For gearheads of a certain age, the Gran Turismo video games were an education in the best sports cars the world had to offer. Among the mouthwatering Japanese domestic market models, American muscle, and European power available was TVR, an obscure (at least in America) and quintessentially British sports car brand that was in the midst of a renaissance when the games debuted in 1997. Just 10 years later, TVR had vanished, leaving behind some of the strangest and most unique sports cars the world has ever known.
But in another strange twist in the TVR story, the company has reemerged after an eight year hiatus under new ownership, and it promises an all-new sports car for 2017, with an additional three models coming over the next decade. While many faltering legends have launched grandiose comeback plans in the past (see Lotus’ failed rebranding attempt in 2010), TVR seems to have some substance behind it. Under new company chairman Les Edgar, the company has partnered with legendary engine builder Cosworth to develop its powertrains, and is working with Gordon Murray – the man behind the McLaren F1 – to design the new models.
Edgar understands the risks involved with rebooting a legendary brand, and seems focused on avoiding the usual pitfalls. Speaking with Auto Express, he said:
“We know that a new TVR has to be better than just good – it has to be outstanding. From the outset we only wanted to work with the best partners in the business, and both Gordon Murray’s and Cosworth’s track records within motor sport and high performance car design and engineering speaks for themselves.”
Outlining the criteria for the new car, the company’s website says that the car must first and foremost be “British in every way” – a task much easier said than done in today’s world.
The British sports car may seem alive and well, but they aren’t exactly as “British” as they seem anymore. Morgan is still making traditional ash-framed sports cars using methods that haven’t changed since the 1930s – but they’re now powered by BMW. Jaguar is owned by Indian Tata Motors, Bentley is a jewel in Volkswagen’s crown, and Aston Martin has signed a deal for Mercedes-AMG to develop its future engines. With a Cosworth-built engine, a Murray designed car, and an all-new factory to be built in Britain (the location hasn’t been announced yet), TVR could be the most truly British sports car builder left on the Isles.
And this is somehow fitting for the company, which has long been considered the embodiment of the British sports car built on a shoestring budget. Founded in 1946 by Trevor Wilkinson, TVR produced its first car in 1949, with aluminum bodywork and an engine from a Ford van. The company switched to fiberglass bodies in the 1950s, and while it only produced about one car a month, TVR’s reputation for building lightweight cars with fantastic handling earned it a reputation to rival Lotus.
It gained worldwide attention in the 1960s with the Griffith 200, a 12-foot long lightweight car with a 289 cubic inch Ford V8 under the hood – Just like a Shelby Cobra. But the good times didn’t last long, as production problems led to serious reliability issues, and by 1967, it had ran out of money to buy engines from Ford. By the 1970s, TVR had found success with its wedge-shaped models, but the build quality of the cars seemed to ebb and flow along with with the company’s finances. Engineer Peter Wheeler bought the company in the ’80s, and began offering the cars with Rover V8s. Under Wheeler’s ownership the company found its greatest success, fielding a number of unique and attractive models that eventually became household names to millions of Gran Turismo-playing gearheads.
Wheeler sold the company to 24-year-old Russian millionaire Nikolai Smolensky in 2004, and despite building the brutally fast Sagaris supercar, it was the beginning of the end. Production halted in December 2006, and Smolensky sold the company to a group of investors led by Edgar in 2013.
Over its 69 year history, TVR has had an incredible knack for surviving against insurmountable odds. With a group of committed investors, rock-solid backing from engineering legends, and a clear business plan, this new TVR has what older iterations never did: a real shot at long-lasting success.
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