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About TVR - a brief history

trevorAbout TVR: Past and Present
TVR was founded in 1947 by Trevor Wilkinson (see right) (who gave his name to the make - TreVoR) in Blackpool as Trevcar Motors. He built his first car in 1949 using a multi-tubular chassis, Morris 8 mechanicals and a Ford 100E engine to which he added his own design metal bodyshell. This car sadly no longer exists but its successor, TVR No 2 (see below), does and is owned by a current TVRCC member. For full details of No 2, see our dedicated webpage here.  Soon Trevor realised that the bodyshell would be much more cost-effective it it were made in GRP and in 1953 started fitting RGS Atlanta bodies to his chassis before the first real production TVR with an in-house produced GRP body, the Grantura (see below), appeared in 1958.

TVR Jomar
TVR Grantura Mk 1
TVR Griffith

The years since have seen the company pass through tumultuous times and a variety of different models - Griffith 200 and 400 (see above), Vixen (see above), Tuscan V6 and V8, 2500 and 3000M, Taimar, 3000S, Tasmin/280i, 350i, 390SE, 420 and 450SEAC, 400 and 450SE, S1, S2, S3 and S4, V8S , Griffith, Chimaera, Cerbera, Tuscan, Tamora, Sagaris and T400R/Typhon.

M series
TVR Vixen
TVR M series
TVR 3000S
TVR Tasmin
TVR Griffith
TVR Chimaera
TVR Cerbera
TVR Tuscan
TVR Tamora
TVR Sagaris
TVR T400R/Typhon

Throughout all the changes, Trevor's basic concept of fitting a GRP body to a multi-tubular chassis with front engine and rear wheel drive, with particular attention being paid to power/weight ratios, has produced ever more exciting cars for the enthusiast. The aim is to produce a lightweight car with plenty of power and torque, combined with a front engined rear wheel drive layout to give the maximum pleasure for the enthusiastic driver. The engine is set as far back as possible in the front to give the car a near 50/50 weight distribution. Current models weigh about the same as a small saloon but with 3.5 to 5 times as much power dependent on model.

TVRs are built to order by hand in Blackpool, England with current production figures making TVR probably the largest wholley British motor manufacturer remaining.

Throughout all of TVR’s early history, the company relied on engines from other manufacturers including Coventry Climax, Ford and MG but perhaps the most famous of all these and which was at the heart of most 1980s and early 90s TVRs has been the ubiquitous Buick/Oldsmobile V8 of 1961-1963, more commonly known as the Rover V8. Used in TVRs from the 350i (see below) of 1983, which was the first TVR to be designed under present owner Peter Wheeler’s management and which produced around 190-200bhp, right up to the very last Griffiths and Chimaeras (see below), where in 5 litre form it produced around 340bhp.

TVR 350i
TVR Chimaera

In 1994, however, TVR announced that they would shortly be producing their own in house engine, known as the AJP8, named after the first initials of the three men responsible, engine designer Al Melling, TVR design guru John Ravenscroft and Peter Wheeler himself. This engine, initially of 4.2 litres but later increased to 4.5 was, and still is fitted to the Cerbera range (see below), produces up to 420bhp and 380lbft of torque making the Cerbera one of the world’s fastest 2+2 sports cars.

Cerbera 4.5 V8
Tuscan S
Cerbera with TVR 4.5 V8 AJP

TVR Tuscan S

Speed Six From this engine the team developed the Speed Six (see right) which now powers most production TVRs (the Rover powered Chimaera is still available). In 4 litre form in the Tuscan S (see above) it produces 390 bhp and 310 lbft or torque which gives true supercar performance of 195mph and a 0-100 time of a fraction over 8 seconds.

