To drive a TVR Griffith today is to experience that moment in your time machine when your hand slips on the lever and accidentally transports you back farther than you intended to go.
I know this car was built this century and, from its number plate, so do you. But that’s not how it feels. It doesn’t even feel like a child of the late 20th century, despite its design dating from the early 1990s. The ’80s? Nope. The ’70s, then? Try again. This car might have the look and performance of a reasonably recent sports car, but its heart and soul seem to have been wrought in the 1960s.
So why didn’t we say so at the time? Well, we all know humans who bear their years spectacularly well and those that do not, so why not cars? Truth is, the Griffith is no longer a snarling, edgy sports car with quasi-supercar performance. Now it’s just a nice old thing, a favourite uncle who’ll sit you down by the fire, hand you a glass of scotch and tell you how it used to be.
To me, at least, the fact that a Griffith feels like a 1960s throwback is a perhaps unexpected but nevertheless entirely welcome turn of events. Any car spared the slow slip into oblivion goes through a cycle that progresses roughly from new and desirable to secondhand and affordable, and then from pointless old shed to appreciated and appreciating classic. Cars need time for their inadequacies relative to modern machinery to count for less than that charm inherent in all old things of power and beauty that were desirable when they were new. And some need more time than others.
And whatever its failings, power and beauty the old Griffith can do. Indeed, it’s here to represent the very best of its brand – the car that best captures all that we’ve always wanted TVRs to be. Earlier cars were uglier, slower and less able; more modern ones were too truculent and difficult to drive and own. The Griffith was the high point, the ultimate development of the charmingly simple philosophy that had been core to the appeal of all TVRs made before it and which would forever after be eroded by the more exciting and dramatic but less reliable TVRs that followed.
If you want a 1960s analogy, Formula 1 cars reached that point in about 1967, when efforts to minimise drag resulted in the cleanest racing shapes of all time. But then designers realised the air was better exploited than avoided and things were never quite the same again.
What, then, do I recall? Certainly that the shape was at least in part the work of Iain Robertson; we used to work together on this magazine and did our first races in the communal office Caterham. His boy, Charlie, now does great things in sports cars, winning last year’s LMP3 title in a Ginetta shared with Sir Chris Hoy.