It's 7 years since the last TVR rolled out of the factory, in which time the company's reputation seems to have dwindled such that many would sum it up as a story of mad cars made badly. Despite TVR's almost wilfull desire to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, I favour a more positive spin on things.
The reason we're musing over TVR here at Great Escape towers is because we've dipped our toes in the murky world of TVR with the addition of another one, a TVR Chimaera. Those with a long memory will recall that for a few years up to early 2012 we ran a TVR Tuscan Speed Six on our classic car hire fleet, a distinctive and popular car that died on us thanks to cam lobe wear after just 16,000 miles. This is a common problem with Speed Six engines - "I'm surprised it lasted that long" said our sage and wise TVR specialist.
After that experience of TVR longevity we decided to give TVRs a bit of a rest for a while. And then the bug itched again, fuelled by regular requests from customers for a TVR. This time we wanted to err on the side of caution and stick with the more tried and tested end of the TVR spectrum. Because, being frank, scheduled engine rebuilds after 16,000 miles aren't really our cup of tea. We wanted a TVR with a durable engine, not a screaming race engine with the longevity of a banana.
This is a fairly well worn path for TVR fanatics, of which there seem to be two types allied to the different phases of the company. TVR is a much older company than most people realise, tracing its roots back to 1946. It pioneered glassfibre manufacture in the late 1940s but hit its stride in the 1960s and 1970s with a succession of light, quick cars with an ever-changing range of proprietary engines. In the late 1970s TVR started to knuckle down and introduced the upmarket 'wedge' models, which followed the vogue for Origami Design typical of the DeLorean DMC, Aston Martin Lagonda and many other mainstream and performance models. In the case of the TVRs, not entirely successfully.
In the 1980s and 1990s TVR, under the guidance of owner Peter Wheeler, played it fairly straight, creating fairly mainstream models with phenomenal performance and little in the way of driver aids. The wedges gave way to more stylish, curvacious designs in the early 1990s with TVR offering a range of cars that looked good and went well. From the mid 1980s until the late 1990s all TVRs used versions of the tried and trusted Rover V8 in a variety of sizes from 3.5 to 5 litre.
This period of product development turned TVR into an almost-credible Porsche competitor, a company providing almost practical cars with a modicum of reliability. Cars from this period, such as the Chimaera and Griffith make good weekend classic cars because they are reliable enough for light use, practical and stylish.
The problem for TVR came when supply of the venerable Rover engine began to dry up. TVR also had aspirations to hit the big time and compete with Porsche. Those two factors combined to push TVR into developing a home grown engine. The resulting TVR-designed engines were excellent. When they worked. As our experience with the Tuscan shows, they weren't built for longevity and they couldn't survive high mileages or daily use.
TVRs had always been weekend cars rather than built for the everyday commute but when the company switched to its own in-house engines the problem got worse. TVR's reputation for building stylish static displays became legendary. Its dogged determination to build eccentricity into every model didn't help either - the Great Escape Tuscan had plenty of crazy ideas that simply reinvented the wheel, substituting something round with something square. Unmarked buttons, no doorhandles and an inaccessible engine bay and battery were almost wilful attempts to undermine TVR's success.
By the early 2000s the combination of unreliability and eccentricity had reversed TVR into a corner that it couldn't get out of. It had some cracking cars, like the Sagaris, but nobody would go near them. Sadly in 2006, after a couple of years helmed by a 24 year old Russian millionaire, it all came to an abrupt halt.
Which brings us back to the TVR Chimaera that we've added to our classic car hire fleet. In the 1980s and 1990s TVR did, largely, get it right. Perhaps the cars weren't ideal for the daily commute but 20 odd years down the line that hardly matters. Cars like the Chimaera and Griffith are brilliant weekend cars, effortless GT and performance cars that eat up the tarmac like few other home grown British classics. They also look like TVRs - stylish and distinctive. Britain has a long history of building brutish open top cars and the Chimaera fits comfortably into that tradition. It is as close as TVR got to a mainstream model, without sacrificing the quirky eccentricity that is an essential part - in moderation - of the TVR experience.
You can hire our latest addition from our Shropshire site, near Shrewsbury. For more information visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.