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The man who’s putting TVR back on the road

‘This morning I sat in my first TVR, my first TVR,” says Les Edgar, chairman of the sports car company TVR, putting emphasis on the second “my first”. It’s an odd thing to say for the man who bought TVR in 2013 from Russian Nikolay Smolensky.
The near-decade of ownership by the wealthy oligarch’s son was a failure, with his grand plans – which included relocating the marque to Europe – coming to nothing and the last production car coming off the line in 2007. “That was a schoolboy error,” says Edgar.
“You can’t make a British sports car abroad, it’s got no credibility.” The reason he says “my first TVR” is because this morning he sat in the for-production version of the new TVR he is days away from revealing, and the first car designed and built under his ownership.
Self-confessed petrolhead Edgar – who made his fortune developing and then selling video games business Bullfrog – persuaded Smolensky to let him buy TVR for an undisclosed sum with the aim of breathing life back into the 70-year-old marque.
TVR through the ages – the tiny company responsible for some of Britain's wildest cars
“Smolensky didn’t need the money, was bored of TVR, and probably ­embarrassed by what he had done and the money he’d lost,” says Edgar. “I told him he could redeem himself by letting us ­repatriate it.”
And that’s how Edgar, now 57, found himself the owner of a British car brand famed for its outrageous lightweight cars with huge engines and infamous reliability issues. His initial plan was to build just a few cars to race them in a special series, though this was quickly abandoned.
“Racing was obvious,” he says, calling it a “quick way to get TVR going again” and a repeat of something he had done with Aston Martin, where he took on a licence to compete the cars on the track. “But with TVR we ­decided to do the opposite: build a credible car brand and then go racing.” 
The decision was helped by a surprise from the previous owner. Not only did a Transit van full of technical papers, drawings and computer designs arrive soon after the deal was done, but a warehouse full of spares for earlier cars was unearthed near TVR’s historic Blackpool home.
“A good brand looks after its existing customers and that’s what we did,” says Edgar. He established a spares business for the owners of the 15,000 TVRs ­already on the roads, reintroducing parts that had gone out of production.
“It gave TVR a credibility that wasn’t there and also upped the price of second-hand cars – no one will buy a TVR if they can’t keep it on the road.”
His thoughts were also on the future, saying he had “talked in the pub” about how he could “buy a ­defunct car company and build my own car to beat those Astons I put back on the track”.
People love the TVR because it does the same or better but they’ll buy Porsche ­because their mates won’t laugh
But it wasn’t just about beating rival Aston. Edgar says that while every car fan has a TVR story, he also wanted to recreate “every man’s super car, with big bang for buck” referring to the marque’s reputation for – at least off the lights – beating more expensive cars.
“The one thing that TVR had in spades, and still has, is this kind of uniqueness, this kind of anti-establishment, ‘This is TVR’, rebellious, flying in the face of its Britishness,” he says. “I wanted to make that again.”
While every TVR owner has a positive story about the car’s speed, they have more tales about the car’s unreliability. Leaks, parts falling off, not starting, TVR had it all. One design ­located the starter motor so close to the big engine that it got cooked under normal driving.
Edgar, who had gathered a dozen or so backers to help finance the launch of the new car, decided reliability had to be addressed for any chance of success. Abandoning TVR’s own “chocolate engine”, the Speed Six, he got Cosworth on board and ­recruited legendary F1 designer Gordon Murray.
Such pedigree is intended not only to mean the new car works mechanically, but also delivers stunning performance: Edgar describes Murray as “the god of aerodynamics”.
As well as ground effect aerodynamics, which stick the TVR to the road, by happy accident Murray also brought on board his iStream production process that uses a tubular aluminium frame on to which carbon fibre panels are placed. It’s much cheaper than other manufacturing processes and easily scaled up or down, with cars built how the public imagine they are – starting with wheels going on to metal frame, then the ­engine put on and the body.
Edgar says iStream is what allows TVR to make the economics of small-scale, hand-built production work – just 500 examples will be built, taking a year and starting in late 2018. Deposits of ?5,000 have been taken for all 500 cars, despite customers having yet to see what they are buying.
The man who’s putting TVR back on the road

TVR's order book is valued at ?50m with customers already paying a ?5,000 deposit for each of the 500 models
“Smolensky spoke to other companies and concluded you couldn’t build a TVR for less than ?150,000 in the modern era,” says Edgar.
“With iStream we can – it turns a fixed-cost business into a variable-cost one because tooling is cheaper by an order of magnitude.” The new TVR – named the Griffith, with the traditional lightweight body and big 5-litre V8 engine – will cost ?90,000 but won’t be a loss leader, ­despite it “being engineered like a ?140,000 car”.
“We lose credibility when we tell people the price,” says ­Edgar. “But it’s iStream that allows it. We expect to be operating cash flow positive by year one, helped by our ?50m order book, backed by deposits. We expect a return in year five. I think that’s pretty good.”
TVR’s business plan has been through some robust stress testing – with the Welsh Government putting in money by helping the company set up a factory in Ebbw Vale, due diligence has been solid. But low-volume, high-end car building is littered with the wrecks of companies that have crashed.
Why should it be different for TVR?  “Because we’re doing it properly: proper engineering, proper design,” says Edgar, who admits his “balls are on the line” with this endeavour. So why do it all?
“Because buying a TVR is like going into a restaurant and seeing great stuff on the menu but having the burger because you know its safe,” he says.
“It’s like that picking a TVR or Porsche. People love the idea of the TVR because it does the same or better but they’ll buy the Porsche ­because their mates won’t laugh. I’ll change all that by making sure they won’t laugh because it’s a better car and built by Gordon Murray.”
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