1947 – 1962: The Early Years
TVR Engineering was formed in 1947 by Trevor Wilkinson in Blackpool. That year he rebodied his old Alvis Firebird. The first true TVR was built in 1949. The second car was built in 1950 and the third in 1951. These first cars were all aluminium bodied open sportscars and were considered specials using the drivelines from production cars, tuned and installed in a lightweight TVR chassis with minimal bodywork to maximize the agility and power-to-weight ratio. In 1953 production started on a new chassis, which carried a variety of glassfibre bodies and used many different engines. Around 20 of these cars were built. In 1955 Trevor designed the first backbone type chassis used in all production TVRs to this day. Ray Saidel asked TVR to supply unbodied cars with Coventry Climax engines for the American market. These cars were sold as Jomars. This led to further development of the chassis as TVR geared up for true production. Unfortunately this was a false dawn despite around 200 orders being received from the USA. The number actually produced is not clear but it was not large. Series production finally got underway in 1958 with the TVR Mk 1. This later became known as the Grantura Mk 1 and set the mould for many years with its long nose and wraparound rear window. At this time TVR was lurching from one financial crisis to another and Wilkinson was being gradually edged out of control. In 1960 the Grantura Mk II appeared with some body and chassis changes. John Thurner designed the chassis, which in a few variants served TVR for many years. In 1961 the Mk IIa was introduced with front disc brakes as standard and one was road tested by The Motor magazine. In 1962 the prototype Grantura Mk III is built using the Thurner chassis. Trevor Wilkinson resigned and a works team took part in the Le Mans 24-hour race with a spectacular lack of success.
1962 – 1965: The V8s Arrive
At some point in 1962, legend has it; an AC Cobra and a TVR Grantura were in Jack Griffith’s New York workshops. The mechanics, naturally, decided to see if the Cobra’s V8 would fit in the Grantura. It did. Well it almost did. Griffith decided to do a proper conversion on a MK III and found it to be a very quick car. TVR ended business in 1962 in receivership. In 1963 the line is continued by Grantura Engineering. In 1963 Griffith decides to sell V8 engined TVRs in the US and the Griffith 200 is born. The cars are good for 150mph. In 1964 the body is restyled with a new tail utilizing Ford Cortina ‘ban the bomb’ lights. This new style was used for the MG engined Grantura MK III 1800S and the Griffith 400. At this time around 90% of production was going to the USA. The first attempt to move away from the traditional TVR body was begun when Trevor Fiore designed the Trident. In 1965 the Griffith finally makes it to the UK market, the Trident was shown at Geneva to great acclaim and Jack Griffith ended his association with Grantura Engineering. The company was again having money problems and sliding toward bankruptcy.
1965 – 1982: The Lilley Years
Arthur and Martin Lilley bought the company and TVR Engineering was back in business. One story is that Martin’s Griffith was at the factory when the company went under and he wanted it back! At some point during the changes, bits of the Trident project left TVR and soon reappeared on an Austin Healy chassis built by Bill Last’s Trident Car Company. Under the circumstances the Lilleys thought it unwise to pursue the issue and concentrated on turning what was left into a going concern. Some cars were assembled using remaining parts. Some cars were even exported to the US, this time imported by Gerry Sagerman. In 1966 the MK IV 1800S is introduced with numerous improvements. Trevor Fiore is once again called upon; this time to help design the Imp based Tina. 1967 saw the introduction of the new V8, this time under the Tuscan name. Later this year the wheelbase was lengthened to 7′ 6″, the doors were enlarged and a number of other changes to the body were introduced including MKII Cortina rear lights. The Tina generated much interest but failed to make it into production. By the end of 1967 the (mostly) Ford Kent powered Vixen S1 was in production and sales were at last on the increase. In 1968 the ‘wide body’ Tuscan V8 arrived, a precursor to future styling changes. By the end of the year the Vixen S2 is in production with the longer chassis and new style body. The Lilley revolution was underway. The company even made a small profit! 