Historic Car Brands
TVR was a British manufacturer of high-end sports cars. The company manufactured lightweight sports cars with powerful engines and was, at one time, the third-largest specialised sports car manufacturer in the world, offering a diverse range of coupés and convertibles.
‘TVR’ is a contraction the name of the company’s founder, Trevor Wilkinson, whose first garage sported the letters T, V and R.
In 1949, TVR built its first chassis. The Hotchkis-style rear suspension used a live axle from a Morris Eight and the front suspension was by independent trailing-arms. The engine was a Ford 1.2-litre, side-valve four from a 1936 van, tuned to produce around 35hp.
TVR Number Two was similar, but the front suspension design had wishbone control arms and a transverse leaf spring.
TVR No2 – Lakeland Motor Museum UK
After the sale of the Number Two car, TVR began work on Number Three that was powered by a 1.2-litre, 40hp, OHV four, from an Austin A40. It was driven by Wilkinson in a number of car club events in 1952 and 1953 and proved fast enough to earn several awards.
In 1953 a new chassis was developed around a fibreglass RGS Atalanta body. It was offered as a DIY kit that was called the ‘TVR Sports Saloon’ and weighed only 635kg.
In 1955, TVR started development of new semi-space-frame chassis, with a central backbone. Volkswagen Beetle trailing arm suspension was used front and rear, setting the precedent of all-independent suspension for TVRs in the future.
The first TVR chassis fitted with a Coventry Climax FWA engine was completed in 1956, for American racing driver, Ray Saidel, who christened it ‘Jomar’. Even before receiving his first chassis in June, 1956, Saidel had placed orders for two more chassis.
1957 TVR Jomar Notchback
Around this time, Bernard Williams was hired as the director of TVR engineering and he introduced a wealthy investor, Fred Thomas, who joined TVR as a director.
In mid-1956 came the first original TVR body style, fitted on the Jomar-style chassis. To address feedback from customers about this ‘Open Sports’ body lacking daily-use practicality, TVR created a fixed-head notchback coupe body. As with previous models, it was offered with the choice of several engines, including the Ford 100E side-valve (with or without supercharger), Coventry Climax FWA and the 1.5-litre MGA engine.
In 1958, the TVR Coupe made its first public appearance in Manchester and Ray Saidel imported one Open Sports and three Coupes, with the intention of selling them under the Jomar name. He suggested that the next model be styled as a fastback.
The next model produced by TVR was the Grantura Mark 1, which had a fastback-style body. However, TVR couldn’t meet local and US demand and Ray Saidel walked away from the project.
Engineer John Thurner left his position at Rolls-Royce and joined TVR in November 1959 and was named technical director: that irked Trevor Wilkinson.
By mid-1960, the factory employed forty-three workers, the Grantura Mk1 production was ending after a total of 100 cars had been produced and the Mk2 body shell design was nearly ready.
1961 TVR Grantura Mark IIA – Mr Choppers
Then, the Aitchison-Hopton company bought a controlling share of TVR. Before the end of the year, Hopton had appointed himself as chairman and renamed Layton Sport Cars to TVR Cars Ltd.
In January 1962, the company conducted an ill-fated race outing at Sebring and that was the last straw for Trevor Wilkinson, whose resignation was accepted by the board of directors in April 1962.
Despite of the lack of success at Sebring, the company continued to enter international motor racing events, with some success.
By late 1962, the company was in dire financial trouble after some UK distributors and the US distributor fell over. TVR Cars Ltd. moved into receivership, but several cars were completed in late 1963 and early in 1964.
1963 Peter Owen Racing TVR Mk3 – R J Colmar
Some TVRs found their way to Australia in the early 1960s, courtesy of Peter Owen Tyres in the Sydney’s suburb, Brookvale. Pedro raced an MG-powered Mk3, but it really showed its worth when he sat Kevin Bartlett in the tiny cockpit. ‘KB’ went onto greater things.
