Fast Friends: Phil Archer’s TVR Griffith 500 SE

Ask yourself, when was the last time you travelled in a car that needed to be treated with respect? For me, it’s an easy question to answer: yesterday, when Phil Archer kindly took me for a ride in this TVR Griffith 500 SE.

For those unfamiliar with the Griffith, it’s a model that TVR ran a production run of for eleven years. During that time, the car was evolved and refined but never strayed from its original formula: 2 seats, minimal weight and a bloody great V8 up front.

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Phil’s example is what’s known as a Griffith 500 SE (special edition), meaning it’s one of the last 100 to be produced. Essentially a run out version of the Griffith 500, the SE gets a full fat 5.0 litre version of the Rover V8, that means 320hp and 320ft/lb of torque.. all in a car that weighs not much over a tonne.

Yet it’s the way this car does what it does, that really captivates petrolheads. You see, despite being produced in 2002, this car – like all Griffiths – left the factory without traction control or even ABS brakes.

According to official figures, this car could get to 60mph in just 4.2 seconds and wouldn’t stop until it hit 167mph.

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Those rear lights are exclusive to the Griffith 500 SE

Let’s go back to the exclusivity of this special edition model, because plenty of unique parts made it onto the SE cars, the most obvious being a completely exclusive tail lamp design.

Less obvious to those outside of TVR circles, is the hybrid interior, which used the dashboard from the Griffith’s sister model, the Chimaera.

Should you wish to educate yourself further on this model then I thoroughly recommend visiting this website which is used as an owners database register.

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Sitting beneath a car cover, tucked away in a garage on the outskirts of Bristol, the Griff’s distinctive shape was easy to recognise. Within minutes the car was up and running, its starter motor running just slightly longer than you’d expect from a modern car, it was enough to add suspense to what was always going to be a dramatic moment. As that V8 fired into life, it brought with it all of the thunderous sound I was hoping for – check the video below to see what I mean..

Getting into the Griffith isn’t as straightforward as you might assume, countersunk alloy parts serve as a release for the doors, they’re not visible until you get close. Actually, look over the rest of the car and you’ll notice no obvious interruptions with its body shape: those flush headlamps, the way the front wing blends into the A-pillar, even the fuel filler cap is tucked beneath the boot lid.

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The side profile of the Griffith

Taking to the road it’s apparent that this car isn’t built for someone of my stature, but even so, the interior is a particularly nice place to be. The dashboard presents a quirky mix of traditional dials, cream leather and wood. At almost every opportunity TVR has used machined aluminium controls – why? Because TVR.

The Griff’s V8 continues to burble away as its needles begin to register somewhere near normal operating temperature. Despite slight input at the throttle and the tachometer having barely rotated, the engine’s torque is already blatant. The Griff pulls effortlessly through every ratio in its box and, as we tackle a steep incline in its top cog, the engine note barely even dips.

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I was surprised at how comfortable this car was. Despite my own lanky frame pushing me higher up than I should’ve been, I wasn’t getting buffeted like I would’ve been in say, a Mazda MX5 or BMW Z4.

The suspension was another surprise, tackling uneven and pothole-strewn road surfaces with absolute compliance. Weirder still was the fact I couldn’t make out any rattles or untoward noises – to be honest, I couldn’t make out much noise other than the fantastic tune emerging from those unusual twin pipes – it’s easily one of the best sounding cars I’ve ever travelled in.

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With the engine now warm and a fresh tank of fuel feeding the Griff its pace was demonstrated. It seems that, regardless of revs, the neck wrenching pull of the V8 is only a throttle prod away. Just look at the figures we quoted earlier and it’s obvious that getting the speedo to reach license risking figures can happen seriously quickly should you want it to.

The exhaust now hot, it spits and crackles on the overrun, particularly at lower speed. Phil takes us through a route that features several tunnels, through each one the Griff is pushed down a cog and ranted out to the other side – it’s the right thing to do, it’s the only thing to do, and any petrolhead within an earshot would’ve been grinning as hard as we were.

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I’ve got no doubt that driving this car quickly would take equally high levels of confidence, skill and concentration. Prod too eagerly at the throttle and at best you’ll be seeking a specialist in fibreglass repair. It’s not a total savage though, and Phil insists that you’ve got to be asking for it to really get in trouble

As the car is backed up onto Phil’s steep driveway its clutch is lifted without any throttle and the revs now dip to somewhere very low down, almost like a big V-twin motorcycle at idle, you can practically hear each cylinder fire – still, there’s no shaking, no rattling, it doesn’t feel even close to stalling.

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5 litres, 320hp/320lb/ft

Being a TVR, you don’t exit in a normal way either, actually I had no idea how to get out.. turns out the Griff’s door releases via a lever at the lower half of the dash.

I thought this car was all about the figures and outright pace, but I was wrong. Having been in the Griffith I noticed for myself just how great a mile-muncher this car is. It’s no surprise that the mileage has increased significantly during Phil’s ownership. Still, it’s a meticulously maintained, low-mileage example of what has to be one of the greatest British sports car of all time.


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  1. These Griffs are just awesome and timeless, I had the PLEASURE of following this car through Northern Spain and France along with another 500SE. It certainly brought some of the towns and villages to a halt. The tunnel through the Pyrenees was a symphony! Great article.

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