TVR Cerbera Speed 12 Story: The Crazy British Road Car Deemed Too Wild for Production

TVR Cerbera Speed 12 23 photos
Photo: Silvertone Auctions
TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Cerbera Speed 12TVR Project 7/12 ConceptTVR Speed 12 Race Car PrototypeTVR Cerbera Speed 12 PrototypeTVR Cerbera Speed 12 Prototype
Developed during the 1990s to dethrone the McLaren F1 as the world's greatest road-legal supercar, the TVR Cerbera Speed 12 turned out to be an untamable monster.
These days, if you ask an enthusiast to name the greatest British sports car manufacturers of all time, you'll most likely get a list that includes McLaren, Aston Martin, Lotus, Jaguar, or even Austin-Healey.

A surprising number of people will leave out TVR, which is unfair since the company was once the world's third-largest specialized sports car manufacturer.

Founded by Trevor Wilkinson in 1946, TVR started by manufacturing lightweight one-offs, but by the mid-1960s, it grew into one of Britain's most successful sports car brands.

Still around today, TVR has a tumultuous story filled with ups and downs. Arguably its most successful period came during the 1980s and 1990s when it was headed by Peter Wheeler. During those years, the company unleased memorable road cars like the Griffith, Cerbera, or Tuscan and also made a name for itself in motorsport.

That fruitful period's engineering and design efforts culminated in an ambitious project that gave birth to not just the most outrageous TVR road car ever built but also one of the wildest, most fascinating supercars of all time: the Cerbera Speed 12.

From Project 7/12 to Speed 12

TVR Project 7/12 Concept
Photo: TVR Manufacturing Limited
During the first half of the 1990s, the McLaren F1 became the apex predator of the supercar food chain. Designed by the legendary Gordon Murray, it was unanimously considered the best road car ever built. Furthermore, its racing versions dominated virtually every major GT championship that they competed in.

Most of the world's biggest manufacturers set out to build a car that could dethrone the F1, and TVR was no exception. The carmaker kicked off its most ambitious development project under the name 7/12.

Conceived to abide by FIA's GT1 regulations, it was to become a race car that could compete in the upcoming FIA GT Championship (formerly known as the BPR Global GT Series) and the 24 Hours of La Mans, the world's most prestigious endurance race.

The first concept – a static version – made its public debut at the 1996 Birmingham Motor Show, where it became the main attraction. Loosely based on the TVR Cerbera grand tourer, it looked like a futuristic race car that you could drive on public roads.

The TVR team who worked on the project wanted to build the perfect car, but that led to two additional years of development. By the time a competition-spec version was ready in 1998, the GT1 rules had changed dramatically, and the car, now renamed Speed 12, only managed to compete in the British GT Championship. The GT1 class was discontinued altogether for the following season, and suddenly the Speed 12 became obsolete.

Attempting to build the world's most outrageous road-legal supercar

TVR Cerbera Speed 12 Prototype
Photo: TVR Manufacturing Limited
TVR wanted to save years of hard work, so the Speed 12 program motorsport ambitions took a backseat in favor of the development of the world's most outrageous road-legal supercar.

After another year of hard work, the car was finally completed in 2000. Rechristened Cerbera Speed 12, it was built around the same chassis used in the 1998 race cars, and its carbon-Kevlar bodywork also borrowed many features from the GT1 version. One notable omission was the huge rear wing, yet the low-slung, vent-riddled body made it look more like a race car than a standard Cerbera.

The company was confident it had finally conceived a McLaren F1 slayer, revealing that the Speed 12 was faster and more powerful than the BMW V12-powered legend.

A monstrous, naturally-aspirated V12

TVR Cerbera Speed 12
Photo: Silvertone Auctions
Unlike McLaren, TVR didn't source a high-powered engine from another manufacturer for the Cerbera Speed 12 but opted for one developed in-house.

Created in the early days of Project 7/12 and already race-proven, the humongous naturally-aspirated V12 displaced 7.73 liters. It was essentially developed by joining two of the company's Speed Six inline-6 blocks to a common crankshaft and featured redesigned DOHC cylinder heads with bucket valves instead of the rocker arm system used in the Speed Six head. Its most intriguing component was the bespoke block fabricated from steel rather than cast iron or aluminum.

While its output was restricted to 675 hp in competition-spec, the version put together for the road-going Speed 12 was much more powerful. According to Peter Wheeler, the team tried to test the output on a dyno rated at 1,000 hp, but an input shaft was destroyed during the test, and they had to improvise. Engineers had to test each bank of cylinders independently, resulting in a figure of 480 hp per bank and a total output of 960 hp.

With all those ponies under the hood, the 1,000-pound (453.6 kg) Speed 12 was allegedly capable of accelerating to 60 mph (97 kph) from a standstill in 2.9 seconds and could reach a top speed of 240 mph (386 kph). However, these figures were never backed up by independent tests.

Impossible to tame on public roads

TVR Cerbera Speed 12
Photo: Silvertone Auctions
By late-2000, things were looking up for TVR. The company received plenty of orders for its new flagship, and around four prototypes were completed.

One day, Peter Wheeler – who was no stranger to high-powered supercars – took one home. Apparently, the car scared him so bad that he decided to cancel the whole project. He concluded it was way too powerful and impossible to tame on public roads and should only be driven on track by professional race car drivers.

Therefore, the prototypes were disassembled, and their components were used in the company's British GT Championship program, where race versions of the Speed 12 competed in the GT2 class.

However, about two years later, TVR announced that they would rebuild one of the street-legal prototypes and sell it to reel in some much-needed funds. The car was eventually completed and sold to a private buyer handpicked and vetted by Wheeler himself.

These days, the only road-legal TVR Cerbera Speed 12 is up for grabs through Silverstone Auctions. It received several modifications, including the addition of a rear wing and a huge diffuser, while its massive V12 is currently rated at 840 hp. The auction will kick off on May 20, but the starting bid has yet to be made public.

Although it never made it into production, and there were controversies surrounding its power potential and maneuverability, the TVR Cerbera Speed 12 is undeniably one of the wildest road-legal supercars ever created.

If you would like to learn more about this fascinating ride, I recommend watching the YouTube video below by DRIVETRIBE.

If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram
About the author: Vlad Radu
Vlad Radu profile photo

Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories