With news of TVR’s return, we take a look back through the history of the Great British muscle cars
Ask any petrolhead what TVR means to them, and you will likely hear a similar answer: Lightweight fibreglass sportscars, big engines, and value for money performance unmatched by any mainstream offering. Built in Blackpool from 1949 right through to bankruptcy in 2006, TVRs were very good at utilising components from other companies in clever ways. Of course TVRs had their share of build quality and reliability issues, but they were fun, and most importantly affordable.
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The new owner of TVR, Les Edgar recently made a promising announcement confirming that production of a new model is once again on the cards, with an all-new car designed in conjunction with Father of the McLaren F1 Gordon Murray, and legendary engine builder Cosworth.
With this news, we thought it was about time to re-visit the history of the company’s cars from start to finish, as a reminder of why we love TVR.
TVR Grantura: where it all started
Although Trevor Wilkinson had been building various bits and bobs since he set up shop in 1949, the Grantura was really where it all started for TVR as we know it today. It evolved from the various un-named Rochdale-bodied specials that Wilkinson had been producing. Launched as the Mark 1 in 1958, it was given the name in ’59, although Wilkinson had long since left TVR due to no longer being in full control.
A wide selection of engines were offered from the factory, with the budget Ford side-valve to the lively Coventry-Climax FWE engine powering the lightweight coupe. Most, however, were fitted with the 1800 MGB engine. Early cars featured an extremely stiff Volkswagen derived parallel trailing link suspension set-up, but cars after 1962 got a new John Thurner-designed wishbone and coil spring set-up. Later cars also saw the introduction of the Manx rear end – featuring Mk1 Ford Cortina rear lights.
Griffith, Tuscan and Vixen: TVR raises the power stakes
TVR had made great strides in the US market, selling a number of cars though the New York-based importer Jack Griffith. The mechanics in the workshop were, as a joke, trying to fit an AC Cobra engine into a TVR Grantura, but the idea struck a chord with Griffith, who later fitted a 427ci Ford V8 engine into a Grantura Mk3. The prototype was a seriously flawed one, but with the backing of American distributor Dick Monnich, it was returned to Blackpool where the TVR Griffith was re-engineered and put into production. Although extremely fast, the Griffiths were plagued with issues.
TVR launched two new models in 1967 under the guidance of new owner Martin Lilley. It didn’t look a whole lot different, but the four-cylinder Ford-engined Vixen was a whole lot better resolved than the car it replaced, and the lighter and more playful engine (thanks to some tuning) improved the car’s handling balance. The S2 model brought in a slightly longer chassis and Mk2 Cortina rear lights.
While the Vixen was the big seller, it was the V8-engined Tuscan that really grabbed the headlines. It effectively replaced the Griffith in 1967, and addressed many of the issues with the original car. Wide-bodied V8 SE model later formed the basis for the 1971 M-Series cars. From 1968, the Tuscan V6 also received the Ford Capri’s 3.0-litre engine, which was also a big seller.
M-Series TVRs: Martin Lilley makes his mark
Lilley wanted to move TVR away from its kit car roots, and with the introduction of the M-series cars in 1972 it was one step closer to his ambition. The M-Series ushered in a heavily revised version of the Vixen’s chassis, with a lot of lessons learned from the V8. The Triumph-powered 2500M came first, and from 1973 the cars in kit form were no longer offered. Thanks to the energy crisis in the mid-1970s, the Capri-engined 1600M was quite a success, but as the economy recovered, so too did the market for thirsty performance cars. The Triumph-engined 2500M made way for the Ford V6 of the 3000M, ahead of the introduction of the Taimar.
Taimar: TVR finally gets a tailgate
There are three major things to talk about when it comes to the Taimar: the company finally relented, adding an opening tailgate to the ageing design, Broadspeed turbo models revived the genuinely fast TVR, while a new convertible model boosted sales massively.
