob in the natural position where your hand comes to rest. Sadly, the dials aren’t as legible (or accurate) as they could be, and the aluminium rotary knobs controlling the heating and ventilation system are… frankly baffling. As for heat control – there are two settings, ‘toasty warm’ and ‘hotter-than-the-sun’.
The handling’s definitely interesting – turn-in is deliciously crisp, and mid-corner bumps do little to throw the Griff badly off-line as long as you’re not being too ambitious. However, these well-endowed TVRs are old-school when it comes to attacking corners, with ‘slow in – slow out’ being the safest option. Even then, get too eager with the throttle, and the tail will squirm… in the dry. In the wet – let’s just say it’s best to tiptoe your way through or risk travelling backwards very quickly.
We reached the end of the M55 all too quickly, and as Blackpool’s iconic Tower loomed into view, the TVR had worked its magic – and the prospect of burbling along the Golden Mile was looking increasingly exciting…
However, first thing’s first – no trip to Blackpool in a TVR is complete without a good look at the company’s Bristol Avenue factory. However, since late 2006, the production lines at the innocuous looking factory have been silent – as the once-prosperous company lurches from one crisis to another.
Just one week before our visit, asset strippers had been to the factory to remove all the TVR signage from its façade – thus making the sad and drawn out end for Bristol Avenue seem a lot more real. Certainly, the end of the Smolenski-era has been a roller coaster for TVR’s workers. As the company was torn in two, they were left with no jobs, as the Russian management talked in terms of a ‘virtual’ company with assembly overseas, real Blackpudlians were out of work with mortgages to pay…
However, we’re not here to dwell on this unpleasantness, but to consider the appeal of buying and owning a TVR in today’s speed-restricted world. Admittedly, the Golden Mile is not the greatest place to sample a TVR – GATSOs abound, and the traffic crawls along in a most pedestrian way. In short, it feels like a caged tiger.
One thing we do know, wherever the Griff goes, it attracts attention. Even under the lights of the promenade. Cat-calls of ‘nice TVR’ abound wherever you go, and you get the feeling that these cars are held in the highest esteem in the seaside resort. In fact, driving the Griff here is a nice riposte for anyone who thinks that the British aren’t demonstrative in their love for supercars.
Whenever you stop, the crowds stare – and its here that you’ll find yourself cursing the heavy clutch and inability to engage reverse conventionally without grating the box in the most undignified way. Still, a quick blip of the throttle and a run for the hills soon overcame that embarrassment…
There’s no doubt that the Griff is a demanding car to drive. Any long journey will leave you physically drained – and wet weather driving will have your nerves shot to pieces in no time. Also, if you’ve come from a more mainstream car to a TVR, certain aspects of its fit and finish will leave you exasperated.
However, with catwalk looks and an engine note to die for, you’ll forgive it for a lot – usually the first time your shove your right foot into the firewall and experience full-fat acceleration. Internet forums are full of tales of woe regarding TVR reliability, and that might lead you to think that these cars are trouble-with-a-capital T, but go in with your eyes open, treat it like the pampered weekend toy it is, and you won’t go far wrong.
Being powered by the venerable Rover V8 engine means there’s a wealth of experience in the trade there – and the Griff is such a known quantity in specialist circles that it won’t throw up any unforeseen problems for the enthusiastic owner. In short, if you’re a petrolhead, and are looking for top-down thrills, then what are you waiting for – the school kids of Blackpool will thank you for your astute purchasing decision.
Thanks to James Agger Autosport for the loan of the TVR Griffith