TVR Griffith Buying Guide

TVR always specialised in building fast cars for not much money. Now that the TVR Griffith is a classic, little has changed. Here’s how to purchase a good example

TVR Griffith Buying Guide

How much to pay

• Project £12,000 • Good £15,000-25,000 • Concours £27,500+ •

Practicality ★★★
Running costs ★★★
Spares ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
Investment ★★★★
Desirability ★★★★

During the Peter Wheeler years, TVR became a massive success story for Britain’s car industry. The Blackpool-based company could seemingly do no wrong as it launched one fast and exciting car after another – usually at a price that no rival could touch.

As the bar was raised ever further, power levels and performance increased and the build quality improved. By the time the Griffith arrived in 1992, there was nothing else on the market that could match its gorgeous looks, massive performance and relative affordability.

The bar-room pundits will tell you that TVRs were always unreliable, that nothing has changed now they’re classics and also that if you buy one you’re guaranteed heartbreak at every turn. But don’t listen to them, because a cherished Griffith is dependable and will put a smile on your face like little else.

Your AutoClassics TVR Griffith inspection checklist

Engine

All Griffiths came with a Rover V8 in one form or another. This simply engineered and effective engine is easy to tune, reliable if looked after and provides mountains of accessible torque. Its Achilles’ heel is the camshaft, which tends to need replacement after 50,000 miles. The work is not especially cheap, either.

If you can hear the exhaust blowing in the engine bay, it’s probably because one or both manifolds have cracked, although the gaskets for these also tend to fail. A cracked manifold is especially likely if the relay for the radiator’s thermostatic fan has failed; that’s another Achilles’ heel.

Oil leaks are par for the course, usually where the rocker-cover gaskets tend to leak. The cover-retaining bolts should be tightened at each service, but the job is often overlooked. Radiators usually have to be replaced every 25,000 miles, and the coolant hoses must to be renewed occasionally, as they perish from the heat in the engine bay.

The low-slung exhaust has a tough time, as it grounds readily. Stainless-steel replacements are inexpensive, but check that what’s fitted hasn’t been bashed about too much.

Gearbox

Considering the torque abuse Griffith transmissions endure, they last amazingly well thanks to a healthy dose of over-engineering. Even high-mileage cars rarely need any gearbox attention, but the GKN-built limited-slip diffs fitted until 1994 can whine a lot. They will just keep going, though.

Later Griffiths were fitted with a Salisbury back axle, which is a quieter unit than the GKN item. However, both units can leak oil, leading to wear. Neither is cheap to fix, but at least the parts are available to rebuild them if necessary.

The clutch may have seen better days, but these are also surprisingly durable. What’s more likely to give problems is the clutch hydraulic system, especially the master cylinder, which leaks. Replacements aren’t costly.

Suspension and brakes

Fitting new dampers will often transform a Griffith’s dynamics, but it’s the bushes that are most likely to be tired. Replacing these with Griffith 500-spec units complete with new washers is advisable; it’s a relatively cheap and easy operation.

The front wishbones were powder coated, but the finish peels off, leaving the metal beneath to corrode. The upper and lower units corrode equally, but they’re both simple enough to replace.

TVR didn’t offer power steering until 1995, but some earlier cars have had it retro fitted. It’s not a straightforward job, but it’s worth the significant investment. Whirring noises from a power-assisted car is probably due to no more than the reservoir having been over-filled.

Check for uneven tyre wear, and be wary of a car that’s got brand-new rubber. If the suspension has been knocked out of alignment the tyres will wear unevenly, and it may be that getting everything adjusted correctly is very costly or just not possible.

Bodywork

There’s no shortage of Griffiths that have been crashed. Many have been repaired to a high standard – but some haven’t. Repairing the panels isn’t usually possible, but a skilled specialist can replace them wholesale, and if done well that’s no problem. Not all repairs are undertaken by skilled specialists, though...

