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TVR Set For A(nother) Return? Photo:
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Peter Anderson | Jun, 06 2013 | 1 Comment

Greek philosophy tells of the phoenix, the great bird that rose from the ashes.

The ancient Greeks didn't have anything to say about a bird that keeps doing it, but if it did, the letters T, V and R probably form its name in some way.

(It may be called Trevor.)

Like all British sports car manufacturers, it's hard to keep a good brand down. TVR sunk into oblivion after being bought by youthful Russian businessman Nikolai Smolensky, whose wild ambition for new products was beaten only by ex-Lotus boss Dany Bahar.

The last time Smolensky said anything about the shuttered car company was that he would be using the nameplate on, of all things, portable wind turbines.

Anyone who has followed Smolensky's ownership of TVR won't be surprised to know that this never materialised. There have been stirrings, however, from the beast.

Up until a few weeks ago, the TVR website displayed this fairly uncompromising message:

"We support all owners of TVR sports cars by ensuring supply of spares and the development of alternative drive trains. Nevertheless at the moment we do not manufacture new cars. Any such claims in various media are fake."

But in recent days, this changed to "Never say never."

At worst, this could be TVR's pitch for a new Bond film (or to supply bellowing V8 fibreglass cars to the production company), but it has certainly got the TVR fans excited. Smolensky, naturally, has said nothing.

Let's talk history.

TVR was formed by Trevor Wilkinson, who left school in 1943 at age 14 to start an engineering apprenticeship. In 1946 he bought a wheelwright's workshop and started Trevcar Motors.

A year later, a partner in the form of Jack Pickard joined the company and Wilkinson removed the vowels from his name to form TVR Engineering.

The first car, the TVR One, was built, crashed, rebuilt then sold for £325 before being written off by the owner, Wilkinson's cousin.

TVR Two and Three followed and by 1953, the pair were improving their designs and by 1955 development began on a new spaceframe chassis.

The cars were raced (and crashed) by gentleman racers, gaining cult status in around the town of Blackpool in north western England. By 1960, the factory had 43 workers and had built 100 Grantura cars.

The company's first collapse came in 1965 after a few ropey years which included the first Ford V8-powered Griffith rolling off the production line.

TVR was rescued by Martin Lilley and the company continued churning out models with Ford engines and aluminium bodies.

The most famous owner was Peter Wheeler, who purchased the company in the early 80s. Wheeler was an enthusiast who took the company back to V8s.

The Griffith, powered by the Rover V8 (a distant relative of the Holden V6), returned the company to its wild roots.

Worker Ben Samuelson described Wheeler after his death in 2009 this way:

"They were exciting, challenging and fantastic times. You never got bored - you didn’t know what was going to happen next!"

"There were no committee meetings, he wasn’t a touchy-feely person, there were no group yoga sessions or anything; he was a proper boss."

Under his leadership, plastic-bodied classics such as the Chimaera (famously partly-styled by Ned the dog), Cerbera, Tuscan and Sagaris were produced, with wild styling and wayward, tail-happy handling.

TVR built its own range of V8 and straight-six engines, known as AJP. They were high-revving screamers that continued on into Smolensky's ownership, replacing the Ford sixes from Lilley's reign and the Rover V8.

Nikolai Smolensky purchased TVR from Wheeler in 2004 for what was believed to be £15 million, vowing to keep the company British. By 2006 production had quartered to around three cars per week and 300 workers were laid off.

Smolensky announced the factory would move first to a new Blackpool factory, and then to Turin, and then... well, nowhere.

Despite several half-hearted attempts to keep the manufacturer going, the company slid into ignominy in 2012 with the wind turbine announcement.

TVRs are the sort of cars you'd probably like to own but never would - their unreliability and sometimes terrifying performance put many people off. But for hardcore enthusiasts and trackday fans, TVR is where it begins and ends.

They will be the people hoping "Never say never" is more than vapour…

Filed under News history enthusiast tvr
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