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Sunday, 30 August 2015

Woah, What If TVR Actually Comes Back?!

Speculative sketch-render of a new TVR
Hey, remember TVR? If you call yourself a reader of this blog (or indeed a car enthusiast) then you ought to, because I wrote about the history of their road cars and forays into motorsport back when they announced that their journey was coming to an end. Founded by one bloke in 1948 and going on to score a 1-2 in the Spa 1000km in 2005 (and outrun LMP2 cars at Le Mans while they were at it), their cars had a reputation for looking outrageous and being wild to drive... not least because you didn't know if you'd reach your destination or not. In a sports car world filled with Italian clichés and sensibly effective German dominance, the Blackpool bruisers brought a strong and distinct flavour to those who fancied something different, something "unplugged." Or perhaps "unhinged." Their cars had a tubular backbone chassis, separate fibreglass body, a manual gearbox connected to a big shouty engine - typically a deeply angry V8 or straight-six - and ergonomics that would baffle Sherlock Holmes, let alone anyone bonkers enough to spend Porsche money on something handmade from a small independent British sports car company that didn't believe in safety devices (not even ABS or airbags).

Their death wasn't surprising - they were rarely in good financial health, if ever - but it was sad, because they never failed to be exciting, and their inimitable character and brutal charm cultivated, well, a cult. Alas, sometimes even devoted fans can't keep a company afloat. They officially closed down in 2012, but really things had ground to a halt by the end of 2006, after which five sorry years of desperate attempts to put together a survival plan ensued.

Fast forward to 2015, and things are very different. The company's remains have been passed on to a new guy, who's brought in other new guys to put together a revival plan that appears from the outside...... to be working!

In the first half of this year, Russian businessman Nikolai Smolensky (who oversaw TVR's floundering decline in the 2000s) sold the company to Les Edgar, an entrepreneur and former games developer based in Surrey who is a TVR fan himself. What is he doing with it? Well, he has everything he'd need to bring back the 2004 range, but the plan is to do something new. How will he go about that, then? He's drafting in some very promising names indeed, for a start. Legendary road and racing car designer Gordon Murray has joined and will use his eponymous design company's unique "iStream" design process to produce cars in a way that's significantly more environmentally and financially efficient than normal means. It involves a large-diameter steel tube frame with recyclable composite panels cleverly bonded directly to it, giving a very strong and safe yet feather-light chassis with excellent interior packaging. This is essentially the same engineering philosophy as before, but through state-of-the-art methods with additional advantages, and has previously been used to produce a genius city car that sadly never got picked up by a car manufacturer.

This all-new chassis will reportedly be powered by an all-new engine made in-house. Well, in-house with the help of legendary road and race car engineering company Cosworth, that is. We know that it will be a naturally aspirated dry-sump V8 and it will be connected to a 6-speed manual gearbox. It's been speculated that it will produce 450-550 horsepower. There is also strong talk that it will weigh less than a Toyota GT86, putting the weight below 1200kg. They're actually targeting 1100kg, a whisker over the Sagaris's mass. Given that the super-advanced McLaren 675LT weighs 1230kg dry, that would be pretty impressive by today's standards. The body will have side-exit exhausts to facilitate a flat floor and unobstructed diffuser for good downforce.


The two images above are Autocar's sketch renders of the sort of thing they're planning. The new cars will have styling by an unnamed British design consultancy and be roughly the same size as the old Sagaris and Tuscan despite sharing zero components with them. There will be two models at first, closely related to each other and each available as either a coupé or a convertible. The style will take inspiration from the Peter Wheeler era (1981-2004) when TVR was at its peak, but will not be retro copies of any particular models despite possibly using old model names. The new company is run and populated primarily by fans and former customers of the brand, but they want to continue the brand's heritage and move it forwards, not shill it to nostalgic people through cynical history-pillaging. So, the opposite plan to the new MINI, then...

Will they be built up north in Blackpool? The new owners want to build it in the best place, which might be the old factory but could very well be a new location. Gordon Murray Design is based in Shalford, Surrey and Cosworth is based in Northampton, so somewhere in southern England would make logistical sense. Wherever it's made, the price is expected to be roughly the same as the old cars, putting them somewhere around £50-70k. That's squarely within range of a Jaguar F-Type, Porsche 911 Carrera, Cayman GT4 or even just a stretch away from an Aston Martin V8 Vantage. There's also the £72,000 Lotus Evora 400 for all your f*cking-fast fibreglass needs. Mind you, none of these plush luxury coupés are TVRs. That hardcore character hasn't been replaced by anyone else in the last few years.

How likely is all this to succeed, though? British car companies threaten comebacks as often as British rock legends, but they almost never materialise. Well, Mr. Edgar's investment group is well-funded, giving it the bite to go with its bark. Factor in Gordon Murray and Cosworth, and there's serious credibility to this effort. As for finding buyers, they recently announced that all 250 cars for 2017 have been spoken for with £5000 deposits (although TVR Car Club members were rewarded for their loyalty with a half-price offer and a financial donation to their club for each paying punter). The slightly bigger allocation for 2018 is also being filled up as you read this.

Oh yes, in just six weeks a car company without a factory or any real dealer network got over 250 orders for a car that won't exist for another two years! How's that for brand enthusiasm?!

I really hope this works. I'm highly intrigued by iStream production, everyone loves Cosworth and Gordon Murray, and the world could always use more lightweight driver-focused British sports cars. Especially wild ones proudly carrying TreVoR Wilkinson's name. The new car will have to have airbags, ABS and traction control (probably with an Off button) as per current regulations, but it has all the other ingredients for a properly exciting machine. The plan is for the initial 250 cars to soon swell to 1000-1500 cars per year, if all goes well. The boss - who seems pretty down-to-earth - has been saying all the right things [read his interview with Pistonheads] and his organisation has the money, support and some experienced, enthusiastic people behind it. It's a better chance at a comeback than most. I wish them all the best.

This isn't their slogan, but it should be!

[If this article has been posted anywhere other than SmallBlogV8, leave a comment on the original site with a link so I can report the fraud who stole it.]

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