Buying a well-sorted TVR Cerbera

ps4 gran-turismo tvr cerbera speed-sixMaybe it’s my continuing mid-life crisis, but I’ve wanted a TVR Cerbera for as long as I can remember.
I remember them vividly in the 90s, and I remember them being the crazy car of choice in Gran Turismo in the 2000’s. And I certainly remember the noise from past encounters.
So when the stars align in life, it’s one of those things on your bucket-list that you just have to do when the means allow.
Page Contents
This is quite a long page, so if you’re looking for something specific, use the links below to jump to that section:

  1. Parts Availability
  2. Why do People buy TVR Cerberas?
  3. What’s the catch?
  4. Which TVR?
  5. Differences between Mk1 and Mk2
  6. Make sure it has had an engine rebuild
  7. Straight Six vs V8, why I chose a Straight Six
  8. Things to look out for when buying
  9. Signs you should walk away from buying
  10. Review Videos old and new
  11. Jeremy Clarkson infamous quotes on the Cerbera

The most overlooked part of TVR ownership

I really didn’t even consider this before I bought my Cerbera, and in hind-sight it should have been a major consideration when thinking of entering classic car ownership.
Cerberas were produced from 1996 to 2006, and the TVR company itself stopped production of all models shortly after. So with your average Cerbera being 20 years old and essentially a dead company, parts are impossible to find and there’s nowhere to get it repaired/serviced – right?

wrong! that could not be further from the truth. Service centres and specialists are located up and down the country and there are multiple suppliers of OEM parts, upgrades etc

So you want a TVR Cerbera?

Why do people buy TVRs? No doubt some will tell you it is their choice of car over ALL others.
Others will tell you (and I suspect the vast majority if they’re honest), that actually, if they had to pick just one car to own, their 1st choice of car would be something Italian, something exotic and something that they could never afford ever. AKA a lottery winners car.
What if there was a way to experience the drama and all the thrills of acceleration, drop-dead looks, noise, top speed, outrageous interior and rarity – but not need a lottery win? This is the space TVR fills.
You know you’re buying something special when you open the owners manual and on page 1 it says..
Cerbera manual
slow in quick out

What’s the catch?

TVR and reliability are rarely two words you hear in the same sentence. But here’s the thing: yes there are lemons out there, but there are also strong reliable cars out there today. If maintained well, there is no reason why your TVR cannot be a reliable bundle of fun. And don’t forget, while back in the day yes there were reliability problems; roll forward 20 years, and these have been ironed out through a combination of owners fettling them and the extensive range of available upgrades. The price for this outdated kit-car-type rumour is the reason you can experience supercar thrills on a modest budget, if you buy wisely.

Which TVR

There is no right or one answer to this, but the right answer for me, was the TVR Cerbera. Made between the late 90’s and early noughties, for me, the Cerbera epitomises everything TVR aspires to – a road legal race car that delivers huge bang for your buck. I suppose it was the UKs muscle car equivalent of the Dodge Viper (in fact there are quite a few similarities e.g the door scallops)
I dithered on whether to go for a convertible TVR (aka Chimaera), but to me it suffered from what most convertibles suffer, and that’s the body lines can look awkward with the hood up. The Cerbera has very long doors, and with the windows down, it’s like you’ve taken the sides off anyway 🙂
And besides, that interior is out of this world.

So which TVR Cerbera

There are 3 variations of Cerbera engine, 4.0L straight six (known as the Speed Six), a 4.2 V8 and 4.5 V8.
Q. which one? A. Buy on condition.

There are 2 models, a Mk1 and a Mk2. And from the factory, have slight differences (read below for more on this)
Q. which one? A. Buy on condition.

What colour Cerbera

There are lots of colours out there from the subtle to the outrageous
Q. which one? A. Buy on condition.

Buying a TVR Cerbera

Yes there’s a theme developing here.
You’ve let your heart rule so far; now it’s time to let your head rule.

Buy on condition.

I had to kiss some frogs before I found my Cerbera. But I bought on condition. It looks immaculate, inside and out. It has a full TVR service history. The chassis is in good condition. It is low mileage. It has had no expense spared.
Mk1 Cerbera
From the factory, the Mk1 and Mk2 Cerbera are easily identifiable, but roll-forward 15-20 years, and that line tends to blur, as past owners have put their own mark on the car.
Mine is a Mk1, not because I necessarily set out to buy a Mk1, but I bought on condition.
From the factory, an easy way to distinguish them:
bold indicates my preference

Mk1Mk2My opinion
Saturn wheelsSpider wheelslooks more modern
Single headlightTwin headlightslooks more modern
Cerbera front seatsFront seats taken from TuscanCerbera seats a lot more comfortable
Rear seats have headrestsNo headrestsimproves look of rear of car
Rear number plate translucent & back-litRear number plate slanted & recessedcleaner lines
Bigger front rollbar reduced visibilitySlimmer rollbar, increased visibilityprefer the drivers view through the "letterbox"
SunvisorsNo sunvisorsjust makes sense
Carbon fibre external trimPainted external trimprefer the CF look

