Everyone has their favourite car manufacturer. For some, a particular model left it’s immortal mark on the distant memories of a childhood oft-remembered. For others, every single product produced by the carmaker has, and always will be, perfect, despite that disastrous two-year period where they hired out the design to a local coachbuilder. But whoever you love, and however that love it manifests itself, there’s no denying the importance of that first car; a marque’s first foray into the world of automotive production.
So we’re starting a new series here at CLT called Foundations, dedicated solely to those pioneering vehicles, without which we wouldn’t have the marques we love so much.
First off, we have an oft-forgotten car by a much-beloved British marque that is fighting tooth and nail to resurrect itself from the dead; TVR. And the Grantura.
TVR had been in existence since 1947 when its founder, Trevor Williams, renamed the general engineering firm he’d founded the year before, Trevcar Motors, and hired a local auto enthusiast to help develop the Blackpool-based company.
Though they initially focussed on general engineering work that was so abundant in post-war Britain, they also helped refresh service trucks and cars and, in 1949, they built their first chassis.
Starting as they intended to continue, they borrowed production parts from other vehicles, most notably the live rear axle from a Morris Eight and the engine from a Ford van that they tuned to suit. The aluminium bodywork was hand formed and the car was test driven that same year but, thanks to a couple of crashes, was later used solely for parts salvage.
Number’s Two and Three soon followed, TVR quickly finding their niche as a car-maker focussed on track-focussed sports cars designed with function, rather than form, in mind.
In 1953, Wilkinson and Pickard, the original two TVR members, set about designing what would later be known as the TVR Sports series, a kit car that was customised to the customer’s specifications, whilst retaining many components from the Auston A40.
It was also their first car to utilise fibreglass-reinforced plastic for the body, a key component of all future TVRs.
After strong success with the Sports series, 1955 saw the team begin development of a new chassis with increased scope for change. A semi-spaceframe chassis with a central backbone, it used outriggers and a steel bulkhead to carry mounting points for doors for the very first time. It also allowed for the seats to be mounted low (six inches from the ground) on either side of the backbone tunnel, whilst the trailing arm suspension from the Volkswagen Beetle was used for both the front and rear suspension; this became the DNA for all future TVR suspension systems.
1955 also saw the company expand, with the introduction of Bernard Williams whose focus was the business and financial aspects, rather than the detailed engineering.
The same year, the TVR team were approach by a man named Ray Saidel, a race car driver from Manchester, New Hampshire, who wanted the latest chassis with a Coventry Climax FWA engine. It was delivered in May 1956 and was the first of several chassis’ to be shipped to Saidel and his garage in Manchester.
1956 saw the team hire two more workers and appoint a wealthy investor to their board. TVR now had a growing team, investors and a small, loyal customer base. Things were looking up.
Between 1956 and 1958, the team had begun to design and build unique bodies for the “Jomar” chassis, beginning with the Open Sports car above. After customer feedback, they set about developing a closed body variant, the Coupe, which debuted in January of 1958.
TVR had, for the first time, created a unique design, had derivatised it within a single chassis, had used customer feedback to guide the design and, finally, had progressed through multiple development cycles. They were a genuine car company.
And they were ready to produce a car.
Saidel, who had established himself as TVR’s US Importer and chief trumpeteer, had struggled to sell the TVRs he’d purchased from the team in Blackpool, questioning the design of both the Coupe and Open Sports. He felt that a fastback design would be far more successful, and had made this clear to Wilkinson, Williams and Co.
Thanks to their expansion of the team, most notably the addition of Josef Mleczek who would go on to become an expert fibreglass laminator, the team set about designing a new, fastback-style model with the same “Jomar” chassis that had been tried and tested so successfully.
It came with VW Beetle-derived front and rear suspension, a variety of engine options, Austin-Healey 100 drum brakes and the windshield from a Ford Consul. And whilst it wasn’t stunning, it was uniquely a TVR, with ultra-compact proportions (the boot was accessed from inside, as was the spare wheel) and wonderful agility. The Grantura
Production of the MK I Grantura was marred by burgeoning debt, undelivered cars, slow production and in-fighting. An attempt to pressure Saidel into purchasing double the agreed number of Grantura’s ruined the already strained relationship, whilst the day-to-day management of the manufacturing had been abysmal.
At the end of 1959, the board hired John Thurner from Rolls Royce to lead the company through their production challenges, which only angered Wilkinson; he felt he was being undermined by the very company he’d created.
1960 brought the Grantura Mk. II, which was very much an evolution of what had gone before. Visually similar and available with a wide-range of engines, it now came with front disc brakes as standard and rack and pinion steering. It retained its front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout and compact proportions, but thanks to a growing TVR workforce, 400 were produced during a 3 year period.
Order & Chaos
In 1962, TVR Cars Ltd. came into being as the firm was taken over by Keith Aitchison and Bryan Hopton, the two setting TVR on a path towards stability, or so they thought.
It was also the year of the Grantura Mk III debut and a brand new chassis that would go on to support the introduction of TVR’s future model and iconic name; the Griffith.
There was a new, coil-sprung independent suspension, increased stiffness, a new front face and a host of other tweaks that makes the Mk III Grantura the most popular choice of enthusiasts around the world.
Whilst Ford and Coventry Climax engines were used on early versions, the powertrain of choice soon became BMC’s B-Series engines in either 1622cc or 1798cc guise, the latter reserved for the “1800” variant.
Despite entering liquidation at the end of 1964, the brand was revived again in 1965 under the stewardship (and ownership) of Arthur and Martin Lilley, who would rebrand TVR (again) TVR Engineering Ltd.
That same year, the rear-end of the Grantura was changed to square off the profile and integrate Ford Cortina rear lamps, before being rebadged the “1800S”, whilst chassis tweaks were made ahead of the introduction of the “Griffith” nameplate and its V8 powertrain. TVR were already planning for their future. Again.
When the Grantura ceased production in 1967, the Vixen was already lined up to replace it, whilst the Tuscan, in V6 and V8 variants, also came into production, both cars sharing remarkable visual similarities and most of the Grantura’s original chassis.
The TVR Grantura, during its 9 year life, sold around 800 cars, but it did so much more than that. During one of its most turbulent periods, the Grantura remained a constant for TVR amongst huge turnover in personnel, countless name changes, and all manner of business failings.
The Grantura Mk III chassis lay the foundations for the Griffith series, which over 5 years sold around 300 vehicles for TVR, whilst the Vixen and Tuscan that followed hot on the heels of the Grantura Mk. IV sold almost 1200 cars between them.
Visually, the Grantura defined the principal characteristics of TVRs that were still clearly visible well into the ’90s with the likes of the S3 and V8S proudly wearing the underflush round headlamps, prominent front corner bumper fins and clamshell bonnet that was first defined on the Grantura.
Unfortunately, TVR’s history is littered with turbulence, even with their present day fortunes and the attempt to revive the legendary “Griffith” nameplate.
But it was the Grantura that provided the foundations for the quirky, yet iconic, British marque. In fact it arguably embodies the brand more than any other vehicle in their history. So whatever the next chapter in TVR’s volatile story, the Grantura will remain far more than just a footnote.
At CLT, we love a bit of nostalgia, and there’s plenty of stories yet to come covering all manner of gems from the annals of the automotive industry. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe below to ensure you never miss out on another one. X