Not many marques conjure up such debate and conjecture as TVR. Even Les Edgar, the man who has taken it upon himself to resurrect the stricken sportscar firm and breathe believably profitable life into it, concedes this.
In all fairness, given its potted financial history and polarising product portfolio, who can blame anyone that raises an eyebrow when they come up in conversation? Even the most vehement of fans oft took an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude to the rebirth pre-debut at Revival 2017.
No small task for Les Edgar, then, as he presented his new Gordon Murray-engineered Griffith to the curious and no-doubt cynical crowds. By the reaction and from our experience of the car, its highly esteemed designers and the company that’s grown to birth it, we’d say he could be doing a lot worse. Judgement withheld until we drive it, of course. More on that as and when but for now some whistlestop highs and lows of the TVR story.
Perhaps TVR’s most enduring model? As of the introduction of the new car at the recent 2017 Goodwood Revival, the mythical beast will have seen three outings on the back of a Trevor. The last from the ‘90s being one of the marque's most successful models and the one before being the first real indication that this upstart kit car-come-sportscar firm could actually land a few in a ring with the big-hitters.
It was Jack Griffith who had the bright idea of sticking a 289Ci Ford V8 into the dinky little Grantura and the result – the car that would bear his name – besides keeping the big boys honest at our recent race meetings, would drum up more demand than ever before. Demand, ultimately, that the hodge-podge that was TVR at that point had little hope of satisfying. What they really didn’t need was the American dock strike that strangled State-side deliveries, revenue and eventually, parts supply. Short on payments for their drivetrains, Ford would cut the chord and TVR would tumble. They would of course shortly be resurrected, but the promise of the Griffith wouldn’t be surpassed in the ‘70s when derivatives of the Vixen/Griff/Grantura design would soldier on with Ford V6 power.
The wedges are an iconic era for TVR. An inspired decision, we think, to ditch the quaint old ‘60s curves and go for broke with a ruler. Not that it was much good at the time, as even in the late ‘70s, the Tasmin’s sharp edges weren’t met with high praise either internally or from the public. Ex-Lotus knowhow in the chassis did at least garner results as a driving experience; with journalists of the time praising its handling dynamics. Predictably development and production would be hampered by TVR’s shaky financial standing and complications in fulfilling outstanding stateside orders.
It would take the leadership and cash injection from industrialist Peter Wheeler to get them back on track. The Wedges would see life into the ‘90s and the return of natural aspiration, by which time Wheeler had turned TVR around with a return to curves. Though we’re fans of this brutish era of TVR styling, not many were at the time: A lesson for TVR in knowing what you want to make and what others want you to make, especially given the massive success of the curvaceous S-Series cars that would debut in 1986. Our curious endearment for them perhaps best represents the world's attitude to TVR as a whole and why they've endured, but that's probably another debate...
The curves and the madness
Through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, the game was moving on in terms of reliability, build quality and refinement. Panel gaps were closing up, creature comforts were closing in and emissions and safety were taking centre stage in the minds of consumers. A bespoke beauty held together with glue that might not crank in the morning didn’t quite have the appeal it once did. Impeccably assembled and bombproof German and Japanese machinery began to flood the market offering the performance and the looks with the added benefits of lease hire and top-to-bottom warranties. Overnight quirky TVR became dodgy TVR.
And it’s an utter crying shame because, at the very same time, TVR was on its best game by an order of magnitude. The Griffith 500 was one of the prettiest sportscars on sale at the time and, though controversial looking, defenders of the later Tuscan and Sagaris models are as vehement as their critics. Dynamically they were on form too, with the Speed 6 engine and raw driving experience finding critical acclaim.
Behind all the noise, curves and vents, that shaky reliability and a strong smell of adhesives would always become too pungent to ignore. As Wheeler passed ownership onto Smolensky demand was already dwindling and before long they’d be circling the drain once again. Old niggles had dated a marque that on the face of it was stronger than ever, making them ripe for the crushing – and crush the rivals did. The industry and the market had outgrown this most old school of British sportscar manufacturers and indeed the genre as a whole. Their loss was one of the last of many.
They’re back, though and the long and the short of their claims are as follows: a competitive, well-designed and well-screwed-together product that can be reliably delivered and will hold together mechanically and structurally. Time will tell but lord knows we have high hopes.
Photography by James Lynch, Matt Sills and Richard Pardon