The TVR Cerbera began as a concept by TVR designers in 1993, approved for production between 1996 and 2003. The name is derived from Cerberus the three-headed beast of Greek legend that guarded the entrance of Hades.
Prior to the Cerbera, TVR had purchased V8 engines from Rover and then tuned them for their own use. When Rover was purchased by BMW, Peter Wheeler didn't want to risk problems should the Germans decide to stop manufacturing the engine. In response, he engaged the services of race engineer Al Melling to design a V8 engine that TVR could manufacture in-house and even potentially offer for sale to other car-makers. In an interview for the television programme Top Gear, Wheeler explained "Basically, we designed the engine as a race engine. It was my idea at the time that if we wanted to expand, we ought to make something that we could sell to other people. We've ended up with a 75-degree V8 with a flat-plane crank. The bottom-half of the engine to the heads is exactly as you would see in current Formula One engines."
Wheeler was quoted at the time of the car's launch as saying that the combination of light weight and high power was too much for a road car, a quote which ensured much free publicity in the press. Enthusiasts still argue about whether this was a typical example of Wheeler's legendary frankness, or an equally typical example of his PR chief Ben Samuelson's knack for saving on advertising costs by creating a story.
The result was dubbed the "Speed Eight" (official designation 'AJP8') after Al Melling, John Ravenscroft and Peter Wheeler, a 4.2 L V8 producing 360 horsepower (268 kW). A larger version of the engine was later offered that displaced 4.5 litres and output rose to 420 horsepower (310 kW). The smaller motor allowed the Cerbera to still achieve up to 185 mph (297 km/h).
The AJP8 has one of the highest specific outputs of any naturally aspirated V8 in the automotive world at 83.3 hp/litre for the 4.2 and 93.3 hp/litre for the 4.5. Later models of the 4.5 litre engine were given the option of being to the 'Red Rose' specification, which increased its output to 440 bhp (97.7 hp/litre) when fuelled with super-unleaded (high octane) and the driver pushed the unmarked button on the dashboard which altered the engine mapping to suit.
In some cases, real-world outputs for production V8s (4.5 in particular) were down from TVRs quoted output. Some of these have seen some form of modification (ECU, induction, exhaust etc.) to bring the power back up to the factory quoted output.
One of the attractions of the V8 Cerberas for many owners was the loud backfire produced on over-run, particularly at low speeds. In fact this was the result of an argument at the factory between one of TVR's executives and the engineers mapping the engine. The engineers wanted to map out this "irregularity" to improve fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions, whilst the executive insisted it was exactly the kind of thing owners would like. In the end a compromise was reached in which the popping and banging remained on the 4.5 L cars.
The engine is also unusually compact for a V8. According to TVR, the total weight of the finished engine is 121 kilograms (267 lb).
With the success of the Speed Eight program, Wheeler also undertook the design of a "Speed Six" engine to complement it. This engine also made its debut in the Cerbera. Unlike the Speed Eight, the new engine is 4.0 litre inline slant six (I6) design. It also differs from the V8 in having four valves per cylinder to the Speed Eight's two.
The car itself was designed from the start as a four-seater. The rear seats are smaller than the front, a design commonly referred to as a "2+2". However, the interior is designed so that the passenger seat can slide farther forward than the driver's seat. This allows more room for the person sitting behind the front passenger. TVR have referred to this as a "3+1" design.
TVR maintained its tradition of building cars that were not only exceptionally powerful but also very light for their size and power output. The Cerbera's weight was quoted by TVR at 1100 kilograms, although customers claimed the weight varied between 1,060 kg (2,337 lb) and 1,200 kg (2,646 lb).
The dashboard was designed especially for the Cerbera and uses a two-spar steering wheel as opposed to the typical three-spar previously found in most TVRs. The reason for this is that minor instruments are located on a small panel below the steering wheel and a third spar in the wheel would have made them difficult to read.
Like all TVRs of the Peter Wheeler era, the Cerbera had a long-travel throttle to compensate for the lack of electronic traction-control and very sharp steering. The V8 powered cars were two turns from lock to lock and the Speed Six car was 2.4 turns. This made it easier for experienced drivers to maintain or regain control of the car in the event of a loss of traction but some less experienced drivers complained that it made the cars feel "twitchy" and more responsive than they would otherwise have preferred.
In 2000, TVR changed the styling of the car slightly by modifying the headlights to more closely resemble those seen in the TVR Tuscan. The "facelift" features were available with all three engine configurations. In addition, the cars equipped with the 4.5 liter engine were offered with the "lightweight" option, reducing the overall weight through the use of lighter body panels and a slightly reworked interior.
In August 2006, TVR held an online auction for what it billed as "The Last Cerbera". According to thelastcerbera.com, the website that TVR created especially for the auction, TVR's owner and chairman, Nikolay Smolensky (spelled "Nikolai Smolenski" on thelastcerbera.com site), brought the design out of retirement for one more unit as an homage to the "beautiful but brutish bygone British sports car." The "last Cerbera" was a 4.5 LW right-hand drive car in Pepper white with Prussian blue leather interior trim. The auction failed to meet its reserve price but TVR still decided to sell the car to the high bidder. The final bid was under £45,000 to which 5% plus 17.5% VAT would be added.
Source: Wikipedia, 2011