In the meantime, a US dealer, Andrew Jackson “Jack” Griffith, had slotted a 4.7-litre, 289 Ford V8 into a Grantura Mk3 chassis. That led to development of what became the TVR Griffith that was a blend of Mk3 cars without engines ex-UK that were powered in the USA.
TVR Griffith 400 – Tony Harrison
However, reliability problems and customer complaints began to mount through 1964. In 1964, a dock strike in the US severely damaged Jack Griffith’s ability to import cars. Griffith was then unable to meet his financial obligation to Ford, which stopped supplying drivetrain components. Ties with TVR were also then severed and the already-struggling TVR was no longer able to continue.
In September 1964, TVR went into liquidation again, but had managed to produce four prototypes of a V8-powered car named the Trident. It had a hand-built body of aluminium and steel by Carrozzeria Fissore in Savigliano, Italy.
1967 TVR Trident Roadster – Brian Snelson
In late 1965, Arthur Lilley and his son Martin Lilley purchased the assets of TVR and the factory began to ramp up production of the Mk3 1800S.
In America, Gerry Sagerman lamented the damage done to the TVR reputation in the US by the poor build quality and poor reliability of Jack Griffith’s V8-powered cars. After meeting the Lilleys, Sagerman agreed to be involved in importing TVRs to the US. In April 1967, he opened a small showroom and garage in Lynbrook, Long Island, and began importing TVRs.
In January 1967, after production of the Griffith had been discontinued, TVR unveiled the Tuscan V8 that was built in low volume. However, the fibreglass-bodied TVR Vixen Series 1 was unveiled at the British International Motor Show in October 1967 and generated many orders.
TVR Vixen S3 – Brian Snelson
Between 1969 and 1971, TVR released several new models. The Tuscan V6, equipped with the 3.0-litre Ford Essex V6, was intended to fill the performance gap between the four-cylinder Vixens and the V8 models. A new 2500 model was fitted with the Triumph 2.5-litre, in-line-six engine. Another new model, the TVR 1300, used the 1.3-litre Standard SC engine from the Triumph Spitfire.
TVR achieved some notoriety and worthwhile brand attention by having nude models on its British International Motor Show stands in 1970 and 1971.
1981 TVR Tasmin 280i – Mick
The TVR Vixen-based cars were replaced by the 2500M, 3000M, 1600M, Taimar and 3000S models, as well as turbocharged variants of the V6 cars and were built for various spans of time between 1972 and 1980.
This period also saw significant improvements in both efficiency and quality, and exports were strong, with sixty-percent of TVR’s production going to continental Europe and the United States.
After the TVR Tasmin was released in 1980, sales were very lack-lustre, because of the car’s controversial styling and comparatively high price. The car’s disappointing sales coincided with the early 1980s’ recession in the UK and the result was that TVR was again on the brink of financial collapse. In December 1981, Martin Lilley transferred control of the company to wealthy businessman and TVR customer Peter Wheeler.
TVR Chimaera – Etimbo
In the 1980s, under the ownership of Peter Wheeler, a chemical engineer and TVR enthusiast, the company adopted the Rover V8. Then, in the 1990s, TVR developed an in-house engine design. The AJP8 lightweight-alloy V8 was available in the Cerbera and the Tuscan race car.
With the TVR S Series, Wheeler re-introduced traditional design elements from the M-series. This success was followed by new and bold body designs including the Chimaera, Griffith, Cerbera, Tuscan, Tamora, T350, Typhon and Sagaris.
The Three Typhons – Tim Morris
Wheeler subsequently directed the design of a straight-six derivative of the AJP8 that was cheaper to produce and maintain. This TVR Speed Six engine powered all the late model TVRs.
In July 2004, Nikolay Smolensky bought the company from Wheeler. Despite his Russian nationality, Smolensky said he intended TVR to remain a British company. However, what followed was complete chaos and production quietly fizzled out.
Subsequent attempts to revive the TVR brand have failed so far.
2001 TVR Tuscan T400R 4.0 – Vauxford