Whereas you expect a large motor manufacturer to build most of their cars themselves, in reality it is often the other way around with large companies like Ford and Vauxhall using a plethora of sub-contractors to produce parts for them. TVR is the opposite of this. Not only do they use their own engines, but now virtually everything about a TVR is unique and over 85% of it is produced in house. This can keep costs down and build quality up with small volume production which means that no-one else produces a car of this sophistication and performance which even remotely compares to the price for a TVR. This also comes down to craftsmanship where every worker at TVRs Bristol Avenue factory in Bispham, Blackpool is rightly proud of being part of Britain’s most successful sports car manufacturer. But perhaps mostly it stems from the fact that there are no shareholders and therefore they have not had to compromise unlike most of the competition. But back to the history…

Martin and Arthur Lilley


Trevor left TVR in 1962 and over the next three years the company changed hands – and names – several times and even experienced bankruptcy. However, in 1965, in stepped father and son team Arthur and Martin Lilley who bought the Grantura Engineering and renamed it TVR Engineering. It wasn’t quite a classic case of “I liked the product so I bought the company”, but it was close. Martin had spent his spare time while studying automotive engineering at college building and preparing cars for racing, predominantly Lotus. But a friend ran Barnet Motor Company, soon to become the TVR Centre and after some successes with the Lotus and then an E Type which apparently he spectacularly put into the Armco on the final bend while leading a race at Silverstone, Martin ended up buying his first TVR, a Griffith 400. This also suffered damage whilst racing and was returned to Blackpool for repair, just at the time that Grantura Engineering went into liquidation. Martin’s father, Arthur, had just prior to that been left some shares in Grantura so partly to get his son’s car back but also to ensure that he didn’t entirely lose the value of these shares, the pair of them bought the company in November 1965.


For 16 years the Lilleys steered TVR through good times and bad and introduced several new models including the Vixen, the original Tuscan based on the Vixen and M Series. They were also responsible for a number of innovations: the UK’s first production turbo-charged car (3000M Turbo), first application that used the heated rear window filament as a radio aerial and TVR’s first convertible, the 3000S. Perhaps their most famous act though was the introduction of nude models onto the TVR Stand at the 1971 Motor Show. They certainly ensured that TVRs were centre stage! In 1980, they oversaw the introduction of a radical design departure when the angular Tasmin was launched at the Geneva Motor Show which would be the mainstay of company production for the next 8 years. But it also nearly bankrupted TVR for a third time and so in late 1981, along came another man “liked the product so I bought the company”. Taimar Turbo owner Peter Wheeler was a chemical engineer who had made his fortune supplying specialist equipment to the then embryonic North Sea oil industry had his car serviced at the Factory and got to know the team there very well. He bought one of the first Tasmins in 1980 and towards the end of the following year had bought out control from Martin.


71 motor show
Taimar Turbo
‘71 Motor Show
The Turbo – the Lilley’s greatest legacy?


Peter Wheeler
Peter Wheeler 1981

The Wheeler era ran for over 20 years and perhaps saw some of the most innovative development thus far. From the 2.8 litre Tasmin in both fixed head and convertible guise came an entry level 200 using the Ford Pinto 2.0 litre engine. But this didn’t spark the imagination and despite it’s astonishingly low sub-£10K price tag, only 61 examples were sold in three years. The company had also looked to the other extreme and in 1981 had produced two turbo-charged Tasmins, one convertible and one fixed head. The fixed head in particular had a unique body style but given a desire to move into the emerging markets in the Middle East where Ford’s American connection would, it was felt, affect sales, Peter Wheeler took the decision to squeeze the fuel injected V8 from the Rover SDI Vitesse into the Tasmin chassis to produce the Tasmin 350i. This was an instant hit and spawned the later wilder versions of up to 4.5 litres and although there is one 6.6 litre SEAC, produced originally for the Swedish market, its engine is a one off based upon a Chevrolet V8.

The problem with the Tasmin, or “wedge” as it was affectionately known, especially after the Tasmin name was dropped in 1983, was that you either love the shape or you hate it. Attempts to broaden the market with the introduction of a +2 variant did little to really boost sales with just 47 280+2s and six 350+2s being built. The order book was certainly healthy throughout the mid 1980s, but TVR knew that they were missing a huge chunk of the market who harked back to the more round styling of previous TVRs. So at the 1986 Motor Show, Peter offered his customers the new S Series. With looks blatantly stolen from the Lilley’s 3000S, surprisingly the only shared components are door handles. It used the same Ford 2.8 Cologne seen in the Tasmin/280i although this quickly became the 2.9 litre unit in the S2 and S3.




