Muscle for pleasure

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The best thing to come out of Blackpool since the M55? Actually, the Griffith is one of the best things to have come out of anywhere. Ever

Rightly or otherwise, motoring as a leisure activity has been tethered by the shackles of political and environmental concerns. The words ‘motoring’ and ‘freedom’, once compatible, have long since gone their separate ways, perhaps for ever. Leastways, that appears to be the case in England, what with Captain Gatso rearing his ugly grey metal head on quiet leafy lanes in selected counties.

Ideals may have changed but, happily, there are still hopeless romantics whose fingers cling stubbornly to the few surviving threads of true motoring pleasure, a concept subdued by the diminishing number of desirable roads and the decreasing number of modern cars with which to enjoy them.

The letters TVR sound not a bit romantic (the acronym was, after all, derived from the christian name ‘Trevor’), but the sensuous two-seater sports cars emerging from its little Blackpool factory every week embody the very essence of what motoring ought to be. There’s no giant corporation’s deep yet cynical marketing philosophy behind the TVR concept. It’s just a small car with a big heart, a detachable top and rear-wheel-drive.

Everything about it is refreshingly simple, little is superfluous: no computers, no active ride, no wings – just the most powerful of TVR’s own 90 degree alloy V8s (based on the old Rover lump). It has more throb than finesse, and does not want for excitement. The 340 bhp unit is mounted to a very rigid, welded tubular steel back-bone chassis, as is the double wishbone and coil spring suspension. The quick steering (1.9 turns lock to lock) is lifted straight from the spectacular Tuscan racer.

These basic elements are cloaked in a glass-reinforced polyester resin body, noticeable more for its subtle aggressiveness than dramatic outlandishness. The hood, which is lowered in seconds without catches or clips, is one of the very few which look good when raised. We tested the Chimaera 4.3 (February 1994) which, though powerful and extremely fast in its own right, pales beside the Griffith 500’s five litres of blood-curdling power. Less elegant, more bulbous and purposeful than the Chimaera, the Griffith is all about driver involvement.

You sit low in the narrow, divided cockpit containing natural materials and organic shapes which brim with the kind of attention to detail that makes TVR the most innovative and attractive of British manufacturers (not to mention the second most prolific nowadays, behind Rolls-Royce/ Bentley). You can’t miss the contrasting blend of tradition and eccentricity: conventional white-on-black dials laid across a swooping walnut dash, door-pulls located not on the doors but on the shoulder-high transmission tunnel, and aluminium knobs that would look more at home on a shirt at a Milanese fashion show than on an automotive heating system. These certainly require a little acclimatisation before you become operationally fluent.

However, TVR never loses sight of its customers and the design quirks do not stretch beyond such minor ergonomic details. This is a pure hairy-chested sports car you understand this from the moment you depress the industrial-strength clutch, ‘clonk’ into first and shake in harmony with the idling V8’s deep rumble. You can feel every one of the 340 horses resonating through your body as the clutch bites, the tail squats and the initial throaty burble develops into something closer to a banshee wail.

Such is the power that in first gear the traction is out-stripped and full throttle simply cannot be used, even on dry roads, without stripping layers of rubber at an appreciable rate and raising more than a few unwelcome eyebrows. The gear-shift isn’t the slickest; it’s precise, but firm movements are required, particularly from second to third. Then again you don’t need to use the stubby lever. The massive 360 lb ft of torque peak at 3750 rpm. If you feel like it, you can dawdle around town in fifth. It just sounds much better if you do it in second…

In performance terms, if you don’t allow the tail to become too wayward, you could not ask for more. According to TVR, you will hit 60mph in 4.1 seconds. That’s quicker than any exotica from Stuttgart or Modena, bar a Lamborghini Diablo 5.7. You’ll be up to 100 in 10.5 seconds, and according to the gearing it won’t run out of puff until around 160, although we suspect aerodynamics may stop you short of the 167.1 maximum for which the car is theoretically geared.

The thing is that you don’t need to be chasing such figures to have fun in this car, and you don’t need to change down to swallow a line of traffic and disappear into the distance.

Out in the open, the Griffith barks its way round to the 6000rpm limit with remarkable ease for such a docile engine. Throttle response is instant, and the quick steering feels nervous and the chassis often teeters on the verge of roll-oversteer if prodded through bends. Here lies one of the Griffith’s disappointments. The steering feels rather dead until some lateral forces come into play, but by way of consolation it isn’t feather-light in the modern Japanese supercar idiom.

The Griffith corners neutrally with little roll until such power is applied that, once again, traction is broken and, simultaneously, the tail steps out and your face cracks into a smile.

Grins can quickly turn to grimaces if you fail to pay the Griffith the enormous respect it demands. There’s no bank of electronic aids to prevent you making an expensive twerp of yourself. It does have a means of traction control, however. It’s called your right foot. Use with care. You get yourself into a slide then it’s up to you to get yourself out, in overall terms, however, the Griffith generates prodigious grip.

We don’t need to explain how tricky things can get in the wet…

Stopping the car provides the second (and only other) disappointment. Servo assisted, the four ventilated disc brakes are mighty and fade free, hauling the car down efficiently from great speeds, but it’s a great shame that on such a machine depressing the middle pedal feels like stamping on a block of wood. Care is needed during this potentially unsettling act, particularly in the wet, as there is no ABS.

There are several minor idiosyncrasies: the procedure required to raise the flimsy bonnet; the total absence of rear visibility when the hood is retracted; the low-slung doors that catch all but the shallowest kerbs. Rough edges, yes, but tolerable in the circumstances. The Griffith is, after all only £32,995. And we do mean ‘only’ in this context.

Verdict

Brilliant. Enjoy!

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