TVR: The Brand that Won’t Stay Dead

Bill Wilson
17 June 2013

TVR racecars are like Indian motorcycles. Most people have never heard of them, but that’s no fault of the brand. Those that know either bow in their presence. Both were amazing machines in their time, and, like the vampires that are all the rage on TV these days, they’re pretty damn hard to kill.

TVR started in 1946, when Englishman Trever Wilkinson opened an engineering business called Trevcar Motors. A year later, Jack Pickard joined the firm, and together the pair set out to build world-class race cars. Despite being capable engineers, they were hampered by the fact that Britain was still reeling from the effects of World War 2. Still, they kept going.

They finished their first chassis in 1949, added a Ford 1172cc engine from a 1936 van, and hired a fellow named Les Dale to complete the bodywork. Unfortunately, Dale took the uncompleted car for a spin and promptly wrecked it.

TVR Sagaris
TVR Sagaris

Undaunted, Wilkinson and Pickard salvaged the remains of their creation and brought it back to life, adding an aluminum body that they painted British racing green. After playing with it for a while they eventually sold it to Wilkinson’s cousin for £325 (about $17,000.00 in today’s US currency). Like Dale, the cousin wrecked the car and eventually scrapped it.

Still undaunted, the duo built a second version, once again farming the bodywork out to Dale. This time they enjoyed greater success. They used the same engine type, but added a single transverse leaf spring and wishbone control arms to the suspension. An amateur racer bought the vehicle and kept it for several years, eventually converting it for street use in 1952.

Throughout the first half of the 1950s, Wilkinson and Pickard stayed busy building custom cars and car kits for eager customers. Their reputation grew, and in 1955 Bernard Williams, an auto enthusiast and keen businessman, joined TVR. He immediately found new investors and additional customers, and the company began a major expansion. By 1960, the company employed 43 full-time workers. TVR race cars were participating in major races across Europe, including the 24 hours of Le Mans, and American importers were bringing the vehicles to the states.

TVR Sagaris
TVR Sagaris

The good times didn’t last, however. A series of financial reversals killed the import deals and investors fled the struggling firm. In 1965 it shuttered the doors at its UK factory, supposedly for all time. But a businessman named Martin Lilley bought what was left of TVR the same year and raised it from the dead.

The company switched owners again in the 1980s, and once more in 2004, when it was bought by an expatriate Russian named Nicolay Smolensky. Smolensky did a less-than-wonderful job of managing TVR, and in June of 2013 it was sold to British entrepreneur Les Edgar, who has studied the company’s history extensively and intends to resurrect it, this time avoiding the mistakes that killed it in the past. Will he succeed? Time will tell.

PHOTOS: See more TVR Cars

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