The S sold rapidly and triggered the development of an ES, with a 3.8 litre Holden engine but this did not get beyond the Motor Show prototype. What did was the other project that fello out the S which was the resurrected Tuscan name and which quickly developed from a proposed S Series based road car to the UK’s most exciting one make race series which dominated British motor sport throughout the 90s. There is much more on the history of the Tuscan race series in the Members’ Area.

At the 1989 Motor Show, Peter showed the world the replacement for the wedge, the Speed Eight, which was basically a grown up 400SE with a more curvaceous body but it still had the same basic looks. Again, wedge lovers loved it, the rest didn’t. The following year, the Speed Eight had grown into a proper 2+2 convertible but was shown alongside another prototype project, a funny round looking thing bringing back the name of Griffith. The advanced order book told Peter Wheeler which to proceed with as 32 advanced orders were placed for the Speed Eight but more than ten times that number for the Griff.

With the first customer cars being delivered in early 1992, the Griffith ran for less than a year before being joined by the Chimaera, virtually identical but with slightly softer suspension, a larger boot capable of carrying a set of golf clubs and a different body style and which quickly became TVRs best seller. The Griffith then bowed out to make way for the Griffith 500, basically “more of the same” with a 340bhp, 5.0 litre version of the engine.


Griffith 500
Chimaera 4.0
Griffith 500
Chimaera 4.0


TVR continued to go from strength to strength and it looked as though Peter Wheeler could do no wrong. With a bulging order book (the green Chimaera above was ordered at the Motor Show in October 1993 but not delivered until June 1994), TVRs were the sports car to be seen in throughout the middle of the 1990s. But he had more work to do yet. Peter was keen to attract back those customers who sold their Griffith or Chimaera with the onset of a family and thus announced the Cerbera in 1993. But this car was to undergo radical development including a new engine for the original Show Car had a Rover V8 engine. The production version would have TVRs own, the 4.2 litre AJP. This engine, stretched out to a V12, was the powerplant behind possibly the wildest TVR ever, the Speed 12, which though originally designed fom the outset as a race car, spawned a road going version of which one still exists and was tested by Evo recently who gave it “11½ out of 5”. Furthermore, one bank of the Speed 12 effectively became the Speed Six engine which is now at the heart of every TVR.

In an attempt to search out new export markets, in 1998 TVR opened a new factory in Port Kelang, just outside Kuala Lumpar Malaysia. This factory produced only Chimaeras and whilst there was a burgeoning home market for them in Malaysia, most of their production went overseas to Australia, Japan and |south Africa. Interestingly, some were even alleged to have been shipped back to UK to meet the growing demand in the European market.


Speed 12
Speed 12 racer
The original road going Speed 12
And in race trim at Thruxton


The Griffith replacement emerged with TVR’s third use of the name Tuscan in 1999 with the first customer cars arriving the following year and then in 2001 the Tamora, to replace the Chimaera. These were joined in 2003 with the T350C and T, a fixed head car that has been described as a spiritual successor to the Vixen and Tuscan of the 1960s. All of these cars used the 3.6 litre version of the Speed Six engine. Towards the end of 2003, the T350 had spawned a wilder version with cooling slots, spoilers and the 4.0 litre engine from the Tuscan S and was known as the Sagaris. It was planned that the Sagaris would run alongside and eventually take over from the Tuscan racer in the TVR Tuscan Challenge. The following year subtle changes were announced to the Tuscan which would become the Tuscan 2 and an all new version would be produced, the Tuscan 2 convertible.


Tuscan 2 Convertible


Almost running in parallel to the development of the road cars was the competition department which having cut its teeth on the Tuscan racer and then the Speed 12 through the 90s, looked towards Le Mans. First off was the Tuscan R which appeared at the 2000 Motor Show and although it was shown as a road car that you could take racing, it quickly became an out and out race car and was first seen on the track in 2001 before being renamed the T400R (and occasionally T440R). Development continued the following year until in June 2003, two De Walt liveried T400Rs rolled across the start line for the first time that TVR had been there for 41 years. Sadly, as the history books show, neither car finished but they were back 12 months later in the hands of Synergy Chamberlain Motorsport and this time, to the purple wearing crowd’s delight, both cars crossed the finishing line after 24 hours.