Engine Rebuild
All TVR Cerbera engines had production short-comings, this often resulted in a need for an engine re-build sometime in the first 20k or so miles.
Buying a Cerbera today, you will be buying one that has most likely had a rebuild already, and that cost & hassle was burdened by a previous owner.
Just make sure that the rebuild was done by a reputable specialist, and ideally it is well documented. (In my case I have a stack of paperwork and these photos)

In my example, it was a catastrophic failure, resulting in a complete top & bottom end rebuild.
The invoices are eye-watering, but buying a car with a rebuild done by one of the best in the business (in my case: str8six), means you essentially get a brand new engine.
Mine was rebuilt in 2008 (at the time of writing this, just over 17k miles ago) – it is now stronger, better and more reliable than when it left the factory, and will have a long long life.

Top Gear topps collecting card - TVR Cerbera speed sixMy Cerbera of choice is a Straight Six, and while not as powerful on paper as it’s V8 4.2 & 4.5 siblings (a couple of tenths on the 0-60), in real life unless you are an experienced racing driver and trying to squeeze every last ounce out of it on a track, you will not notice any difference whatsoever.
When I first started my hunt for a Cerbera, I immediately gravitated towards wanting a V8, and even test drove one – but here’s the thing, a V8 Cerbera does not sound like a V8, and this is in part due to the flat plane crank configuration of the engine- in short, the V8 is operating like two 4 cylinder engines; which is why you will often hear people say they prefer the sound of the Straight Six.
Take a listen [LINK] of the Straight Six in action.
All 3 varieties are crazy quick and will likely be more than you could handle anyway. 🙂 Fitted with a sports exhaust, any model will deliver a great soundtrack; but take it from me, the 6 does sound the best!
(To read more on Factory & real-world performance figures for all engine variants click here)
I had a pre-purchase inspection carried out on mine by a TVR specialist, before I bought it.
The inspection flagged up a bunch of items not uncommon on a car approaching 20 years old:

  • Misfire under load
  • Weeping drive shaft gator
  • Clutch wear
  • Intermittent starter motor
  • Indicators not cancelling
  • Wipers not parking
  • Radiator fins collapsed

In my quest for a truly well sorted TVR Cerbera, read my blog posts as I first make my way through the above list and then move on to other jobs to fettle the car to perfection.

edit: July 2022

According to Google, this page is the most viewed page, so I can only assume that initially people come here looking for buying guidance.
I wrote this page originally in 2016, and now 6 years on, I thought it would be worth appending some further thoughts based on my personal experience, experiences of other owners I know, and from what I have read over the years.
There are many detailed buying guides out there, but thought what would be useful is a simple list of issues, broken down into 2 categories.
Those that just comes with the territory and are often relatively inexpensive to fix; and those that I personally would walk away from when considering buying a Cerbera.

Common ownership issues that wouldn’t stop me buying a Cerbera (they all do that sir)
Windows rattle when partially openReplace the felt window runners
Windows don't drop when opening the door, or raise all the way when closing the doorThere is a micro-switch attached to the window frame that can easily get dislodged
Windows very slow when going upThey all eventually do this, it can be remedied by replacing window runners and checking electrical connectors are clean
Reverse light not workingThe switch is fragile and prone to failure
Exhaust rattleThe routing of the exhaust is tight, and hard to avoid knocking against the chassis
Exhaust / fuel smell in cabinIf not an obvious leak, decats are likely the reason
Boot courtesy light intermittentThe switch is flimsy and often needs to be re-seated
Fuel spillage when cornering hardChange the cork ring on the filler cap
Door open buttons intermittent• Water ingress, replace connections behind door card
• If no clicking noise, replace solenoid
Door open button does not work• Try arming/disarming alarm
• Disconnect battery for few mins and try again
Cerberas seem to be able to self-heal
Boot open button intermittent• Water ingress, replace connections in boot
• If no clicking noise, replace solenoid
Instrument lighting poorThey all do that. Some people have swapped out to leds
Bolster wear on drivers side seatCan be repaired and colour matched with a Furniture Clinic kit
Centre console leather "dented" where drivers left arm restsA little more tricky to repair yourself. Dave the Trimmer has perfected a method of repairing without the need to remove the dash
Seatbelts don't fully retractThey all do that. You can improve it a little by spraying the belt with furniture polish
Speedo / tachometer not workingIf not tranducer, usually means it needs to be sent of for repair
Speedo mileage gets stuck on roll-over to XX,000It may eventually free itself.
• Try pressing the trip reset
• Try going in reverse
Check the mileage history as it may have been like this for some time
Wobbly rear view mirrorThey all eventually do this but can be remedied by simply replacing it
Delaminating windscreenAge related problem
Wipers not returning to start positionReplace wiper park switch
Indicators not cancellingReplace indicator cancel switch
Funky things happening with the steering wheel controlsCould be the buttons need replacing, but more likely the ribbon cable inside the steering wheel boss need replacing
Air con not working or not working well in Summer heatThey all do this
Poor / no radio receptionThey all do this, it's the downside of a fibreglass car. Anyway, you should be listening to the exhaust 😉
MIL (red engine) light onProbably lambda sensor. Mine failed after it got wet after some enthusiastic action with the garden hose. It's since been waterproofed.
Weeping shock absorberCan be sent off for rebuild
Chassis surface rustSurface rust is ok, and to be expected from a 20+ year old car, as is powder coating coming off around areas exposed to heat i.e. near manifolds
One of the exhausts sounds like it is "blocked" / making a muffled soundProbably a catalytic converter that has broken down
MisfireProbably lead / plug / lambda sensor
Clutch issuesThis is borderline, but clutches do seem to be a "consumable item" with some lasting 8k miles, and some 40k
Electrical gremlins when trying to start• Replace battery
• Replace big fuse, it can look ok but be fractured
• See immobiliser below

