4th May 2020

The TVR Griffith: born in America/raised in Blackpool

Image © Paul Woloschuk

While you may know the name Griffith, you may not know where it came from and how the legendary Caroll Shelby was involved.

Although the engineering firm was founded as Trevcar Motors by Trevor Wilkinson in 1946, it was not until 1949 that it was rebranded to the much catchier TVR. Its first cars started to appear later that year and evolved over time - even finding moderate racing success in local sprints and hill climbs with Wilkinson behind the wheel.

However, it was the introduction of the TVR Sports Saloon in 1953 that really started to attract attention. Essentially a kit racing car, it allowed buyers to configure as required and no two cars left the factory the same. As the money came in from the sales of these stylish and affordable Austin-based cars, the cash went towards developing a new and more advanced small sportscar - with its own space-frame chassis, and fully independent suspension. Enter the highly successful gentleman racer and car dealer, Ray Saidel, who asked if the new TVR could be fitted with a Coventry Climax engine. A car was duly completed and shipped to the US, where it was fitted with bespoke aluminium bodywork.

Saidel was so enamoured with the car that he ordered more and kept an eye on the Blackpool based firm as it continued to expand, and its cars evolve. He even thought that TVRs might appeal to American buyers, but only if there was a fast back model. This led to the birth of the TVR Grantura in 1958, a fibreglass-bodied, two-door, two-seat sports car that set a template for TVR’s of the future. The first cars were sent to Saidel and on sale for the US market.

Over the next five years TVR struggled financially, and the story might well have ended there were it not for American racing driver Jack Griffith. Over dinner in 1964 with automotive designer, racing driver and entrepreneur Carol Shelby, Griffith declared he could build a car to beat the mighty AC Cobra.

Griffith’s started modifying TVR Granturas to accept a 4700 cc Ford V8 in place of the standard 1700 cc unit, during which process the chassis had cross members removed, and struts beaten into shape to accept the much larger engine. With a now somewhat flimsy chassis, unaltered brakes, and a notably short wheelbase with a surfeit of power, the TVR Griffith 200 was born - with a more powerful 400 version soon following.

It may not have had the runaway fame and success of the AC Cobra, but with up to 285+ bhp available in a car that had comparable dimensions to an MG Midget, it was no slouch. Road testers reported a top speed well in excess of 150 mph.

Although fewer than 200 examples of the Griffith 200 and 400 were built, the die had been cast. When TVR emerged from another series of financial issues in the 1980s, with Peter Wheeler at the helm, it had the perfect name for its new V8 powered, fibreglass-bodied, two-door, two-seat sports car. The TVR Griffith was introduced in 1991, and the rest is history.

Do you remember seeing a Griffith 200 in period? Let us know your memories in the comments below.