The Cerbera was a game-changer for TVR – perhaps even for the British sports car in general. It’s a sensational machine, but you need to buy with extreme care
How much to pay
• Project £3000-4000 • Good £12,000-20,000 • Concours £25,000-32,500 •
Running costs ★★★
DIY friendly ★★
TVR has always been a maverick car company, but in the days of Peter Wheeler it really did do things its own way. Its cars were generally crude, over-endowed with power, sensational to look at and ludicrously quick – but when TVR launched the Cerbera in 1996, many were convinced that this time the Blackpool-based company had gone too far.
After years of fitting ever more highly tuned Rover V8s, TVR used its own in-house eight-cylinder engine to power the Cerbera. With 350bhp, this was just the start; power outputs were only going to go up from here. However, the brand had raised the stakes in more ways than one; the Cerbera was much more costly than its predecessors, so expectations were seriously high.
Nobody was disappointed, though, as the car was ferociously fast and incredible to drive. A top speed of 180mph, a spine-tingling soundtrack plus a distinctive design inside and out made the Cerbera an enticing prospect. When the six-cylinder variant appeared in 1999, it offered a softer alternative to the V8 but was still ludicrously fast – today it remains a bit more usable and therefore better suited to long-distance touring than the eight-cylinder cars.
Despite its eye-popping performance, the Cerbera is surprisingly usable. As it was designed to accommodate a very lanky Peter Wheeler, even very tall drivers can get comfortable inside, while the rear seats will accommodate kids easily enough. Not adults, though, whatever anybody tells you.
Your AutoClassics TVR Cerbera inspection checklist
If the engine hasn’t been maintained properly, expect some big bills soon. Even if it has been looked after, problems can crop up. The key thing is to maintain anti-freeze concentration in the coolant, to stop the head gaskets from corroding.
It’s also essential that the valve clearances are set every 12,000 miles; with the various maintenance items also due at this point, it’s never a cheap service. If the clearances aren’t set the valves burn out, and an engine rebuild is then required. That’s when things get really expensive…
If you’re looking at a low-mileage, early, 4.2-litre motor, be very wary. These powerplants were fitted with undersized main bearings that allowed the crankshaft to flex then shatter. Most such engines were rebuilt long ago using the 4.5-litre unit’s larger bearings.
The Speed Six motor can be even more of a liability, particularly pre-2002 units. A raft of problems led to TVR having to rebuild many of these engines under warranty, and this isn’t always documented. If an overhaul is required it could be limited to the top end, but it could be that a complete rebuild is needed – and that’s expensive.
A five-speed Borg-Warner T5 transmission is fitted to all Cerberas. There are unlikely to be problems on a low-mileage car, but any model that’s racked up 80,000 miles or more might be suffering from tired synchromesh on fifth. If it’s baulky when changing gear, a rebuild is probably due. Once the ’box starts to whine it’ll keep working for thousands of miles – but with a new purchase you won’t know when it started to whine.
Clutches will take a certain amount of abuse, although early Cerberas suffered from snapped diaphragm fingers; any such units should have been replaced by now. The slave cylinder can leak, and because it’s positioned inside the bellhousing it’s not as cheap as it might be to repair. It won’t break the bank, though.
Suspension and brakes
Considering what the brakes and suspension have to put up with, they tend to be incredibly reliable. Wear is the most likely issue, as there aren’t any weaknesses as such. Tired bushes are likely, but they need to be replaced with original-spec items as the polyurethane alternative can’t cope with the under-bonnet heat.
A lack of driver aids, huge power and rear-wheel drive are the perfect recipe for high-speed prangs, and there are plenty of Cerberas that have needed major repairs. While these can be bodged, it’s the low-speed impacts that tend to cause more problems as they are more likely to be poorly repaired.
Analyse the glassfibre bodyshell carefully for cracks and signs of filler, as effecting proper repairs is a specialist job. Everything is available to properly repair the ’shell and chassis – the problem is that shortcuts are taken all too often.
Chassis corrosion is another likely problem, even though it was powder coated. The finish peels off, especially on Cerberas made in 1998 and 1999; on early Speed Sixes the coating got burned off by the heat from the exhaust manifold. Later Speed Sixes were fitted with a heat shield, and from 2001 the quality of the powder coating was improved.
Corrosion is likely in the top chassis rail and the outriggers. Poor access means checking these isn’t easy, but you need to do it because if there is any rust here, removing the bodyshell is advisable to fix things properly. It’s a big job – although holes can be cut in the glassfibre floor for access, if you know what you’re doing.
All Cerberas came with leather trim, and by now it’s looking baggy in many cars. Focus on the handbrake gaiter, seat bolsters (especially the driver’s) and the centre-console armrest. Patching up is possible, although many owners take the opportunity to undertake a complete retrim.
More of a problem is the electrical system, although everything is available and nothing is especially costly. TVR overstretched itself with the Cerbera’s electrics, so items such as the wipers, lights, windows and remotely operated doors can (and often do) give problems. So does the cable that sends signals from the steering wheel, where some of the switchgear is located.
- 1996: The Cerbera is launched in 4.2-litre V8 form, with a five-speed manual transmission and a limited-slip differential. Hydratrak is an optional extra.
- 1997: A 4.5-litre engine becomes optional, with Hydratrak as standard. This works by allowing the inside wheel to spin away excess power long before the loaded outside wheel can lose traction – crude but effective.
- 1999: The Cerbera Speed Six arrives, with TVR’s own 4.0-litre straight-six engine; the 4.2-litre car is now known as the Speed Eight. The 4.5-litre Cerbera gets Tuscan-style projector headlamps in a light-pod, which from 2000 are blended into the bodywork.
- 2000: The Speed Twelve features a pair of Speed Six engines mated together to create a V12. With 880bhp on tap without any tuning, the car is too dangerous to sell, so just one example is built.
- 2001: A Red Rose option pack boosts the 4.5-litre engine to 440bhp with bigger brakes and suspension upgrades. The Cerbera would remain part of the TVR range until the company closed down in 2006, but customers tended to buy newer models, meaning few Cerberas were ordered in TVR’s twilight years.
Just about all of the Cerbera’s (more expensive) contemporary rivals were slower and most of them are still worth more, so if you want the maximum bang for your buck this surprisingly affordable TVR is where you should be looking. While V8 cars are pretty hard-core, if you’re buying to go touring home in on a Speed Six. These have a slower steering rack and softer suspension – but they’re still capable of 180mph.
The Cerbera is a complicated machine that generally needs specialist attention, although some maintenance can be done on a DIY basis. Establish who has maintained any potential purchase, and ensure that the car has had plenty of cash lavished on it at regular intervals – even if it’s been used only sparingly.
V8-engined Cerberas are far more common than Speed Sixes. The newer the Cerbera, the better built it’ll be, while refinement improved over time as well. However, an early car that’s been doted on by its owner is going to be a better purchase than a later one that’s been neglected.
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Cerbera 4.0 Speed Six