In the 1990’s, the car to beat was the legendary, record setting, 620 bhp BMW powered Mclaren F1. The F1 destroyed all conventions and ideas of super car design and more importantly – performance. It shoved the Jaguar XJ220 off the top position as the fastest production car in the world, and not gently either, obliterating the XJ220’s 1992 record speed of 217.1 mph when it hit 240.1 mph in 1998. No production car could come close to beating the F1 for another 7 years, and it would take Koenigsegg and their 806 bhp CCR to beat the F1 in 2005 by only 1 mph, reaching 241.01 mph. It even competed in and won the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans in a slightly modified form against purpose built race cars, despite never being designed with racing in mind.
The 90’s car world stood in awe of the F1, covering boy’s bedroom walls and car magazine covers, leaving the rest of the industry shivering in the huge shadow of Mclaren’s magnificent creation. Amidst this however, the bonkers engineers at the small British sports car firm TVR simply cracked their knuckles, and saw this as a challenge. TVR wanted to design and construct a car that could both compete in GT racing, and be an ultra-high performance road car, faster than anything before it.
TVR – then under ownership of well-liked business magnate and experienced driver Peter Wheeler, were no strangers to extreme looking, light and powerful vehicles, so they set about achieving this momentous task. Peter’s engineers unveiled their prototype, designated Project 7/12, at the 1996 Birmingham Motor Show. It drew massive crowds, reportedly more than any other vehicle that year. What they presented was the GT racing variant, and was as insane as anything TVR had produced before.
It weighed a mere 1000kgs, but under the hood sat a colossal 7.7 litre V12 engine; the ‘Speed Twelve’. It was naturally aspirated and had a double overhead cam system with four valves per cylinder. To comply with GT1 racing regulations, intake restrictors were installed to reduce horsepower to around 650bhp. Only two Speed Twelve engines were built, so not much information is known on their assembly. Allegedly, it was two TVR ‘Speed Six’ straight six engines joined together to share a single crankshaft. However the Speed Twelve engine block was made of steel, while the Speed Six block used aluminium, which brings the validity of these claims into question. After this unveiling, TVR went away to continue their work.
1998 came around and by this point the project was officially given the name the TVR Speed 12 and was ready to race. TVR managed to get the Speed 12 into a few GT1 races, but unfortunately due to strict regulation changes, and the cancellation of certain GT1 championships, the Speed 12 could no longer compete. With this, TVR directed its efforts to complete the road version of the Speed 12.
In 2000, four years after unveiling the Project 7/12 at the Birmingham Motor Show, TVR had finally finished their world beating car; the Cebera Speed 12. Another racing variant was ready too, this time for GT2 races. The road going vehicle was open to orders, and many deposits were placed.
It weighed the same as the previous GT1 version, with the same 7.7 litre Speed Twelve engine. However, because this road legal car no longer had to comply with competition regulations, the horsepower restrictions were removed, unleashing the full power of this purpose built 12 cylinder monstrosity.
The reason the Cerbera would go down in history as a legend of British car design is because of the power this unrestricted engine produced; or rather the lack of an ability to test it. Peter Wheeler had shared in an interview that when the design team attempted to test this engine’s power on a dynamometer, it snapped the input shaft. The dynamometer was rated up to 1000hp. This staggering display of raw power forced the team to get creative.
To estimate the engine’s power, they had to measure each bank of six cylinders individually, which measured at around 480 bhp per bank. This allowed for a rough estimate of the entire engine producing around 950bhp. Naturally without any solid numbers this varies depending on which source you are reading, but it’s generally agreed to be between 800-1000bhp.
This insane level of power was unprecedented at the time. It’s estimated that the Cerbera could have had a 0-62mph in three seconds or less, and a top speed of over 240mph, faster than the famed Mclaren F1.
There was a problem however, all of this power was crammed into a vehicle weighing 1000kgs, without ABS, Traction Control or Stability Control. Without any assistance from the vehicle’s on board computer to help the driver with this level of power, even a seasoned driver would struggle to tame this beast.
The story goes that Wheeler took one of the finished examples home for the night, and even though he was an experienced driver of vehicles with high horsepower, he declared that the car was simply too powerful. He feared anyone less than an expert wouldn’t be able to safely drive the car on public roads.
And with that, TVR cancelled plans to produce the Cerbera Speed 12, and returned all deposits back to customers. The remaining prototypes were broken up and used for spares to supply the still-going racing variants. That wasn’t the last of the Cerbera though. In 2003, TVR planned to construct one last vehicle from the components of dissembled prototypes to sell to an enthusiast. This one-off Cebera would actually have the carbon fibre body shell of the GT race version, making it lighter than the planned road car. The enthusiast had to be hand picked by Peter Wheeler himself, requiring him interviewing and making sure the buyer was suitable. A buyer was found, and so TVR built one last Cerbera Speed 12, registered W112 BHG.
It’s interesting to think that if the Cerbera was produced and properly pushed to its limits it most likely would have claimed the production car speed record, and at a speed greater than that of the Koenigsegg CCR. This means it would have required Bugatti and their 1000bhp Veyron to take on the Cerbera.
So, while TVR’s plan to take the fight to the Mclaren F1 as the worlds premier high performance car didn’t work out as envisaged, with the extreme power and performance estimates, it’s clear to see the Cerbera Speed 12 could have gone toe-to-toe with the mighty F1. It’s a battle we unfortunately never got to see, but it’s only fitting that a firm as insane as TVR could produce a vehicle that almost no driver on the planet could tame.