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RE: TVR Chimaera: PH Buying Guide

RE: TVR Chimaera: PH Buying Guide

Wednesday 11th January 2017

TVR Chimaera: PH Buying Guide

Pondering a charismatic roadster for some summer roadtrips? They don't come much more PH-worthy than this!



If ever a car summed all that we love at PistonHeads, the TVR Chimaera is it. Great to look at, even better to listen to and pretty darned fine to drive as well. Of course, TVR has its detractors and there are plenty of myths that have grown up around the brand and this model. Some are wholly undeserved and others are more down to poor maintenance and TVR's sometimes less than stellar build quality when the cars were new.


The good news is that even the newest Chimaera is now 14-years old, so any of those factory-induced niggles will long since have been addressed. So much so, that all of the owners we've spoken to regard the Chimaera as a very rugged, reliable car. It does need some specific care and attention, which you can read about in the following sections, but overall buying a one of these British sports cars is not the minefield you might think.

One piece of advice from almost everyone we chatted to is to drive as many examples before committing to buying. There's a big variation in quality between a well sorted Chimaera and one that's had a quick wash before sale. "Condition is everything with these cars," advises James Agger from James Agger Autosports, supplier of the car you see here in the pictures.


The Chimaera was launched at the Earls Court motor show in 1992 and lasted through to 2003. By that time, around 6,000 Chimaeras of all types had been built, making it TVR's most numerous model by some margin. This makes it the easiest to find in classifieds and also means you don't have to accept a tired example as there's sufficient used stock around for you to walk away from a dud.

Development of the Chimaera was evolutionary rather than revolutionary during its life. A stronger Borg Warner T5 gearbox replaced the Rover-sourced LT77 in 1994, while more power arrived with various engine changes throughout the car's time.

The most significant change came in 1996 with a facelift that's easily spotted with the crossbar extending across the front grille. It also moved the door locks from the door itself to the hidden release buttons under the mirrors in a revision first seen at the 1997 motor show in October of that year. New rear lights and boot completed the exterior changes on the 1998 model year cars, while under the skin the chassis was now the same as the Griffith's and resulted in a wider rear track.


Another round of updates came in 2000 and the most noticeable update was faired-in headlights similar to those of the Griffith. Mk1 Cerbera seats were also fitted for greater comfort and there was some new switchgear and small changes to the suspension for better ride and handling.

Prices for the Chimaera start at around £8,000 and you might well find a decent car for that from a private seller. However, £12,000 is more like starting money for cared for cars from a dealer. Beyond that, spec and condition dictate the price all the way to around £27,000 for the very best.


PHer's view:
"A good quality car will be a joy a drive with a sound you will never get tired of. Mine is 20 years old and will still do 0-60 in less than five seconds. Okay, it's bit tatty round the edges if you look closely and has cost me some pennies to get into its current mechanical condition, but it's been well worth it."
David Wells


Thanks to James Agger Autosport for the supply of the car in the pictures and the additional assistance with this story.

Buying Guide contents:
Introduction
Powertrain
Rolling chassis
Body
Interior
At a glance

Search for TVR Chimaeras in the PH classifieds

 

 

 

 

[Photos: Chris Teagles]


Author
Discussion

Big GT

Original Poster:

307 posts

17 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
Burble Burble Burble

Wonderful machines.

daltonr

33 posts

143 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
I'm not an open-top fan but I do love these. In my top 5 best sounding road cars of all time.

How much bhp did the 5 litre ones actually have in reality though??

900T-R

20,022 posts

182 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
daltonr said:
How much bhp did the 5 litre ones actually have in reality though??
Variable - at the rolling roads that I've frequented average examples seem to get about 245-260 hp, with as many not-so-good-ones getting significantly less than that, as happy exceptions. For 'average' factory builds, I would guess at 260 hp as a ballpark figure when new. With a new cam of an appropriate spec, some basic induction mods, sorted fueling and a good fettle overall, a healthy one should be able to reach 300 hp or thereabouts, though.
4.3s seem to be a lot more consistent - every single one I saw got mid-late 250s on the same RRs as above, but then they were all relative fresh (well maintained low-mileage or rebuilt by the likes of John Eales), properly set up examples.
A good 400 can get pretty close to its factory 235 bhp rating if in top condition, but it's here where the biggest differences between examples lie; I've seen cars struggle to hit 160 hp...

Morningside

22,766 posts

154 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
I was expecting things like check for a rusty chassis and watch those outriggers.

SamR380

193 posts

45 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
Morningside said:
I was expecting things like check for a rusty chassis and watch those outriggers.
Surely the most important part of any 'buying guide'?
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daltonr

33 posts

143 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
900T-R said:
Variable - at the rolling roads that I've frequented average examples seem to get about 245-260 hp, with as many not-so-good-ones getting significantly less than that, as happy exceptions. For 'average' factory builds, I would guess at 260 hp as a ballpark figure when new. With a new cam of an appropriate spec, some basic induction mods, sorted fueling and a good fettle overall, a healthy one should be able to reach 300 hp or thereabouts, though.
4.3s seem to be a lot more consistent - every single one I saw got mid-late 250s on the same RRs as above, but then they were all relative fresh (well maintained low-mileage or rebuilt by the likes of John Eales), properly set up examples.
A good 400 can get pretty close to its factory 235 bhp rating if in top condition, but it's here where the biggest differences between examples lie; I've seen cars struggle to hit 160 hp...
Thanks for clearing that up. I had a drive of a friends 500 some years back which was tuned to 320bhp and to be honest it was not without its problems, especially in traffic (maybe to do with cam and engine management installations). I guess the AJP really was a major leap forward.

900T-R

20,022 posts

182 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
A couple of things: 6 years for a set of newly replaced outriggers or 50,000 miles for a camshaft (properly installed with new lifters) are IMO to be treated as worst-case scenarios for cars that are not only driven in all weathers (in coastal areas?) but also irregularly and mainly cross-country roads ragging on short drives, with not a lot of maintenance above and beyond basic servicing.

A little preventive maintenance every winter should make properly installed and protected outriggers last at the very least as long as the 10-20 years the originals with badly applied powdercoat did; and over here on the mainland we only start routinely looking at camshaft wear from 100,000 km onwards. Mine looks to be in pretty much perfect condition after 43K miles (the original had 106K on it, sure enough one or two lobes were a bit round...) - but then again it's nearly exclusively done longer trips, and tghe vast majority of driving has been on motorways...

Krikkit

11,327 posts

106 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
SamR380 said:
Morningside said:
I was expecting things like check for a rusty chassis and watch those outriggers.
Surely the most important part of any 'buying guide'?
Didn't bother reading the "Rolling Chassis" section then?

cerb4.5lee

9,239 posts

105 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
Always loved these and I sat in one at the motorshow 23 years ago, and I knew from then on I wanted a TVR one day.

Love the noise they make too, a nice 500 would hit the spot for sure.

SamR380

193 posts

45 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
Nope getmecoat

cmoose

40,223 posts

154 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
Would love to try one of these.

Wonder what they are like - and I'm not talking about the rumbly V8, which is the one bit that's pretty much a known quantity. What are the primary controls like, the shift, the steering, the brake pedal? Does it handle? Does it feel bendy / sheddy?

900T-R

20,022 posts

182 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
cmoose said:
Would love to try one of these.

Wonder what they are like - and I'm not talking about the rumbly V8, which is the one bit that's pretty much a known quantity. What are the primary controls like, the shift, the steering, the brake pedal? Does it handle? Does it feel bendy / sheddy?
Depends completely on the state of fettle of the specific car. Sadly, loads of cars on the market are mediocre at best. Back in the Spring of 1999, I drove the Dutch importer's demonstrator and out of hundreds of road test cars I drove in period, that one had me hooked. Had my first experience been a random car out of the PH classifieds now (or a few years ago when their values were at their lowest), I'd probably had wondered what all the fuss was all about.

A proper one feels solid, comfortable and in all honesty, a fair bit heavier than it really is. The chassis feels pliant, balanced, the front end will feel a tad lazy by 'modern' sports car standards and from a certain point - beyond seven or eight tenths or so on a typical country road - it will progressively run out of composure as standard, but it should feel stable, grippy, fairly progressive (on std wheel and tyre sizes) and properly involving away from the extremes. Non-PAS steering is heavy, but gives wonderfully meaty feedback and should never leave you in doubt of how much grip you've got left. 500s are a bit lairy because they pack a lot of fairly brutally produced grunt in a fairly narrow rpm band (revving much beyond 5K is an exercise in futility on standard ones), 450s and in particular 430s feel more in tune with the car itself.

The driving position is excellent (at least for my long-legged frame), unlike the T-cars the pedal positioning and spacing feels completely natural when coming from a regular car, and the brakes respond pretty much perfectly as you'd expect from a given pedal pressure. As long as you're not pushing it, you can jump in a Chimaera from any normal shopping trolley or saloon car and be comfortable with driving it.

