The TVR Griffith was the car that pushed TVR into the big league of performance car manufacturers when it was unveiled in 1990. The wedge-shaped cars of the eighties were nearing the limits of their development and a new direction needed to be found.
The Griffith embodied all of the innovation, design flair and sheer bloody-mindedness that TVR came to stand for. Ferociously quick and would put hairs on the chest, the Griffith is a car that doesn’t suffer fools gladly. TVR’s of the early nineties had a mixed reputation for reliability, but there are legions of Griffith owners who can attest to miles of trouble-free motoring.
As long as you choose carefully and budget extra time and money for upkeep, you shouldn’t go too far wrong.
At the end of the eighties, TVR found itself with two product lines, the wedge-shaped Tasmin-based cars and the newer, but retro-styled ‘S’ models. As tastes changed, the wedge shaped cars were starting to date badly, and the more rounded ‘S’ models were starting to outsell them.
TVR unveiled the Griffith at the 1990 British Motor Show, with a 4-litre version of Rover’s trusty V8 engine mounted on a strengthened TVR ‘S’ chassis. Public reaction was encouraging with over 300 orders being placed for the new car. The only problem was that even in this form, the ‘S’ chassis was only ever going to be able to handle around 270bhp, so TVR had to go back to the drawing board and use a shortened chassis from the Tuscan racer, a car which produced well in excess of 400bhp.
With TVR now content with the basic foundation of the car, some styling modifications were made and the first cars were delivered to happy owners in early 1992. Demand for the Griffith dictated that over 70% of the Blackpool factory’s production capacity was instantly devoted to Griffith construction.
In 1993, TVR launched the Griffith 500 which is the model we test drove from the fabulous Hollybrook Sports Cars in Glenavy. Originally due to use the AJP8 engine of TVR’s own design, the Griffith again relied on the Rover V8, due in no small part to the development of the AJP8 falling behind schedule. The car received a face-lift with driving lamps mounted low in the front air intake, and OZ wheels were fitted as standard.
At the same time; tyre sizes, spring rates and shock absorber settings were adjusted across the range to calm the rear suspension’s inherent jitteriness. This model we drove has moved one step further in the suspension department and is running a full Nitron adjustable suspension kit which makes it a little more harsh on our back roads, but once on a nice A road or race track it becomes at one with the tarmacadam, the setting used for the test drive however can be adjusted to be more compliant on b roads which makes it ideal for all uses.
Seat yourself behind the grippy little sports steering wheel and you know you’re in the cockpit of a car that means business. A twist of the ignition key brings further enlightenment; exercising the big V8 will not be a task for the faint-hearted. Be in no doubt, a TVR Griffith isn’t really much good as an only car. Nor is it meant to be.
This is a two-seater only of course and the boot space is very generous for what it is, so much so you could go on a week’s driving holiday with a passenger and still be able to stow the roof into the boot along with luggage. So buy yourself a day-to-day car and store it in a covered, dry place like a fine-wine to enjoy whenever the mood takes you.
Inside, set amongst the walnut and leather, the gear knob and some of the switches are fashioned out of alloy (though there are no graphics on them to explain what they actually do) however this can be forgiven with the roof down as the growl of that V8 sings deep in your ears.
Despite its fearsome reputation, the Griffith can easily be driven around using the vast torque the V8 engine generates. In this mode, it’s a relaxed, if loud cruiser. That would be wasting the huge performance that’s on offer though, and with a 0-60 time of 4.1 seconds and a top speed of 167mph, a Griffith 500 will want to party.
Unleashing that power is at first terrifying, then exhilarating and finally ends up being addictive and on a wet motorway, it’s quite easy to drop the Griffith into third gear at 70mph and wonder why the revs are soaring before realising that even with a moderate throttle opening, the rear tyres are spinning furiously.
This is definitely not a car for the feint hearted, and those who are would simply do no more than cruise from A to B, even for a “driver” so to speak; this car is one that deserves respect and if you show it too much authority without the experience of driving it, this little TVR would likely bite back.
Trevor the owner of Hollybrook Sports cars has been driving TVR’s for some fourteen odd years now and in that time he has become confident with the traits of this British sports car due to having respect for them over the years and giving himself time to learn the driving mannerisms which now enable him to enjoy the wee cars fully.
Words & Photos: Graham Curry