The return of TVR

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Andrew Frankel

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I see reports in the press promising that TVRs will be back on sale by 2015. I note the man who now chairs the company cheerfully admits he has no experience at making cars but that he’s in it for the long run.

I hope so. I hope even more he understands why, back in 2006, TVR went to the wall in the first place. By abandoning the key sales territory it had always occupied in a relentless drive upmarket, TVR priced itself out of existence. Any attempt to reintroduce the brand at the same price point at which it departed would seem doomed for the same reason. It’s the same reason that got Noble into trouble and Lotus too. Whatever else you may or may not think about TVRs, it’s hard to see many people spending that kind of money on one when a similar amount will buy a brilliantly engineered, fast, usable and dynamically flawless Porsche. Even a blue-blooded British marque with a name steeped in road and racing history can’t do that, as the glacial sales of the Evora have proven to Lotus.

But trouble lies the other way too. The reason Lotus wanted to make the Evora is that while there was volume (relatively speaking) in a car like the more affordable Elise, there was little profit. Big prices bring big margins – but only big profits if you can sell the car first.

I’d be interested to hear what TVR means to you. Do you regard the cars as lovable, individual, quintessentially British sports cars that provided far more performance and striking looks than anything else similar money might buy? Or when you think TVR do you think of badly built, underdeveloped, unreliable nightmares smelling of oil and glass-fibre resin?

My experience of TVRs is that with some exceptions, the more I drove them, the less I liked them and that the later the car, the less pleasant it was likely to be. But some I really took to: to this day I find myself scanning classifieds looking for a really lovely 4.3-litre pre-catalyst Griffith, not least because I know that they’re old enough for everything that was going to fall off to have fallen off and, hopefully, put back by someone who knows what they’re doing. The fundamentals such as the Rover engine, Borg Warner gearbox and rot-proof plastic body would be fine.

But the moment TVR started putting its own engines in cars they acquired a brutal streak and became blunt instruments that, however impressive they might have been on paper, were rarely that nice to drive.

As for their famed unreliability, I think the perception was worse than the reality, but only a little. Generally a TVR would get you where you needed to go but if for any reason it did not or something went wrong and you dared mention as much in print, you could expect a call from a livid PR man within seconds of it hitting the shelves. Conversations would last up to the point where he’d say TVRs were just as reliable as Porsches where after there seemed little point continuing.

So, what would you do given the rights to the TVR and some working capital to do something with it? I’d leave it right where it is. Some once great car brands just aren’t strong enough to survive a 21st century marketplace and I don’t just mean Saab and Rover. BMW could produce cars under either the once proud Riley or Triumph brands whenever it liked, but elects not to. There are good reasons for this.

Then again who’d have ever got anywhere with my attitude? I wish Les Edgar all the very best of luck with his attempt to resurrect the TVR name. And when the brand is back, shining brighter than the Blackpool lights under which it was made famous, and he stands up and mocks all those who said it couldn’t be done, I know he’ll be talking to me.

It is said that fortune favours the brave, and what Mr Edgar is proposing seems very brave indeed. So let’s hope he gets his full share because, from where I’m sitting, I think he’s going to need it.

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