Classified of the Week – 1957 Zephyr Ute
April 23, 2019 Chris Pollitt
There’s Blackpool rock, and then there are the ‘90s, when Blackpool rocked. It rocked with the constant throb of angry V8s and tyre squeal courtesy of the brilliant lunatics in the TVR shed. Their cars were wild, loud and brash and the British car industry was all the better for them. It’s a shame, then, that TVR is now a brand of the past. Yes, there have been murmurs of a resurrection, but until that actually happens, we should just enjoy the ‘greatest hits’.
A car very much at the top of that hits list is the TVR Griffith. Small, beautiful, luxurious and packing that all-important Rover V8 punch, it represents TVR at its best. But if you’re not careful, it can also represent it at its worst. The Griffith is an old car now – it was introduced in 1991. Any car from 1991 is going to be showing signs of age. A hand-built sports car is no exception. In fact, it’s a cause to be even more cautious.
To find out what’s what, we spoke to the brilliantly-named Richard Kitchen. He’s the man behind TVR specialist, Southways Automotive and what he doesn’t know about Blackpool’s fastest export simply isn’t worth knowing. With his help, here are five things you need to look for when buying a Griffith…
Richard actually just wanted to say chassis five times, we told him we need a bit more variety than that. “The chassis is the most important element” explains Richard. “Not just because of corrosion, but also because any chassis-repair/restoration work normally goes hand-in-hand with the renewal of loads of worn mechanical stuff, too. Outriggers are the most susceptible, and the holes are normally hidden.” In ownership terms, that means a MOT pass guarantees nothing. TVRs can hide a lot, and the MOT man can only test what he sees or can operate.
“The chassis can rust in other places, too” Richard continues. “Particularly under the exhaust manifolds, and along the lower chassis rails. Earlier cars (up to ’96) normally have a silver-coated chassis, which tend to resist rust better than the later white chassis. The very last cars had grey chassis, which were a bit better”. So to conclude, you need to check the chassis as thoroughly as possible. If you can, get the car up on a ramp so you can have a proper look, and make the effort to see into every nook and cranny – all manner of horrors could be hidden.
The TVR Griffith’s body, much like all other TVRs, is made from GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic – or fibreglass to you and me). This is great, because it’s light and it doesn’t rust. However, there are some considerable downsides. Over time, it can crack and buckle. Plus, the car isn’t broken up into panels as per a normal car. For example, the front wings and nose is all one piece. This means a small bump can become a major headache. Also, if the paint is getting tired, a respray is going to be a costly, arduous exercise. Various bits of trim are bonded to the body, as at the headlights. This will all reflect on labour, as it’ll take an age to remove and refit them. And finally, body repairs are going to need a fibreglass specialist. You can’t just roll a TVR into any old body shop.
With all that in mind, you’re looking for damage, you’re looking for faded paint and you’re looking for poor-quality repairs. Get your head under the arches, as any repairs will have been done from behind. Pull up the boot carpet, too, and it’s all GRP under there.
“You could easily spend several thousand re-trimming an interior” says Richard. “And a lot of it is leather. The quality of the materials when new varied (depending on which suppliers TVR weren’t ‘on stop’ with!), and some suffer from UV damage worse than others.” Ah yes, TVR was constantly running on a ‘hand to mouth’ basis, so suppliers changed on the regular. If you are looking at a car with a faded interior, you’re going to be looking at a full re-trim, and that’s going to be costly. Then Griffith’s innards are swathed in leather and are filled with more swoops and curves than a Spirograph doodle. That’s going to impact labour times.
But wait, Richard has more. “The cars often leak too, so you can get mould/damp on cars stored outside. And then there are the cars that people think they can retrim themselves (never normally goes well). Rear screens go brittle and can fracture too, and roof fabric can be costly to retrim.” Basically, the Griffith is a delicate machine from an interior point of view, so make sure you buy a decent one, or at least be prepared for a big spend to put a rough one right.
The main system is normally OK as long as it hasn’t been clouted on anything – again, this is a good reason to get the car up on a ramp if you can. The other issue, as Richard explains, is owner intervention. “People do tend to play around with them to remove silencers etc. It’s the manifolds that you need to look at, as they often leak. You can tell by driving the car at a low speed in a high gear, and then applying throttle. You’ll hear a ‘chittying’ sound, almost like a click relative to the revs/throttle load. Best case is the manifold gaskets need doing, which is still at least £250 labour, but worse case is that they’ve cracked, and that gets expensive.”
Would it even be a British sports car if we didn’t mention the engine? Of course not, so here’s what you need to know about the Griffith’s V8. The Rover V8 engine was updated in late 1994 to the ‘serpentine’ type, by which time all Griffiths were of the 5.0 ‘500’ variety. That’s good, because more cc’s means more power over the 4.0 and 4.1 units. However, there is a caveat. Over to you, Richard. “The 5.0 uses a flat multi-ribbed drive belt, as per more modern engines, with a spring-loaded tensioner. So, you need to check the condition of this belt and also the tensioner. Listen for any grumbles or rattles. If it needs doing, it’s a tight, complicated job.”
The good news is that they have uprated oil pumps which are generally better. They also allowed for the optional fitment of power steering, though again, be cautious. The racks can be very expensive to replace/overhaul, so check it’s not leaking. Wind it from lock-to-lock whilst the car is running, then have a look underneath for any drips.
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