Walk away issues
Excessive paintwork crazingWould likely need a repaint
Chassis structural rustCrusty outriggers are a sign trouble is looming
Generally tired looking interior / exteriorBuy on condition! It's the only way to be sure it's had a good life and been cared for
Engine rebuild?• If it hasn't been rebuilt - walk away
• If it was rebuilt by the factory - also walk away but a bit quicker
• If it was rebuilt by a reputable engine builder (Str8six, Powers etc) - all good
No Dyno sheet available, and/or owner refusing to Dyno it?• Not all Cerberas are equal, it may be down on power, and you may not even realise it
• A healthy Cerbera should have been on the Dyno to ensure it is running right and produce comparable figures to others
• For the sake of a couple hundred quid, I'd offer to pay the owner for a Dyno run. If the owner/car has nothing to hide, the owner should agree. It will test the engine under stress and is the only real way to ensure you're buying a car with a strong engine
• Even if it is running right, it still may not produce healthy numbers - that's just how it is sometimes. If you had the choice of 2, wouldn't you pick the one with the betters numbers?
Bottom line: you need to know.
Has original Immobiliser or immobiliser / alarm playing upThis is borderline due to cost, and will inevitably need doing at some point
Signs of water ingressIt may be as simple as a door seal, but you'd likely find yourself chasing the leak for ages and the smell may never go away
Clonking noise when pulling awayThis is borderline due to how much of a hassle it is to change.. likely the differential, a rebuild isn't expensive but it isn't an easy/quick job to get it out.
Difficulty selecting 5th gearThis is borderline due to cost.. 5th gears are a known weakness on the T5 gearbox

Cerbera Review Videos

A few of my favourites from over the years, from the classic Top Gear, to the infamous Clarkson on Cars shootout, to more recent reviews from Youtube motoring journalists.

Clarkson on Cerbera’s

jeremy clarkson on cerbera'sLove him or hate him, Jeremy Clarkson has always had a flair with words, and his colourful description of the Cerbera being very memorable!

TVR Cerbera, so fast, it can create it’s own weather

TVR have put wheels on a thunderstorm

I am driving the quickest, most noisy thing this side of a Lambo Diablo

it’s like putting the engine from a Type 42 destroyer in your washing machine

to sum it up …FAST, VERY, VERY FAST

I liked this car so much, I couldn’t help driving it until I ran out of road

I love the way they’ve grouped the instruments above and below the steering wheel, I love the buttons on the steering wheel, I love the swoopiness of this dash, it’s like something out of the fifties………..the twoooooo thouuuuuuzzzzand and fifties

I remember thinking it was fast, I mean indecently, staggeringly, face distortingly fast, but I had no idea it could do this

The Tvr cerbera is the wheeled equivalent of aerosmith. You really could call the Cerbera heavy metal were it not fashioned from plastic.I would buy this car because its the living embodiment of counter culture rock and roll. Today when most cars are packaged like Michael Bolton,or rely on past glories like the stones,the new TVR gets back to basics. You would not want it to marry your daughter. Plus, to use a word the cerbera would undoubtedly choose, its as loud as a bast**d

It barks all the way to 7000rpm and beyond if you wish…its very very fast, frighteningly fast.If you want to overtake this car you’ll need a McLaren, a Diablo an F50 or a pretty fast bike

The TVR Cerbera is fast enough to re-arrange your internal organs

further reading: TVR myths

Translate »