1969 saw the first of many 6-cylinder cars with the new Tuscan V6. Powered by the Ford Essex 3 litre, the car made many friends in the motoring press. Vixen sales meanwhile were getting better all the time. 1970 saw TVR move to new premises at Bristol Avenue. Late in the year the Vixen S3 saw some detail changes and the 2500 was announced. TVR needed a power plant which would meet US emissions laws for the foreseeable future and the straight 6 Triumph TR6 unit was adopted. 1971 started with the first 2500s. During the year the new M series was being developed and at the end of the year the last Tuscan was delivered. 1972 was a major transition period. The last of the 2500s and the Vixen S4 were built on the M series chassis but with the old style body. (M is for Martin incidentally) The original M series consisted of three models, the Triumph engined 2500M for the American market and the Ford powered 1600M and 3000M mainly for domestic consumption. The 1600M was dropped in 1973 and in 1974 sales passed the 400 mark. Three days into 1975 disaster struck, a fire gutted a large part of the factory and destroyed a number of cars. TVRs existence was once again in doubt but with enormous effort from loyal staff and assistance from TVR North America the company clawed its way back to health. The first post fire car was built around April but it took the whole year to get production back to normal. The awesome 3000M turbo raised the engine power from 138bhp to 230bhp and took performance into the supercar league. The turbo installation had been developed by Broadspeed for the Ford Capri but the project died. The 1600M was reintroduced. In 1976 the Taimar finally added a hatchback to the range, otherwise identical to the 3000M it was also available as a turbo. 1977 saw the 2500M replaced by a detoxed version of the 3000M. In 1978 the TVR Convertible is the first open car since 1958 and immediately becomes the best seller. Again it is based on the 3000M and available as a turbo. Somehow it became known as the 3000S. In the background TVR were working with ex Lotus designer Oliver Winterbottom on a completely new car. In 1979 as the last M series cars were being produced the factory was gearing up for the car which finally broke the continuous evolution from the MK I. The first production Tasmin was started in November. The range was introduced with a choice of 2 litre, 4 cylinder Ford ‘Pinto’ (Tasmin 200) or 2.8 litre V6 ‘Cologne’ (Tasmin 280) engines and convertible or hardtop bodies. The soft top was built first to familiarize the factory staff with the new cars before the coupe production was started. In 1981 the +2 was added to the range but sales were not going well and after nearly 15 years of relative prosperity TVR was again on shaky ground financially. TVR made use of proprietary engines, like many low-volume manufacturers, to power its cars for many years. However, there were those who felt that this somehow diminished the cachet of the Great British sports cars from Blackpool, despite the fact that the engines, by the late ’80s, were very heavily modified to TVR’s own unique, high-power specifications.
1982 – present: Peter Wheeler Invents The Modern TVR
Sales started picking up and Tasmin production continued. A few turbo cars were built and shown but thoughts were turning to a new engine. The 2 litre cars were not selling and the decision was made to move up to the ex Buick 3.5 litre Rover V8. In 1983 the 350i was introduced and the Tasmin 280 became the 280i. 1984 was the year the Tasmin 200 expired and TVR started increasing the size and potency of the Rover powerplant. The 390SE was the start of a push toward higher and higher performance; indeed a few escaped the factory with 4.2 litre engines! The birth of the TVR V8 engine, which in 1995 became the world’s first racing engine to be de-tuned and installed in a road car: the TVR Cerbera gave a rude awakening for the supercar establishment. “0-100mph in nine seconds dead,” screamed Autocar magazine’s front cover. But the Speed Eight (aka AJP8) was only the beginning. In 1997, a Griffith Speed Six concept car was unveiled at the Earls Court Motor Show. It showcased the TVR Speed Six engine, a very modern take on the quintessentially British, growling straight-six. The Speed Six engine, like the Speed Eight, first appeared in the Cerbera. But the Speed Six is renowned as the powerhouse of the jaw-dropping Tuscan Speed Six that starred with John Travolta and Halle Berry in the Hollywood movie Swordfish. The Speed Six is also the power plant of the T400R, with which TVR returned to Les 24 Heures du Mans in France in 2003 and 2004. Both Speed Six-powered T400Rs finished this most grueling of automotive challenges – no mean feat in a class dominated by German and Italian stalwarts.