Review and road test of the TVR Chimaera (1993 - 2005)
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
If there is such thing as a sensible TVR, then the Chimaera is it. This model most closely follows the styling cues of the classic TVR 'S' series of cars, and has proved to be the best-selling TVR ever. A combination of keen pricing, perceived accessibility and towering performance tempted an unprecedented amount of buyers to sign on the dotted line marked Chimaera, and it's not hard to feel a pang of jealousy. As a used purchase the Chimaera looks similarly tempting, with a number of low-mileage cars in the dealer network for MGF-money. If you're more hard man than new man, the keys to the TVR might well prove impossible to resist.
(2 dr roadster 4.0, 4.3, 4.5, 5.0 petrol)
The TVR Chimaera was launched at the British Motor Show in 1992. Unusually for TVR, the show car looked as if it was production-ready and so it proved. At the time, TVR were basking in the adulation heaped upon the Griffith, and the Chimaera only served to reinforce the perception that here was a home-grown manufacturer capable of mixing it with the big boys. The 'S' series of cars were, at the time, still selling well, but with the advent of the Chimaera, TVR's management knew that their immediate future was V8 powered. Both the 'S' and Griffith range were all-out sports models, and the Chimaera's emphasis was slightly softer, which in Blackpool parlance is like moving from diamond to tungsten carbide.
Legend has it that during the styling of the Chimaera, TVR boss Peter Wheeler's dog, Ned, took a bite out of one of the foam models. Wheeler decided that he liked the new styling feature and incorporated the recesses to house the front indicators. The Chimaera's underpinnings were based on the Griffith's, which were in turn based on the Tuscan racer. Different dampers and an anti-roll bar were fitted, as was a more accommodating boot to reinforce the new car's Grand Touring image.
The Chimaera was originally destined to house the all-new AJP8 engine designed and built by TVR. Development issues surrounding this engine meant that the trusty Rover V8 based engines were used, of 240bhp 4.0 (also available in 275bhp High-Compression) 280bhp 4.3, 285bhp 4.5-litre or 340bhp 5.0-litre capacity. Another little-known fact is that the Chimaera was planned to replace the Rover-engined Griffiths, but demand for both models was sufficient to justify their existence. The 4.3-litre car lasted until 1994, whereupon it was replaced by the 4.0-litre High Compression model, the range-topping 5.0-litre model being introduced shortly before. The 4.0 HC in turn gave way to the 4.5 in 1996, and the base 4.0 was deleted in 1998.
The Chimaera range underwent a small facelift in 1997, with changes to the nose, tail and internal detailing to make the car more closely resemble the Cerbera. This in itself was ironic, as the Cerbera was initially a lengthened coupe version of the Chimaera. Imitation certainly is the sincerest form of flattery at TVR.
2001 saw a further series of modifications. The headlamps became faired in units and the tail lights were changed for a cluster of four lights in one pod. Inside the car you'd find aluminium detailing to the instruments. Minor changes to the suspension set up were also made to improve the Chimaera's roadholding and ride.
What You Get
In billing the Chimaera as the practical option in the range, TVR are dealing in relatives. Don't expect to take it on the school run, out for the weekly shop or on a ski holiday to the Alps. The only thing the Chimaera likes doing to small children is terrifying them with the bark of its engine and near-incinerating them with its exhaust. Should you ever be torn between a TVR Chimaera and a Renault Scenic, the French car's superior door-bin count will clinch it every time.
The Chimaera instead functions well as a softer edged alternative to a Griffith, not so manic or teeth-jarring, but still possessed of awesome muscularity and a malignant nature that's always lurking at the end of the throttle's travel. The interior is more adventurous than the Griffith's and the bold curves, aluminium gear knob and fluorescent green instrument faces show the initial workings of an ideas mine that has been plundered in full for the Cerbera and Tuscan cabins. A wide transmission tunnel separates the two occupants, and internal space is at a premium. The thick, non-airbagged wheel and supportive seats could be trimmed in any colour or material the original buyer fancied, and the hood works well, both at waterproofing and windproofing the car.
In mythology a Chimaera is a fire breathing, goat-bodied, lion-headed monster with the tail of a serpent. In truth, the TVR Chimaera is similarly cobbled together from a disparate set of components to form a fire-breathing entity. Except in this case, it all works so well you never notice the joins.
What to Look For
Of all the TVR models of recent years, the Chimaera was probably the most derivative, drawing on much of the engineering pioneered by the Griffith. This in itself is no bad thing, as the Griffith was released early and the first customers were, in effect, unpaid test drivers. Not all of the Griffith's foibles had been ironed out at the launch of the Chimaera, and you should look for a late and fastidiously well-maintained example. Look for warped front suspension wishbones, damaged hood detailing, recalcitrant electrics, poor panel fit, accident damage and ineffective cooling systems. Insist on a sheaf of bills and a full TVR service history and walk away from anything that doesn't look up to scratch. With a used TVR, it's always best to buy a good example, as remedial fixes can cost major money. There isn't a noticeable shortage of used Chimaeras around so be fussy.
(approx based on a 1993 Chimaera 4.0) Nobody would pretend that a specialist car offering this level of performance was ever going to be cheap to run, and certain aspects of running a Chimaera are just plain expensive. Aside from its healthy appetite for 98RON Super Unleaded Petrol, it also enjoys regular doses of synthetic engine oil. At £85 per top-up with a new set of filters, that doesn't come cheap. A clutch will cost just under £700, whilst front brake discs are £70 a pair with rear costing a little more - expect to budget £75. A headlamp unit costs a surprisingly reasonable £70, whilst one of the Bridgestone rear tyres won't leave much change from £200. Tyres per gallon gauge, anyone?
On the Road
On the open road, the TVR Chimaera is everything the TVR image promises. Loud, aggressive, heavy to drive and hairy of chest. The V8 engines sound lazy and vaguely transatlantic until you wind them up beyond 3500rpm and they begin wailing. Some owners never get beyond this point, but the best is yet to come. Keep the needle between 5000rpm and the 6250rpm redline, and the engine will make a noise that will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing bolt upright. You'll lower the lid, search out tunnels and blare through them in third gear, cackling in glee. That's what owning a TVR is all about.
Without any form of traction control, even the base 4.0-litre car has to be carefully piloted. On a wet and twisty road, you'll need to be accurate and measured in your use of the throttle and steering. Drive in a tidy, disciplined manner and the TVR can be hustled along at a fair speed. Try any cruder tactics and you'll have to be very quick with the corrective lock, as the car has been developed with the emphasis on handling rather than outright grip. Get it out of shape and the previously agile Chimaera can feel very big and cumbersome, but the steering is fantastic and the skilled driver will revel in sliding the car about. This is why so many used examples will have accident damage. Beware!
The TVR Chimaera is without doubt the best way to access the joys of TVR ownership. Less intimidating and more thoroughly sorted than the Cerbera and Griffith models, it nonetheless offers 95% of the thrills with a tiny dash of practicality. The best model to plump for is probably a late Chimaera 4.5, and look for one with as low mileage as you can afford. Remember, a TVR is quite unlike a mass-production car and you'll have to put up with a greater probability of unreliability and some annoying characteristics. It'll all become worthwhile as soon as the road opens up and you hear the wail of the big V8. Then you'll understand what made the Chimaera TVR's most popular car.
TVR Chimaera (1993 - 2005) review by ANDY ENRIGHT