Tasmin & Wedges: A brave new world
Cutting all ties with the old kit car images of the Taimar, TVR commissioned Oliver Winterbottom of Lotus design fame, to come up with a new car. After a design was proposed in 1977, the new Tasmin was launched in 1980. The chassis was a subtly modified version of the Taimar’s, while the engine was a 2.8-litre fuel injected Ford Granada unit. The coupe was joined by the convertible and Plus Two models in short time.
The problem with the wedge was that its straight-cut looks quickly went out of fashion, putting off long-standing TVR fans, and when sales didn’t meet expectations Peter Wheeler stepped in. Wheeler pushed forward with faster and more hardcore V8-engined models. The introduction of the Rover V8 in the 350i saw the wedge reignite TVR’s fast, fun image, with the further upgrades leading to the most extreme 450 SEAC saw genuine performance become key to the brand.
TVR S: A return to traditional looks
Take one look at the TVR S-Series, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the wedge had never existed. As TVR had taken a lot of flack over the death of the likeable 3000S convertible, Wheeler decided to re-introduce a more affordable and traditional-looking roadster, in the form of the 1986 S-Series. Based on a significantly re-worked 3000s body and chassis, it was powered by a 2.8, and later 2.9-litre Ford V6. The roadster was an instant hit, with V8 models later making an appearance.
Griffith, Chimaera and Cerbera: The glory years
First shown at the 1990 Birmingham motor show, TVR knew it had a hit on its hands with the Griffith. Despite being over a year away from production, the company took over 350 orders for the beautiful machine. It wasn’t particularly revolutionary, combining a new tubular steel chassis with a glassfibre body and a tuned Rover V8 engine, but it did everything a TVR was supposed to do.
The TVR Chimaera was designed to be a slightly more luxurious proposition, and while it was slightly bigger and softer, the underpinnings are almost exactly the same. Rover V8 engines were also shared.
The Griffith and Chimaera might have been powered by the versatile Rover V8, but Wheeler knew that he wanted something future-proof. With Rover now under the control of BMW, he wanted to find a suitable replacement, and in the end commissioned race engineer Al Melling to design two new engines to power the all-new Cerbera. Although the V8 went out with the Cerbera in 2004, the Speed Six continued right up to the end of TVR.
Tuscan Speed Six, T350 and Tamora: Turning tides
Launched in 2000, the Tuscan Speed Six made the most of the new 3.6-litre AJP6 engine. Although it wasn’t a full convertible, there was a removable targa panel for those sunny days. It was designed to take the fight to some more serious rivals, and while wasn’t a direct replacement for any particular model, it would fill the GT void left by the Cerbera in 2003.
After ten years, the Griffith also needed a replacement, so TVR came up with the compact T350 and Tamora. Utilising the same basic TVR Speed Six engine as the Tuscan and Cerbera, they both provided devastating performance to shame most rivals. The super high-tech interiors contrasted starkly with the car’s continued lack of electronic aids such as ABS or traction control. While this was a huge selling point for some it actually became a bit of a turn-off for more mainstream buyers.
Despite all of TVR’s great achievements, there was no getting around the fact they were struggling to sell enough cars. Reliability issues were also rife, leaving Peter Wheeler no option but to sell TVR to Russian Nikolai Smolenski for around £15m.
Sagaris: The end of an era
It’s fair to say the company had been left significantly weakened by ongoing reliability problems, but new owner Nikolai Smolenski was determined to turn things around. The TVR Sagaris was one of the wildest creations to ever leave Bristol Avenue, but also the best resolved. Serious money had been spent on developing the car’s reliability, usability and finish.
Its wild looks certainly give it presence, while an upgraded 4.0-litre Speed Six engine pumps out an official 406bhp – quite enough when its only pushing an 1100kg sports car. Despite the improvements, it wasn’t enough to keep TVR running, and the factory was shut down in 2006.
We’ve know that a comeback might be on the cards for a little while now, but recently new company owner Les Edgar announced that TVR is indeed working on a new project, along with Gordon Murray and Cosworth. It sounds like a promising combination.
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Words: Matthew Hayward // Images: Octane Magazine