You might hear the odd squeak - but a good one should not be overly rattly. It also should track straight, brake in a straight line, and not throw its tail about without being provoked. In general, it feels more at home at wide open bends than really tight stuff and it's not the sort of car you'd throw about with abandon. Acceleration should be strong, pulling the car on a big, seemingly endless wave of torque between 2-5K rpm (and beyond on the smaller/higher tuned engines) without flat spots. Lots of cars have slightly to severely compromised driveability at low rpm and small throttle openings, this can and should be rectified to the point that it's barely noticeable, regardless of whether it's on standard management or not. Don't let anyone tell you they all do that, sir and you should 'upgrade' to aftermarket management - the 400 I drove back in 1999 was perfectly tractable in town and heavy traffic.

In general, a good one should make you savour every mile travelled and will command respect and focus on your driving, but not attract undue attention to itself when driving with quirks and petulant behaviour. You should feel comfortable and confident to enjoy the experience to the fullest.

It's fair to say, though, that any car you buy now will have a couple of things that need sorting before you get at that stage. Which, by the way, can be a fairly pleasurable experience in itself, allowing you to really bond with your steed.



Edited by 900T-R on Wednesday 11th January 15:47

Digga

22,970 posts

208 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
daltonr said:
How much bhp did the 5 litre ones actually have in reality though??
All versions of the engine were, to varying degrees (forgive the pun) prone to cam wear, but apparently the 5l was worst. As a consequence, a lot of cars out there are not fully firing on all 8 cylinders anyway. My had a new camshaft before 30k miles.

When I up-rated the cams, there were also carbon fibre inlet plenum (ACT) and a re-map (Mark Adams) done, to get it up to what TVR said it was in the first place...

900T-R

20,022 posts

182 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
Digga said:
When I up-rated the cams, there were also carbon fibre inlet plenum (ACT) and a re-map (Mark Adams) done, to get it up to what TVR said it was in the first place...
Not bad. thumbup One 500 I did here had a new Stealth cam, ACT carbon trumpets and induction pipes, a 72 mm plenum that came off my car and a custom MA chip, that was good for around 300 hp; another on the standard cam, but with ACT carbon twin plenum, trumpets and induction pipes and another custom MA chip made 305 hp on the rollers.

TVRJAS

2,201 posts

54 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
Very good post 900T-R

cmoose: If you are Midlands based that could be arranged but mines a standard 400 and produced 212.3 on my Rolling road test.

2gins

1,114 posts

87 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
You'll do well to find one for £8k, even leggy 400s are well over 10k from the looks of it and you can double that for the 500s. Looks like this article has been trotted out from a previous edit!

Yex 450

4,179 posts

145 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
cmoose said:
Would love to try one of these.

Wonder what they are like - and I'm not talking about the rumbly V8, which is the one bit that's pretty much a known quantity. What are the primary controls like, the shift, the steering, the brake pedal? Does it handle? Does it feel bendy / sheddy?
If you are in Essex or can get to Bicnacre one of the Saturday mornings we are having a get together you'd be very welcome to come out for a ride in my 450. I've spent a few pennies on it and the car is rather fun to drive now at all speeds smile full details of upgrades and refurbishment in my profile.

Digga

22,970 posts

208 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
Well-sorted cars are a joy, even in the wet, as long as they're set up right. When I had mine, Guglielmi Motorsport worked their witchcraft on it and it was incredibly sure-footed. You still had to be measured with the throttle and steering, but it was not the beast a lot of people would have you believe.

theholygrail

177 posts

93 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
Agree that 900T-R's post hits the nail on the head. Just how I feel about my Griff. An experience every time, even if it can be frustrating to own at times! One of the things I really like is the response you get from other road motorists and the general public. Mine's just had the cat removed, out of necessity, and I genuinely laugh out loud at the noise it makes now when I'm driving it, even though I've owned it 6 years smile

rtz62

1,318 posts

80 months

Wednesday 11th January 2017
quotequote all
I absolutely adored mine, despite all the nay-Sayers at work telling me it would break down, etc etc.
The only issues I had were the classic 'hot-start' issue which left me stranded for 15mins at a petrol station until the engine bay cooled down (with the bonnet up). I bought an updated loom (I was told it was originally designed for the Range Rover?) which was fitted in next to no time and cured the problem forever.
Not a big fan of the wipers, which don't seem to have sufficient spring in them to hold the blades tightly against the screen (if you get my drift?)
And the handbrake was pretty useless too.
As stated, you have to get used to the veeeery long-travel accelerator pedal, and I wonder how many people came away from driving one with a touch of disappointment, having not used the full travel?
A cavernous boot (which always seemed to make other drivers smile when I had to open it to refuel) and a brilliantly-conceived roof system were just two of the things that made the ownership experience such a positive one.
Would I have another? Oh yes, and I'd have a Chimera rather than a Griffith, if only for the bigger boot.
Choose wisely, get it inspected by a specialist (and I'd ask for it to go up on ramps to check the chassis and outriggers myself), and you will have a wonderful beast.