We managed to squeeze in another quick shoot after spending a sizzling morning with Phil’s Corvette at the Melbourn Brother’s Brewery, this time taking in the thunderous presence of Dave’s rare TVR Cerbera 4.5 AJP8 V8 . A mad car with an equally mad owner – his first Cerbera caught fire and nearly killed both himself and his son!
A raw 1990s brute of a car, the 1993-2003 TVR Cerbera is quite a rare sight on the road. Under 2000 were made during the production run, with the passing of time leading to a good number of those being thrown through hedges backwards or ending up as a pile of ashes. Even rarer still is the NA 4.5 litre flat-plane V8, as seen here in Dave’s stunning and lightly tuned example. The majority were 4.0 litre straight-sixes or 4.2 V8’s. Like other TVR’s, it’s a car you’ll either love, hate, or be fearful of… which is why TVR owners are some of the most faithful and passionate owners you’ll find.
“I should have known what lay ahead as every time we stopped I had to put the flames out from the carbs with a donkey jacket.”
The naturally aspirated flatplane V8, with a sound like no other, was a shift from the Rover V8’s used previously by the firm. BMW had bought the struggling car manufacturer Rover, and not wanting to risk the potential of BMW halting supplies, Peter Wheeler (then owner of TVR) asked race engineer Al Melling to design a V8 that could be built in-house.
The result was the compact AJP8 (named after Al Melling, John Ravenscroft and Peter Wheeler) or “Speed Eight”, essentially a high-output race engine with a 75-degree V8, flat-plane crank, and a bottom end straight from Formula 1. Power output ranged from 360-440 bhp depending on capacity/tune, with a face stretching 320 lb⋅ft-402 lb⋅ft of torque. Dave’s car, with a full fat 440 bhp, will hit 60 mph in under 4 seconds and head on to 193 mph, with a meaty soundtrack to boot. Be warned however, the handling is good but twitchy, with sod all electronic aids… at least the AP Racing brakes help it to stop.
It’s no wonder then, that despite a brush with death with his first Cerbera, he went straight out and bought another…
Dave’s TVR Journey
Dave’s sports car and TVR bug began after his friend, a Doctor of Engineering working on Harrier jump jets, acquired some iconic British sports cars of the time, including the Ginetta G12 that they’d often hit the lanes with…
“I should have known what lay ahead as every time we stopped I had to put the flames out from the carbs with a donkey jacket.
“As I can’t use a spanner or anything really, I went for a simple car and bought a TVR 1600M in 1975. Simple, but nobody knew what it was, I became fed up of people asking what sort of Triumph it was and was far too young to recognise jealousy as they said it was slow, which at the time it certainly wasn’t.”
This wasn’t good enough for a typical 20 year old, so he bought two TVR 3000M’s before realising he couldn’t afford to run them. Fortunately, he sold them and made more than 6 months wages on each, allowing him to buy a sensible car… a Vauxhall Firenza 2279DN Droopsnoot!
“If people don’t know what that is, it was a car produced in limited numbers for race purposes and was a brute. Yet, in terms of breakdowns the most expensive car I ever owned and the rarest. (It was then) back to reality with a big Healey and various other cars, all of which were OK but don’t quite ‘do it’. Whatever ‘it’ is.
“A return to TVR came with a 1989 S2 which I still miss, trips to London to support the factory workers and causing chaos in Whitehall and lots of fun, but not quite powerful enough. So, I bought a big bike, oh, and a 4 litre TVR V8S to go with it!”
“We were trapped and knew the outcome was terminal… we thought we would die without any exaggeration but were resigned to it.”A dice with death in his first Cerbera
Then there was the white TVR 350i which he understands to be the only ‘wedge’ to serve with the Army in a war zone, in this case in the Balkans, “But that’s another tale.”
The First Cerbera
Not able to afford a Sagaris at the time, Dave then aimed for a Cerbera, buying a 4.2 litre V8, something that literally became too hot to handle one summer evening while driving with his son…
“It decided it would BBQ itself with myself and my son in it. After a slight smell of hot plastic mixed with petrol, the fuel line sheared and sprayed ignited petrol over the windscreen (quite spectacular from inside) and the roof, but it’s a bit hard to get out when there are no door handles and the electrics failed.
“When my wife found out, she made me to promise not to buy another ‘silly car without door handles’. So I didn’t… for nearly two weeks.”
“We were trapped and knew the outcome was terminal which meant we were really calm as we could do nothing. Apart from the fact my son’s trainers were on fire, and they were expensive so he was annoyed with that, we thought we would die without any exaggeration but were resigned to it.
“Luckily, the doors suddenly sprung open as things burnt through and we escaped. Except the trainers which were quite badly charred.
“When my wife found out she made me promise not to buy another ‘silly car without door handles’. So I didn’t.”
Two weeks later, Dave went out and bought the lightly tuned 4.5 litre Cerbera, featured.
The Second Cerbera
Life over the last 10 years with his current Cerbera has certainly been full of adventures with plenty of smiles per mile when blasting through the tunnels in London with the flat-plane soundtrack, hammering it around track days at Silverstone, Spa, and the Nurburgring… and even drug and firearm searches at customs when the 4.5 V8 backfires forcing the officers to duck.
It’s also helped put smiles on the faces of others…
“Supporting charities for terminally ill children is perhaps the best feeling and certainly the most emotive.
“For several years she (the Cerbera) did charity runs at Bruntingthorpe to support terminally ill children. This raises many thousands each year and involves giving donating people high speed thrill rides. A few of us have sometimes done a little extra at the lunch break by taking the children out.
“I still feel quite proud and really upset when I think about one particular little boy. He looked OK but had to be lifted into the car. He had never sat in a sports car, nor a leather seat, not ever.
“He told me he didn’t have any family of any kind, nor any friends. It was odd as at this point some dust got in my eye and it was watering. He said his nurse was special, so we agreed to put on a show for her. The power of one of these when you can spin the wheels at 100 mph is impressive. At the corner where the nurse was, I accidentally made him laugh by making sure there were plenty of flames!”
Another reason Dave loves the Cerbera and other TVR’s is because of the adventures he’s been able to have abroad…
“My first time driving abroad was with Fasttracktoursco.uk. Very scared of driving on the wrong side of the road (deliberately as opposed to accidentally) I went to Spa and the Ring, but somewhere along the line gained a passenger. An awesome chap, a Canadian Para from D Day who sadly is no longer here. However, a fantastic and respected companion…. until we reached customs.
“He’d left the UK without having to show a passport but as my passenger on the way back told me we had a problem at the check point – John had taken his wife’s passport abroad.
“All I could think of was to say if we got stopped, I had taken him abroad as a John where he then had surgery…..
“A brave man, full of fun and typifies the point of these cars. They bring people together.”
What a car to own!