Don’t be too alarmed if the nose has had a respray; the paint gets stone chipped easily, which is why investing in protection film is worthwhile. As there are no bumpers, the corners of the Griffith get scraped, while cracking and crazing will be evident if the car has been knocked about.

The Griffith 500’s nose has a grille that goes from one driving light to the other; earlier Griffiths got separate nacelles for these lights. For a while the original nose wasn’t available, so if an earlier car has the later panels, it’s been shunted.

The chassis was powder coated, but the finish cracks and gets chipped, which allows the steel underneath to corrode. Regular rustproofing is essential, yet impact damage is more of a problem than corrosion. The chassis will shrug off small knocks, but if the car has had a significant bump the frame will be knocked out of true. Anything can be fixed, yet if a new chassis is needed it’ll be a big and costly job.

When looking for chassis corrosion focus on the outriggers, as these get battered by debris kicked up by the wheels. They also tend to get coated in mud, then dissolve out of sight. It’s possible to fix things without removing the bodyshell, but it’s still a significant job.

Interior

While the electrics are more reliable than you might think, the switchgear can suffer from glitches, so check operation of the mirrors and windows. Starter motors overheat because of the exhaust’s proximity, but new or reconditioned replacements are available. Speedometer failures aren’t rare; it’s worth checking the service history to see whether a new one has been fitted. If so, what’s the car’s true mileage?

The leather seat trim usually wears very well, and if there’s any damage it can usually be fixed with a localised repair. Carpets last well, too, but if the interior has got wet because it’s been used top-down in the rain, the floor covering might be rotten. While the soft-top should seal well and doesn’t damage easily, check the seals closely. Also study the fit of the rear window to make sure it’s all in good shape.

History

  • 1990: The Griffith prototype is unveiled at the British Motor Show. It’s essentially a rebodied V8-S with a chassis limited to 240bhp, so a new platform has to be devised.
  • 1991: A completely rejigged Griffith is unveiled, based on the Tuscan racer’s chassis.
  • 1992: The first cars are delivered, with either 3948cc or 4280cc Rover V8s. In the first year of production a couple of dozen big-valve 4.3-litre cars are also made, along with a tiny number of 4.5-litre examples.
  • 1993: Griffith UK production is halted, although export cars continue to be built. The stoppage is for the factory to gear up for Chimaera production; by the time the Griffith reappears later in 1993, it’s available in 5.0-litre form only.
  • 1994: A Borg-Warner T5 gearbox is fitted in place of the Rover unit originally used.
  • 1995: Power steering is made available as an option; it becomes standard from spring 1999.
  • 2001: TVR introduces the run-out Griffith 500 SE.

AutoClassics says…

Griffith buyers gravitate towards low-mileage cars, which pushes up prices at the top end. But these cars will take a lot more miles than their reputation would suggest, so if you’re buying to use rather than as an investment, don’t be afraid to acquire a relatively high-mileage Griffith. The key is to focus on the condition; the best buys are cars that have been used regularly and looked after by a well regarded specialist.

Don’t worry too much about spec, as all Griffiths come with a muscular V8 that provides effortless performance. Having said that, the bigger, more powerful engines will always be more sought after, and they provide astonishing thrills for (generally) not too much of a premium over the smaller motors.

The later the car, the better it’s built – and the more highly it’s developed. As a result, the most sought-after variant of the lot is the run-out 500 SE, production of which overlapped the Tuscan. Track down one of these at the right price, and look after it, and you’ve got a guaranteed investment on your hands. It’s one that will also put a huge smile on your face every time you take it out.

Specifications

Griffith 4.0
  Power 240bhp
  Top speed 152mph
  0-60mph 4.7sec
  Economy 20mpg

Griffith 4.3
  Power 280bhp
  Top speed 158mph
  0-60mph 4.7sec
  Economy 20mpg

Griffith 4.5
  Power 285bhp
  Top speed 158mph
  0-60mph 4.6sec
  Economy 19mpg

Griffith 5.0
  Power 340bhp
  Top speed 162mph
  0-60mph 4.2sec
  Economy 18mpg

Picture courtesy of TVR

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