Nikolai Smolenski
Nikolai Smolenski

Shortly after this, the TVR world heard a surprise announcement. The company had been sold. The new owner was a young Russian entrepreneur called Nikolai Smolenski and he set about building upon the sterling work that his predecessor had achieved in the past 22 years. With major inroads being made into product development and quality control, the new cars that emerged from Bristol Avenue over the next two years were the best engineered TVRs ever and with a secure financial grounding, the future looked rosy for the company with announcements of a brand new new purpose-built production facility to be constructed at South Shore near to Blackpool airport, together with a move of the company headquarters to a new facility in Lancaster to include a TVR museum.  in July 2006, the announcement was made that that the world renowned engineering company Ricardo had been brought onboard to develop the Speed Six engine to meet Euro 5 (LEVII) compliance which would enable Nikolai to realise his plans to kake TVR a world beater rather than just simply focussing principally on the UK market.


However, for a variety of reasons, sales fell off during 2006 and with it so did the plans for TVR's future.  The company was initially split into a smaller number of companies including TVR Engineering, TVR Cars Distribution Ltd and Blackpool Automotive, the latter comprising the manufacturing division at Bristol Avenue.  The announcement was made on 18 October 2006 that although the company headquarters would remain in Britain, assembly would be outsourced overseas.  Over the next few months, speculation was rife amongst enthusiasts as to where this outsourcing would leave the manufacturing division, ranging from Eastern Europe to South Africa with most people believing that it would be Bertone in Italy. However, to date that has been nothing but

Proposed TVR Typhoon

pure conjecture and no confirmation has been made.  During all of this however they also announced that an all new 600bhp supercar, the Typhoon, would be launched at the 2007 Geneva motorshow as reported exclusively by TVR MD David Oxley in the October 2006 issue of TVR Sprint.

The really bitter blow to TVR enthusiasts came on Friday 22 December 2006 when it was announced that Blackpool Automotive had gone into receivership. There was also speculation at the time that the moulds for Sagaris and Tuscan II had been shipped overseas whlst the intelectual property rights and trademarks had been transferred to one of the other arms of the company.  However, PKF Ltd, the company appointed to act as receivers, dispelled these rumousr when on 2 February 2007, they placed Blackpool Automotive for sale, including the TVR trademark, in a sealed bid auction. Nikolai then bought back the company - and most importantly the intellectual propertiy rights to the name TVR - for a fraction of what he originally paid for it in 2004.

Rumours then continued throughout 2007 and early 2008 of will he won't he start rebuilding cars.  But the exciting news that we had all been waiting for was when these rumours started to come to fruition.  Firstly there were these photos of a barn "just outside Blackpool" published on the discussion forums on this website:


The mystery barn...

Then in June 2008, the Club were approached by David Oxley of TVR and invited to attend an exclusive preview of the new Sagaris 2.  The Club was extremely fortunate to have been invited to this as the only other attendees were Dealer Principals; no other members of the press or representatives from other websites were present.


From an overwhelming number of applicants who wanted to attend this event, some 60 Club members' names were drawn out of a hat and these then met on 10 July 2008 at the new TVR development facility in Wesham near to Blackpool from where they drove in convoy to the Great Hall at Mains where they had the opportunity at first hand to view the new car.

You can download the Club report on this exclusive event which was uploaded to this site live from the preview by clicking here.

New TVR Sagaris
From this – Trevor’s own sketch of TVR 1
To this - Sagaris 2 July 2008

Unfortunately nothing more came from this relaunch and since then only rumours have appeared.

TVR have risen like a phoenix from the ashes before so who knows if it will again.


The knockers will still say that TVRs are unreliable. But we that own them, drive them and love them know better.


Trevor WilkinsonTrevor Wilkinson, RIP.  1923-2008  Founder of TVR

Trevor Wilkinson, the quiet, unassuming man who first built the car that now carries the three main letters from his name, passed away peacefully in a Menorcan hospital on 6 June 2008.  Click here to download the original TVRCC press release covering this sad news.  The Times version is here; the Telegraph version is here.

Alternatively, click here to download the BBC Radio 4 tribute that appeared on The Final Word.






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