Tue, Mar 28, 2017 10:55 AM
Fastest, wildest, noisiest… by just about any measure, the Cerbera was the most extreme car produced by the legendary, and soon-to-be-revived British sports car company, TVR.
Yet the incredible performance it boasted, and its relative good value alongside competitors such as the Dodge Viper and slightly more mainstream offerings from the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Lotus, have ensured the Cerbera a place in automotive history.
In full production for 10 years, from 1996 to 2005, the Cerbera, perhaps more than any other car at the ‘extreme’ end of the spectrum, epitomises both the huge ‘ups’ and the potential pitfalls of owning and living with a real automotive mould-breaker.
The world into which the TVR Cerbera was born was summed up by this National Geographic TV series as: “Heading toward a new millennium, Americans are still riding the wave of irrational exuberance, surfing on the success of the dot-com bubble.”
A time when being loud and brash were often qualities which got people noticed, and admired. And so it was only right that the people who lived this way had a car which epitomised everything they stood for - that car was the TVR Cerbera.
Between 1996 and 2006, when the very last car, a bespoke version made for TVR boss Nikolai Smolenski, rolled out of the Blackpool factory, the world moved at breathtaking speed. The ‘dot-com bubble’ came and spectacularly went, fortunes were made and lost, and through all this, it was technology that drove us forward into a brave new world.
So it was fitting that, at a time when car-makers were starting to harness technology with the aim of making cars safer, cleaner and generally more responsible, TVR was at the forefront of a small, but vocal, movement, which went completely the other way. Instead, its cars were built to excite and to give pleasure, regardless of the consequences.
Between the first car emerging - a prototype first appearing at the 1993 London Motor Show - and that momentous finale, the Cerbera set three important ‘firsts’ for TVR:
The first hard-top - its predecessors, the Griffith and the Chimaera, were both convertibles
The first TVR intended for more than two occupants, and
The first to be driven by TVR's own engines. Historically, TVR had sourced engines from mainstream manufacturers including Rover, Ford and Triumph.
Perhaps one of the most unfair accolades ever given to the Cerbera was the title ‘Scariest Car Ever’. This was bestowed on the Speed 12 version. The story goes that the then TVR owner, Peter Wheeler, tested the car himself but halted production before it started because he believed it to be too fast and too uncontrollable to be used on standard roads. The accolade, bestowed by Botb.com (aka ‘Best of the Best’, a website which showcases ‘ultimate’ products available for people with endless money to spend), does the car a huge disservice, as the Cerbera was clearly an exercise in pushing limits.
And despite this critical description, there will always be people who’d jump at the chance to drive a car which sounds like “a thunderstorm played through the world’s largest speakers attached directly to your ears”, and goes like a scalded cheetah. So if you ever get the chance to sit in a Cerbera and take it for a ride, all we’d say is make sure that you fasten yourself in.
Three engine options were initially offered, and the main distinction held by the Cerbera over its predecessors was that it was the first car on which every component was designed and produced in-house. Previously, TVR had built the chassis and internal parts, and sourced engines from the likes of Rover and Ford.
So there’s another major selling point of any Cerbera - here was a dedicated and enthusiastic team of British car designers and engineers, working together to push the boundaries of what was feasible in sports car design - and all on a fraction of the budget enjoyed by many of its major competitors.
At this kind of level, the relative differences between the three engines - two V8s of 4.2 and 4.5 litres, and a four-litre ‘straight six’ - may seem to most people purely academic. But the smaller engine imbued the car with subtly different characteristics which, according to Pistonheads.com, made it “intended as more of a Grand Tourer than an out and out racer.
“The most obvious signs of this,” it added, “are the lower geared steering, higher profile tyres and more supple suspension which lead to a smoother ride than the raw, firm V8s.”
Even then, it’s seen by many car fans as a major achievement that TVR, a minnow in comparison with most mainstream car-makers, put the resources needed into the Cerbera to develop three different engine options, and Pistonheads.com notes that: “Given the incredible performance of the car with any of the engines, the relative merits might seem academic.” But, it added: “It's a testament to [TVR’s] enthusiasm and dedication that such a low volume car can be produced with three engine options, each offering a slightly different and yet so exhilarating experience.”
Given that every TVR car since the mid-1980s has been widely considered a supercar, why does the Cerbera still stand out?
‘More power, more speed, more noise, more thrills’ clearly sums it up but that combination also attracted the attention of a new generation of celebrity owners, most notably, David Beckham. And when he even put a child seat in the back of his Cerbera, that brought the marque a to a completely new audience. His car was probably the ultimate used TVR purchase, when, a full 10 years after he bought it, complete with unique topaz blue paint job and magnolia leather seats, and having covered a reported 17,700 miles in it, it was sold on eBay by its next owner for £70,000.
This kind of celebrity cachet that money can’t buy is only one factor making the Cerbera so desirable in a supposedly far more sober age than that in which it was conceived. Another is that TVR did all its engine development in much the same environment as a Formula 1 racing car, meaning none of the restrictions imposed by considerations of what might be lurking around the next corner. On a closed racetrack, you really can find out a car’s true outer limits, and that’s what makes the Cerbera the subject of such fascination.
Why should you want to buy a used TVR Cerbera and let it loose on UK roads? Well, as one contributor to owners’ forum TheTVRsite.com who tried to put it into words wrote, it’s probably down to “a combination of lairy engines, packaged inside lightweight bodies, with outlandish interiors and no driver aids.”
If you don’t have Jeremy Clarkson’s flair for overblown expression, how do you put such a degree of emotion, adrenalin and total driver involvement into print? With great difficulty - which means the only way anyone is going to find out is to give it a go for themselves.
Speaking of Clarkson, one of the most widely-remembered scenes from the Top Gear heyday is of him at the wheel of a Cerbera, and drag-racing it against some of its rivals of the time, which you can find here.
We reckon the person whose question truly sums up whether any driver should consider themselves capable of taming the Cerbera is ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan, with his immortal line: “You've got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”
Yeah, that’s it - if Clint Eastwood’s much-loved film character had been teleported forwards a quarter of a century, from 1971 to 1996, his catchline could well have been used by TVR to sell the car. Our advertising watchdogs would never have allowed it, of course, but we think you get the drift.
When you buy from an established, accredited TVR dealer, such as Oakmere Motor Group, you get the important, and not-to-be-sneezed-at, benefit of having a team of knowledgeable and experienced TVR enthusiasts at your disposal. So whether it’s taking your first steps towards buying a TVR, a helping hand through any stage of your purchase, making sure it’s kept running just as it should, or answering any questions which crop up, we’re the acknowledged experts. And we’re always happy to pass on the benefits of our own love for Blackpool’s finest.
As one of the biggest TVR dealers in the country, we’ve been working with the company since the mid-1980s. We’ve seen highs and lows as the marque has risen, fallen, and now is about to rise again. And while secrecy still surrounds the new TVR model at the time of writing, we still have long and happy relationships with many Cerbera owners, helping them to continue to enjoy their much-loved cars.
So if this article has grabbed your interest, and you’re curious to learn more about the possibilities of owning a TVR, come and speak to us at Oakmere TVR. You’ll find our prominent site on Manchester Road (the A559), west of Northwich town centre.
TVR is due to blast back onto our roads - and into the hearts of keen drivers everywhere - with a new 2017 model, which you can find out more about here, as well as on our own dedicated page. At Oakmere Motor Group’s showroom on Manchester Road, Northwich you can always see a selection of current and carefully looked-after used TVR models.