In car design, nothing defines the Seventies and Eighties like a good old wedge. And with Lotus using this ground-breaking angular motif to such good effect, it’s not surprising TVR – keen to throw-off their kit-car image and establish themselves as a more up-market brand – would want to grab a triangular slice of the action.
Luckily for them, Oliver Winterbottom, designer of the Lotus Elite and Eclat, had recently turned freelance. Work started in 1977 and while Winterbottom penned the design of the two-seat coupe, another ex-Lotus man, Ian Jones, began designing the tubular spaceframe steel chassis.
As with most TVRs, the car borrowed heavily from other manufacturers. Much of the running gear came from Ford, most obviously the 2.8-litre Cologne V6, while the Ford Granada, Cortina, and Capri donated everything from brake discs and gearboxes to door handles and light clusters. The British Leyland parts bin wasn’t safe from the pilfering, either, eventually giving up steering columns and the motors for the pop-up headlights, among other components.
But to focus on this expeditious style of engineering is to do TVR a disservice, as among the hand-me-down parts a number of innovative touches were to be found. It was the first production car in the world to use a bonded windscreen, for example, while the radio aerial was cleverly integrated into the rear screen’s heating element. It was also the first TVR to be offered with an automatic transmission, perhaps critical to the company’s hopes of sales success in the US. And while the suspension may have made use of parts liberated from Ford and Jaguar, at the rear its arrangement was quite sophisticated, with in-board brake discs to reduce sprung mass.
Launched in 1980 wearing the Tasmin name – said to have been an amalgamation of the girl’s name, Tamsin, and that of the Australian Tasman race series – it drew admiring glances from the public and enthusiastic headlines from the press. Unfortunately, TVR boss Martin Lilley and sales manager Stewart Halstead were less positive, reportedly inwardly branding it “a big disappointment” and “absolutely dreadful.”
The convertible joined the line-up soon after, and over the course of the next 10 years the car was revised with a mixture of subtle styling tweaks and an array of engine changes. Perhaps the most successful came in 1983 with the arrival of the Rover V8-powered 350i, giving the car not just the soundtrack to match its looks but also compelling performance, with 0-60mph in just over 6 seconds. By the time the 450 SEAC (Special Equipment Aramid Composite) arrived in 1988 for one year only. By this time, the V8 block had grown to 4.5-litres while power had jumped to 325bhp.
Having struggled through an oil crisis, recession, financial difficulties, and a curious episode that saw the US government confiscate a consignment of cars for alleged emissions infringement, the era of the TVR wedge finally drew to a close in 1991 with the arrival of the more curvaceous Griffith.
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